Thursday, 21 August 2008

West Ham United And The First World War

Reproduced here with kind permission is the story of West Ham United and the First World War by historian John Simkin. For further fascinating insights into the history of West Ham United you should check out the Spartacus Educational site...

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August, 1914. Cricket and rugby competitions stopped almost immediately after the outbreak of the First World War. However, the Football League continued with the 1914-15 season. Most football players were professionals and were tied to clubs through one-year renewable contracts. Players could only join the armed forces if the clubs agreed to cancel their contracts. If the club refused, the men could be prosecuted by their clubs for breaking the terms of the agreement.

On 7th August, 1914, Lord Kitchener , the war minister, immediately began a recruiting campaign by calling for men aged between 19 and 30 to join the British Army. At first this was very successful with an average of 33,000 men joining every day. Three weeks later Kitchener raised the recruiting age to 35 and by the middle of September over 500,000 men had volunteered their services. At the time the men were told that the war would be over by Christmas.

On 6th September 1914, Arthur Conan Doyle, appealed for footballers to join the armed forces: "There was a time for all things in the world. There was a time for games, there was a time for business, and there was a time for domestic life. There was a time for everything, but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If the cricketer had a straight eye let him look along the barrel of a rifle. If a footballer had strength of limb let them serve and march in the field of battle." Some newspapers suggested that those who did not join up were "contributing to a German victory."

Frederick Charrington, the son of the wealthy brewer who had established the Tower Hamlets Mission, attacked the West Ham United players for being effeminate and cowardly for getting paid for playing football while others were fighting on the Western Front. The famous amateur footballer and cricketer, Charles B. Fry, called for the abolition of football, demanding that all professional contracts be annulled and that no one below forty years of age be allowed to attend matches.

West Ham had high hopes that they could win the Southern League for the first time and refused to cancel the contracts of their professional players. In Syd Puddefoot they had the country's most promising young goalscorer. The only significant new signing that year was Joe Webster from Watford.

West Ham won six of their first 12 games. Syd Puddefoot got nine goals during this period. George Hilsdon and Richard Leafe were also in good form and got 7 between them. Once again West Ham were challenging for the Southern League title.

In October 1914, the Secretary of State, Lord Kitchener, issued a call for volunteers to both replace those killed in the early battles of the First World War. At the beginning of the war the army had strict specifications about who could become soldiers. Men joining the army had to be at least 5ft 6in tall and a chest measurement of 35 inches. However, these specifications were changed in order to get more men to join the armed forces.

William Joynson Hicks established the 17th Service (Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment on 12th December, 1914. This group became known as the Football Battalion. According to Frederick Wall, the secretary of the Football Association, the England international centre-half, Frank Buckley, was the first person to join the Football Battalion. Initially, because of the problems with contracts, only amateur players like Vivian Woodward, and Evelyn Lintott were able to sign-up.

As Frank Buckley had previous experience in the British Army he was given the rank of Lieutenant. He eventually was promoted to the rank of Major. Within a few weeks the 17th Battalion had its full complement of 600 men. However, few of these men were footballers. Most of the recruits were local men who wanted to be in the same battalion as their football heroes. For example, a large number who joined were supporters of Chelsea and Queen's Park Rangers who wanted to serve with Vivian Woodward and Evelyn Lintott.

Under considerable pressure from the Football Association eventually backed down and called for football clubs to release professional footballers who were not married, to join the armed forces. The FA also agreed to work closely with the War Office to encourage football clubs to organize recruiting drives at matches.

The Athletic News responded angrily: "The whole agitation is nothing less than an attempt by the ruling classes to stop the recreation on one day in the week of the masses ... What do they care for the poor man's sport? The poor are giving their lives for this country in thousands. In many cases they have nothing else... These should, according to a small clique of virulent snobs, be deprived of the one distraction that they have had for over thirty years."

Three members of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee visited Upton Park during half-time of matches to call for volunteers. Joe Webster, the West Ham United goalkeeper, was one of those who joined the Football Battalion as a result of this appeal. Jack Tresadern joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. An intelligent man, he quickly reached the rank of lieutenant.

West Ham United supporters also formed their own Pals Battalion. The 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham Pals) were part of the Essex Regiment. On 5th March 1915 the East Ham Echo reported that Henry Dyer, the Mayor of West Ham, held a concert on behalf of the West Ham Battalion: "During the evening the Mayor briefly addressed the men. He remarked that it was the first time he had the opportunity of speaking to the Battalion as a whole. He was proud of them and when they had gone away a close watch upon their movements would be kept."

In his book War Hammers: The Story of West Ham United During the First World War, Brian Belton argues that the battle cry of the West Ham Pals was "Up the Irons." They saw action at the Somme, Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Cambrai. The war took a terrible toll on these men. Over the next three years the battalion suffered casualties of 37,404 killed, wounded and missing.

West Ham was once again drawn against Newcastle United in the FA Cup. Despite two goals from Richard Leafe, Newcastle earned a 2-2 draw. As a result of the war effort, FA Cup replays were prohibited in midweek so that the tie had its second performance at St James Park the following Saturday. Newcastle won the game 3-2.

Syd Puddefoot remained in great form and scored 18 goals in 35 games in the 1914-15 season. Richard Leafe (13 in 30) and Arthur Stallard (7 in 11) also made impressive contributions. However, the club was only able to manage only one point in their last four games and could only finish in 4th place in the league.

Attendances at league games fell dramatically during the second-half of the season because of the impact of the First World War. It was decided that the Southern League would not operate in the 1915-16 season. As football players only had contracts to play for one season at a time, they were now out of work. It has been estimated that around 2,000 of Britain's 5,000 professional footballers now joined the armed forces. This included most of the West Ham team.

Not all the West Ham players joined the armed forces. According to Brian Belton, the author of War Hammers, The Story of West Ham United During the First World War (2007): "Syd Puddefoot, worked long, exhausting and often dangerous shifts in munitions factories."

