HAMMER HOUSE OF HORRORS
Late Tackle Football Magazine|August - September 2020
MICHAEL LEE REFLECTS ON WEST HAM’S DISASTROUS 2002-03 SEASON WHICH SAW THEM RELEGATED FROM THE PREMIER LEAGUE...
MICHAEL LEE

A SLIDING doors moment is a popular term defined as a ‘tiny, seemingly inconsequential moment that can alter the trajectory of future events’.

A 2019 survey claimed that 80 per cent of British people have experienced one, although its very nature means we can only recognise them in hindsight.

For example, most of our friendships are made through circumstances out of our control, however much we would claim otherwise.

Arrive at a destination five minutes before or after you intended and opportunities that seem pre-ordained would not exist. This would seemingly prove that human experience is fragile and largely reliant upon chance.

This applies equally to football, a sport overflowing with ‘what-if’ moments.

Supporters of every club cling onto snapshots of time that insulate them against cold-hearted reality. Better to believe that your team were a fraction away from glory than never in the running at all.

For supporters of West Ham United one season encapsulates the phenomenon. In 2002/03, the club were relegated from the Premier League with 42 points – a tally that has never since been matched by a relegated side in England’s top flight.

The previous year an editorial in the magazine When Saturday Comes lamented the lack of ‘eyebrow-raising relegations’ in the first decade of the Premier League – West Ham’s relegation saw numerous pairs of eyebrows requiring planning permission in a different postcode.

The Telegraph claimed that 42 points gave a team a 98.4 per cent chance of survival, meaning West Ham’s relegation was a two-in-one-hundred occurrence. This statistical anomaly saw one of the most talented squads in the club’s history sold piece-by-piece, mostly to local rivals Chelsea and Tottenham.

The club has arguably never fully recovered and only fleetingly demonstrated the potential of this collection of players.

However, warning signs first appeared with the sale of Rio Ferdinand to Leeds United in November 2000. Ferdinand had expressed no desire to leave but club chairman Terence Brown, in the process of redeveloping Upton Park, felt unable to turn down Leeds’ £18m offer.

Ferdinand’s transfer fee was then squandered by manager Harry Redknapp on a collection of inferior players and the club had slipped to 15th place by May 2001.

When Redknapp met with Brown to ask for more transfer funds, he was told his services would no longer be required.

One month later, Frank Lampard was sold to Chelsea for £11m – a fee widely described as overpriced at the time.

West Ham’s shortlist for a new manager included highly-tipped British prospects such as Steve McClaren, Alan Curbishley and Alex McLeish, a description that seems scarcely believable now. Instead, the club opted for youth coach Glenn Roeder to take over.

Castigated as a cost-cutting measure, the difference between Redknapp and Roeder was stark.

Redknapp had built a team in his own boisterous image, full of enigmatic individuals, inconsistent defending and enough talent to beat anybody on their day. Roeder, while a respected coach, came across so wooden in comparison you would feel inclined to touch him for luck.

Nevertheless, Roeder managed to finish seventh in his first year in charge and expectations were high going into the 2002/03 season.

The starting line-up contained three members of England’s 2002 World Cup squad (David James, Joe Cole and Trevor Sinclair) while Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick were tipped as future England starters. Stalwarts such as Freddie Kanoute and Paolo Di Canio were highly coveted by other teams – Di Canio had rejected a move to Manchester United in January 2002.

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