West Ham do not have the best track record when it comes to strikers.
Over the past seven years alone, the Hammers have signed a whopping 32 forwards, totalling a meager 128 goals in 643 games between them.
Yet for all the Benni McCarthys, Marco Borriellos and Simone Zazas that have come and gone in recent years, few compare to the one that rocked up at the Boleyn Ground in the summer of 1995.
The story of how Marco Boogers ended up at West Ham is a strange one, to say the least.
Something of a journeyman forward in the Dutch Eredivisie, the 28-year-old arrived at Upton Park off the back of a season in which he had been voted the third best player in the Dutch top-flight with Sparta Rotterdam.
Not that Booger was ever a prolific goalscorer, even in the notoriously striker-friendly Eredivisie. In three years at Sparta, he’d scored 11 times in 25 games.
But Hammers boss Harry Redknapp saw something in the player. Or something like that anyway, as Redknapp explained in his 1998 autobiography:
“Someone sent me a tape of Boogers in action and urged me to watch it. I was very impressed.”
The West Ham boss would go on to deny the claims of scouting via VHS, explaining that he had regularly gone to watch the lanky Boogers play and saw him the perfect foil to play alongside the club’s beloved marksman, Tony Cottee.
A total of £800,000 was shelled out on the striker, who arrived for pre-season looking a little nervous by all accounts.
His first appearance, coming off the bench against Leeds, offered little indication of his abilities but it would get a whole lot worse in his second appearance, again as a substitute, against reigning champions Manchester United.
Minutes after coming on, Boogers flew into an astonishing challenge on Gary Neville that sparked a mass brawl between both sets of players and, once things calmed down a little, a deserved red card for the Dutchman.
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) January 28, 2017
Banned for four games by the FA for the challenge, Boogers returned to Holland and the tabloid press went into overdrive. The Sun reported that “Barmy Boogers” had run away to a Dutch caravan site and had been deemed “mentally unfit” to play.
Peter Storrie, West Ham’s managing director at the time, attempted to quiet the speculation surrounding Booger’s absence insisting that they had gone to see the player and all was fine. “We had our meeting in the Hilton hotel in Amsterdam,” he said. “I didn’t see a caravan or a tent for that matter. He is certainly not mentally unstable. It is absolute nonsense.”
Quite where the caravan park story had originated from was the source of some speculation in the months that followed but, despite the denials, it stuck, serving as an urban myth of sorts. It was only years later, when former club employee Bill Prosser spoke to The Guardian, that the truth was revealed:
“Marco was depressed after being sent off in his second appearance for West Ham at Old Trafford and disappeared for a few days. West Ham’s Clubcall reporter phoned me and said he was trying to find Boogers for an interview but could not reach him. He asked if I had booked any flights for him.
“I told him I hadn’t but added: ‘If he has gone back to Holland, he’s probably gone by car again.’ The reporter misheard me and stated on Clubcall that I had said: ‘If he’s gone back to Holland, he’s probably gone to his caravan.’ As you know, journalists often listen to Clubcall. Which explains why, the following day, the back page headline in the Sun was: ‘Barmy Boogers Living In A Caravan’. The legend endures …”
But while the legend of Barmy Boogers endures, his career at the club didn’t. With injuries and a lack of form continuing to hamper his progress, Boogers made just two more appearances for the club without scoring a goal before returning to Holland and relative obscurity.
Boogers retired as a player in 2003 at Dutch second tier side Dordrecht, where he managed a decent 66 goals in 128 games. He eventually moved upstairs, becoming became a technical director at the club.
That should have been the end of things but when in 2015, Boogers hit the headlines again after Dordrecht manager Jan Everse quit amid concerns over the Dutchman’s interfering, aggressive approach to the playing squad.
Boogers refuted the claims, however:
“I’ll pop into the dressing room, I’ll give everyone a hand and we talk about the game and sometimes I give my opinion, but it’s not like I go around shouting at people.”
Though he remains in place at Dordrecht and an integral and respected part of the running of the club, it seems the label of “Barmy Boogers” is one he’s not going to be able to shake off anytime soon.