Five former West Ham United players were killed in action during the war: Fred Griffiths, Arthur Stallard, William Jones, Frank Cannon and William Kennedy. West Ham's star forward, George Hilsdon, had to endure a mustard gas attack at Arras in 1917. This badly damaged his lungs and although he played briefly for Chatham Town after the war it brought an end to his professional football career. Fred Harrison was also badly gassed on the Western Front and never played football again.

Major Frank Buckley kept a record of what happened to the men under his command in the Football Battalion. He later wrote that by the mid-1930s over 500 of the battalion's original 600 men were dead, having either been killed in action or dying from wounds suffered during the fighting.

If you want to read more about the history of West Ham United from 1895 to 1918 see:

If you want to know more about football and the First World War see:

Monday, 18 August 2008

Syd King: The Early History

Reproduced here with kind permission is the story of Syd King: The Early History of West Ham United by historian John Simkin. For further fascinating insights into the history of West Ham United you should check out the Spartacus Educational site...

In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of "hammers" was heard on the banks of Father Thames and great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Ironworks Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the North country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goalwards. And so when the idea was first suggested that an amateur club should be formed, it met with a ready response from the employs of the Thames Ironworks. These early organisers, of what, in a later age, is known as West Ham United, also found a generous patron in Mr. A. F. Hills.

Before passing along to the first appearance of the club in the field, I ought to point out that West Ham is one of the oldest football centres in the country. The fact is not generally known that Blackburn Rovers have met Upton Park - not the present club of that name - in a late round of the Association Cup competition in West Ham Park. "The oldest inhabitant " tells me that Blackburn Rovers won. I mention these things to show that when the Thames Ironworks F. C. came before the local public a great deal was known about the game; and, indeed, the way had been prepared for the Ironworks by clubs like St. Luke's, Old St. Luke's, and Old Castle Swifts. Canning Town and West Ham, generally in those days even, was a hotbed of football. Old Castle Swifts had the distinction of being the first professional club in Essex, and they played on a field hard by the Hermit Road. Their existence was brief. The Hermit Road "cinder heap" - it was nothing better - lay untenanted after their demise, and it was this barren waste that the Thames Ironworks decided to occupy. A few meetings were called, and the project talked over. Foremen and overseers in the Limited were persuaded to give their support, a committee was elected, and secretaries appointed. Roughly speaking, the membership did not exceed fifty. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines, and their first principle was to choose their team from men in the works.

On September 7, 1895, eleven men from the works turned out at Hermit Road to play the reserve team of the Royal Ordnance F. C. The pages of history record that the result was a draw, 1-1, and everybody went home satisfied.

Bob Stevenson who captained Woolwich Arsenal at one period of their existence, was the first captain of the Thames Ironworks, and in those early days the training was done on week nights at a school-room in the Barking Road. The players used also occasionally to go out for a moonlight spin on the turnpike road. Their trainer was Tommy Robinson, and he is still trainer to West Ham United. There is a break of several seasons in his service, however, during which we saw him smoking his cigar on match days and thinking hard when the game was going against the side in which he has always taken a deep interest.

The Ironworks' first season came to a close, with happy results. They had to move from Hermit Road, though, the next year, and they subsequently appeared at Browning Road, East Ham. For some reason, not altogether explained, the local public at this place did not take kindly to them, and the records show that Browning Road was a wilderness both in the matter of luck and support. Still there was a bright time coming, it was thought, and people were beginning to talk about the Memorial Grounds at Canning Town. This vast athletic enclosure was built by Mr. Hills, and, if my memory is not at fault, I think it was opened on Jubilee Day, 1897. History has been made at the Memorial Grounds. Troubles and triumphs are associated with the enclosure, but, somehow, West Ham never succeeded there as it was once thought they would. Thames Ironworks, however, won the London League championship in 1898.

The next season they entered the Second Division of the Southern League and won the championship at the first time of asking. The season 1898-9 will also be remembered as the year in which they embraced professionalism. One of the arguments advanced at the time was that none but a tip-top team of good players could draw the multitude to the Memorial Grounds. Following its adoption there were more trials and troubles. Those supporters who remained loyal will remember the year as one in which West Ham United certain officials came under the ban of the F.A. It was distinctly unfortunate, and for a time dark clouds threatened the club.

Thames Ironworks were next invited to knock at the door of the First Division of the Southern League. And knock they did. They were admitted, only to discover that the higher you go the more difficulties you may expect to encounter. In September, 1899, then, they made their entry into the First Division. Ill-luck dogged them all the way. They won only eight matches, and finished in the table just above Sheppey United. All this while the man in the street was talking about the club.

The time was ripe for a limited liability company, and the public were shortly afterwards invited to take up shares. Next year the name was changed from Thames Ironworks to West Ham United, and henceforward the doors of the club were open to the rank and file.

The record of 1899-1900, however, would not be complete without some reference to the players who were associated with the club at that time. There was poor Harry Bradshaw, who came from the "Sp*rs" with Joyce. How well I remember that match with Queen's Park Rangers during the Christmas holidays, when Joyce brought over the sad message to the Memorial Grounds that our comrade had passed away. Poor Harry was one of the cleverest wing-forwards I have ever known, and he was immensely popular with everybody. He joined the club with me, and with us in the team were McEachrane (now with the Arsenal), Craig (Notts Forest), my partner at full-back, Carnelly, and Joyce. We had some rare talent in our reserve team too, for, if my memory is not at fault, there were J. Bigden (now of the Arsenal), R. Pudan (Bristol Rovers), and Yenson (Queen's Park Rangers).

Retaining several of their old players, in the following season, 1900-1, West Ham finished up sixth on the Southern League table. This, indeed, was progress. It was the first year of the intermediate rounds of the English Cup competition, and it was our fortune to meet Liverpool at the Memorial Grounds. They beat us by only 1 goal, and we were rather unlucky to lose. Goldie (Fulham) played against us, and Satterthwaite, who afterwards became identified with West Ham, was Liverpool's twelfth man. Grassam joined us that year, and Hugh Monteith kept goal for the "Hammers," as we were then styled.

Next season, 1901-2, is the brightest in the history of the club. It was roses all the way, but there was one ugly thorn, and that a beating from Grays United in the National Cup competition. We reached fourth position in the League table, finishing behind Portsmouth, "Sp*rs," and "Saints."

