Tony Cottee: Why Matthew Upson is my Hammer of the Year
PUBLISHED: 18:22 03 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:25 05 October 2010
Tony Cottee looks back on the highs and lows of West Ham's season and names his end-of-year award winners
By TONY COTTEE
Looking back on West Ham's season, you can't deny that it's been a year of progress at Upton Park.
Although we're all disappointed to have missed out on Europe in the final weeks of the season, the atmosphere at the club is so positive and the outlook for the future looks very promising.
With that in mind, here are my picks for the Advertiser's end-of-season awards, with a special mention to Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke for their fantastic work at the club.
Hammer of the Year
There were a lot of great candidates and it's only right that I mention some of the other players that had good seasons. Herita Ilunga was very steady at the back and Robert Green had another very consistent season. Lucas Neill looked back to his best, Carlton Cole made huge strides and Scott Parker, of course, was the official choice of West Ham supporters. But my own choice for Hammer of the Year is Matthew Upson. He had a very consistent year and not only got into the England squad, but actually played on a few occasions and never let the country down. He's been the mainstay at the heart of our defence, keeping us organised despite having three or four defensive partners. He's good on the ball and so strong in the air, and he's my tip as player of the year.
Young Hammer of the Year
It's been a great year for young players at the club and Jordan Spence, Josh Payne and Bondz N'gala have all been on the fringes of the first team. Junior Stanislas made that step up in the final weeks of the season and James Tomkins has also been outstanding. But in the end, I can't look past Jack Collison. Since getting his chance, he hasn't looked overawed by the players he's playing with and has quickly developed into one of our best players.
Most Improved Player
There's only really one candidate for this award - it's got to be Carlton Cole. There were so many question marks at the beginning of the season about his role in the team and how long he was going to be at the club. But he got his head down, put in some sensational displays and he's finished the season as our top scorer and a realistic contender for a place in England's World Cup squad.
Goal of the Season
There have been a few good goals this season - Radoslav Kovac's effort at Everton last month and Diego Tristan's stunning free-kick at Stoke, but the goal by Carlton Cole at Wigan in March was absolutely sensational. The guys on Match of the Day were drooling over it when it featured in their Goal of the Season competition and it's a goal that sums up everything we've grown up to expect from West Ham.
Match of the Season
We had great results at Liverpool, Stoke and Portsmouth this season, but for me, our best result of the season was the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in December. It came at a crucial time, when we were all starting to wonder if we'd be involved in a relegation battle, but we produced an excellent performance that set us up for two good results after Christmas and we never looked in trouble again.
When I look back at this season, I'll remember Carlton Cole emerging as an England striker and the change in the quality of the football at Upton Park. But the thing that will most stand out for me is the crop of youngsters we've seen come through. West Ham prides itself on giving young players a chance and in the cases of James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas, we've seen three youngsters come in and grab their opportunities.
In a season of few disappointments, I was sad to see Alan Curbishley leave the club in September. He's a West Ham man and he genuinely loves the club. But the biggest disappointment for me was the FA Cup defeat against Middlesbrough. If we'd won that match, we would've had a great chance to go to Wembley for the semi-finals. But the performances home and away were two of our poorest of the season.
Valon Behrami proved a steady presence before his knee injury, but there's no doubt the best signing was Herita Ilunga, who immediately became a vital member of the starting line-up, despite having to adapt to the English game.
Tony Cottee was talking to Jonathan Clegg.