Forever blowing bubbles – West Ham’s mid-60s heroes

ON THE London Fenchurch Street railway line out to Essex there was a building that resembled a mill of some sort, alongside a canal. On the wall of this mill was scrawled, “West Ham United – World Cup winners 1966”. It may still be there today, but it’s doubtful given the amount of building and demolition that’s taken place in East London down the years.

This short statement was the calling card of a club that provided almost a third of England’s most successful football team. The holy trinity of Moore – Hurst – Peters was as important to West Ham as the Best – Charlton – Law triumvirate was to Manchester United. In the mid-1960s, if you wanted to watch good football, Upton Park was the place to go.

And for a while, good football became successful soccer. West Ham had in their ranks the England captain and the two men who scored the four goals that won the World Cup. The fact that they kept this trio together until 1970 says a lot about the club and what it meant to players. Managed by Ron Greenwood, a football purist heavily influenced by the Mighty Magyars of Hungary, West Ham’s approach wasn’t always frtuitful, but it delighted the neutral.

Moore to the point

West Ham reportWest Ham returned to the first division in 1958 as second division champions, but didn’t make much of an impact on the top flight. That said, they did start to build a culture of highly educated football with many of their players meeting “after hours” to discuss tactics and formations, using salt and pepper pots in a local café to illustrate their ideas. It was no coincidence that many West Ham players, like Dave Sexton, Noel Cantwell, Malcolm Allison and John Bond, went on to have successful managerial and coaching careers.

Ted Fenton, the manager who took them up, left the club in mysterious circumstances in March 1961 and Ron Greenwood was appointed as his successor. Greenwood moved from Arsenal, where he had been assistant manager to George Swindin.

In his first season in charge, 1961-62, Greenwood took the Hammers to eighth place. The following campaign was disappointing and West Ham dropped to below mid-table, despite the club signing Johnny Byrne from Crystal Palace for a record transfer fee of £ 65,000. But in 1962-63, West Ham’s team started to take shape, with the introduction of Martin Peters, who Greenwood described as “virtually the complete player”. In 1962, Bobby Moore made his England debut to begin a long and distinguished career with the national team. West Ham were starting to acquire a reputation for being the great entertainers.

Greenwood was building a team around players like Moore and investing in a very fruitful youth system. He had a plan: “When I first went to West Ham they employed inside-forwards and wing-halves, but eventually we changed our system to a flat back four to encourage Bobby to play – he was the lynchpin. We set standards because we had players capable of it…. Our full-backs would push up and get forward. In fact, they were more attacking than some present-day wingers… At the back, Bobby could read along the line and cover the whole area. Everyone was tight going forward and Bobby played loose, free, behind everyone else, and the team could go forward with the confidence Bobby was always behind them, reading anything coming through, mopping up. It was a joy to watch him play.”

Boyce and the boys

West Ham United 1964-65 First Team with the F.A. Cup and the F.A. Charity Shield


In 1963-64, West Ham still laboured in the league. They started the season well, including a 2-1 win at champions-elect Liverpool, but a poor spell in mid-season, including a 2-8 home defeat at the hands of Blackburn, sent them tumbling down the table. On their day, they could beat the best – they actually completed the double over Liverpool – including wins against European Cup Winners Cup winners Tottenham (4-0), FA Cup holders Manchester United (1-0) and reigning champions Everton (4-2). Equally, they were frequently a “soft touch” for the ultra-professional sides emerging at the time.

The FA Cup was the competition that kept the season bubbling along and the Hammers beat London neighbours Charlton and Leyton Orient in round three and four. Swindon and Burnley were disposed of next, setting up a semi-final at a muddy Hillsborough with Manchester United. Two goals from Ronnie Boyce and one from Geoff Hurst surprisingly beat United 3-1 to send West Ham to Wembley.

West Ham would meet second division Preston North End in the final. Greenwood’s men were clearly favourites but they made hard work of overcoming a team that included then the youngest player to appear in a FA Cup final in Howard Kendall. They had youngsters of their own, however, including Boyce and 17 year-old John Sissons, who had featured in the Hammers’ successful 1963 FA Youth Cup winning side.

Preston twice took the lead, but Sissons and Hurst levelled each time. West Ham didn’t play well, in fact Bobby Moore commented that the Hammers’ team felt let-down because they failed to produce their best football. Boyce won the day, however, scoring in the closing seconds after veteran Peter Brabrook had floated the ball invitingly into the penalty area. “I’m forever blowing bubbles,” was heard at Wembley for the first time. West Ham fans revelled in the club’s first piece of silverware. It was “light and bitter” and jellied eels all round, to the tune of “Knees up mother Brown” in the old East End – not to mention that giant wooden hammer that accompanied the players as they embarked on their lap of honour around Wembley.