In that year I was appointed assistant-secretary, and at a later period, as is generally known, I became secretary-manager.

We lost the services of several of our best men the following season, 1902-3. That was the penalty, I suppose, we had to pay for success. All the same, we had a useful team, among whom was Fred Griffiths, the Welsh International goalkeeper; J. Blythe, who afterwards went to Millwall; and Linward, who was transferred to the Arsenal. And the club certainly deserved a higher position than tenth on the table, where we subsequently finished. The Cup competition saw us beaten at Lincoln, and the match will be remembered if only for the accident to Kelly, who, although he broke his ankle, went on playing till within a few minutes of the finish.

Now we come to the season 1903-4. This was one of the most eventful in the history of the club. The West Ham United Football Club Company dates from 1900-1. The open door, so to speak, had been productive of good results. The charge that the club was out of sympathy with the local public was not repeated in 1903. A lot of prejudice had been lived down and forgotten, and I don't suppose any club has had to fight harder for its existence than West Ham United. Even as we stood on the threshold of 1903-4 a great and overwhelming difficulty beset us. It was the last year of our agreement concerning the occupancy of the Memorial Grounds.

But before I pass along to the stirring events which marked the close of that season, let me say something about the team. We were reinforced by a strong contingent from Reading, including Allison, Cotton, Watts, and Lyon. With regard to the performances of the team that year, I regret to say that we did not succeed as we should have liked. Fulham beat us by a goal in the Cup competition, and in the League we were the reverse of comfortable - a fact which did not help to encourage us when we knew that we must leave the Memorial Grounds and that a new home had to be found. The immediate and pressing difficulty of West Ham at the close of the 1901 season was the question of ground. The directors endeavoured to negotiate with Mr. A. F. Hills for a further lease of seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years of the Memorial Grounds at a good rental, the club to have sole control.

Unfortunately as we thought then, but luckily as it afterwards turned out, no agreement could be arrived at. And we had to go. But where to? A piece of waste ground was offered us by the corporation, but this would not do. I well remember the facts concerning our lifting up and being placed on dry land, as it were. It was during our last few days at the Memorial Grounds. A match was being played between boys of the Home Office Schools. One of the Brothers from the Boleyn Castle School was present. We told him of our difficulty, and showed him the letter from Mr. Hills. An arrangement was made with the Brother there and then to go and see the Boleyn Castle Ground. We agreed to take it. A week later we were thrown back into the lap of despair again by being told that the Home Office would not approve of the action of the Brothers. A deputation of directors waited upon Mr. Ernest Gray, M.P., and through his good offices and certain conditions on our part we were finally allowed to take possession of Boleyn Castle.

It is a place with a history. There the unfortunate lady whose name is linked with that of Henry VIII. has resided. There are legends and stories about this fine old mansion - now a school.

At their new ground the West Ham Club hope to make football history, and I may say that 1904-5 - our first season at the Castle - was also the first year we have ever made a profit on the season's working.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Strange Case Of George Hilsdon

Reproduced here with kind permission is The Strange Case of George Hilsdon by historian John Simkin. For further fascinating insights into the history of West Ham United you should check out the Spartacus Educational site...

West Ham have always sold their best young players in order to make a profit for the club owners. However, in June 1906, Syd King, gave away one of West Ham's best ever prospects, George Hilsdon, to Chelsea. It is difficult to explain this action unless King received a backhander.

Hilsdon, who was 18 years old at the time, signed for West Ham United in November 1904. Hilsdon scored in his first game for the club on 11th February, 1905. Hilsdon also scored a hat-trick in a Western League game against Bristol Rovers. The East End News reported: "The match was quite a triumph for the new West Ham centre-forward, who was responsible for three of the half a dozen goals, and to beat a goalkeeper like Cartlidge thrice in one match is an achievement an older hand than Hilsdon might be proud of. With a little more experience, he will doubtless develop into a really first class player."

On 17th April 1905 Hilsdon was injured in a game against Fulham. He was unable to play for the rest of the season. However, his record of four goals in seven games, was an excellent start to his football career. In June 1906, John Tait Robertson, persuaded Syd King to let Hilsdon join Chelsea on a free transfer. Colm Kerrigan, the author of Gatling Gun George Hilsdon (1997) has argued that: "It is difficult to understand why the shrewd Syd King was willing to let him go on a free transfer." Indeed. At the same time, King gave away another extremely promising player, Billy Bridgeman, to Chelsea. As it happens, both Hilsdon and Bridgeman played football for Marner Street School. Bridgeman went on to play 160 games for Chelsea.

Hilsdon played for his new club for the first time against Glossop on 1st September 1906. The Fulham Observer described it as "a sensational debut" as Hilsdon scored five goals in Chelsea's 9-2 victory. Hilsdon was now a marked man and the local newspaper reported that in a game against Fulham Hilsdon "got a terrific charge after about ten minutes, and for the rest of the game wandered about, a shade of his former self. In the dressing room at half-time he was writhing and twisting with pain."

Colm Kerrigan argues in Gatling Gun George Hilsdon that Hilsdon constantly received rough treatment that season. The Fulham Observer reported that in a game against Nottingham Forest, Hilsdon "found it difficult to do anything, as directly the ball came in his direction three opponents were on his track".

Hilsdon got a reputation for fast and hard shooting. The West London Press described a goal he scored against Leicester City in the league: "Hilsdon made a bewildering side movement which just for a second or so nonplussed the two Leicester players around him, but in that brief space Hilsdon had flashed the ball past the astounding Lewis. It was a shot without the slightest element of speculation. It was a Hilsdon goal."

In November 1906 the club programme included a cartoon portrait of Hilsdon entitled "Gatling-Gun George". The accompanying article pointed out that the nickname derived from his shooting "that are simply unstoppable and which travel like shots from a gun."

