West Ham United’s best XIs… or are they?

WEST HAM UNITED have a well-earned reputation for producing great players, but rarely have they conjured up an outstanding team. Only occasionally has it all come together to produce a side capable of challenging for honours. Consistency, as well as limited resources, has always been an issue for West Ham, hence they have never challenged for the league title, with the exception of the 1985-86 season. Largely, though, the Hammers’ greatest successes have been in cup competitions, although it is now more than 40 years since they won the FA Cup in 1980.

Nevertheless, West Ham are one of English football’s great community clubs, representative of the east end of London just as much as Pearly Kings and Queens, pie and mash and Jellied Eels and well-worn songs like “Knees up Mother Brown”. The Boleyn Ground was one of the most atmospheric stadiums in Britain and the Hammers’ fans were among the most partisan in the country. They might not have had a lot to cheer about in terms of trophies won, but West Ham have had a catalogue of outstanding footballers to entertain them, including the World Cup triumvirate of Moore, Hurst and Peters, Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Billy Bonds, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard (senior and junior) and Joe Cole.

Here’s three of West Ham’s most notable teams:

1922-23 FA Cup finalists at the inaugural Wembley final

The Hammers were a second division club when they reached the 1923 final to meet Bolton Wanderers from the top flight. West Ham won promotion in 1922-23 and they were fortunate to reach Wembley without coming up against a first division outfit. The story of the White Horse Final and crowds spilling onto the pitch are well documented, but it is arguable that the attendance was so huge because a London team was in the final, although West Ham’s average gates at the time were barely 20,000. In the FA Cup, the Hammers beat Hull City, Brighton, Plymouth Argyle, Southampton and in the semi-final, Derby County. West Ham were a fast-moving and enterprising team who were committed to attacking play. Their manager, Syd King, was something of a character with his close-cropped hair and flamboyant moustache. King had played for Thames Ironworks, New Brompton and Northfleet before arriving at West Ham. He managed West Ham from 1902 to 1932, an astonishing 30-year period that ended with the sack.

West Ham 1923: Ted Hufton, Billy Henderson, Jack Young, Sid Bishop, George Kay, Jack Tresadern, Dick Richards, Billy Brown, Vic Watson, Billy Moore, Jimmy Ruffell.

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Key men

Vic Watson: Born in Cambridgeshire 1897. Long-serving centre forward who played almost 500 league games for West Ham, scoring 298 goals. Prolific in front of goal, he won five caps for England, scoring four times. Once scored six goals in a game in 1929.

George Kay: Captain and defensive hub of the team, he was 31 when the Hammers reached Wembley in 1923. Played for the club from 1919 to 1926, making over 250 appearances. He had spells with Distillery and Bolton Wanderers before joining West Ham. But for bouts of ill-health, Kay could have won an England cap.

Jimmy Ruffell: Left winger who joined West Ham from the Ilford Electricity Board and eventually made around 550 appearances for the club, scoring 166 goals. A difficult player to play against, Ruffell was capped six times by England.

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

1963 – 1965 FA Cup and European Cup-Winners’ Cup winners

Ron Greenwood was appointed manager of West Ham in 1961 and brought a very distinct philosophy to the club. He was heavily influenced by the Hungarians that thrashed England in 1953 and 1954 and a big student of the European game. By the mid-1960s, West Ham had a squad that included some richly talented young players and they were forging a reputation for delightful, purist football that entertained the crowds. Although this wasn’t always successful, they were always capable of raising their game for big clashes, such as in 1964 when they beat FA Cup holders Manchester United 3-1 in the FA Cup semi-final. In the final, they trailed 1-0 and 2-1 to second division Preston North End, but ran out 3-2 winners, thanks to a goal from Ronnie Boyce. Into Europe the following season, the Hammers slalomed their way past Gent (Belgium), Spartak Praha Sokolovo, Lausanne Sport and Real Zaragoza. Their opponents in the final were TSV Munich 1860 and the venue was Wembley stadium. Alan Sealey proved to be the hero of the hour and scored two goals in a three-minute spell in the second half to win the game 2-0. A year later, West Ham skipper Bobby Moore was back at Wembley as England captain, winning the World Cup, completing a unique treble.

