West Ham’s goal-machine, Frank McAvennie – Picture from http://www.whufc.com
1985/86 was West Ham United’s most successful league season and their highest ever finish in the top flight. They would have finished as runners up, only to be pipped to second place by Everton in a 3-1 defeat at Goodison Park on the final game of the season.
The 1985/86 season is the first that is mentioned by any Hammers fan over the age of 45 and they will take great delight in telling you about watching the likes of Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie firing in goals for fun over that season. The pair scored 46 of West Ham’s 74 league goals between them.
It was McAvennie’s first season at Upton Park, after joining from Scottish side St Mirren in the summer. The Scottish striker had proved he could find the back of the net in the Scottish Premier League, scoring 48 goals in 135 appearances and winning the SFA Young Player of the Year Award in 1981/82.
As well as McAvennie, John Lyall also brought in Oldham Athletic’s Mark Ward who would be an ever-present in the right winger position throughout the entire 1986/86 season.
Ward was brought in to replace Paul Allen, who left for Spurs early in the pre-season. Allen had played for the Hammers in the FA Cup winning side in 1980 and in doing so became the youngest player to play in an FA Cup Final in the process. Allen joined their London neighbours for an initial fee of £400,000, rising to £450,000 based on appearances.
The most notable departure from Upton Park was 37 year old Frank Lampard, who after 17 years in the West Ham first team, dropped down to the Fourth Division to join Southend United. Lampard’s former team mate Bobby Moore was the manager at Roots Hall and must have been the reason he chose the Essex club.
The Hammers started the season poorly, losing three of their first four games. They won their first home game of the season in the second match, beating QPR 3-1 at Upton Park. The win was significant as Frank McAvennie scored his first two goals for the club.
A 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool in the fifth game of the season saw McAvennie bag another brace. He would score in the next three games, the third of those games was a 3-0 home win over Leicester City. This was only West Ham’s second victory of the season and their fortunes was turning.
In the next four games, West Ham would win two and draw two before going on a nine match winning streak that propelled them up to the dizzy heights of third place.
The run came to an end four days before Christmas in a goalless draw at Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road. It was to be a particularly bad Christmas for Hammers fans as they lost 1-0 away to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. It was their first defeat in the league since they lost 2-0 away to Manchester United on 26th August.
The defeat at White Hart Lane was West Ham’s last match of 1985 and they finished the year in third place. Of the 35 league goals that they had scored, Frank McAvennie had scored 18 of them!
1986 began brightly with a 1-0 win at Leicester City, with who else but Frank McAvennie scoring the only goal of the game.
This win was followed by three defeats in the next four, with a 2-1 home win over league leaders Manchester United sandwiched in between defeats to Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
In the last 14 games, West Ham would record 11 wins and 3 defeats. One of the highlights in this run-in to the end of the season was a 4-0 win over bitter rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Alan Devonshire broke the deadlock, Tony Cottee scored twice before Frank McAvennie sealed a famous win for the claret and blues.
Perhaps the strangest match of the season came on 21st April at home to Newcastle United. West Ham hammered the Toon Army 8-1 in a game that saw the away side play three goalkeepers over the course of the 90 minutes!
Martin Thomas was the first keeper between the sticks but after playing through the first half with a damaged shoulder, he didn’t return to the field for the second half.
Thomas had conceded four goals in the first half and West Ham scored the same amount of goals in the second period. Playmaker Chris Hedworth swapped his black and white shirt for the green goalkeeper’s jersey and Alvin Martin put his second goal of the game past the replacement keeper.
Two minutes later, Hedworth went off the field with a broken collarbone after colliding with Tony Cottee. England winger Peter Beardsley then became the third player to go in goal and even pulled off a couple of fine saves!
Sadly for Beardsley, he conceded three times and the final goal was scored by Alvin Martin who completed his hat-trick with a penalty. Martin had now scored a goal past each of the three goalkeepers used by Newcastle that night!
Four wins followed the annihilation of Newcastle and they went into their final game in second place, two points clear of Everton.
Everton were their final opponents of the season and as I mentioned earlier, they won 3-1 to take the runners-up spot.
West Ham’s season was a fantastic achievement and their best ever league campaign in their history. They finished a point behind Everton in second and four points behind champions Liverpool.
They won 17 of their 21 home league games, drawing two and only losing to Luton Town and Chelsea. Their away form was worse in comparison, winning nine, drawing four and losing eight times.