George Hilsdon scored his 27 goal of the season in Chelsea's 4-1 win over Gainsborough Trinity at Stamford Bridge. This win guaranteed Chelsea promotion to the First Division. S. B. Ashworth, writing in the Daily Mail, predicted that Hilsdon would soon be selected for the England team: "He commands the ball wonderfully, has a fine conception of a centre's duties, and above all, is a deadly shot."

Hilsdon remained in good form the following season. He created another record for the club when he scored six goals in a FA Cup tie against Worksop Town. Hilsdon's 25 league goals that season placed him equal second with Sandy Turnbull of Manchester United and Enoch West of Nottingham Forest.

Hilsdon won his first international cap for England against Ireland on 15th February 1907. Hilsdon failed to score in the 1-0 victory and was dropped from the team. Colm Kerrigan argues that "George had a poor game, handicapped by a foot injury. It was rumoured that it was sustained through a deliberate attempt by the Irish to put him out of the game." However, Hilsdon later claimed that he had jarred the muscles of his foot shooting for goal.

Hilsdon was selected for the trial for the England team in March 1908. The Athletic News was impressed with the way that Hilsdon and Vivian Woodward played together in the South team that drew 4-4 with the North. The newspaper commented that this "superb combination enabled George Hilsdon to shoot all the four goals." He was selected to play against Ireland and scored two goals in England's 3-1 victory. This was followed by a 7-1 hammering of Wales. Once again Hilsdon scored two goals.

On 6th June 1908 Hilsdon scored another two goals in England's 6-1 victory over Austria. This was followed by four goals against Hungary (7-1) and two against Bohemia (4-0). He had now scored 12 goals in 7 internationals. The Fulham Observer reported that Hilsdon was "now England's acknowledged greatest centre-forward and had acquired an accuracy of aim probably unequalled by any great player today."

Hilsdon played against Ireland on 13th April 1909. Despite scoring two goals he was criticised by the Athletic News for being "very deficient in deadliness near the goal". Hilsdon who had scored an amazing 14 goals in 8 international games, was never to play for his country again.

Football journalists began to turn on Hilsdon. The Fulham Observer reported after one game: "Hilsdon did very little at centre-forward with the exception of the one goal he scored. Perhaps he is unable to concentrate on the game." Reg Groves claimed: "He had become too sociable, too careless with his strength and vitality". It was rumoured that Hilsdon had a serious drink problem and he was dropped from the first-team.

After scoring 107 goals in 164 games for Chelsea he was allowed to return to West Ham United in June 1912. The Fulham Observer reported: "Under normal circumstances, they (Chelsea) would probably want nearly four figures before consenting to the international going elsewhere, but strange as it may seem, Chelsea acquired Hilsdon from West Ham without any fee at all, the stipulation being that if he were transferred to another club a proportion of the transfer fee should go to West Ham... During the last two seasons he has declined in form... he will probably be happier at West Ham."

The East Ham Echo reported that during his first home game Hilsdon "had to run the gauntlet of some very uncomplimentary remarks from part of the stand". Hilsdon played at inside-left, with Fred Harrison at centre-forward and Danny Shea at inside-right. The combination played well together. As the East Ham Echo pointed out: "Good as Shea has always been, he is 20 per cent better since the introduction of Hilsdon."

On 15th February 1913 West Ham United played Southampton. The East Ham Echo reported that: "Hilsdon was once more the master-mind of the attack, and it would be difficult to estimate his share in placing the Hammers fifth in the Southern League table this season as against twelfth at the same period last year."

West Ham finished the 1912-13 season in 3rd place in the Southern League. George Hilsdon ended up top scorer with 17 goals in 36 cup and league games. However, the following season he began hitting the bottle and he lost his form and his place in the team.

In October 1914, the Secretary of State, Lord Kitchener, issued a call for volunteers to both replace those killed in the early battles of the war. On 12th December William Joynson Hicks established the 17th Service (Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. This became known as the Football Battalion.

The Football Association called for all professional footballers who were not married, to join the armed forces. Some newspapers suggested that those who did not join up were "contributing to a German victory." The Athletic News responded angrily: "The whole agitation is nothing less than an attempt by the ruling classes to stop the recreation on one day in the week of the masses ... What do they care for the poor man's sport? The poor are giving their lives for this country in thousands. In many cases they have nothing else... These should, according to a small clique of virulent snobs, be deprived of the one distraction that they have had for over thirty years."

Frederick Charrington, the son of the wealthy brewer who had established the Tower Hamlets Mission, attacked the West Ham players for being effeminate and cowardly for getting paid for playing football while others were fighting on the Western Front.

It was decided that the Football League would not operate in the 1915-16 season. As football players only had contracts to play for one season at a time, they were now out of work. It has been estimated that around 2,000 of Britain's 5,000 professional footballers now joined the armed forces. This included George Hilsdon who joined the East Surrey Regiment. He served on the Western Front, had to endure a mustard gas attack at Arras in 1917. This badly damaged his lungs and although he played briefly for Chatham Town after the war. He scored 14 goals in six games in 1919 but he was eventually forced to retire from the game.

In 1924 Hilsdon joined Fred Karno's Troup, a popular vaudeville act. One method of publicizing the company as it travelled round the country was to arrange a charity football match between the cast of the show and some local organization.

According to Colm Kerrigan, the author of Gatling Gun George Hilsdon (1997) argued: "Years of success had not dampened his East End spirit of survival, and he scraped a living in various ways, all of them, insofar as is known, on the right side of the law - but sometimes only just. One of his escapades, during a bleak period, was to go around several East End pubs, raffling boxes of chocolates, but arranging for the prize to be won on every occasion by his wife."

George Hilsdon died in Leicester on 10th September, 1941. Only four people attended his funeral (son, daughter, son-in-law and grandson). The funeral was paid for by the Football Association.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Bullish Curbishley Aims For Top Seven

The following is Rob Pritchard's interview with Alan Curbishley taken from the Basildon Echo...

THE 2007/08 season was not one of West Ham United’s most memorable. But, despite seeing his squad decimated by injury after injury, manager Alan Curbishley still managed to steer the Irons to the safe waters of 10th place in the Premier League table. With a host of his best players finally returning to fitness, Curbishley is taking aim at a European place. We sat down with the Hammers boss to discuss his hopes for 2008/09.

