West Ham's best academy graduates of all time: From Declan Rice to Bobby Moore, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard

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GOAL selects some of the best prospects to come out of one of the most productive youth academies in English football

West Ham have consistently punched above their weight when it comes to their youth academy. Despite being based in London, a fiercely competitive footballing hotbed, the Hammers have a reputation for producing superior players to many of their better-resourced rivals in the capital.

The supporters are proud of this fact too, and one of the key tenets of the fabled 'West Ham Way' is the club's commitment to trusting youth from what they dub 'The Academy of Football'.

And so as their current crop of Under-18s prepare to face Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup final, GOAL lists off some of the most successful graduates of the Hammers' academy...

  1. Declan Rice

    Declan Rice

    Rice's youth career was the inverse of John Terry's. Unlike Terry, who started at West Ham before finishing his footballing education at Stamford Bridge, Rice began at Chelsea and only joined the Hammers following his release aged 14.

    It has proved to be one of the best signings in Irons' history. Not only has Rice been a near ever-present since he broke into the first team during the 2017-18 campaign, he is also set to fetch West Ham an astronomical transfer fee when he eventually departs - likely this summer.

  2. Bobby Moore

    Bobby Moore

    The first of three Hammers that aided England to their first and only World Cup triumph, Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy as captain in 1966.

    This is not all Moore should be remembered for, however. He is widely considered one of the greatest defenders English football have ever produced, receiving a glowing reference from Pele following his untimely death in 1993.

    "He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against. The world has lost one of its greatest football players and an honourable gentleman."

  3. Frank Lampard
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    Frank Lampard

    Lampard had a tough task living up to his father's reputation - who made 551 league appearances for the Hammers in an incredible 18-year spell. Frank Jr. was more than up to it, though, shaking off any suggestions of nepotism by becoming a legend in his own right.

    Chelsea was where Lampard would spend the majority of his career, of course, but he also had success in east London before his acrimonious exit following the sacking on uncle and manager Harry Redknapp.

    He cost the Blues just £11 million ($13.7m) in 2001, an investment that he repaid by scoring 177 Premier League goals and helping the club win a shed load of major honours.

  4. Paul Ince
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    Paul Ince

    Nicknamed 'The Guv'nor' during his time at Manchester United, Ince is an east London boy through and through.

    Joining West Ham aged 12, Ince worked his way up through the youth ranks and was handed his first-team debut in 1986. He would become a regular soon after, and his all-action midfield displays convinced United to sign him in 1989. It was a controversial move, with a photo of Ince in a Red Devils shirt appearing in newspapers long before the deal was announced.

    The midfielder never shied away from infamy, creating a stir by signing for United's bitter rivals Liverpool after leaving Inter in 1997.

    As these two examples might suggest, Ince is one of the great characters of British football.

  5. Geoff Hurst

    Geoff Hurst

    Until that pesky upstart Kylian Mbappe came along, Hurst was the only player to ever net a hat-trick in a World Cup final, scoring three as England beat West Germany in 1966.

    Interestingly, he would not have even played had Jimmy Greaves not been injured, in what is one of the great sliding-doors moments in football history.

    Hurst reacted to Mbappe joining him in the World Cup final hat-trick club in December 2022, tweeting: "Many congratulations to Mbappe, whatever happens. I've had a great run!"

  6. Rio Ferdinand
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    Rio Ferdinand

    Speaking of players who earned West Ham a huge cash windfall, Ferdinand was sold to Leeds United for a then British-record £18 million ($22.4m) in 2000. It was also the most any club had ever spent on a defender.

    Ferdinand would go on to break the British transfer record for a second time in 2002 when joining Manchester United, and the centre-back would firmly establish himself as a legend in the 12 years he spent at Old Trafford.

    By the time he retired, he also boasted 81 England caps - and it all began in West Ham's academy.

  7. Joe Cole
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    Joe Cole

    Many football supporters look back on Cole's first spell at West Ham with rose-tinted glasses.

    They claim that he was never as free, expressive or exciting than when he first burst onto the scene with the Hammers and was apparently 'ruined' when Jose Mourinho got his hands on him at Chelsea and instilled some discipline to his game.

    These perceptions likely stem from just how different Cole felt to other English prospects when he broke through into the first team. A supreme technician who made the ball stick to his foot like glue, he would enjoy an incredible career after leaving West Ham following their relegation in 2004, but some of his critics feel he could have done even more with his generational talent.

  8. Martin Peters
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    Martin Peters

    The last of West Ham's World Cup-winning trio is Peters, who started on the left-hand side of Sir Alf Ramsey's midfield diamond.

    Had it not been for an 89th-minute equaliser from Wolfgang Weber, it would be Peters and not Hurst who would be remembered as the man who won England the famous trophy, as he netted a fine goal to make it 2-1 late in the second half.

    Moore, Hurst and Peters received a fitting tribute to their incredible achievement in 2003, as they were immortalised in a statue, alongside England team-mate Ray Wilson. The bronze is still standing and is located a stone's throw from West Ham's former home, Upton Park.

  9. Michael Carrick
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    Michael Carrick

    You might be wondering how Carrick ended up in east London, considering he was born a stone's throw from Newcastle, some 300-odd miles away.

    After impressing a Wallsend Boys Club - a talent factory that has produced loads of pros, including Peter Beardsley, Steve Bruce and Alan Shearer - Carrick was offered a move down to the bright lights of the capital.

    It didn't take him long to break into the first team, and he featured regularly in the 2002-03 West Ham side that is widely considered to be the best team ever relegated from the Premier League.

    He stuck around for one more season before joining Tottenham, with Manchester United coming calling after two years at White Hart Lane.

  10. Trevor Brooking
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    Trevor Brooking

    Born slightly too late to form part of England's 1966 squad, Brooking is a West Ham icon regardless.

    Having watched his first Hammers game from the stands as a nine-year-old, the midfielder would go on to make 643 appearances for his boyhood club, helping them to a pair of FA Cup wins in 1975 and 1980.

    Even after retirement, his commitment to the club never wavered. He served on the board for many years and even stepped in as caretaker manager on two occasions. Quite rightly, Brooking has a stand named after him at the London Stadium.

  11. Glen Johnson
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    Glen Johnson

    Johnson might not be remembered as an all-time Premier League great, but he still enjoyed a career that 99 percent of footballers would be envious of.

    Before retirement Johnson took in 358 Premier League games, earned 54 England caps and even lifted a Premier League title with Chelsea in 2005.

    Before all that, he learned his trade at West Ham, breaking into the first team at a young age and earning the club a tidy sum when he was sold to Chelsea in 2003.

  12. Mark Noble
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    Mark Noble

    Noble bleeds claret and blue. One-club men are increasingly a rarity in the modern game, but Noble bucked this trend, spending 18 uninterrupted years at his boyhood club before retiring in 2022.

    Even when he did hang up his boots, they couldn't get him out of the building, with Noble simply taking up the role of sporting director instead.

    He may never have got his England call-up, but Noble was with the Hammers through thick and thin, playing a key role in setting the club's culture as players came and went.