What was interesting about that 1963-64 side was that only three players, goalkeeper Jim Standen (Luton Town), winger Brabrook (Chelsea) and Byrne (Palace) had come from other clubs. Bond, Jack Burkett, Eddie Bovington, Ken Brown, Moore, Boyce, Hurst and Sissons were all home grown. They were also all English.


West Ham United celebrate with the European Cup Winners’ Cup: (back row, l-r) Joe Kirkup, Alan Sealey, Jim Standen, Bobby Moore, Ronnie Boyce, Ken Brown (front row, l-r) Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, John Sissons, Jack Burkett

Twin Towers revisited

West Ham were back again in 1965 in the European Cup Winners Cup final. The Hammers enjoyed Europe and midweek games against foreign opposition, under the Upton Park lights, were always special. Greenwood, a student of continental football, relished the opportunity to pit his wits against overseas coaches. The first round of the competition paired West Ham with La Gantoise of Belgium. Boyce was the match winner in Ghent as the Hammers clinched the first leg 1-0, going through eventually by 2-1 on aggregate. Sparta Prague were beaten in round two 3-2 on aggregate, a 2-0 home win and 1-2 away defeat. The came Lausanne (6-4 on aggregate) and Real Zaragoza in the semi-final. Brian Dear and Byrne gave the Hammers a 2-1 win in the first leg against the Spanish side and Sissons netted in a 1-1 draw in Spain to send West Ham through to the final, where they would meet TSV Munich 1860.

The West Ham side had changed little. In at full back was Joe Kirkup, another product of the club’s successful youth set-up, strikers Alan Sealey, formerly of Leyton Orient, and youth graduate Brian “Stag” Dear, were also included in the final. Martin Peters also came into the team.

At Wembley, West Ham put on a superb display of football steeped in Greenwood’s values. Their free-flowing style produced attack after attack and could have resulted in a more comprehensive win than the 2-0 final score. Both goals were scored by Sealey, who enjoyed the finest moment of his career. The woodwork was struck a couple of times and Munich keeper Petar Radenkovic prevented a more emphatic result. Greenwood was ecstatic, claiming, “Everything we believed in came true in that match.” Bobby Moore said at the time: “We had the experience of Wembley from 1964 and that made us a little more relaxed. This was one of the best games of the era at Wembley, we played a lot of good football against a very strong opponent.”

Route 66

Moore, Hurst and Peters experienced their country’s greatest sporting moment when they were all in the 1966 World Cup final side. But in 1965-66 West Ham finished 12th and remained a team for cup competitions. They almost got through to a second successive European Cup Winners Cup final but lost to Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals. And they reached the last two-legged Football League Cup semi-final, losing to West Bromwich Albion 3-5 on aggregate, after winning the first leg at Upton Park by 2-1. They were highly respected and much-loved around the country for their style of football. The Moore – Hurst – Peters partnership broke up in 1970 when Peters left for Tottenham. Hurst went to Stoke in 1972 and Moore departed in 1974 for Fulham. Their names are synonymous with a glorious chapter for both West Ham and England. Well, didn’t “yer actual ‘ammers” win the World Cup?

Photos: PA

Great Reputations: Dinamo Tbilisi – Georgia’s on our mind

IN 1980-81, Dinamo Tbilisi put on a scintillating display when they met West Ham United at Upton Park in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. They won emphatically by playing a brand of fast, attacking football that stunned the London crowd. “Those Russians, bloody marvellous football,” said one Hammers fan as he left the stadium. “I’ve not seen football like that since we had Moore, Hurst and Peters at the club.”

Russians? The old USSR tarnished everyone with the same brush. These were Georgians elegantly scything their way through the West Ham defence. To some, Georgia was a southern state in the US, not a eastern European country absorbed by the Kremlin. But at the time, it was part of the Soviet Union and therefore considered to be mysteriously Russian.

The Soviet Union won just three European prizes, all in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup: 1975 Dynamo Kyiv, 1981 Dinamo Tbilisi, 1986 Kyiv again. In other words, not one Russian prize but two for the Ukraine and one for Georgia.

Dinamo Tbilisi’s current position makes it hard to believe that back in the 1970s, they played in front of very big crowds – in 1977, their average gate was an astonishing 68,200. Today, they attract just 700 to their home games.

Dinamo were a de facto national team for Georgia in the days of the Soviet Top League. In 1964, they won their first title, beating Torpedo Moscow in a play-off by 4-1. This was a team that was boosted by the goals of Ilia Datunashvili and Slava Metreveli, the latter playing in three World Cups for the USSR – 1962, 1966 and 1970. Metreveli was also a member of the Soviet team that won the 1960 European Championship, scoring one of the goals in a 2-1 win.

Dinamo won the Soviet Cup in 1976 and the title again in 1978 before picking up their second cup victory in 1979. That year, Dinamo pulled off a major surprise when they knocked Liverpool out of the European Cup in the first round. They lost the first leg 2-1 at Anfield, but won 3-0 in front of 90,000 people at the Dynamo Lenin Stadium.