Last summer, you said you would be happy if West Ham had a “solid” season. Having done so, what are your hopes this time around?

AC: I was criticised for saying we needed solid season last year, but what I was trying to say that the last few years had been so hectic for the club – play-off final loss, play-off final won, FA Cup final loss, relegation battle won and we were on the back pages for all the wrong reasons for most of the time.

It wasn’t about football, it was for other reasons, so I just wanted to have a season where we got through it, with the people we brought in playing some decent football, have a decent season and give us something we could build on.

Obviously last year it didn’t quite work out that way, although we finished in a decent position, but I think the next step for us is to attack the European spots and that sometimes can go down to seventh.

That is going to be tough enough anyway with the top six clubs investing heavily and even those outside the top six investing heavily, so I think, given a fair wind, that is where I would like to see ourselves.

So, would another “solid” season constitute a failure?

AC: I wouldn’t think so, because I think the competitiveness of the Premier League is there for all to see now.

When you have got Sunderland going again, you’ve got Fulham spending £60million in two years, Spurs, Manchester City, Portsmouth, and take the top four out of that too and you are talking 10 clubs at least who have invested very heavily.

I said last year that I thought the Premier League was the most competitive and it might well be again this year.

I wouldn’t be happy with a top 10 finish, I want to be chasing a European spot.

That is the natural progression with the squad we’ve got and the players available to us, we are well capable of attacking that just as Portsmouth did last year, and Everton and Blackburn have done in the last couple of years.

Talking of investment, you have only made one major signing this summer in Valon Behrami. Can the supporters expect more new arrivals?

AC: We have still got just over a month left and things could still change.

We are still actively looking to improve the squad and the most difficult thing is to get a club to say “Yes”.

But I think the club is in the position where if we need to go out and do something we can do it.

There has been some speculation over your own future. What is your relationship like with new chairman Bjorgolfur “BG” Gudmundsson?

AC: (Former chairman) Eggert Magnusson was more bullish and up front, but BG is the opposite. He is quite laid back on those sorts of things.

What he wants to see is the team playing well, decent performances and we will take it from there.

Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but he doesn’t show it in the same way as Eggert.

We speak every week, obviously he is in a different position to Eggert who was able to base himself here and was very hands on, but Scott Duxbury and BG are in regular contact.

He came out to Canada and spent three or four days with us.

He is different from Eggert but no less passionate.

I understand that when he and Eggert came into the club, he was the major force, not just with the money, but wanting to do the job as well.

Last season’s injury crisis has led to some sweeping changes in the club’s medical department. Do you now feel confident that the problems are a thing of the past?

AC: We had a change round last summer when the season settled down, but it was clear once we started training that here wasn't enough bodies about.

We were saturated with injuries but we couldn’t cope anyway.

What happened is that they were just so overworked, but what you will find now is that there are enough light blue shirts (medical staff) around this building, so if there is a player who needs specialist treatment or do a certain bit of work, there is someone here to do it with them.

It was very frustrating last year. I think our ratio was one fitness specialist to eight or nine or 10 players.

We have greatly reduced that so there shouldn’t be a situation where any of them are hanging around waiting for this bit of treatment or this bit of work.

We were overworked and understaffed, which is no disrespect to the people we had, but we knew we had to beef it up, so we took that decision and we have beefed it up.

People have come in. The head of the sports department has been in this position at numerous clubs in Europe and with Olympic squads.

Throughout his career he has mixed with athletes.

We’ve brought in an osteopath, a fitness coach and other people.

The players are high maintenance. They demand people around them so that they have everything there to improve as a player and stay fit as a player so we have gone along with that.

Sticking with the off-the-pitch issues, what is the latest with regard to the proposed move away from Upton Park to a new stadium?

AC: I’m not too sure where we’re at. We’re concentrating on the training ground.

I look at Upton Park and just wonder that improving it – making it a wrap-around stadium – is possible. That would be one hell of a stadium.

There’s a couple of opportunities, although I can’t really put a screw and bolt on that.

I’ve been pressing for the training ground since the first day I’ve came here.

I hadn’t been to Chadwell Heath for some time and when I came in 18 months ago, not much had changed, except it’s a lot smaller because we’ve had to adhere to the Academy status.

It’s very difficult on these small areas to rotate and give the groundsman a chance.

So it’s imperative we move, or get a bigger training ground.

Finally, you have been here for 18 months now and, with players returning to fitness, can really stamp your own style of play on the team. Everyone associates Arsenal with Arsene Wenger’s brand of football, while Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur also have a reputation for slick, passing football. What constitutes “Curbishley’s brand” of play?

AC: I want to be quick. Quick in terms of our passing.

I want to try and get to the half-way line and pen teams in, so the passing becomes shorter.

That puts the onus on the centre half to get there, which some of them don’t like because they’ve got quick players who can turn them around.

I think if we can get on top of teams, especially at Upton Park, then the pace we’ve got in the squad we’ll unlock the doors.

I want to have that facility. I look at some of them, and if I can get them out there, we have got all them attributes – quick, can play, can run with or without the ball.

We also find ourselves, like we did on two or three occasions last year – which was disappointing – at Birmingham and Reading away, we know that as the away team, we've got the qualities to do some damage.

You’ve got to have that pace in the side and that's what I’ve tried to bring in – players who can play in tight areas, have got explosive pace and can make a difference when it comes to the finishing.

I got a glimpse of that against Ipswich, but it’s a long season so we’ll see what materialises.

Ted Fenton: An Assessment

Reproduced here with kind permission is the story of Ted Fenton: An Assessment by historian John Simkin. For further fascinating insights into the history of West Ham United you should check out the Spartacus Educational site...

In 1960 Ted Fenton published his autobiography, Home With the Hammers. It was an attempt to justify his record as manager of the club. The following year he was sacked (more of that later).

Fenton’s reputation took a blow with the publication of Brian Belton’s book “Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties” in 1999. The book is made up of interviews with most of the West Ham squad in the 1950s. The vast majority of those interviewed had very harsh words to say about Fenton.

