In the 1996/97 season, West Ham were battling to stay up in the English Premier League. We were losing easy games, were weren’t scoring, and this prompted Harry Redknapp to plead with the board to free up some money, in order to sign a couple of strikers. Redknapp spent the money on Paul Kitson and John Hartson. He also brought in Steve Lomas to add some steel in midfield. But it was the signings of Kitson and Hartson which kept us up that year.
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Big John Hartson has kindly taken time to speak to me about his time at West Ham United. I was a big fan of his, a young, powerful forward, who could score goals with his head or with his feet. The type of player we so desperately need at the club right now! He had the heart for a fight, he linked up well with Paul Kitson, and it was their goals that saved us. Here is what John had to say about his time at the club.
Hi John, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. First of all, could you tell us what your favourite game was?
Well I had lots of favourites. One that really sticks in my mind was a match away at Leicester City. I had to face Matt Elliott, Steve Walsh and Gerry Taggart in that game, so it was a very physical battle with them. I think John Moncur got the only goal of the game, we won 1-0 and it was a massive 3 points for us. Richard Hall was playing at the back for us, and he just won everything, he was a man mountain that day.
Other games I remember was my home debut, against Tottenham. I remember rising above Sol Campbell at the back post and scoring a header, then I won the penalty which allowed Dicksy (Julian Dicks) to score his penalty (and the winner). I also enjoyed winning 3-1 away at Coventry City. I scored twice and Rio got the other – that was a good day, and also the 5-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Upton Park. ‘Kits’ got a hatrick and I scored twice. That season where we survived was particularly good, as I think we were in a worse situation than QPR have been this year, but there are so many good games.
What was the best goal you scored for West Ham?
I think my best goal for West Ham was a header I scored against Aston Villa at Upton Park. Tim Breacker crossed the ball for me, and I out jumped Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate, and powered a header into the top corner, past Mark Bosnich. I think that was my best goal. I had a good goal scoring record at West Ham, I think it was 33 in 70 games.
What was your favourite goal you scored for West Ham?
It was a goal I scored up at Pride Park versus Derby County. I remember it being on a Sky Super Sunday, we won the game 1 or 2 nil. I struck the ball well with the side of my right foot, and it flew into the bottom corner. I remember the game as Swansea beat Cardiff City that day, so it’s one that stays in the memory.
Also, any goal I scored at Upton Park was good, I loved scoring there in front of the fans.
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That brings me nicely onto my next question, you were loved by the West Ham fans for your committed performances, how was your relationship with them?
I love the West Ham fans, they were very good and supportive of me whilst I was at the club. West Ham is a good club, and it was good for me as I was a young 21 year old striker, I was hungry and passionate which I think they liked and it helped me from the start. I was very disappointed with how I left the club, and in my second game for Wimbledon at Selhurst Park against West Ham, some of the supporters booed me, and that really upset me. I thought I had given a lot to the club before I left, and I had saved them from relegation and pushed on the following season. I think I lost support from the incident involving Eyal Berkovic at the training ground, and nobody regrets that incident more than I do, I have to live with it everyday. However, what I think some of the supporters failed to see was that they signed me for £3.2m, and they sold me for £7.5m. With that money, they signed Marc-Vivien Foe, god rest his soul, Scott Minto and Paolo Di Canio. Obviously, look at the career Paolo went on to have there. So to get booed, left a bit of a sour taste, I thought John Hartson was very good for West Ham. However, I go back sometimes now with the media work I do, and I always get a good reception, and whenever I see West Ham fans, they always say hello, and it’s nice to give them some time as well.
In your second season at West Ham, the season after you helped us survive relegation, you were nearly the top scorer in the Premier League weren’t you?
Yes, I scored 24 goals for West Ham that season. I was beaten by Michael Owen and Andy Cole who both got 25. I was very proud of my record that season, and I think I could’ve scored more but I was suspended for the final 4 games of the season after I got sent off against Derby County for an elbow on Igor Stimac. We had games against the likes of Palace and Leicester too, so I would have fancied my chances. I was a young player with a hot head, and I was still learning. I also had some off field issues which contributed to how I was on the field sometimes. I think I remain the last player to score more than 20 goals in a Premier League season for West Ham. I think Tony Cottee was before that.
Who was the best player you played with at West Ham?
It was probably Eyal Berkovic. He set up a lot of my goals, he was a very unselfish player and just a very good. As I said, I deeply regret the incident with him, and when I see the photos now, all I do is cringe. I got fined by Harry (Redknapp) and I got fined by the FA for it, but I still regret it to this day. I also enjoyed playing with Steve Potts, Ian Bishop, John Moncur and Steve Lomas. We had a good bunch of lads there, Iain Dowie used to drive me into the training ground, and then we’d all play golf after training. We had young Rio and Frank who were just breaking through, and Harry would call them over to join us. Looking back, I regret leaving the club and wanted to stay, but for West Ham, £7.5m was a lot of money back then. Obviously, Dicksy was also at the club, I can’t believe he hasn’t got a role within West Ham. He is doing a lot of work with the training of youngsters, but he should be involved with the set up at West Ham in some way.
Do you still keep in contact with any of your old West Ham team mates?
Not really, we have all gone our separate ways, and all have our projects and stuff to be working on. It’s like that in football, people tend to drift, but when I do see them, we have a cuddle and a pint and talk about old times, but for me, I am very family orientated nowadays, I have my wife and 4 kids, and I also have my charity and media work to do. I saw Kits on holiday a little while back, Steve Lomas contacted me before taking over at St Johnstone, he was asking me about the Scottish League set up. I speak to Dicksy via Twitter and I have also stayed in contact with Harry Redknapp. I saw Frank (Lampard) at the Chelsea Training Ground when I was there with the Wales National team, but for me, I like to put my family first, and continue my work with my charity and media.
Tell me about the Braveheart Challenge you are intending to take part in?
It’s in relation to my charity, the John Hartson foundation, which is based in Glasgow. On July 13th, we will be walking up Ben Nevis, which is 4 and a half miles up, so 9 mile trip in total. It’s really hard and gruelling, and it’s all to raise money for the charity, to raise awareness of testicular cancer and cancer in general. I feel it’s my duty to do this after my cancer scare. I am always looking for people to get on board and I plug the charity as much as I can. We are still looking for people to join us on the walk, so if anyone is interested, then please get in touch. All of the money helps to go to cancer related issues, including machines and wheelchairs for patients. Any donations would be welcome.
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Have you got anything else going on at the moment?
Obviously I am the Assistant Manager for Wales national team, which is something I enjoy, working with Chris Coleman and the young talent that Wales has produced. They all have a good attitude, and if I can help Chris along the way then I will. I also have my media work, I have a contract with the BBC to work on Match Of The Day, Football Focus and Radio 5 Live. I do after dinner speaking as well, in fact I’m booked up for the West Ham hotel. Tony Gale booked me to do some after dinner speaking there. I’ve also been told by the doctors that they don’t need to see me any more in relation to my illness, so that’s good news. I enjoy being busy, and I am happy with what I am doing.
Thanks for talking to me John, it really is appreciated.
I want to tank John for taking the time to speak to me. He is a lovely bloke, and it was like chatting to an old friend. He was very honest with his answers, and it was good to go over his time at the club. I think we could do with a John Hartson in our front line right now, and it’s not until you see his record that you realise just how good his record was for us.
Please take a look at Johns charity here: www.johnhartsonfoundation.co.uk
Anyone interested in taking part in the Braveheart Challenge can contact him via the website.
COME ON YOU IRONS!!
By Chelmo Hammer
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