This woke people up to the fact that there were some outstanding footballers in parts of Europe that didn’t get much in the way of limelight. Tbilisi was a place that few people knew much about. During Soviet rule, the city became increasingly industrialised but was also an important political and cultural centre. In 1980, the city hosted the first state-sanctioned rock festival in the USSR, which was dubbed by critics as the “Soviet Woodstock”.

The Tbilisi team of 1980-81 made a similar impact, with four players, Aleksandre Chivadze, Vitaly Daraselia, David Kipiani and Ramez Shengelia all making their mark as outstanding individuals. If they had been playing in western Europe, they would have been sought-after by all the top clubs. As it was, Shengelia (7th), Chivadze (8th) and Kipiani (11th) were all placed highly in the 1981 Ballon d’Or voting.

Chivadze was an excellent centre half and captained the team. A one-club man, he was Soviet footballer of the year in 1980 and was in the USSR World Cup squads in both 1982 and 1986 and won 46 caps in total. He later became coach of Georgia.

Daraselia, who was 24 years of age in 1980-81, was the engine of the Dinamo team, a compact player with boundless energy. Born in Abkhazia, Daraselia signed for Dinamo as a 17 year-old from Amirani Ochamchire. He was introduced to the Dinamo team in 1975 and won the first of his 22 caps in 1978. He played in the 1982 World Cup and afterwards, Dinamo coach Nodar Akhalkatsi decided to rebuild his team around the talented midfielder. Sadly, on December 13, 1982, Daraselia died when his car crashed over the edge of a cliff into a river near Zestaponi in Georgia. He was just 25 and at his peak as a player, who knows what might have been achieved, by him personally and by his club?

Kipiani was considered to be one of Georgia’s greatest-ever players and an elegant and skilful playmaker and dribbler. Had he been playing outside the Soviet bloc, he would have probably been compared to some of the top names in European football. Nicknamed “Dato”, he was heavily influenced by the Dutch “total football” and saw himself very much in that mould. Unlike Cruyff and co. Kipiani never played in a World Cup – there have been conspiracy theories that the USSR team may have had too many Georgians if Kipiani had been included for 1982. He was recovering from a broken leg sustained in 1981 and although he had been in good form, was omitted from the early squad for Spain. The disappointed forced him to retire in 1982. Sadly, in 2001, he also died in a car crash. Shengelia, who also died young, was strong and quick and anticipated the game intelligently. He scored 184 goals in 445 games for Dinamo Tbilisi and won 26 caps for the USSR.

Dinamo won the Soviet Cup in 1980, beating Dynamo Moscow on penalties in the final and qualified for the Cup-Winners’ Cup. It wasn’t an especially strong field, although Celtic, Benfica and Feyenoord were in the mix. Dinamo were paired with Kastoria of Greece in round one. A 2-0 aggregate victory sent them through to face Ireland’s Waterford in round two, which ended with a very comfortable 5-0 win over the two games.

As the competition reached its crucial stages, West Ham United of the English second division were next. This is when people really took notice of Dinamo. At Upton Park on March 4, 1981, the relatively unknown Tbilisi team put on a display of devastating counter-attacking football. West Ham, who included the likes of Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire in their line-up, were made to look very pedestrian and Dinamo’s performance earned them a 4-1 first leg win and respectful applause from the home crowd. The tie won, they slipped up at home, losing 1-0 to the Hammers.

In the semi-final, Dinamo faced Feyenoord, but Kipiani was at his best when they won 3-0 in Tbilisi. That first leg win was just enough, for in Rotterdam, the Dutch won 2-0. Dinamo’s opponents in the final would be the East German’s Carl Zeiss Jena, who had won through against Benfica in the semi.

The final between Soviet and East German sides didn’t capture the imagination of the viewing public. UEFA allocated the game to Düsseldorf’s Rheinstadion, but only 4,750 people turned up to watch, the lowest ever crowd for a major European final. The subdued atmosphere was matched by the dour nature of the game.

Jena took the lead after 63 minutes through Gerhard Hoppe, a spectacular volley from close range. Within four minutes, Dinamo levelled with a low drive from Vladimir Gutsaev, created by Shengelia. With four minutes to go, Daraselia netted a memorable winner, beating two men before switching to his left foot and driving inside Hans-Ulrich Grapenthin’s right hand post. It was a truly spectacular goal, underlining the potential of Daraselia.

Tbilisi went berserk in celebration, the victory was seen as a triumph for the Georgian state. Dinamo Tbilisi went down in history as one of the last great teams from the old USSR, their players heralded as some of Europe’s genuinely hidden gems. Dinamo Tbilisi will never be forgotten for the way they won the Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1981, but equally, we will never truly know how good they might have become had fate not stepped in.