I think his story is worth studying as it shows you the best and worse of the West Ham club. Fenton was a talented footballer and he played for England Schoolboys in 1929 as an inside-forward against Scotland. He was signed by Syd King, the manager of West Ham United, and he made his Football League debut against Bradford City on 7th September 1932. King had himself been manager of the club since the 1901-02 season. When he was sacked in 1933 he was replaced by Charlie Paynter, who developed a close relationship with Fenton.

Fenton was converted from inside-forward to wing-half but did not become a regular in the first-team until the 1935-36 season. Fenton became a Physical Training instructors in the British Army during the Second World War and was able to play for West Ham during the war. Fenton was a member of the West Ham United team that beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in the final of the Football League War Cup played at Wembley on 8th June 1940.

Fenton was 31 years old when football began after the war. He played in 37 games in the 1945-46 First Division South competition. In 1946 he joined Colchester United in the Southern League as player manager.

Fenton was fairly successful at his new club and reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in the 1947-48 season. In August 1950 Charlie Paynter selected Fenton as manager of West Ham United. This meant that for 50 years West Ham had been managed by just two men. Fenton's starting salary at the club was £15. This was less money than he had been receiving from Colchester United.

At the time West Ham was in the Second Division and in his first season at the club he finished in 13th place. He did however, make two very good buys in Frank O'Farrell from Cork United and Malcolm Allison from Charlton Athletic. They joined a team that included Dick Walker, Ken Tucker, Ernie Gregory, Derek Parker and Harry Hooper.

West Ham United continued to struggle in the Second Division and despite bringing in players like Jimmy Andrews and Dave Sexton the club finished 12th (1951-52), 14th (1952-53) and 13th (1953-54). It was the goalscoring of John Dick that helped West Ham finish in 8th place in the 1954-55 season. Dick scored 26 goals in 39 appearances that season. Other young players such as Malcolm Musgrove, John Bond, Ken Brown, Noel Cantwell and Andy Malcolm had also been promoted into the first-team.

Fenton pointed out in his autobiography: "The only way to build the club was youth. There were lots of good players around, but I had no money to buy the key players we needed. There was always the problems of running a club on a shoe-string."

Fenton developed a reputation for meanness. Derek Parker used to travel by train from Colchester with Fenton, who did not purchase a ticket: "Ted knew that the ticket collector would always start from the back. Halfway through the journey Ted would get out and go to the back."

Malcolm Allison, the West Ham United captain, claimed that: "Ted Fenton would cheat you out of anything. We played an England amateur side. There were 22,000 at the match. The FA always gave you £5 to play against an FA team. We used to get £2 as a bonus. When we went to get our money we only got the fiver. They said it was £3 for playing and £2 bonus - they tried to do us out of two quid." Just before the next game against Nottingham Forest, Allison organized a strike. He told Fenton that the team refused to play unless he gave them the £2 that he owed them. Allison added: "He went upstairs, came straight back down and gave us the money."

Ken Tucker also complained about Fenton: "The Arsenal players told me that they had got ten guineas for a game with England Amateurs, that was the FA's rate for such matches. When West Ham played against them Ted only gave us £5. Apparently the cheque had gone to Ted and he paid us in cash."

Dick Walker was another player who clashed with Ted Fenton. "I didn't like him and he didn't like me". Walker saw Fenton's actions as: "A matter of taking over from someone popular and wanting to show you're in charge."

These disputes clearly affected the attitudes of the players. In the 1955-56 season West Ham finished in 16th place. John Dick was in poor form that year and only scored 8 goals in 35 league appearances. Billy Dare was top scorer with 18 goals. To make matters worse, West Ham was knocked out of the FA Cup by Sp*rs.

Malcolm Allison, the captain, took over more responsibility for tactics. Derek Parker argued: "We always thought Malcolm (Allison) influenced Ted (Fenton). He started changing styles... Malcolm was always one of the first in everything, in lots of respects. Ted was lucky to have people like that about."

As Ken Tucker, one of the senior players in the squad, pointed out: "Allison got the team organized. We used to stand over at Grange Farm and Fenton would ask Malcolm "What do we do now?" and Allison would step in and sort things out." Noel Cantwell added that "Malcolm (Allison) couldn't handle people. I was good with people. Malcolm got the other guys interested, pulled a group around him and he came back from Lilleshall with a lot of ideas."

The players were also very critical of club trainer, Billy Moore. He had been at the club since 1922. The young John Bond was shocked by Moore's approach to training: "There was only two or three footballs in the entire club. You got out for training about quarter past ten and ran round the pitch, ran a lap and walk a lap... You'd be doing this for about three-quarters-of-an-hour and then you's shout to Billy Moore to get the balls out. Billy would be standing at the entrance to the ground watching, with a fag in his mouth, that he never ever took out."

Before the beginning of the 1956-57 season Fenton sold Harry Hooper to Wolves for £25,000. Dave Sexton was transferred to Leyton Orient and soon after the season started Frank O'Farrell went to Preston North End. Fenton brought in Mike Grice and Eddie Lewis. Young players such as John Smith and Billy Landsdowne were also now regulars in the first team. West Ham United finished in 8th place that season.

Ted Fenton eventually agreed that Malcolm Allison should take over the training sessions. "I took charge of the the coaching at West Ham. I built the attitude. We used to get together and I used to make them come back for training in the afternoons." John Lyall, one of the youngest players at the club at the time, was impressed by Allison. "Malcolm Allison was a strong man... He battled for what he wanted... He had an open mindedness to try things. He had the same enthusiasm as Johnny Bond and Noel Cantwell, they were people who were progressive about their football."

Ted Fenton seemed to lose the respect of his players after the emergence of Allison. Ken Tucker argued that: "He (Fenton) was never straight-forward. He was against the players.... The players used to say he just pulled the names out of the hat." After one disagreement, Tucker threw his football boots at Fenton. One former player told Brian Belton that during one training session Fenton shouted instructions to John Bond. He walked over to Fenton and shouted: "If you could play at my level, you could tell me what to do." This was unfair as Fenton was as good as Bond in his prime. However, the incident shows that even the young players no longer respected Fenton.

