18 December 2009 ~ For a club that has made a habit of not so much shooting itself in the foot as hacking it off with a rusty knife, it is appropriate that this week marks the tenth anniversary of one of the most farcical episodes in West Ham’s history. Not many people would remember Manny Omoyinmi, but for his introduction in the 113th minute of a League Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa that West Ham won on penalties. Omoyinmi didn’t miss a penalty, or an easy chance or score an own-goal. In fact, he didn’t do very much at all. What he had done, though, was play in the competition while on loan at Gillingham earlier in the season.
Inexplicably West Ham had not realised Omoyinmi was cup-tied. The news emerged two days after the game, and those picking up their newspapers on that Friday morning were accompanied by a very sudden feeling of nausea. The Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis pressed for West Ham’s elimination, but after discussions with the West Ham chairman Terry Brown, Football League secretary David Dent and Premier League chairman Dave Richards, he settled for a replay.
Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, bemoaned a “cock-up”, not that he was attributing blame to himself, as well he might have done. How could he not have known what one of his players was getting up to at Gillingham – then again, how did Omoyinmi manage to forget?
It was the pointlessness of the substitution that baffled. In his seven minutes on the pitch, Omoyinmi only touched the ball twice and did not take a penalty in the shoot-out. He was almost too inconsequential to deserve the pariah status in which he was instantly held. This was his one appearance for West Ham that season, and he only scored two goals in five years. He was soon ushered down to the lower leagues and retired in 2006.
As for Redknapp, he emerged with his reputation intact, and instead it fell to the club secretary Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday’s secretary at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, and the football secretary Alison O’Dowd to resign. The pair had accepted responsibility for a small error with a huge price.
All this sadly detracted from one of the most entertaining games that year. Villa took the lead through Ian Taylor, before Frank Lampard equalised. Then in stoppage time, Dion Dublin volleyed in what was surely Villa’s winner, only for West Ham instantly to win a penalty, converted by Paolo Di Canio. In the ensuing shoot-out, Villa’s villain was ironically Gareth Southgate, whose kick was saved by Shaka Hislop. Neither player knew it was all for nothing.
Supporters who could prove they were at the first match were let into the replay for free, but the outcome was predictable. Villa won 3-1 in extra-time, this time David James saving a Di Canio penalty that would have made it 2-2. A fat lot of good it did Villa though – they promptly lost their semi-final to Leicester City. A little oversight has never been so costly. Jacob Steinberg