West Ham FA Cup Hopes: Past and Present

West Ham FA Cup Win 1980. (Photo by David Ashdown/Getty Images)
West Ham FA Cup Win 1980. (Photo by David Ashdown/Getty Images) /
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In 1980, 100,000 fans packed into Wembley to see West Ham squeak out a one-nil win against hated cross-town rivals Arsenal. It was 13 years before I was born in 1993, and the last time the Hammers added silverware to their trophy cabinet.

West Ham wouldn’t come close again until 13 years later when they played Liverpool in 2006 FA Cup final. The Reds beat the Hammers in a penalty shootout after a close match that still inspires hatred amongst hammers fans towards Jamie Carragher, the honourless fair play forgetting former Liverpool center back and current pundit. (He spits out opinions on TV when he’s not literally spitting at children of opposing fans.)

Since then, another child has been conceived, had their first steps, stumbled through adolescence, applied zit cream to their face, and may even get their first kiss without ever seeing West Ham win anything.

Well, maybe they can recall promotion to the Premier League in 2012, but that was the culmination of a post-relegation redemption themed gauntlet and return to relevance. Not exactly a crowning moment of brilliance.

In 1980, 100,000 fans packed into Wembley to see West Ham win against hated rivals Arsenal.

While winning the Premier League, a competition spread out across 38 games, is in all likelihood impossible, winning the FA Cup, while difficult, is not outside the realm of possibility.

The FA Cup is the oldest football tournament in the world, and one of the largest. 124 teams compete in the official eight rounds. But another 644 teams from across England fight for a chance to make the official tournament through a series of qualifiers.

West Ham FA Cup Win 1980.
West Ham FA Cup Win 1980. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images) /

This means that you have local pub teams consisting of customs officers, decorators, and postmen playing after a pint or two scratching and clawing for a couple of thousand pounds prize money, and a shot at the big boys.

The Premier League teams don’t have to play until the third round. They essentially receive first and second-round byes (presumably due to scheduling issues with hair and tattoo parlours). Therefore, the big boys only need to win 5 games for a shot at the title, which is always hosted in the Wembley stadium, a hallowed neutral ground and the Cathedral of Football.

West Ham were close in 2016 when they made it to the sixth round and squared off against Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United’s replacement for current Hammer’s gaffer David Moyes.

It was March 13th, at three o’clock on a Monday. I donned my West Ham scarf, walked out of my office in Alexandria, Virginia, and posted up at the Latino-fusion bar which, after calling ahead, appeared to be the only public establishment televising a midday “soccer match.”

(I did not ask if they were screening the West Ham game as that would have induced more confusion than my inquiries about the Manchester United match already had.)

I bought a bucket of Corona Light pony bottles and chatted with the one waiter in the entire bar who appeared to have any idea what had me so excited. 68 minutes of nervous, nil-nil apprehension and updates for my newfound football friend were suddenly pierced by Payet’s proclamation that, “Yes, I, a West Ham player, am the best man on this particular pitch, and perhaps every field of grass across England.”

The Frenchman bent the ball into the back net better than Beckham, and better than any bender I could ever hope to achieve, even after kicking off at 3 PM.

We went on to lose the second leg 2-1.

But I go into great detail to describe this day because our matchups against Manchester United in 2016 are the last memories where I actually believed West Ham were destined for greatness. (In addition to these two close Cup games, we beat ManU in the last ever game at our hundred-year home the Boleyn Ground, which rocked like a pre-Covid shutdown discotheque on a Saturday night. In losing, Manchester United fell out of the Champions League spots for next year.)

When I first came on to write for Green Street Hammers my bio summed up my vision for providing “annoyingly positive spin after losses.”

Four months later, I had to pinch myself after spending 2 hours preparing a spreadsheet comparing Haller’s goals and Antonio’s goals. It would be the cornerstone of a hit piece on our record signing striker’s inability to live up to expectations. It appears that I have been unable to live up to my own expectations. (At least half of them; I nailed the “annoying” part.)

After watching 80 minutes of our third-round game against League Four squad Stockport (seemingly named after a FIFA create-a-club before adding any customization), I couldn’t help but be bogged down in negativity yet again. But then our thin of mane yet full of heart ex-Watfordian Wonder Signing Craig Dawson leapt to dizzying heights to bury his header past former full-time lorry driver Ben Hinchliffe.

Craig Dawson, West Ham.
Craig Dawson, West Ham.(Photo by MARTIN RICKETT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

The 1-0 win at Stockport means that on Saturday, January 23rd, West Ham will face League One side Doncaster in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. All of this past and present pondering forces the question, “Is it possible to be an optimistic fan of a club whose owner’s ambitions are rooted in winning balance sheets over winning trophies?”

It’s a silly question. Regardless, I am going to watch the games. Now, I could become a front runner and support the Manchesters of the world. The football would be more entertaining, but the wins wouldn’t mean as much, and I am in too deep anyway. Alternatively, I could be a footballing agnostic. Maybe take up a more productive leisure-time activity. But trying (and usually failing) a new hobby sucks, and I don’t want to live out the rest of my football viewing years as a jaded spinster.

In West Ham, I have hitched my cart to a true underdog. And after finishing the feel-good show of the year Ted Lasso on Apple TV+ (Shameless plug. Apple, Netflix has reached out to be the official streaming service of Jonathan, but worry not, they can be yours for the easy monthly payment of $9.99), I feel like I may as well lean into my role as an American who focuses on harnessing the power of unbridled optimism.

I am not even going to entertain the possibility of losing to Doncaster. My eyes are not on the road right in front of me, but on my phone’s navigation system, charting out the most likely course to the promised land. This metaphorical situation is just as dangerous as the literal one, but I’m a football fan, don’t expect rationality to rule my decision making.