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

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


Mordechai Spiegler, Israel. Photo: PA

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 moved 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 first training 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.