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In Conversation with David Cross - Part 2

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This interview continues from In Conversation with David Cross Part 1.

The side would eventually be knocked out by Georgians Dinamo Tbilisi. The Soviet Cup winners are one of a small number of teams to applauded of by home supporters at the Boleyn Ground. 

Many consider them to have produced the best away performance by any side in the ground’s 112-year history as they ran out 4-1 winners in March 1981.

Cross agrees with this sentiment. 

Despite the squad believing their opponents' winter break would mean they would be too rusty, the rest meant “they were fresh and very very good technically”.

Cross praises the side for the hard work and efficiency, noting they were a very professional outfit. He singles out Alexandre Chivadze, the centre-half who was USSR captain at the time and his club captain with several teammates being full internationals. He admits, however, his error allowed Chivadze to play a role in one of the four goals.

“One of those goals was my fault, I left Chivadze go through with the ball and I didn’t track him.”

Despite this large defeat, the East Londoners went to Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena and came back with a 1-0 victory. Cross gives “credit to John Lyall and all the lads” as playing away in Europe was always difficult.

West Ham ended their three year top fight absence that season. Confirming promotion with a 5-1 away demolition of Grimsby Town with Cross hitting four and Geoff Pike scoring the other. What is remarkable about that result is Grimsby only conceded 10 goals at home all season.

Cross remembers the day well: “Massive puddles all over the pitch in this day and age that might’ve been called off.”

The usual game plan proved effective for the side: “Big Phil Parkes smashed it down the middle, one bounce, I ran on on the back-line, shoot and scored.”

Cross notes West Ham did not play it out the back at all. The pitches weren’t good enough, so you’d rather lose the ball up top in the final third than in the bottom third. Though John Lyall, manager: “Believed in the way to play football, the passing West Ham game.”

Lyall would set up to prepare and play the same every game with only the occasional minor tweaks for each game.

The following August, with West Ham back in the top flight, Cross would hit four goals again. This time in a 4-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. 

“I’d made a living by scoring goals, made a living by getting into the penalty area where it hurt,” he explains. Professionally, he was very happy as it meant he was already four goals up and having scored the next weekend at Sunderland, he was well on the way to double figures after just one month.

“For the fans, knowing what we’d done that night to beat our biggest rivals 4-0 on their own ground, for me to get all four goals, I did realise that was going to last a long time in the hearts of the fans.” 

Cross would sign for Manchester City in 1982, wishing to return up North following his marriage and he felt “at 31, I didn’t want to have one season where I hadn’t been as good as the previous five”. Though, he regrets leaving when he did, adding: “I wish I had another season.”

He would spend two summers in North America with Vancouver Whitecaps. 

There were subtle changes in the way football was played there. “It was different there because about 50% of games were played on artificials, which changed the way you had to play, 

“You had to play standing up, your first touch had to be 100% better.”

“We had terrific imports but so did every other team” but “our Canadians were good, honest footballers.”

He believes the Canadians being more used to playing football gave them an edge over American opponents, who were still experiencing a relatively new game.

Despite later spells at Bury and Cypriot club Aris Limassol, a fractured skull picked up at Bolton effectively ended his career.

“I had constant headaches for years afterwards”, he recollects. "Perhaps Bolton could’ve been a bit more sympathetic about the seriousness of the injury.

“They didn’t really look after me.” He played the next game, having been misdiagnosed but collapsed on the field, manager Phil Neal did not wish to keep him at his age and that was that.

Unable to head the ball, Cross eventually retired: “There was nothing anyone could do, I was never going to recover.” 

He insists he has no ill feelings to the player who caused the injury with an elbow to the head. He doesn't even know who did it, he tells me: “I don’t know, I’m not really bothered about who it was", before explaining it was part and parcel of the game: “This time I was on the sharp end of it instead of somebody else.”

He joined Aris after being told by Terry McDermott, who spent two seasons with APOEL Nicosia, that the Cypriots never went aerial, so his inability to head the ball wouldn’t be a problem. The style of play may not have been good, but Cross has kept in touch with this former teammates.

At the beginning of our discussion, I asked David if there was a point he realised he had made it as a professional footballer, he joked: “No, not really, I think I was about 36 before I realised how lucky I’d been for the past 18 years.”

How would Cross describe his career?

“I never dreamt I’d be good enough, I knew I was good at the level I played at,” but to make it as a professional was a great source of pride for him. 

“I hoped centre-backs would realise they were going to have a difficult time.”, he compares his playing style to Alan Shearer but jokes he was “a little bit better than me.”

Cross also agrees with Shearer’s remarks on Match of the Day at it being better for a striker to get chances and miss rather than not get chances.

Saying confidence was “a big thing” for him, he points out: “The more chances I have the more likely I am to score.”

“You’ve got to be brave enough,” he explains and when one finally goes in the goals tend to come flooding back.

So what was to happen next?

On retirement, he says: “It’s a bit like dying really, we all knew it would happen, but you never thought it would happen to you.

“I hadn’t a clue what to do.”

He sold pensions for a while, but admits he “wasn’t a very good salesman” and was as a coach at Oldham and analyst for West Ham and Blackburn Rovers before retiring in 2016. He admits: “Football was really all I knew and I was lucky to be employed in football for the best part of 50 years.”

His passion for the game means he still watches it regularly. He speaks of being amazed by how technically good modern footballers are with Arsenal, Spurs and Man City standing out.

 

The game has changed a lot since those days, however, it has evolved a lot and as such he struggles to say which players remind of him of his old teammates, after some deliberation, he mentions Alan Devonshire and Theo Walcott have a similar way of running at people but that is it.

He does have one gripe, however,  “that people don’t shoot anymore, seem to want to pass the ball into the net”, he explains that he wanted teammates to fire shots from 30 yards, when that happens “things happen for the strikers” in terms of deflections and that was a massive help for him.

He is content in his retirement however, it allows him “to do what I want to do for a while”, such as travelling to Australia this winter to watch Kate play cricket for England. His eldest daughter Jennifer, played Super League netball, while son Robert played cricket for Lancashire and spent four years at Manchester United as a boy. His wife was also a netball player.  

He believes his children’s sporting success comes from the fact the family was “always in the garden” doing sport. 

He believes: “We were just lucky that what me and my wife enjoyed doing drifted into kids as they grew up,” and they enjoy watching them play in their retirement.

 

Image Credit - Geograph / Flickr Commons.

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