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!

Mordechai Spiegler – a star in the Middle East that never got to shine

IN 1970, West Ham United’s manager, Ron Greenwood, a student of the global game, returned from Mexico with what he thought was a trump card. He was interested in signing  Israel’s captain and star player, Mordechai Spiegler. His fascination with overseas talent preceded the late-1970s trend, which gained fresh legs through Tottenham’s audacious acquisition of Ardiles and Villa, by some eight years.

But 1970 was a different time. Israel was a subject that didn’t sit comfortably with a lot of people and Britain was still a rather insular place. Spiegler was stymied by red tape and for a mature player with limited mileage remaining in his career, there were just too many hurdles.

Spiegler had been highlighted as one to watch in the Mexico World Cup, even though Israel, in their one and only appearance in the finals, were also-rans. The country has always had its problems in finding an appropriate home for its football team – in 1970, they qualified via Asia, but they have also spent time in the Oceania section and now find themselves today in Europe. Arab nations have often refused to play them and in 1970 North Korea withdrew rather than meet them on the football field.

Spiegler was born in Sochi in the Soviet Union in August 1944, from where his family sought refuge in Israel. Sochi played a key role in the second world war, acting as a huge hospital for Russia’s military on the eastern front.  Over half a million soldiers were based in 111 hospitals and the city was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War in 1980. A lot of people travelled in various directions from the city in the post-war years.

The Spiegler family moved to Netanya on the Sharon Plain in Israel when Mordechai was a young lad. The city was named in honour of Nathan Straus of the New York department store, Macy’s. Positioned some 30 km from Tel Aviv, it became the seventh largest city in Israel. Spiegler joined the local club, Maccabi Netanya in 1963, beginning a long association with his home town outfit.

Spiegler made his name on a bigger stage, though, playing in the Asian Cup for Israel in 1964. Israel were the host nation in the four-team finals (India, South Korea and Hong Kong were the others). Spiegler, the only Netanya player in the squad, scored twice in his three games and ended joint top scorer. Israel had been runners-up in both 1956 and 1960.

Israel’s squad was mostly blue-collared workers and army conscripts and it was somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. Spiegler recalled some years later: “We heard a lot about football in the world, but we didn’t have a real connection, we could only hear it on the radio. The game was popular, but we knew they were more important issues. To play football was not a profession.” Indeed, Spiegler worked as a pools agent in Israel and was an amateur with Netanya. He described the 1964 Asian Cup success as, “A moment of happiness, of glorious celebration, a moment we take with us forever.”

Spiegler netted the winning goal in Israel’s first Asian Cup game against Hong Kong, a 1-0 victory in Ramat Gan. He scored again in Jaffa, three days later as India were beaten 2-0. Finally, they won 2-1 against South Korea in Ramat Gan to lift the top prize.

He has has often said that Israel’s Asian Cup triumph was the catalyst for further success, including qualifying for the 1970 World Cup. In between, Israel enjoyed success in the 1968 Olympics, reaching the quarter finals. Spiegler scored one goal in his four games.

Ron Greenwood first caught sight of Spiegler in September 1968 when he saw the midfielder score four times as Israel trounced the United States 4-0 in Philadelphia. The US were coached by West Ham academy graduate Phil Woosnam who recommended Spiegler to his former club.

By the time 1970 came around, Spiegler had built something of a reputation in Israel and, increasingly, abroad. He had been Israeli player of the year in 1968, 1969 and 1970 (and again in 1971) and was top scorer in the domestic league in 1965-66, 1966-68 (a two-year season) and in 1968-69. He was being courted by professional clubs, notably Nantes in France and Germany’s Borussia Moenchengladbach. Israel had qualified by disposing of New Zealand and Australia – North Korea had refused to play them –  with Spiegler scoring the vital goal in the second leg of the final in Sydney.

Israel had to be kept apart from Morroco in the draw for the finals, but they were considered to be one of the weaker teams, so it was unlikely they would make much progress. Spiegler was considered to be Israel’s one decent player, so when he went down with a stomach bug in Puebla, there was mild panic in the camp. Spiegler was propped up by a series of injections and was declared fit enough to play in the opening game against Uruguay.

Isreal lost 2-0: “They were better than us, but we were defeated because we knew nothing about their way of playing. The Israel FA didn’t have the money to send someone to scout on them,” said Spiegler. They fared better against Sweden and after falling behind in the 53rd minute, Spiegler hit a 25-yard left foot strike past Sven-Gunnar Larson. In their last game, they earned a credible goalless draw against Italy, but it was not enough to go through to the next stage. The group, which had been played out in Puebla and Toluca, had yielded just six goals in six games, the least interesting group in the 1970 World Cup.

But Spiegler and his colleagues had carried the flag well and their reward was a holiday in Acupulco. He returned home to help his club to the 1970-71 Israeli championship, but not before travelling to England at Greenwood’s invitation.

Greenwood had seen enough of the elegant midfielder, who was “rangy in build” and “neat in his work”. The World Cup had shown that he was a skilful player who was difficult to play against. West Ham had lost Martin Peters a few months earlier, although they had the emerging Trevor Brooking in their ranks, along with the likes of Geoff Hurst, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore.

If there were question marks, they were about his lack of pace and stamina. He was, after all, an amateur player whose exposure to big-time football was limited. If West Ham were going to sign him, it would have to be on amateur terms for at least two years, after which he would complete his residential qualification. Spiegler himself was happy to get a job outside football and play as a part-timer.

West Ham fielded him in three pre-season games, the first at Portsmouth, where he set-up a goal for Brooking. In his second appearance, he played half a game before being substituted at Bristol City. His third and final run-out was as a substitute at Orient, where he came on for Brooking.

There were a number of issues to solve if Spiegler was to become a West Ham player. Firstly, the Israeli FA would have to approve the move, then he needed a work permit and the Football League Management Committee would also have to rubber-stamp the transfer. In the end, the obstacles deterred West Ham – or was it that they were not 100% convinced?  Spiegler himself was keen to move to England: “I want to play in the Football League because it is the best,” he insisted.

The deal seemed to go cold because of “technical reasons” but was revitalised some 12 months later. With Spiegler now 27, there was a realisation that if he was going to make a big move, it had to happen sooner rather than later. Nantes were looming in the background with a supposed £ 30,000 signing-on fee. Spiegler was flown into London for Geoff Hurst’s testimonial, but Tommy Docherty, in charge of the International XI that faced West Ham for the benefit game, only played him as a substitute, despite the presence of Israeli TV at the match.

If Spiegler was successful in shifting to London, the Israeli FA were talking of imposing a 12-month ban, which for a player of his age was a waste of time. Despite publically declaring his respect for Greenwood and West Ham, he also admitted that the Nantes deal was a “big temptation”. There was an underlying feeling that Spiegler had been hedging his bets ever since his first training session with the Hammers in 1970.

He moved to France in 1972 with Paris FC before joining Paris St. Germain and then New York Cosmos, where he appeared alongside another veteran of the 1970 World Cup, Pele. He went on to become a coach.

In Israel, Spiegler is still regarded as their greatest ever player. A spokesman for the Israeli Football League described him as a “fantastic role model”. “The way he expressed himself in the media was always with a wink and a smile…he had a vision that went beyond the game, one of the greatest Israeli players, who went the furthest and influence the most.”

It was a shame that the English game never got to see that, all we can do is take a look at that marvellous goal in the 1970 World Cup. Mordechai Spiegler, or to use his nickname, “Motale”, could have been a star if only bureaucracy and politics had not got in the way.