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This unsolved mystery goes back to the 1972-73 English football league season and must rank alongside some of the other great mysteries of all time. Similar to the mysteries surrounding the Marie Celeste, the Loch Ness monster and “who was” behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy, our mystery remains unsolved to this day.

The Great Unsolved Mystery

by Roger Hillier

So what is this mystery from 1972-73 season?

If an English striker consistently scores goals, heads the Premiership scoring table, and has one of the best scoring rates in European league football, he would be ushered into the full England team faster than Capello said “I would like to renegotiate my England manager’s contract” on the eve of England’s abject failure in the 2010 South African World Cup! But when our English striker headed the top division’s scoring charts in 1972-73 with 28 league goals he was totally ignored by the then England manager, Alf Ramsey. How could it be that England’s top league goal scorer didn’t receive a call up to the England squad, let alone a place in the starting line up? This must go down as the great unsolved mystery of 1972-73 season.  


Despite scoring considerably more league goals than the resident England strikers Francis Lee (Manchester City) and Martin Chivers (Tottenham Hotspur), the pocket sized goal scoring dynamo was overlooked for full England and Football League representative honours. Francis Lee and Martin Chivers had scored 14 and 17 league goals respectively.  Clamouring by some quarters of the media to call him up for the 1973 Home International Tournament had no impact and to add insult to injury Alf Ramsey even called up John Richards (Wolverhampton Wanderers) for his one and only cap in the Home International Tournament.  Who was this goal scoring machine in 1972-73?  It was West Ham United’s number 11, Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson!

The Evidence for an England Call-up

1972-73 was a fantastic season for Pop Robson.  Everything went right for him, on and off the pitch, except for that elusive full England call up. To this day it is a mystery why Pop never received a call from Alf Ramsey.            

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West Ham 6th in Division One


By West Ham’s standards, 1972-73 was well above average. A strong second half of the season helped the Hammers finish a club record equalling 6th position with 46 points. (This was in the days of two points for a win and a single point for a draw).  This equalled West Ham’s highest ever league placing from 1958-59. In fact another two points would have taken them into 4th spot. A big contribution to West Ham’s league form was Pop’s ability to tuck the ball away.  This recounting of his goal scoring exploits will bring back many memories for Hammers’ fans of the 1970s.  

Pop was ever present for the 42 Football League game programme and his 28 league goals took him to the top of the Division One goal scoring table and an Adidas sponsored Golden Boot Award. Incidentally 26 of his goals were from open play with only two from the penalty spot. Frustratingly he was one goal away from equalling Geoff Hurst’s post-war record of 29 league goals in 1966-67.

Club Record Number of Goal “Doubles”

One of the significant memories from that season was the number of times Pop scored doubles before eventually clinching a hat-trick.  His 28 league goals included a club record of eight league “doubles” in a season.    


Analysis of his goal scoring exploits confirms that Pop should be included in the select band of claret and blue goal scoring legends.   His eight doubles beat the previous club record of seven set in 1961-62 by John Dick. The table below is an impressive list of Hammers who have notched a high number of double goal efforts.

ROBSON Bryan Tottenham 72-73

One of only two "Pop's" goals from 1972-73 not scored from open play came from the penalty spot against Tottenham Hotspur

Seven of the Eight Doubles arrived by the end of Boxing Day

He scored his eight doubles in the first 28 league games, seven of which were scored before the end of 1972.  Just as his goal account seemed to be running dry, his patience was rewarded when he netted a hat-trick with just four games remaining. The unfortunate opponents were Southampton on April 20, 1973.  By Pop’s high standards 1973 bought four barren months as he only scored one more double and that eventual hat-trick.


The table below highlights Pop’s club league record of eight braces and the hat-trick.

Pop Table 1
73_04_20 WHU v. Southampton

Pop with the match ball after his "hat-trick" against Southampton

Doubles in 1972-73 Friendlies

Early exits from the League and FA Cups at the hands of Stockport County and Hull City respectively, restricted Pop’s opportunities for more competitive braces. With the early exits and no European football, West Ham embarked on a plethora of 18 friendly and testimonial games that season. Pop played in 17 and netted 13. The thirteen included another three first team goal doubles.    

A summary of “friendly” doubles

Pop Table 3
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Strangely enough the Hammers pre-season tour to Sweden did not give any indication of Pop’s forthcoming avalanche of league goals.  In August’s tour Pop played in all four games and by his standards had a lean time as he scored a meagre two goals.  Ade Coker and Dudley Tyler matched Pop in the goal stakes.  

At the end of the season West Ham returned to Scandinavia and Pop had found his goal touch. To mark “Norwegian Victory Day” the Hammers played a Norwegian XI in Stavanger and Pop grabbed another double.

Achievements off the Pitch

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• Hammer of the Year

At the end of the season it was no surprise that Pop was voted “Hammer of the Year” by the West Ham United Supporters Club.  He pushed the previous season’s winner, Trevor Brooking, into the runners up spot.

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• Adidas Golden Boot

As mentioned earlier Pop was awarded the Adidas Golden Boot award for his achievement of top Division One goal scorer.  Six seasons later Pop received a second Adidas Golden Boot award when he was top goal scorer in Division Two with 24 goals in 1978-79.

Bryan Robson collects his prize from the Worshipful the Mayor of Newham (Cllr. J. Carter) at the Supporters Club Dance on April 14. In the background is Cllr. Tom Jenkinson, Chairman of the Supporters Club.

• Professional Footballers Golf Champion

Pop was also a useful player on the links which he proved in the 1973 Professional Footballers’ Golf Championships held at Sudbury on Sunday April 8.  Pop won the individual championship with a score of 79 as he led West Ham to the team championship.  The Hammers beat Queens Park Rangers by nine shots, with Crystal Palace third on 264.  The Hammers winning golfing quintet comprised of Pop Robson, Trevor Brooking, Bobby Ferguson, John McDowell and Tommy Taylor.  Tommy Taylor was the previous year’s individual runner up.

From two seasons earlier in 1970-71 there is a good anecdote about Pop. Very soon after Ron Greenwood had bought Pop from Newcastle, West Ham appeared on Match of the Day and in the post match interview Ron was asked why did he purchase Pop? Ron’s very quick reply was “I grew tired of watching the Match of the Day introduction which always includes Pop playing for Newcastle scoring against West Ham”.  Pop certainly did not let Ron Greenwood down. Though he twice left the Hammers only to rejoin the club. Both times he missed out on the FA Cup final seasons. If only West Ham had retained Pop…. who knows how many more goals he would have knocked in.


As for 1972-73, it was an absolute travesty that Pop never received a full England cap, but he at least had some satisfaction of heading the Division One scoring table and winning an Adidas Golden Boot award.


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Bryan "Pop" Robson

in typical goal mouth action for the Hammers

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Bryan Robson





Date of Birth:




Previous Clubs:




Joined Hammers:




Hammers Appearances:






Hammers Goals:





November 11, 1945




Newcastle United, Sunderland




February 1971, second spell October 1976




227 League

12    FA Cup

16    League Cup

1      Watney Cup




ROBSON Bryan 008 v. Ipswich
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