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The Charles Dickens’ character Mr. Micawber would have expected “something to turn up” to help improve the Hammers' goal scoring problem. And in a way it did as West Ham persuaded Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson to re-join the club from Sunderland.
‘Pop’ did not let the club down as he found his scoring touch to net 14 goals in his season’s 30 appearances. These goals were a significant factor in the team’s 11 wins which helped dodge the drop to the Second Division. Perhaps in no small way, Frank’s testimonial was a small trigger in improving the Hammers’ fortunes.
Bleak House from the Charles Dickens novel would probably have been a more cheerful and welcoming place than Upton Park in October 1976.
West Ham's league form was dismal. A disastrous start of one win and nine goals in the season’s first 12 games left the Hammers propping up Division One.
But on the evening of Tuesday November 2, 1976 there was some respite when the Hammers staged a testimonial match for one of the club’s long serving players, Frank Lampard.
Before we cover Frank’s testimonial match, a summary of his illustrious spell in claret and blue. He joined the ground staff at Upton Park in July 1964 and signed professional forms in September 1965.
In a first team career stretching to eighteen seasons he made his league debut on November 18, 1967 in a 3-2 home defeat to Manchester City. 670 first team matches later on May 20, 1985 he signed-off in the 1984-85 season’s final match a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool.
From those 18 seasons his honours list makes impressive reading:
An Illustrious West Ham Career
Two FA Cup winners medals from 1975 and 1980
League Cup runners-up medal in 1981
Division Two Championship winners medal in 1980-81
European Cup Winners’ Cup runners-up medal in 1976
England international appearances at Youth (5 caps), Under 23 (4 caps) and Full level (2 caps)
Of Lampard’s 22 claret and blue goals his most crucial net was in April 1980 en route to the 1980 FA Cup final. Hammers’ fans from the 1980s will never forget his diving header to win the 1980 FA Cup semi-final tie against Everton.
Testimonial Match a Trial for Goal Scorers
As part of Ron Greenwood’s and John Lyall’s search in 1976-77 for an answer to the goal scoring problem, Lampard’s testimonial game also doubled up as a trial for two pairs of lower division strikers who guested for the Hammers.
Second Division Charlton Athletic’s Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan donned claret and blue shirts in the first half and in the second they were replaced by the Bristol Rovers’ Third Division pair Alan Warboys and Bruce Bannister.
Not surprisingly, the post match press reporting speculated on possible transfer activity of the four guest players.
West Ham United 3 - 1 Fulham (HT 0-0)
Tuesday November 2, 1976
West Ham United:
Frank Lampard (58 mins), Keith Robson (73 mins), Trevor Brooking (86 mins)
John Mitchell (50 mins)
West Ham United Squad:
Mervyn Day, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard (capt), Alan Curbishley, Kevin Lock, Tommy Taylor, Mike Flanagan (Charlton Ath) (Alan Warboys – Bristol Rovers 46 mins), Graham Paddon, (Keith Robson, 46 mins), Derek Hales (Charlton Ath) (Bruce Bannister – Bristol Rovers 46 mins), Trevor Brooking, Bryan Robson, (Alan Devonshire 72 mins).
Richard Teale, John Lacy, Les Strong, Alan Slough (capt), Ernie Howe, Bobby Moore, George Best, John Evanson (John Margerrison 70), John Mitchell, Tony Mahoney (Brian Greenaway 60), John Dowie.
Bobby Moore & George Best the classiest performers
Smash and Smile... Frank Lampard puts Alan Warboys (left) and Bruce Bannister in the picture
The match result shows all of the goals arriving in the second half as the Hammers beat the Cottagers 3-1. But it was the west Londoners who took a 50th minute lead when forward John Mitchell scored at the near post following a fine run by George Best. One match report explained that Fulham’s George Best and Bobby Moore “looked the classiest performers on view. Moore’s ice-cool defensive work and Best’s superb individual skills outshone Hammers’ four guest players”.
Eight minutes later the equaliser arrived courtesy of the man of the moment Frank Lampard who turned in a low cross from Alan Curbishley.
