Why Rice's West Ham Parting Is So Different From The Acrimony Of Others

Declan Rice will leave West Ham with nothing but respect from the fans
15:00, 09 Jun 2023

If you have taken even a fleeting interest in the exploits of West Ham United this week, one word has emerged to symbolise the whole remarkable adventure around a bewildering season. Massive.

It is the anchor of a new terrace anthem constructed by supporters, initially with a heavy hint of irony due to the club's lengthy lack of success.

Yet now in the dazed afterglow of a first major trophy win since 1980, that word is developing extra significance.


Particularly in the case of captain Declan Rice. His wide-eyed grin beneath a badly-fitting claret and blue bucket hat underlined what lifting a third-rate European trophy means to him and what he means to the fans.

It's massive to him and, as he rightfully prepares to depart the club for even bigger and better things, the gap left behind will be of equal dimension.

West Ham is a big club but it is not massive. Even though their appearance in the Europa Conference League final this week drew around 30,000 fans to Prague. Around two-thirds of them were without tickets.

In the immediate, dizzying bewilderment of victory, many of us out there did not know what to do. There is precious little experience of winning things among the fanbase.

One supporter even remarked: "I couldn't even speak..I was too shocked at what had just happened to get drunk. It was like my wedding day."

The slightly cheesy open top bus parade that followed 48 hours after winning what is widely considered a tinpot prize saw the streets of East London packed from kerb to kerb.

But despite the fact they have produced from within the ranks of their famed academy some of the finest players of the last 60 years, West Ham fall short where it matters most these days: financially.

As such Rice is not the first player to outgrow my club. He was snapped up by astute talent spotter Dave Hunt after being released by Chelsea at 14.

He has since become welded to West Ham through the youth teams and, just over six years since making his first-team debut at Burnley as a centre half, he is about to be sold for £90 million as a polished midfielder and potential England captain of the not so distant future. 

Break-ups happen all the time in life. Previously players like Paul Ince, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe among others have moved on in search of greater success.

However, most of those left with the club either strapped for cash, facing relegation or under bitter circumstances.

This time it is different. There is a slight whiff that things are changing for the long term with our team.

Wednesday's astonishing victory over a tough Fiorentina side in the Czech Republic means there will be European football for a third consecutive season at the London Stadium.

The Premier League campaign was underwhelming but with growing momentum behind the scenes more players like Rice would give the squad more durability.

He has played 245 games in half-a-dozen years and barely been injured. To move forwards, manager David Moyes needs more like that.

But it is the fact that Rice will leave West Ham, most likely for Arsenal, with nothing but respect, warmth and high regard that really pulls at the Cockney heart strings.

It is far easier to dislike or even despise ex-players. And West Ham supporters are good at it. Ince received death threats after joining Manchester United, there is still a song about Lampard's fictional weight problems, Defoe was terrorised whenever playing against his old club.

Acrimonious divorces are easy. It's the amicable separations that hurt most. If both parties still love each other deep down, then why part? 

Rice has not agitated to get away. He has performed his duties unswervingly and he talks of 'loving West Ham to bits'. And you know he means it.

West Ham have had iconic captains in the past. Bobby Moore is the most famous of them all and was a World Cup winner with England. 

Billy Bonds played 799 games for The Hammers and was capable of playing in the First Division at the age of 41.

Bonds retired as a West Ham player, Moore left for Fulham at the fag end of his career.

But back then the disparity between the truly massive clubs and the rest was not nearly so stark.

Moore won the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year in 1965. That and his England career was enough. Bonds lifted two FA Cups. 

But nowadays players are measured by Premier League titles and Champions League trophies. Nothing else is enough.

Rice is understandably sucked into that belief. And nobody blames him.

He has already won more than England skipper Harry Kane but with his leadership, talent and wholehearted approach to everything, Rice deserves to fly as high as possible.

That is why West Ham are ready to let him go this summer without too much of a fight. 

It is why he will be welcomed back like a returning son in future years. 

But it is also why thousands of grown men who come from one of the toughest parts of the country will cry when the moment of his leaving comes.

Thankfully, he hardly scores so that bit will be easier to handle when he does beat my team with his new one.

And like most ex-West Ham players he will no doubt re-sign for us aged 33 when he has two replacement knees.

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