Football: Drawn by magnetism of the claret and blue

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The Independent Online
FRANK LAMPARD - or Frank Lampard Snr, as I suppose we now ought to call him - probably still blames himself for West Ham's defeat in the 1976 European Cup-Winners' Cup final. He shouldn't. His wayward back pass may have let Anderlecht back into the game at a crucial point, setting in motion a paralysing demonstration of passing and finishing. But it's my theory that the kit was to blame.

West Ham's progress in the tournament had been vivid and dramatic, culminating in a semi-final victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on a night illuminated by the dainty brilliance of Trevor Brooking.

That's Trevor Brooking, white No 10, claret shirt with sky blue sleeves.

Claret shirt with sky blue piping, sky blue sleeves with claret cuffs.

Claret cuffs with two sky blue bands. White No 10. Trevor Brooking.

A few years earlier, an aunt had bought me a West Ham shirt as a Christmas present. I can still recall the lurch of my stomach as I unwrapped the gift - in a room crowded with relatives - and realised it was not a West Ham shirt.

It was... nearly.

It was Burnley.

Using a trim from the bottom of the shirt, my nan added a claret stripe to the sky blue collar, and appended two sky blue rings onto the claret cuffs.

Result: happiness. A fresh white No 6 was then sewn on to the back. Result: joy.

Where were we? Ah yes. Brussels. The 1976 European Cup-Winners' Cup final. Anderlecht versus West Ham. That is, Anderlecht versus a West Ham XI in alien shirts, with vulgar stripes and facings.

As the ambition of reclaiming the trophy Bobby Moore had brandished at Wembley 11 years earlier faded and expired, there wasa little part of me which said: "Serves you right. You shouldn't have sold your shirts out for a final. A clear case of bad karma." Call me small-minded. Call me irrational. You are absolutely right.

But these kind of things matter. A lot, to some people.

Harry Redknapp, whom Lampard Snr now assists in managing West Ham, recounts how his 1996 signing from Milan, Paulo Futre, got shirty over the number on his back before his League debut.

Writing in his autobiography - challengingly entitled Harry Redknapp, My Autobiography - the West Ham manager describes how the Portuguese midfielder refused to take to the field at Highbury when told he was allocated the No 16 shirt.

"No way 16," Futre said. "No 10. Eusebio No 10. Futre number 10." So determined was he to wear his number of choice that he offered to pay pounds 100,000 for the privilege.

The impasse was resolved when the man in possession of the West Ham No 10 shirt, John Moncur, agreed to give it up in exchange for a fortnight's holiday in Futre's luxury villa in Portugal.

But such superstitious goings-on are far from new. Before playing for Manchester United and England, Nobby Stiles used to put all his kit on, then take it off, then put it back on again. When he entered the field of play he removed one of his boots and then replaced it.

Moore - Lampard and Redknapp's illustrious colleague - used to be the last player in the dressing-room to put on his shorts. The England captain would stand with shorts in hand, waiting for everyone else to get fully kitted up. And if a team-mate took his shorts off again - as Martin Peters used to do to take the mickey - Moore would do the same. Presumably if Peters had ever taken to the pitch in his jockstrap, the England captain would have followed him.

Thankfully, the world's most elegant defender was spared the affront of donning the kit which greeted the world in Brussels, having earlier left West Ham for Fulham.

Although, come to think of it, Moore was playing for Seattle Sounders by then in a kit that was less than classic.

No matter. The image of the cool blond in claret and blue endures. Such was Moore's stature as a player that he endowed the West Ham No 6 shirt with a personal resonance; in the same way, Brazil's No 10 shirt still evokes its long-time owner, Pele. Subsequent bearers of these iconic items are doomed to unfavourable comparison.

When Moore died in February 1993, the main gate at Upton Park was turned into a temporary shrine by football supporters. Amid all the messages and flowers, it was a single No 6 shirt which brought all the grief into poignant focus. These colours, these numbers - they have their own strange power.