Players From The Past: Matthew Etherington
Former Hammer of the Year and West Ham United fan favourite Matthew Etherington is one of the longest-serving players in the club’s history, wearing the famous Claret & Blue between the years of 2003 and 2009.
Today, in the latest edition of Players From The Past, we look back at the career of the popular winger, focusing on his time in East London, what were his best moments in a West Ham shirt? How did he join the long list of Hammers cult heroes and more importantly, where is now?
The soon to be Premier League star was born in Truro, Cornwall in August 1981 and like so many others in his generation, grew up dreaming of becoming a professional football.
However, as he grew up and started to realise his potential, Etherington was forced to move a long way from home to sign for his first club, joining Peterborough United as a teenager.
Remarkably, the winger was only 15 years of age at the time of his debut for the club and it became clear that a star was being born, with him continuing to figure for the senior side throughout his place teams.
It was while with Posh that the youngster managed to break into the England youth teams, appearing at every level, including England U21s, but sadly, never reaching any senior squad.
This was no dig at Etherington’s clear ability, however, and it wouldn’t be before long that bigger club started to notice his talent and shown an interest, one of those being Tottenham Hotspur.
Having made just over 50 appearances for Peterborough, they let him go to White Hart Lane for hefty fee and there was much excitement about the starlet in North London.
But, things never quite panned out for the attacker with the Spurs, having his time disrupted by a loan to Bradford City and his spell with the Lilywhites came to an end in 2003.
If there was one thing he had gained at the Lane, however, it was Premier League experience, something that would come of use at his next club, in trying to get them back up to the English Top-Flight.
His next destination would be the Boleyn Ground, being signed up by Glenn Roeder following the Irons’ relegation to the First Division at the end of the 2002/2003 season.
Etherington was an instant hit in Claret & Blue after his part swap deal involving Freddie Kanoute from the East Londoners’ city rivals and enjoyed a dream first season.
West Ham may haven’t secured the instant promotion they sought in 2003/2004 but it was a special campaign for the winger, as he picked up the Hammer of the Year, Player of the Season Award.
Alan Pardew’s Hammers lost in the play-off final to Crystal Palace, however, the following season, they has a second chance to go up via the play-offs at the Millennium Stadium.
Once again, Etherington had been hugely influential in guiding the East London outfit to the final, starting in the match and setting up Bobby Zamora for the only goal, West Ham moving back in with the big boys after the narrow victory.
After two seasons of hard work, the No11 and his teammates couldn’t wait to be back where they belonged, and the midfielder carried on his inspired form in the first campaign back.
It would be another successful one with the club finishing inside the top half, though, the season would be famed for its Cup run as Pardew’s men reached the Millennium, with Wembley Stadium being rebuilt, for the third year on the spin.
Etherington’s boyhood club Liverpool awaited in the final and it was heartbreak for the Hammers, a penalties loss to the Reds transpired, sparking an unhappy few years for both the team and the player.
The next term saw the sacking of Pardew and the arrival of Alan Curbishley, mid-relegation battle and while they were able to miraculously save themselves, the wide man struggled with injuries and appeared on just 30 occasions.
The next season and a half were his final in a Hammers shirt as he was being involved less and less, playing fewer and fewer matches and managing only 36 over the period.
Around this time, it also became apparent that Etherington was fighting a gambling addiction and with the help of the club, was able to beat it off despite some sizeable debt.
Mid-way through the 2008/2009 campaign, the star decided it was time for a change and left on happy terms under Gianfranco Zola, the Claret & Blue Army upset but accepting of his desperate.
Etherington decided that Stoke would be the place to play out the twilight years of his career and he would also be well-liked at the newly-promoted club.
The two biggest highlights of his time in Staffordshire came in the form of picking up the club’s Player of the Year prize for the 2009/2010 season, once again in his first term with his new team.
A year later, Stoke were able to reach the FA Cup final with his help and he even got on the scoresheet in the semi-final thrashing of Bolton but yet again, it would be disappointment.
The Potters were bested by Manchester City on the day and once again, Etherington got an FA Cup runners-up medal, narrowly missing out on the cup he dreamed of lifting.
The next few years would see him struggle with injury and fitness once again, the introduction of Mark Hughes hindering his first-team opportunities, resulting in his release at the end of his contract in summer 2014.
Initially, the speedy winger looked for a lower league club, training with the likes of Millwall, though never signing a contract with any club and deciding to call time on his playing career.
Etherington was only in his early 30s at this stage and cited a reoccurring back injury as one of the main reasons, although he hasn’t shied away from the eye of the football world.
Nowadays and since his retirement, the 36-year-old has appeared regularly as a pundit for such organisations as Sky Sports and the BBC, also featuring on BBC Radio and TalkSport, with his options for the future now wide open, it is not known whether he will stick with punditry or look to move into coaching.
While many would suggest that Matthew Etherington’s West Ham United story was one of what could have been, he will always have a special place in the hearts of Hammers and the club’s history, an Icon of his generation, a period of ups and downs.