The players were especially upset by the way that Ted Fenton treated Dick Walker. At the end of the 1956-1957 season Walker's playing contract was not renewed by Fenton. Instead he offered Walker a job "to attend to the players boots" at £4 a week. In other words, the former captain ended up doing the job he had done as a groundstaff boy 25 years previously. It is believed that Fenton treated Walker badly because he was so popular with the players and fans that he feared he would replace him as manager of West Ham United. After leaving the club Walker suffered from bad health and spent long spells in hospital. According to former team-mate, Tommy Dixon, Walker ended up as a tramp.

Malcolm Allison openly described Fenton as a "useless manager". Ernie Gregory disagreed claiming that he was responsible for several innovations: "We were the first team to eat steak before meals... We were told to put a ball between two players and you take two players out. John Bond and Noel Cantwell were the first of the overlapping full-backs... We used to train at Forest Gate skating rink - it was narrow, so you could practise working in tight situations." Jimmy Andrews argued that "Fenton was on to one-touch football, that was unusual at the time." Other players claimed that it was Allison who was responsible for these innovations.

Most players seemed to agree with Allison that he was a "useless manager". Mick Newman claimed that: "Fenton once told Billy Dare, when the player had asked him why he had been dropped, that he wasn't tall enough. Bill had been playing well for the club for years at that time and responded by asking Ted if it had taken him six years to work out that he was too small to play for the team."

Malcolm Musgrove later recalled: "Malcolm Allison was up-to-date with things that were going on in football, the technical side. I liked him because of his ability to get the best out of people, I didn't like him for what he could do to people he didn't like. Malcolm Allison was very helpful to me at West Ham.... Allison was a good skipper. He wanted to win, wanted to play football, and this was at the time when there weren't many passing sides about. Most teams used to get it, kick it to the other end and chase it, but we, through Malcolm's influence, always wanted to play from the back. We wanted to pass the ball around. He was a centre-half that didn't just belt it away, he got it down and passed it."

The fans enjoyed the style of football introduced by Malcolm Allison. The football journalist, Bernard Joy, remarked: "West Ham's tradition of playing colourful football as a way of getting away from the drabness of life in the East End."

According to Mike Grice, Allison also influenced team selection: "Three team sheets would go up for match days. Malcolm (Allison) would look at them all, take them down and go and see Ted (Fenton). When they went up again they had invariably changed." Billy Landsdowne remarked: "Fenton would give us a chat and on the way out of the dressing-room Malcolm would say what to do."

Mick Newman added: "Malcolm Allison was a great influence on the club. He introduced all-day training, doing weights in the afternoons. That wasn't very popular with most players, who were used to having their afternoons off. But Malcolm Allison more or less ran the playing side of things. He led by the force of personality really."

Brian Belton summed up the situation in his book Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties (1999): "As such, what happened at the Boleyn Ground in the Fifties can be understood as a kind of revolution, a series of culture changing events, that included worker (player) control.... There was, as John Cartwright described it, a form of communism at the club. The players really ruled it. In short, the dictatorship of the football proletariat."

On 16th September, 1957, Malcolm Allison was taken ill after a game against Sheffield United. Doctors discovered he was suffering from tuberculosis and he had to have a lung removed. Noel Cantwell became the new captain.

West Ham United got off to poor start to the 1957-58 season. Fenton decided he needed a new centre-forward. Vic Keeble was playing in the reserves at Newcastle United. Fenton, who had managed him at Colchester United, telephoned Keeble and said: "I'm coming up Saturday, I fancy you Vic, I could well put in a bid for you. I'll take a look at you, see how you do." Keeble scored two goals in the first 45 minutes and at half-time Fenton knocked on the window of the dressing-room and said: "Vic, don't play too well in the second-half, they won't let you go." After the game Fenton bought Keeble for £10,000.

Vic Keeble formed a great partnership with inside-left, John Dick. West Ham's full-back, John Bond, later pointed out: "We got something like nine points in 11 games in 1957-58, and then Ted Fenton bought Vic Keeble from Newcastle because he thought he could be good in the air, which he was. But what he didn't recognise was what a good target man Vic was. We could play balls from defence into Vic Keeble and he would hold them in to himself or knock them off. He brought Jackie Dick into the play a lot more... and made more use of the wingers in terms of crosses. And from there we lost three of the next 31 games."

As Vic Keeble himself explained: "I partnered John Dick and we clicked instantly, scoring 40 goals between us. I was really enjoying my football and grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against West Ham, two in 6-1 wins over Lincoln and Bristol Rovers, and further braces in a 6-2 victory over Swansea and 8-0 thumping of Rotherham United." John Cartwright commented: "Keeble and Dick were telepathic."

By the end of the season Vic Keeble had scored 23 goals in 32 league and cup games. Keeble's brilliant play was one of the main factors in West Ham United winning the Second Division title that year. They had been promoted to the First Division after a period of 26 years in the second tier. Malcolm Pyke, a West Ham teammate, commented: "Jack Dick was a great goalscorer, but when Vic Keeble came he turned us around - it was his goals that got us up."

The authors of The Essential History of West Ham United point out that some journalists questioned whether Vic Keeble and John Dick would be able to score goals in the First Division: "It took the Hammers' marksman just 37 minutes of the opening game of the 1958-59 season to answer that question when he scored West Ham's first goal in the top flight for over a quarter of a century to put his side one up against Portsmouth and send the large contingent of East Londoners among the 40,470 crowd into raptures."

West Ham United finished in 6th place that season. John Dick was top scorer with 27 goals but Vic Keeble also did well with 20 in 32. Keeble injured his back in a game against Fulham on 31st October 1959. He only played one more game on 16th January 1960 before deciding that he would have to retire from professional football. He had the amazing record of scoring 49 goals in 80 games.

In 1960 Fenton published his autobiography, Home With the Hammers. In the book he praised former managers, Syd King and Charlie Paynter. He wrote of King: "Personality plus and adored by the players. He was the Herbert Chapman of his time."

