I think if any West Ham fan were asked to compile a list of their Top 5 greatest ever West Ham strikers, Tony Cottee would more than likely feature alongside Geoff Hurst, Syd Puddefoot, Vic Watson and Iain Dowie. OK, maybe not Iain Dowie.
When I saw that Cottee had written a new book I assumed it was merely an update of his autobiography published back in 1995. So I bought it anyway even though I only expected a couple of new chapters to bring his life up to date. Boy was I wrong. It’s a whole new book, covering the last 18 years of his life. It covers the fag end of his playing career in Malaysia, Leicester and Norwich before moving on to his ill fated six months as player/manager at Barnet. He writes movingly about the difficult transition from top class player to journeyman pro winding down his career, and the awful realisation that through little fault of his own, his managerial reign at Barnet would prove to be the first and last time he had the chance to manage a football club.
This is not a particularly polished book. It’s published very cheaply on very shiny paper with far too many photos mixed into the text. It’s not edited that well either, but somehow none of this matters because it’s so authentic. Cottee isn’t a bad writer and can certainly hold the readers attention and he comes into his own when he starts discussing what turns out to be the main theme of the book – how we tried to buy West Ham and install himself as chairman. I reckon I know quite a bit about the recent history of West Ham, but I hadn’t realised how close Cottee came to achieving his goal, and as he relates, had West Ham not not been promoted in the playoff final of 2005, it’s likely that the name above the Chairman’s office at Upton park would be Cottee not Gold or Sullivan.
Cottee hated what he saw happening to the club he supported as a boy. He felt Terry Brown the then chairman, was resting on his laurels and fat salary (£492,000 if you please). The club wasn’t operating as it should commercially, the wrong managers were being appointed and they were buying the wrong players. So Cottee set out to do something about it. He tells the tale in exhaustive detail, naming names and shaming those who he sees as guilty parties. For a footballer with no background in finance to get so close to successfully buying West Ham tells you something about his gutsy determination. Despite Terry Brown constantly shifting the goalposts – and price – Cottee persevered and whenever his bid suffered a setback, he bounced back. But the one thing he seems to have lacked was perhaps the most important thing – a sense of media nouse. Cottee went through the whole episode operating by the maxim ‘least said, soonest mended’. He didn’t go public with his bid and as a consequence was outmanouvred not just by rival bids but also by Terry Brown’s media operation, which sought to do him down at every opportunity. Had Cottee gone public at the right time and solicited the support of West Ham fans I suspect his bid would have been unstoppable. Instead, he was shafted not just by Terry Brown, but by the Icelanders.
The Icelanders? I hear you chorusing. Yes, because the main point of this book is to show us, the loyal West Ham fans, that it was Cottee who actually gave them the idea of buying the club in the first place. They had agreed to put up money to back Cottee’s bid, but over time, they sought to edge him out of the equation. Once they realised that Terry Brown wouldn’t do business with Cottee he was well and truly shafted. Was he naive? Probably. Did he trust one or two people – like Keith Mills from Seymour Pierce – too much? Absolutely.
I’m not going to go into any more detail because I don’t want to ruin the book for those who haven’t read it yet, but suffice to say after reading it you will change your opinion of quite a few people at the heart of the club over those years.
One question he didn’t really answer, though, is why didn’t he try to buy the club again in 2010, or at least attempt to become part of the Gold/Sullivan bid? He clearly enjoyed good relations with them both.
Perhaps I will ask David Sullivan in our next interview.
Anyway, do buy Tony’s book. It’s published in paperback at £14.99, but you can buy it for under £9 from Amazon HERE