PKT 1555 – 103707
Frank McAvennie celebrates his goal with Ian Bishop (right) and Trevor Murley.
There is a positive buzz around West Ham right now.
New manager Slaven Bilic has started work, a new retro style kit is selling like hot cakes as fans prepare to say a long Goodbye to the Boleyn Ground, there is the added spice of European football and the club is working hard to sign new players to improve the squad.
Since the two transfer window was brought in 13 years ago the summer session especially has increasingly become a soap opera with the drama often going up to the 11th hour with so many clubs , players and a myriad of agents indulging in Mexican Stand offs.
Last summer the club having brought in a new recruitment system with co owner David Sullivan very much hands on did some good business. Aaron Creswell, Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho were all impressive and good value permanent signings.
Some of the players West Ham are currently chasing excite and that had me pondering: Who was our best ever summer signing ?
I refrained from trawling through reference books or surfing the web and stuck with my instincts.
I didn’t take long to come up with and answer : Frank McAvennie.
When John Lyall paid St. Mirren £340,000 for McAvennie in the summer of 1985 it was largely a case of a Frank
By the end of the season the chorus of “One McAvennie, there’s only one McAvennie” was the favourite song around Upton Park.
McAvennie had not only become a cult figure for Hammers fans either, he had become a national celebrity, a forerunner of todays “Hollywood” football stars as he inspired West Ham to finish in their highest ever league position of third and be featured on the celeb pages not just back pages of the tabloid press.
It had all started rather low key. Lyall had planned to play McAvennie at the tip of a midfield diamond ( yes that system is not a recent invention) behind Tony Cottee and Paul Goddard but Goddard got injured in dull 1-0 opening day defeat at Birmingham.
Next game up was at home to QPR in the midweek a match I was covering. Lyall said ahead of the game that McAvennie would take Goddard’s place.
In those days the entrance for the press corps was at the main reception where the players went in too. I arrived pretty early and bumped into lean looking guy, wearing a light suit ( the leather trousers would come later) and shock of very blond hair and bright white shiny teeth.
“Are you McAvennie I asked,” not having seen him before as there had been little publicity about his arrival.
“Aye, I’m Frank” came his answer in a thick Glaswegian accent.
“Welcome to West Ham,” I said as I shook his hand . “One word of advice mate, get some goals sure but whatever you do make sure you run your bollocks off and the fans here will love you here”
McAvennie gave me a broad grin and made his way towards the dressing room. A few hours later me and a huddle of press chaps would be waiting down in the reception area for McAvennie to emerge from his after match stint in the players bar and coral him for a snap interview after his stunning home debut in a 3-1 win over Rangers.
Not only had he scored twice he has run his nuts off too. He offered some sharp, witty typically Glaswegian one liners …great copy for the next days back pages then the day after follow ups.
Clearly he was a character and it wasn’t long before he was embraced by some other London clubs ; Stringellows and Browns for instance in the West End or the Apollo Phoenix restaurant in Stratford.
Any West Ham fan knows what happened next as McAvennie and Tony Cottee formed a 46 league goal partnership and the team went on an incredible run a fixture log jam in the final few weeks arguably costing the team an elusive league title eventually won by Liverpool with Everton second,
While it was Cottee ( 20 league goals ) who was awarded Hammer of the Year it was McAvennie ( 26 ) who was the catalyst for that special season. It must be said another low key summer signing in ’85, Mark Ward from Oldham, played a big part too.
It was McAvennie who grabbed the bulk of attention though . He blew bubbles on the pitch and enjoyed quaffing some bubbles off it often surrounded by Page Three girls.
Indeed he was putting his fellow Scot Charlie Nicholas at Arsenal in the shade in the playboy stakes, so much that he ended appearing on the Terry Wogan show so a wider public could know about this new “SuperMac” given that there had been a TV blackout in the first half of the season.
It was like West Ham had their own George Best at last .But for all the celebrity stuff he kept delivering on the pitch that season and made Scotland’s 1986 World Cup squad too.
No doubt you have you own views and favourites. Obviously Paolo di Canio was a wonderful signing, so too were Paul Kitson and John Hartson when they saved the side from relegation. But these were mid season before the windows came into force.
As for top summer signings > Well there have been plenty down the years, like Phil Parkes , Clyde Best or John “Budgie” Byrne.
I am sure I have missed plenty and Claret and Hugh would love to hear who your top summer signing down the years is.
And it is to be hoped there are few to be made soon who come the end of the season could be mentioned in dispatches. But they will have to go along way to rival McAvennie.
The following season was not to successful then Frank was sold to boy food idols Celtic . He returned for a second spell with the Hammers but it was never quite the same as that first seismic season.
Sadly Frank was crocked by a horror tackle which broke his leg after that first season. He recovered but his time at West Ham was no longer as electric especially when boyhood heroes Celtic circled and he moved back to Glasgow.
But for me if I have to single out West Ham’s best summer signing there is ONE that stands out head and shoulders above the rest : “One McAvennie.”