Fans' Opinion

Billy Bonds – One Fan’s Appreciation

Author: . Published: at 8:45pm

Written by : Nick Moore

I was 12 years old when Billy Bonds signed for West Ham, so my tactical analysis of his early years at the club may be a bit limited – but he was exciting. He was a fantastic athlete and his rampaging forward runs were a thing to behold.

Billy has said that West Ham fans took to him because they always liked a player who gave 100%. This is true. They also liked him because he was good. You have to be good to run on to the ball at pace and cross the ball well. In addition, he was a good defender and liked a tackle.

Signed as full back, he played three seasons in that position. Ron Greenwood then got him to play in midfield. Greenwood had a great record in this regard; he changed Booby Moore into a centre back. He changed Geoff Hurst from a reserve team half back into a World Cup final hat trick scoring striker. Bonds was a strong tough tackling midfielder in a side that had become known as a bit of a soft touch – but he could play. His skills balanced the playmaking skills of Trevor Brooking.

He took over the captaincy of the team after Bobby Moore, a ridiculously hard act to follow. But yet Bonds did it and led the team with distinction and although a converted defender, he managed to be the team’s top scorer in 1973. 

In 1975 Billy lifted the FA Cup for the first time. Because he has the record number of appearances for the club, it is often forgotten that he did have injuries. He barely played a league game in the second half of that season. He was so important to the team that he was patched up and hoisted out on the pitch to play in the cup games. The cup run took off in the mud at Highbury, where we shocked everybody with a 2-0 away win. Alan Taylor made the first of his three significant two goal contributions. 

West Ham were no more consistent then than they are now. There was a relegation between the two cup wins. The club rebuilt, with Bonds moving to centre back. He built a strong central defensive pairing with a young Alvin Martin (who at the time was so young he had hair). Alvin, however, was injured for my favourite game ever – the semi-final replay versus Everton at Elland Road. It’s a mark of how good a centre back Billy was that for that game he was paired with Ray Stewart – another fine footballer but rarely a centre back.

It was goalless in normal time then Alan Devonshire scored a wonderful goal. Just as Wembley seemed a reality, Latchford equalised. But two minutes later Frank Lampard (Senior, although we didn’t call him that back then), playing right back on the night, somehow appeared in the penalty area. He headed the winner and famously took off for the corner flag. The journey back was magical.

The final against Arsenal was great too. Alan Devonshire was too good for them. Trevor stooped to conquer. Willie Young’s foul on Paul Allen changed the way the game was refereed for the better with stronger action being taken on professional fouls. And we won, and I was there.

Billy was a brave player. There were a number of times when he was kicked in the face or head. He’d disappear down the tunnel. He would re-emerge shortly after with a bandage round his head and continue playing. We always won if Bonzo had a bandage round his head. 

In 1981 Billy led us back to the top flight and the League Cup final. He officially retired in May 1984 with the captaincy going to Alvin. However injuries (it’s not West Ham if there isn’t an injury crisis) meant he played 26 games the next season. Although he missed the boys of 86 season through injury he was back in 1987 playing in midfield and winning Hammer of the Year – his fourth win.

After one more season, he finally retired at the age of 41. He was made youth team manager by John Lyall. After relegation Lyall was sacked, and Lou Macari was appointed manager. Macari was then accused of breaking the betting rules while manager of Swindon. Macari resigned, and the board turned to a safe pair of hands to run the club in Billy Bonds.

Billy had a difficult time as manager. Not only were West Ham in the second division, but when they did return to the top flight the board came up with the Bond scheme to finance the redevelopment of the ground – but Bonds did get us two promotions and to a cup semi-final. The cup semi-final was where Keith Hackett, a man pretending to be a referee, sent off Tony Gale. It is still one of the worst decisions ever, and completely ruined the game. The West Ham fans magnificently chanted ‘Billy Bonds claret and blue army’ for the rest of the game.

Billy resigned when the Board (them again) shamefully tried to manoeuvre him upstairs. So it’s a fine moment and a completely just one that the current board have righted at least in part an old wrong by naming the stand I am now even prouder to sit in – the Billy Bonds stand. Billy was not the only person with a tear in his eye on Saturday.

When we had the old style programmes back in the day, there was a Ford advert with a picture of Billy. The text read ‘There are only two things that never let you down, whatever the conditions, week in week out, season after season, especially when the going gets tough. The other is a Ford from…..’ – and it was true at least about Billy.

Billy is a really humble man. He clearly admires other great players he played with like Bobby Moore Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire. When he talks about himself he emphasises things like being blessed with a good pair of lungs. Other players talk about his athleticism or his hard man role. Both of which are true. He lived in an era where teams consistently won things by cheating and having someone not to be messed with, was important in letting the ball players play.

The bit he doesn’t say is what a good player he was. You don’t get to captain sides to two cup wins 5 years apart playing in different positions and not be a good technical player. He was a fantastic thrilling overlapping full back before that. You can’t play in the top flight in your forties if you’re not a good player. The driving runs forward were great, but he had a great understanding of the game and his short passing was to die for. There he was still doing it at the end of his playing career, playing one or two touch shifting the ball on quickly and accurately.

When he was in the side there was always hope. So from one grateful fan with a tear in his eye – thank you Billy