Declan Rice may suffer former Hammer’s fate


Blind Hammer reviews a previous home grown midfield hero who sought fame and fortunes with North London rivals.

The sale of Declan Rice this summer to Arsenal was not the first time a home grown midfield talent at West Ham was sold to North London rivals.

Back in the mists of time for many of you, West Ham had a young, similarly precocious talent in the form of the young Paul Allen.

He was from the the famous Allen footballing family, with cousins Clive Allen and Martin Allen also turning out for the Hammers. He  made his debut for West Ham in 1979 when he was just 32 days past his 17th birthday in a 2-1 victory against Burnley.

He quickly, despite his age, became a fixture in West Ham’s midfield alongside Brooking. The highlight of his career at West Ham came when, at just 17 years and 256 days , he became the youngest player ever to have played in a Wembley FA Cup Final.

He featured as a tigerish, tackling presence in West Ham’s midfield that nullified Arsenal on the day. Arsenal’s Willie Young caused national outrage when he cynically hacked Allen down as he was racing through, bearing down on the Arsenal goal.

Allen was in a one on one with Pat Jennings in the Arsenal goal, before Young’s cynical hack intervened with no attempt to play the ball.

Arsenal supporting Nick Hornby immortalised the moment in his book Fever Pitch, where he describes Young’s tackle as plunging Arsenal into an era of unpopularity, with its sheer professional dirtiness. It was probably the birth of the concept of the professional foul, nowadays automatically punished by a red card.

These trademark rapid early runs from deep, bearing down on the opposition penalty area quickly became a familiar sight for West Ham fans. Allen was a crucial part of the West Ham midfield which won the then second division championship in 1981,, and also featured in the League Cup Final and replay against Liverpool. .

He made 152 league appearances for the Hammers, scoring six goals but setting up many other assist in addition to his hard working, tackling, midfield presence.

Whilst never, to my memory, winning Hammer of the Year he was clearly one of the most important parts of the team. His game was developing, season on season, and many were predicting an international future in the England team.

In 1985 however, West Ham abruptly cashed in. He was transferrred to Spurs for the then large transfer fee of £400,000. I remember how Spurs journalists were crowing with excitement as to how they had recruited West Ham’s “best young player”.

Whilst Allen was not a failure at Spurs, he never achieved the bright future that seem to beckon when he was with West Ham. Gone were the exciting forward runs, so characteristic of his game at West Ham, shown even in the Cup Final against Arsenal when Young had to so cynically foul him.

Instead Allen became a journeyman solid defensive midfielder, respectable in performance but the exciting heights of the game revealed at West Ham were never to grace his game at Tottenham.

He went on to appear in two Cup Finals for Tottenham, losing one and winning the other but oddly it was not until he was in the twilight of his career at Tottenham that he was finally given recognition for this performances,, winning Player of the Year in his last season with them in 1993. After that his career declined first at Watford and then a string of lower division clubs.

The point is that one of the brightest prospects in a Wes Ham shirt became a journeyman midfielder in a team where he was not the young star, with a team never set up to exploit his more exciting abilities.

Why would Spurs want Allen”s exciting runs from deep? They had at the time a team with the talents of Ossie Ardiles and Glen Hoddle.

Allen was a growing big fish in a West Ham team set up to exploit his talents.
At Spurs he became a cog in a team set up to exploit other talents. He was no longer the big fish.

Provided he does not flourish in games against us, I hav no ill will towards Rice. However the challenge he faces at Arsenal does resemble challenge Allen faced after his move to Spurs.

Rice will not ever be the standout biggest talent in the Arsenal team. Instead he will have to adapt to a team of established and emerging attacking stars, rather in the same way Allen had to suppress the more exciting parts of his game at Spurs.

It is an old Hammer’s fancy but I often wonder what Allen’s career would hav achieved at West Ham if he had stayed the course in the mode of a Mark Noble. Would his undeniable upward trajectory have continued, rather than the abrupt levelling off he achieved at Spurs. Would we now consider Allen as a West Ham legend?

We can never know but Rice will know that he cannot assume the meteoric rise to fame at West Ham will automatically transfer to Arsenal. The grass is not always greener.

David Griffith

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My Father, born in 1891 was brought up in the shadows of the Thames Ironworks Memorial Ground. I remember as a child jumping over the settee when Alan Sealy scored in our 1965 European Cup Winners triumph.

My first game was against Leicester in 1968, when Martin Peters scored what was adjudged by ITV’s Big Match as the Goal of the Season.

I became a season ticket holder in 1970.

I was registered blind in 1986 and thought my West Ham supporting days were over. However in 2010 I learnt about the fantastic support West Ham offer to Blind and other Disabled Supporters. I now use the Insightful Irons in-stadium commentary service and West Ham provide space for my Guide Dog Nyle.

I sit on the West Ham Disabled Supporters Board and the LLDC Built Environment Access Panel.

David Griffith aka Blind Hammer


  • kcockayne says:

    Words of wisdom ? Maybe. But Declan Rice is already the great player he promised to become. He won’t have any problems “making the grade” at Arsenal. I think that he will, eventually, be regarded as the best West Ham player of all time. For me, & I have seen them all since 1958, he already is !

  • Good Old Daze says:

    Great article as usual, David. Wish we had Paul Allen back in the squad these days.

  • Legin says:

    A very fair piece. Spurs were good at moulding talent to fit what they wanted. I read Steve Perryman’s book many years ago and it is clear that he felt his creative side was supressed to meet the needs of the team. I felt Declan was starting to show what a good attacking midfielder he can be, he frightens the life out of the opposition when running with the ball, will he get that opportunity at the Arse with their vast array of attacking talent?

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