In Conversation with David Cross - Part 1
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Now, 67, David Cross refused to drink until gone midnight after winning the FA Cup with West Ham in 1980, in order to
savour the memory.
Starting as a lone striker, his side beat defending champions Arsenal. He pauses before talking about growing up watching the final every year and without hesitation says the final whistle was the best moment of his career.
This was a career which saw him take on the likes of George Best, he admits there was always a “wow” factor before playing big names “but when you got out on the pitch you realised they were just humans like you. They would tire too and you’d look them in the eye and they’d think who’s this young lad? Is he going to outrun me today?” and Cross learned to think “he’s got two legs and one head, the same as me.”
It all began when he first signed as a professional for Rochdale at the age of 18: “Maybe I’d have one or two seasons and then if I wasn’t going to be good enough, I could go to university”, he begins.
During his third season, he moved to the Second Division, where he would play the 1973 League Cup Final and win promotion to the top-tier 18 months later: “All of a sudden I was playing with the big guns in the First Division, at that point, I thought maybe I’ve got a chance.”
From East Anglia, Cross would move onto Coventry and eventually West Brom, where if it wasn’t for the late Cyrille Regis, Cross may have never had the chance to play in that cup final.
Cross picked up an injury at the beginning of the 1977-78 season. During his time out injured, The Baggies signed Regis from Hayes and he would form an iconic partnership with Laurie Cunningham: “It was quite clear Cyrille was going to be West Brom’s number 9 for quite some time. He was young, he was dynamic, he was strong, he was different, he was terrific to watch,
“Laurie was playing up top with Cyrille and they were just a fantastic combination, I realised that probably my time in the first team was limited. And it was going to be limited because those two were so good.”
After explaining to manager Ronnie Allen that he did not want to be “excess baggage”, the man who would score over 200 league goals in his career finally joined West Ham, who he had rejected a year before.
He had opted to join West Brom from Coventry City for two reasons. Firstly, he did not have to move house. Secondly: “I was worried that at the age of 26 and single, the bright lights might interfere with my football”, but then manager John Lyall showed Cross around London and how easy it was to escape to the countryside.
Lyall’s confidence in his ability and that he was in Cross’s words “kind and generous and an honest man” resulted in him putting aside his trepidation and signing on the dotted line on his 27th birthday.
Cross was to be vindicated by his decision, enjoying a strong relationship with the supporters: “The next five years were probably the best five years of my career.
“I really took to them and they took to me, I loved playing at Upton Park, driving down Green Street on matchday at one o'clock and picking up the atmosphere.”
It was in the East End that Cross was christened with the affectionate nickname, Psycho, due to the aggressive nature of his play: “I did have a short temper I suppose, if something riled me up or someone was bullying one of our young players, I would be the first one in there.”
second tier West Ham beat Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.
Having not enjoyed the 1973 League Cup final defeat to Spurs with Norwich, he was determined to make amends this time: “I couldn’t guarantee that I would play well. I couldn’t guarantee that we’d win. I could guarantee that I would enjoy the game.
“I woke up on the morning of that match, determined that I was going to take everything in. I was going to remember it all, I wanted to remember everything about the day, and that’s how I approached it. “I didn’t play particularly well but I did a job because my position was a massive change and the thing that really knocked Arsenal for six.”
Cross was relieved when Trevor Brooking headed West Ham in front as it meant his team “weren’t going to make idiots of ourselves”, but suddenly felt panic as the match suddenly became “something you might lose, instead of something you might win.”
Cross clenched a plastic pig throughout the game for luck, a gift from physio Rob Jenkins, as seeing pigs supposedly bought luck on away games:
“If I ever saw anything to do with a pig, on our travels to a game, either on the train or on a bus, if we went past a pig in a farm, or one pig in a field and picked up a newspaper and there was a story about a pig, I’d score.
“Rob bought me a very small plastic pig, a little pink pig, smaller probably than the nail on your middle finger.”
Cross compares his pig to “Trigger’s broom” - as it has gone through several different incarnations. The original was lost by his children and the most recent version, a larger, silver one is in the possession of his daughter, Kate.
As a result of that cup win, West Ham qualified for the 1980-81 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup having won the 1965 edition and losing the 1976 final on penalties to Anderlecht.
Thanks to this, Cross was able to play for The Hammers at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. The 1980 edition of the Copa del Rey had been won by Real Madrid, who had also won La Liga so qualified for the European Cup. The beaten finalists were actually the side’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla.
The Irons lost the away leg 3-1. Cross insists his teammates “knew they were a good side” and there was no lack of motivation at playing a reserve side, with many of the opposition going to gain respectable careers in Spain.
“I never dreamt I’d play at such an iconic stadium like that”, he admits.
The game was marred by crowd trouble and violence though the West Ham team only found out about the incidents both inside and outside the stadium from journalists after the game. As a result, the return leg was played behind closed doors. The official attendance was 262, a collection of club officials, journalists and camera crew.
Cross would score a hat-trick as his side ran out 5-1 victors. He is still the only man to have scored a hat-trick for the club in European competition: “Probably eerie is the best word I can use to describe how it was that night,” the atmosphere felt like a training match with no crowd to drown out the in-game shouting, but the side eventually settled down to progress.
The interview is continued in In Coversation with David Cross Part 2.
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Image Credit - Geograph. Wikipedia Commons.
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