West Ham 1963 – 1965: Jim Standen, Joe Kirkup, Jack Burkett, Martin Peters, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Alan Sealey, Ron Boyce, Geoff Hurst, Brian Dear, John Sissons, John Bond, Eddie Bovington, Peter Brabrook.

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Key men

Bobby Moore: Born 1941, Barking. An England legend who led his country to World Cup success in 1966. Won 108 caps for England and was Sir Alf Ramsey’s “right hand man” during the World Cup campaign.  A cool, calm defender whose leadership skills and immaculate timing made him one of the all-time greats. Died tragically young at 51 and was sadly underused when his playing days ended at Fulham.

Geoff Hurst: Born 1941, Ashton-under-Lyne. Scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final and played over 500 games for the Hammers between 1958 and 1972 and was capped 49 times by England. Converted from wing half to inside forward, Hurst was good in the air and explosive in front of goal. Left the club to join Stoke City in 1972.

Martin Peters: Born 1943, Plaistow. A player who Sir Alf Ramsey considered to be “ten years ahead of his time”. An elegant performer, capable of playing in midfield or as a forward, he won 67 caps for England, winning a World Cup medal in 1966 and scored in the final. Left West Ham in 1970 in a cash plus swap  deal, joining Tottenham for £ 200,000. One of the last “boys of ‘66” to retire.

1985-86 – So near yet so far

The 1980s were dominated by Liverpool and for a few years, Everton also emerged as title contenders. In 1985-86, West Ham came from nowhere to challenge at the top of the table, thanks to a team that was schooled in the fine arts that were so typical of the club’s ethos. It helped that they had two strikers who were “on fire” for a season or so, Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie. West Ham’s squad, managed by John Lyall, was relatively small compared to their title rivals, but their two forwards scored over 50 goals between them. With a bigger squad, West Ham might have beat off the Merseyside duo, but it wasn’t to be. West Ham won eight of their last 10 games, including an 8-1 trouncing of Newcastle, but they had to settle for third place, finishing only four points off top spot. They have never been as close to becoming champions.

West Ham 1985-86: Phil Parkes, Ray Stewart, Steve Walford, Tony Gale, Alvin Martin, George Parris, Alan Devonshire, Mark Ward, Alan Dickens, Neil Orr, Tony Cottee, Frank McAvennie.

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Key men

Tony Cottee:  Young striker who was born in Forest Gate. Had two spells with West Ham and won seven England caps. A diminutive figure, he was nevertheless a prolific goalscorer and had plenty of pace. He was named young player of the year in 1985-86 after scoring 26 goals. Left the club in 1988 to join Everton for a fee of £ 2.2 million.

Frank McAvennie: A mercurial player who had an outstanding campaign in 1985-86, scoring 28 goals. Signed from St. Mirren in 1985 and despite his initial success at West Ham, he returned to Scotland to join Celtic. Returned to West Ham in 1989, but he was never as effective. A very talented player whose lifestyle arguably prevented him from achieving greater things.

Alvin Martin: Liverpool-born centre half who became part of West Ham folklore. A commanding player who captained the team in 1985-86. He played for the Hammers between 1978 and 1996, making almost 600 appearances for the club. Netted a hat-trick against Newcastle in 1986, scoring past three goalkeepers.

West Ham’s current squad ranks among their best in recent times, but they are competing in a very tough environment. They may play in front of over 50,000 for the first time in their history, but they are part of a small group of clubs that are battling to gain a place in the top four or five in the Premier League. They are back in Europe, which is a sign of their progress in recent years, but the next step may be the hardest. Whatever happens, one thing is certain, they’ll be forever blowing bubbles at the London Stadium!

Docherty’s Manchester United and a hint of total football

THE 1974-75 season wasn’t a classic for English football. The country had been suffering a long hangover after the national team’s exit from the World Cup. We were excluded from the 1974 finals in West Germany, pinning our hopes on Scotland and Jack Taylor the referee. While the global audience marvelled at the exploits of Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Lato, we had John Craggs of Jack Charlton’s dour Middlesbrough. Total football? It would have been total disaster had Boro won the Football League Championship. Thank goodness for Derby County, who at least tried to play attacking football.

