In December 2016 a persistent hip injury put a full-stop to seventeen years of Robert Lester Zamora finding the back of the net with unerring ease.
For six different clubs, in three different leagues the boy from Barking scored 152 times while striking up lethal partnerships with Teddy Sheringham, Carlos Tevez and Andrew Johnson along the way. At each of these clubs he was a terrace favourite. At most they sang a reworded Dean Martin standard in homage.
Here the England international discusses the varying fortunes of four of his former employees and throws in too some cherished memories from his playing days.
We begin on the south coast and a Brighton side eying up a FA Cup semi-final result that will shock one and all.
FA Cup: Seagulls Can Soar As Underdogs
Can Chris Hughton’s Brighton overcome a Manchester City team who have smashed fives and sixes past opponents for fun in recent seasons and reach their first FA Cup final since 1983?
That is the question posed to Bobby Zamora ahead of this weekend’s Wembley encounter and having enjoyed two successful spells at the club he wants to be positive despite the odds being very much against his beloved Seagulls. Eventually he answers as he played: on the front foot.
“It will be a bit of release against City because the pressure is off and I always liked to play in those games as the underdog where you’re not expected to win. They will be focusing solely on the semi-final, not their relegation fight and they can cause an upset.”
The 38 year old’s positivity is balanced out by a cold dose of reality however, because unquestionably this is a superb City creation Brighton face on Saturday. How good only time will tell but Zamora believes already they compare to the very best that history can offer.
“Manchester City are a special team, they really are. For years now they have been a great footballing side and especially at home where I’ve been on the receiving end of some big wins for them at their ground.
"They’re on track to win multiple trophies and if they win a treble they will be one of the best. If they win the quadruple it’s undoubted that they’re the greatest team ever in the Premier League.”
Blowing Bubbles: Hammers Settling Down
In January 2004 Zamora fulfilled a childhood dream and joined West Ham United, the club both he and his family supported. His introduction bordered on Roy of the Rovers fare.
“It’s all the clichés. As a kid I used to go to Upton Park and watch all of the games and sing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. I remember on my home debut against Cardiff I’m running out and the crowd are singing it and I am as well.
"I had to pinch myself and I had hairs standing up on the back of my neck. There I was singing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles but on the pitch. It was mad. Then we won 1-0 and I scored the winning goal which made it absolutely perfect. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Switching to the present day, Manuel Pellegrini appears to have calmed the waters after a disharmonious period for the Hammers following a divisive move to a new home and a succession of underwhelming performances on the pitch. What is Zamora’s take on how things currently stand in East London?
“I think it’s a happier place now but there is still the bedding in period for the move to a new ground to consider. That was the catalyst for the problems and that feeds into the players and feeds into the performances.
"The fans know they can’t go back to the Boleyn Ground and they are where they are. In time everyone will be seated where they want to be seated and with that comes less pressure on the team which means they can relax and play better football. That’s what we’re beginning to see this year.”
A cult hero who the fans can relate to can often help ease tensions enormously and Zamora certainly played alongside such a figure in the form of Carlos Tevez. Does he see any similarities between the Argentine and Marko Arnautovic, another enigmatic figure who plays with a good deal of singular passion up front?
Speaking of moves, who does the ex-poacher think the Hammers should target in the next window, as they seek to build on mid-table safety and push for European qualification?
“They need a good, solid centre-half who is going to play every game. They’re gold dust. I’d like to see somebody else up front too. I don’t know what’s going on with Andy Carroll or Arnautovic and I’d like us to go for a marquee proven striker who can get you 15 goals a season in the Premier League.
"They may cost you a lot of money to get that player but that’s what you need to push for European football.”
Premier League: Can Fulham Bounce Back?
After four eventful years at the Boleyn Ground, Zamora moved across the capital to Fulham and soon after secured legendary status by helping to fire the Cottagers to an unlikely Europa League final.
En route they played Juventus, beating the Turin giants 4-1 to overcome a first leg defeat and Zamora stood out that evening, getting the better of a defensive great. He recalls it all with a broad smile.
“I remember playing against Cannavaro in Turin and it wasn’t our greatest game. But it was nice to be up against him. At Craven Cottage we had a team who literally believed we could beat anybody. We had that mind-set.
"We had already beaten Manchester United and Arsenal and put in some great performances in Europe. When Juventus turned up and we went a goal down we went up a gear and created chances. Ultimately it was one of the best performances Fulham have ever had. It was special to play against a World Cup winning captain and do so well against him. “
Nine years on and the picture is a lot bleaker at Craven Cottage with relegation almost inevitable. After a tremendous return to the top flight last May how did it come to this?
“For me Fulham have missed two good centre-halves. They genuinely needed two proper centre-halves and that has let them down this season. They were crying out for them in January but didn’t get them and now they’re paying the price.”
“They have the ability to bounce back but that comes down to their recruitment over the summer. Hopefully Scottie is given a chance next year and then the club can move forward. They need to keep hold of a lot of their players too but that will be a financial decision.
"Ideally if they can retain Bebel and Schurrle, those two could be important and make a massive difference but that comes down to their mid-set and whether they want to go down to the Championship.”
Championship: QPR To Start From Scratch
After scoring the winning goal in a Championship Play-Off final for West Ham in 2005 Zamora then made a habit of it in 2014 with his second-to-last club QPR. Only this time he waited until the dying moments to enact one of the most dramatic Wembley moments in recent memory to down a stunned Derby County.
Once again however, the euphoria of the past has diminished as the Hoops languish near the foot of the Championship having sacked their coach Steve McClaren this week. On this occasion even Zamora struggles to find a bright side.
“I like Steve. I think he’s an unbelievable coach. He has been working with what’s there and could possibly have done with a few more funds. Unfortunately QPR have spent so much money in the past they’re now having to tighten the reins.”
“Where they go from here I don’t know because Steve is fantastic and I respect him massively. Possibly it might be Alan Pardew.
"He has been out of the game for a little while and no doubt he’s chomping at the bit. He’s a character and he’s a good fit for the owners and club. So yes he’s an option.”
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*