This week marks an important anniversary in West Ham’s history: 32 years since Steve Potts, a defensive stalwart and a man who clocked up over 500 appearances for the club across three decades, scored his one and only goal in Claret & Blue – and it was genuinely one of the worst goals of all time.
In October 1990, Billy Bonds’ West Ham side were amongst the pacesetters in the second tier. After two away draws against promotion rivals Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday, we needed to get back to winning ways versus Hull City at Upton Park. We took an early lead, only for a rare mistake from Ludek Miklosko to gift the Tigers an equaliser. Then Steve Potts took centre stage.
Yes, you read correctly. Steve Potts.
The unassuming West Ham right-back who’d made himself a first-team regular without anyone really noticing. Now Stevie was good at a lot of things: tackling, heading, running, marking, but shooting on goal was not one of them. Frankly, if Steve had been sat on that grassy knoll at Dallas, he’d have missed Kennedy and shot Nixon instead.
So, when he ran forward in acres of space with the scores level and the Chicken Run urged him to “SHOOOOOOOT!” no one expected him to take it seriously. It was a bit like when Jim Bowen asked the audience for advice on Bullseye. They were always going to say “Gamble” because at the end of the day they didn’t give two sh*ts whether a pair of plumbers from Toxteth won a speedboat or not.
Similarly, telling our shot-shy full-back to have a pop with that wayward right peg could only have minor consequences. We were going to beat Hull anyway. Even if some poor sod in the West Stand got a black eye because Steve Potts momentarily mistook himself for Carlos Alberto, then it was worth it.
Except two things happened that day that the universe could not have predicted. Firstly, Steve Potts managed to get a shot on target. Secondly, Hull keeper Iain Hesford – a fairly accomplished performer in the lower leagues – lost the use of all his limbs.
These two statistical anomalies, up there with Frank McAvennie staying indoors for quiet one on a Saturday night, combined on this otherwise unremarkable October afternoon to produce a moment that will be marked forever in the record books.
Steve Potts took a shot, the ball rolled apologetically towards goal, Iain Hesford’s motor functions temporarily deserted him, and the ball trickled between his legs before nestling cosily into the net. Cue delirium at Upton Park.
In hindsight, it’s hard to do justice to moments like this. No amount of pageantry could ever have done it justice. We could have had fireworks, a Red Arrows fly-by, or Elton John writing a charity single in celebration, and it wouldn’t have been enough. Steve Potts had scored a f*cking goal. What a time to be alive.
In the event, we stuffed Hull 7-1 and put the rest of the league on notice: Billy Bonds’ West Ham meant business.
NOTE: For more memorable moments from the 90s, get your copy of “Highs, Lows and Di Canios: The Fans’ Guide to West Ham United in the 90s”. Available for pre-order here: Highs, Lows & Di Canios – Advance Subscriber Copy – Conker Editions