But there was something stirring, not necessarily in the First Division, but coming up from the division below. Manchester United’s long, slow decline ended in relegation in 1974 and they spent the 1974-75 regrouping and comfortably winning promotion. Tommy Docherty built a new-look United that was steeped in the club’s recently abandoned tradition of playing attractive football (ok, so they also had Jim Holton) and he brought a young, exciting team back to the top flight. Nobody expected them to make the impact they did, but they were not alone in trying to bring a bit of entertainment back to a game that was becoming the ugly child of English sport.

In London, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham, managed by Dave Sexton and John Lyall respectively, had finished 1974-75 unspectacularly in the league, but West Ham had won the FA Cup, beating Fulham 2-0 at Wembley. Rangers had won many friends with their free-flowing football, but nobody expected them to improve much on the 11th place they achieved in April 1975. But many people felt that with neighbours Chelsea relegated, QPR could lure a few disillusioned fans to Loftus Road.

Queens Park Rangers’ Gerry Francis gets away from Liverpool’s Phil Thompson

Manchester United, QPR and West Ham, and their commitment to entertaining football, promised much for English football in 1975-76. Sadly, it would not be rewarded by silverware, although all three went close to winning major prizes.

QPR started the season with a 2-0 win against Liverpool, a result that would become more important as the months passed. The first goal of the campaign went to Gerry Francis, the England captain whose star climbed and fell in the space of a year, largely due to injuries. West Ham won 2-1 at Stoke City and Manchester United began life back in the First Division with a 2-0 victory at Wolves.

People started to recognise QPR’s potential when they visited the Baseball Ground, home of champions Derby and came away with a 5-1 win. Derby themselves were also playing an eye-catching brand of football, enhanced by the arrival of Arsenal’s Charlie George and, latterly, by the arrival of Welsh winger Leighton James from Burnley. But they got off to a bad start and were chasing the leaders for months. After five games, only three teams – United, West Ham and QPR were still unbeaten.

United’s team of scurrying, baggy-shorted young players was making headlines. Docherty had stumbled across a goalscorer in Stuart Pearson in 1974 and he had continued from where he left off in the Second Division. Sammy McIlroy, Gerry Daly and Lou Macari formed the busiest midfield around. United played fast and furious, exploiting the wings through Steve Coppell and [from November 1975] new signing Gordon Hill. Where they fell down was in defence and in their away form, which was patchy. Although they had faults, United were great to watch and became, for the first time since the heyday of Best-Law-Charlton, the neutrals’ favourite team.

United lost their unbeaten record to QPR on September 13, a diving header by a rejuvenated David Webb winning the game at Loftus Road. On October 4, both QPR and West Ham lost their records, Rangers going down 1-2 at Leeds United and West Ham falling 0-1 at home to Everton. By Christmas, the fumes of FA Cup success had evaporated and West Ham lost momentum and slid down the table.

There air of optimism about Upton Park in the first few months of 1975-76 was mainly due to the club’s involvement in the European Cup-Winners Cup – nobody seriously saw the Hammers as title material, despite some fine footballers. Chicken-run veterans still remembered the club’s glorious 1965 run that ended with TSV Munich 1860 being beaten at Wembley in a final that captured the purist approach of Ron Greenwood and his charges.

West Ham easily negotiated the first round tie with Finland’s Reipas Lahti, drawing 2-2 away before winning 3-0 at Upton Park after three second half goals. In the next round, they were drawn to meet Ararat Yerevan of Armenia, although they were then part of the USSR and had won the Soviet Cup in 1975. The first meeting was drawn before the Hammers won 3-1 at home in another highly-charged European night in East London. This put Lyall’s side into the last eight of the competition where they would face FC Den Haag of the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, back in the Football League, the Hammers were top of the table and Derby County and Liverpool had started to creep into contention. QPR were in third place and United had slipped to fifth. By the end of 1975, the league table read as follows:

