Sir Trevor Brooking: A lifetime of achievement
Lost in the welter of pre-World Cup excitement here at ESPN last May, this blog was not able to commemorate the not inconsiderable accolade handed out to Sir Trevor Brooking at the annual West Ham end-of-season Awards Dinner, during which the former Hammers and England midfielder was given only the second Lifetime Achievement Award by the club he represented with some distinction between 1967 and 1984.
Brooking was an outstanding footballer and a one-club man who was a member of both the 1975 and 1980 FA Cup winning sides, famously scoring the winner in the '80 final against Arsenal by heading in from close range -- a feat he has probably been reminded of every day since. Brooking played 647 matches in league and cup for the Hammers scoring 102 goals in the process and creating untold more. If the 'assist' had been a viable statistic when Brooking played, then his records might be even more impressive.
As often happens though, the facts -- grand as they are -- tell only part of the story.
The elegant Brooking was a player who seemed to glide through games with the ball magically attached to his feet. During West Ham's magnificent run to the 1976 Cup Winners Cup Final -- a match eventually lost 4-2 to Anderlecht in a superb final in Brussels -- Brooking was irresistible in two stirring games in the Upton Park mud against Den Haag in the quarterfinal and Eintracht Frankfurt in the semifinal. Being virtually unplayable in driving rain and on a quagmire of a pitch, the latter game may well be one of the best performances of any West Ham player in the entire history of the club; Brooking scored two goals that night as the Hammers pulled back a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to advance to the final on the back of a 3-1 win against a very strong German side.
Despite being lured by both then-Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough and Tottenham's Bill Nicholson, Brooking was loyal to his beloved West Ham in a way it is difficult to understand today. Even when the club was surprisingly relegated in 1978, Brooking elected to stay even after the club failed to gain a quick return in their first season in the Second Division. However, the then 32-year-old was rewarded by the club's astonishing cup run that culminated in the defeat of the odds-on favourites Arsenal and a return to Wembley a year later in the League Cup final and a wonderful promotion-winning season in 1980-81 that saw West Ham win the league with a then-record point haul. There were times during that season where opposition visiting Upton Park would simply try and keep the score down, putting two or three players on Brooking to try and stop him creating chances.
In a match barely mentioned in any biography of history of the club, Brooking played a fairly mundane league game against then second division Shrewsbury. The visitors expected to be humbled and were dispatched with some ease as were most clubs visiting the Boleyn that campaign. The afternoon was highlighted though by a mazy Brooking run that saw the Shrewsbury defence swarm round Brooking like wasps round a jam jar. Looking for space, the Hammers legend drifted out to the corner and -- to the amusement of the packed crowd -- was followed by seven opposition players so that whole scene looked like a father teasing his son and a group of friends. The move came to nothing eventually, but the memory remains as fresh as the day it occurred.
A successful businessman even before his retirement, Brooking decided early on that management wasn't for him, but he still returned to help his club out on two occasions -- once during the tenure of Glenn Roeder when the club, fighting relegation at the tail end of the season, found themselves without a boss when Roeder collapsed with a brain tumour -- and again the following season, when after a poor start in the lower tier, the club subsequently sacked Roeder. During his first spell, Brooking oversaw a remarkable attempt to stave off relegation, garnering seven points from a possible nine that narrowly just failed to keep the Hammers up, albeit being relegated with a still record points total of 42. In his second spell following Roeder's departure the next season, Brooking managed 11 games, losing only once before handing over the reins to the incoming Alan Pardew. At Upton Park, Brooking is widely regarded as the 'best manager West Ham never had'.
While with the Hammers, Brooking played 47 games for England, scoring five times in a career that ended at the 1982 World Cup in Spain where an injury only allowed Brooking and Kevin Keegan -- a man with whom he had almost telepathic understanding -- to play together in the final must-win game against the host nation. The match ended 0-0 mainly thanks to a superb save from the Spanish keeper Luis Arconada from the Hammers midfielder. There are many who believe the England management under-utilised the Hammers midfielder during the period 1974-82 due to the years spent outside the top flight, as Brooking rarely failed to show his class on the international stage and Keegan himself was said to be critical of the failure of then England manager Don Revie to build his midfield around Brooking. Brooking's England career was back on track when Sir Ron Greenwood -- the player's old club manager -- was put in charge of the international side in 1977, but there is still a feeling that Brooking's best years were not rewarded.
After his retirement in 1984 at the age of 36, it was considered by many of the Hammers faithful that the player was still capable of another couple of seasons at the top, but Brooking was keen to move his career into the development of the game, something he keenly felt had been neglected by the FA. Subsequently appointed Director of Football development in 2003, Brooking served the hierarchy of the game as he had served his club.
Brooking was awarded the MBE in 1981, the CBE in 1999 and knighted for services to football in 2004. In 2009, in honour of his achievements in football and the reflected glory of the club he played for with some distinction, the Hammers named the stand behind the goal at the Boleyn Ground as The Sir Trevor Brooking Stand.
The word 'legendary' is often over used in football, but West Ham United can rightfully claim Sir Trevor Brooking as one of their own.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is the author of a regular column at WestHamOnline.net and the East London Guardian.