West Ham United struggled for the next couple of seasons and on 16th March 1961 the chairman of the club stated: "For some time, Mr Fenton had been working under quite a strain and it was agreed that he should go on sick leave. For the time being, we shall carry on by making certain adjustments in our internal administration." The Ilford Recorder added that: "The Upton Park club are proud of their tradition of never having sacked a manager." This was untrue as Syd King had been sacked in 1933. Fenton had also been sacked and was replaced by Ron Greenwood.

Malcolm Allison later claimed that "Ted Fenton got the sack. They were rebuilding the stand and he was pinching some bricks and paint. Putting it in the back of the car. One of the directors caught him." Ken Tucker thought he had been dismissed because he had negotiated a reduction in the price of equipment, but was only passing on a percentage of the savings to the club. However, Andy Smillie believes that Fenton was a victim of "player power".

Would it have been different if the West Ham board had sacked Fenton earlier and placed Allison in charge of the first-team and Dick Walker carried on developing the youngsters? I believe it would. However, if that was the case, Ron Greenwood, would not have become manager in 1961. Greenwood was the first outsider to manage West Ham. He made some necessary changes but it was another insider, John Lyall, who learnt his football under Allison, who replaced Greenwood in 1974.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Tragedy Of Dick Walker

Reproduced here with kind permission is the story of Billy Walker by historian John Simkin. For further fascinating insights into the history of West Ham United you should check out the Spartacus Educational site...

The case of Dick Walker is one of the most distressing in West Ham's history. Charles Richard (Dick) Walker was born in Hackney on 22nd July 1913. The family moved to Dagenham when he was a child and after leaving school he played football for Becontree Athletic. In 1932 Walker was spotted by one of West Ham's scouts. After an extended trial he signed for the club in 1933. He made his debut as right-half against Burnley in August, 1934. He played two more games that season.

Walker made his debut as right-half against Burnley in August, 1934. It was not until the 1936-37 season that Walker replaced Jim Barrett at centre half and became a regular member of the West Ham United team. In the 1937-38 season Walker played in 32 of the 42 league games. The following season he played 43 league and cup games and some journalists thought that he was good enough to play for England.

Walker held his place in the team up until the outbreak of the Second World War. According to Tony Hogg, the author of Who's Who of West Ham United (2005): "Had it not been for the war it is highly probable that he would have been capped for England and also challenged Jimmy Ruffell's appearance record for Hammers."

Most professional footballers were given the opportunity to become Physical Training instructors in the British Army. However, Walker decided to volunteer for active service. Promoted to the rank of sergeant he served with an infantry battalion who fought from El Alamein to Italy and was several times mentioned in dispatches. He also represented the Army at football while in the Middle East.

After the war he replaced Charlie Bicknell as captain of the club. Ken Brown lived in the same road in Dagenham as Walker: "He was a wonderful man. I lived in the same street as him. The kids would watch him walk the length of the road to where his mum lived and we would look out of the window and be amazed that this was Dick Walker!"

In August 1950 Ted Fenton took over from Charlie Paynter as manager of West Ham United. Walker clashed with Fenton. "I didn't like him and he didn't like me". Walker saw Fenton's actions as: "A matter of taking over from someone popular and wanting to show you're in charge."

Walker remained a regular member of the team until the 1951-52 season. Walker played his last game for the first-team against Plymouth Argyle on 18th February 1953. Over the next four years he continued to turn-out for the reserves and helped to coach the young players at the club. This was something he was very good at and during this period a number of young players reached the first-team.

Ken Brown has fond memories of Walker: "I was a bit of a skinny lad and Dick Walker thought I should put on weight otherwise, according to Dick, I should never last. Andy Malcolm had a car and Dick would take the two of us up to Soho every Friday night for a glass of stout and a big steak and kidney pie, full of meat and gravy." John Lyall also praised Walker's attitude towards the young players at the club. He would be given responsibility for those young players who Lyall described as "Dagenham-type lads".

At the end of the 1956-1957 season Walker's playing contract was not renewed by Fenton. Instead he offered Walker a job "to attend to the players boots" at £4 a week. In other words, the former captain ended up doing the job he had done as a groundstaff boy 25 years previously. It is believed that Fenton treated Walker badly because he was so popular with the players and fans that he feared he would replace him as manager of West Ham United.

Following his testimonial match against Sparta Rotterdam in 1957 Walker left the club. Walker worked as a coach for Dagenham F.C. and later became a full-time scout for Sp*rs. It was criminal that Walker was not given a job at Upton Park. He suffered from bad health and spent long spells in hospital. According to former team-mate, Tommy Dixon, ended up as a tramp. Dick Walker died in February 1988.

Charles Korr, in his book West Ham United (1986) provides a good illustration of why Dick Walker was so much loved by the West Ham fans:

None of the players who remained at West Ham after the post-war shake-up was more representative of the character of the club than Dick Walker. He joined West Ham just after it slipped from the first division. By the time he seized a place in the League side from "Big" Jim Barrett, the club had settled into the mediocrity that marked its time in the second division. Walker had a tough first few years; there were many fans who still called for the return of his popular predecessor. More than a decade later, Malcolm Allison would face the same kind of reaction when he took over from Walker. No one would ever have described Walker as a skilful player, least of all Walker himself: "I couldn't play, but I could stop those that-would. West Ham was a hard club." Walker's assessment does not square with the post-1958 opinion that West Ham has always tried to play skilful and elegant, if not winning, football, but it seems closer to reality. He was a great favourite with the West Ham crowd for years. For many of them, including members of the football press, he typified what made West Ham a different club, and the Boleyn Ground a unique place to play. Walker's effort for his team was total, and supporters responded to that. They had a special place in their affections for the sometimes self-deprecating humour that Walker demonstrated when he exchanged jokes with the crowd leaning over the "chicken run". No one ever mistook his humour for not caring about the game: any opposing players who did would have been brought down to earth abruptly. Walker personified the East Londoner's need to work hard for anything he wanted and the humour that acted as a buffer against the harshness of everyday life. He combined that with a kind of swagger that made people realize that playing football for West Ham was something special.

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