P W D L F A Pts
Liverpool 24 12 9 3 37 20 33
Manchester United 24 14 5 5 38 22 33
Leeds United 23 14 4 5 42 22 32
Derby County 24 13 6 5 37 30 32
Queens Park Rangers 24 10 10 4 31 18 30
West Ham United 23 12 4 7 35 30 28

The manner in which QPR, Man.United and West Ham had started 1975-76 had prompted great discussion around the England team. Don Revie was struggling to win people over as manager and England were set to miss out on a second successive tournament having lost to Czechoslavakia in Bratislava in a misty qualifying game. Critics were starting to call for the removal of players like Paul Madeley, Roy McFarland, Mick Channon, Malcolm MacDonald and Allan Clarke and advocating an England team centred around the leading clubs of the day. One, I believe Eric Batty of World Soccer, was arguing for a team along the lines of: Parkes, Clement, Gillard, Francis, Thomas and Bowles of QPR, Brooking, Paddon and Bonds of West Ham, Greenhoff, Coppell and Pearson of Manchester United and Keegan of Liverpool. The argument was that familiarity would bring greater success than the disparate unit currently wearing the Admiral shirts of England had managed under Ramsey and Revie.

Of course, it didn’t happen, but it did show that the triumvirate of QPR, West Ham and Manchester United were being recognised for what they were trying to bring to English football.

West Ham United’s Alan Taylor watches his shot cleared off the line by Manchester United’s Tommy Jackson

The quality of the football was a reflection of the characters involved. Sexton at QPR was always a big disciple of European football, and his team, which combined the attributes of ball artists like Stan Bowles, Don Masson and Dave Thomas, with the steely grit of David Webb, Frank McClintock and Ian Gillard, played lovely football that paid homage to the Mighty Magyars. He would have loved to have achieved that at Chelsea, but the Kings Road got in the way. Shepherd’s Bush may have had the bookmakers to distract Bowles, but it didn’t have the cachet of the Kings Road hostelries that all but destroyed his Chelsea vision.

Ironically, Manchester United’s Docherty has also flown so close to great things at Chelsea. He preceded Sexton at Stamford Bridge but his temperament was far removed from the cerebral Sexton. At Chelsea, he forged a team founded on fast, exciting and youthful football, as well as an innovative approach to set-piece play. It all imploded, as it did at United in 1977 (amid different circumstances), but for a while, it worked spectacularly at Old Trafford and dragged the club from its early 1970s mayhem.

John Lyall was a protégé of Ron Greenwood and had been on the fringes of the famed West Ham footballing academy. West Ham, for years, preached purist football endorsed by the holy trinity of Moore-Hurst-Peters. Lyall carried on from his master, with Trevor Brooking partially filling the gap left by the World Cup winning trio.

How did it all end? QPR became the people’s favourites in 1975-76, but fell agonisingly short of the final hurdle, finishing second to Liverpool. They would never go as close again. West Ham lost their FA Cup at the first time of asking, losing 0-2 at home to Liverpool, but they went on to reach the final of the Cup-Winners Cup, losing 2-4 to Anderlecht in Brussels. In 1976-77, they were relegated.

United continued to delight and reached the FA Cup final, but were surprisingly beaten by Second Division Southampton 1-0 at Wembley. They finished third, four points behind Liverpool and three short of QPR.

The players:

QPR: Phil Parkes, Dave Clement, Ian Gillard, John Hollins, Mick Leach, Frank McClintock, David Webb, Gerry Francis (captain), Don Masson, Don Givens, Stan Bowles, Dave Thomas

Manchester United: Alex Stepney, Alex Forsyth, Stewart Houston, Gerry Daly, Brian Greenhoff, Martin Buchan (captain), Steve Coppell, Sammy McIlroy, Stuart Pearson, Lou Macari, Gordon Hill

West Ham United: Mervyn Day, John McDowell, Frank Lampard, Billy Bonds (captain), Tommy Taylor, Kevin Lock, Billy Jennings, Graham Paddon, Alan Taylor, Trevor Brooking, Pat Holland, Keith Robson, Bobby Gould

Photos: PA