A 73rd minute Keith Robson 20 yarder curved wickedly to take West Ham into the lead and Trevor Brooking added a third with a far post effort four minutes from time.
Amazing to think two superstars like Moore and Best would regularly play for fun turning out in testimonial and friendly games. The previous Tuesday to Lampard’s testimonial, Fulham visited Athenian League club Redhill FC for another friendly.
Moore, Best and Rodney Marsh not only turned up but played the full 90 minutes in their 6-2 win.
A lasting memory of the evening came after the final whistle when the capacity crowd brought Redhill to a standstill.
Unfortunately Frank did not receive the support of a capacity crowd. The 16,597 testimonial attendance though lower than that season’s league matches did contribute a healthy £12,000 to Frank’s testimonial fund.
Frank Lampard turns away from the Fulham goalmouth after scoring in his own testimonial
The Bob Wheatley Cup
In the same month as Lampard’s testimonial, Fulham’s Les Barrett also had his testimonial game.
With Fulham providing the opposition for Frank’s match, the Hammers reciprocated the gesture for Les Barrett. To add a more competitive element to the affairs, Wheatley Taverns donated a trophy and medals for the aggregate winners of the two testimonial games.
Full back Lampard, who would eventually chalk up over 650 league and cup appearances plus net some crucial goals for West Ham, was a worthy recipient of a testimonial.
His benefit game against Fulham turned out to be a minor turning point in the season as it sparked a small but encouraging improvement in league results.
Fulham 2 - 5 West Ham United
Tuesday November 23, 1976
John Mitchell 2
West Ham United:
Geoff Pike 2, Anton Otulakowski, Trevor Brooking and Bryan Robson
Les Barrett Testimonial
For the “away leg” of the Bob Wheatley Cup West Ham visited Craven Cottage on Tuesday November 23, 1976. In an encouraging 5-2 win it was Hammers' recent signing Anton Otulakowski from Barnsley, who grabbed the match report headlines.
Hammers Lift Wheatley Taverns Trophy
West Ham United:
Mervyn Day, Billy Bonds (capt), Frank Lampard, Anton Otulakowski, Tommy Taylor, Kevin Lock, Alan Devonshire, Geoff Pike,
Bill Jennings (Bill Green 46 mins), Trevor Brooking, Bryan Robson.
Revival in League Results
Finding their scoring touch albeit in testimonial games helped spark a mini revival in league fortunes. Four days after Lampard’s game, on Saturday November 6 1976 the Hammers faced Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park and recorded a scintillating 5-3 victory.
And four days after Les Barrett’s testimonial, ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ could be heard loud and clear following the surprise 2-0 victory over Manchester United at the 'Theatre of Dreams' on November 27.
Team Changes Post 1976 ECWC Final
It may be hard to believe, but only six months earlier the club had narrowly failed to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup when Anderlecht triumphed in the Brussels final. In a 34 league match run starting in the second half of the previous 1975-76 season and up to Lampard’s testimonial game, the team managed a paltry two wins! Inevitably the team was going to change.
Frank’s testimonial was Graham Paddon’s final first team appearance before transferring back to Norwich City. And in came Alan Devonshire who four days earlier had made his league debut for the Hammers.
As for the guesting two pairs of strikers, neither of them signed for the Hammers that season. Though a year later Derek Hales Charlton Athletic's prolific striker did cross the Thames to east London.
“Pop” the Saviour
Playing in midfield alongside Trevor Brooking, Otulakowski making his first team debut celebrated with a second half goal. Four days later, Anton made his claret and blue league debut as the same XI which started in Les Barrett’s testimonial won 2-0 away to Manchester United.
No need for a penalty shoot-out at the end of the Barrett Testimonial. A 5-2 win at Craven Cottage gave the Hammers an 8-3 aggregate winning score, and the Bob Wheatley Cup.
Newspaper coverage courtesy of Richard Miller
Frank and wife Pat and daughters Natalie and Claire with the
Bob Wheatley Cup