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John Simkin

The Best Ever West Ham Team?

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The Best Ever West Ham Team?

The best West Ham team I have seen was the one that played between 1963-65. It was of course the team that won the 1964 FA Cup and the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup. However, it was not a consistent team and only finished 14th (1963-64) and 9th (1964-65) in the First Division championships.

The other great team West Ham team that I have seen was the one that played in the 1985-86 season. It was a much more consistent team than the 1963-65 version as it finished 3rd in the league. However, it did not win anything (got knocked out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage and did not get past the 3rd round of the Milk Cup). It was also a one season wonder finishing in 15th place the following season. The team was clearly too dependant on the goals of McAvennie (26) and Cottee (20). Although Cottee retained his form, McAvennie only got 7 in 36 league games in the 1986-87 season.

The record books show that the West Ham team that played between 1922 and 1927 might have been better than either the 1964-65 and 1985-86 teams. More importantly, the team built by Syd King and Charlie Paynter during this period created the West Ham tradition that we are all so anxious to preserve. That is to say producing teams made up of local lads who play entertaining attacking football.

In the early years Thames Ironworks/West Ham played in the Southern League. Syd King was signed by West Ham in 1899. He was considered to be one of the best full-backs in the country and several First Division clubs were after him. However, West Ham had just been promoted to the First Division of the Southern League and the secretary/manager, Francis Payne, had been given £1,000 by Arnold Hills, the owner of the club, to find the best players available. It is not known what the fee was but the main attraction would have been the wages that clubs in the Southern League was willing to pay their star players. These were usually higher than those being paid in the First Division where there was a wage-cap. As West Ham was only getting gates of around 2,000, at the time, it was totally dependent on the generosity of Hills, who at that time was making good money from the ownership of the Thames Ironworks Shipbuilding Company.

At the end of the 1901-02 season Arnold Hills appointed Syd King as their player/manager. This was a revolutionary decision at the time. In the early days of football managers were nearly always people with a business background. King was not only a footballer but was still playing as he was only 28 years old. Clearly, King had shown Hills that he was something a bit special. King was a very intelligent man and was one of the few professional players with a grammar school education. There were of course university educated players at the time but they were always amateurs and would not have considered the humble post of football manager.

As it happens, King suffered a serious leg injury and he was forced to retire from playing in April 1903. Over the next few years West Ham remained a mid-table Southern League team. They never seriously threatened to win the title, nor did they ever get into a relegation fight. However, during this period he developed the strategy that was turn West Ham into one of the best teams in the country. At the time Charlie Paynter was an assistant trainer at the club. Paynter, like King, had been a player at the club whose career was ended by a serious leg injury at the age of 22. In his spare-time, Paynter also coached local youngsters and King decided to make him a partner in his project.

Over the next few years Paynter supplied West Ham with a stream of young talent. This included players such as George Hilsdon and Danny Shea. Both went onto play for England. However, King was always forced to sell this talent in order to balance the books. Hilsdon was sold to Chelsea and Shea went to Blackburn Rovers. In fact, Shea was sold for a world record fee of £2,000 in 1912.

Professional football was abandoned during the First World War. After the conflict had come to an end, West Ham applied to join the Football League. They were accepted and in the 1919-20 season West Ham played in the Second Division. King was given only a small budget for players. This enabled him to buy George Kay, from Bolton Wanderers for a fee of £100. A small group of young local players such as Syd Puddefoot, Jack Tresadern, Edward Hufton, Sid Bishop and Jimmy Ruffell had also arrived in the first-team via Paynter’s academy.

Syd King, was a great spotter of potential talent. He made some shrewd signings for small fees. This included Vic Watson, a young striker from Wellingborough Town for a fee of £25. King must have had a trusted scout working in County Durham. Just after the war he signed several young coalminers playing in colliery teams in this region. This included Billy Brown, Tommy Hodgson and Jack Young.

The star of the side was Syd Puddefoot who had scored 107 goals in 194 games for the club. He was another product of the Paynter academy who had been recruited in 1912 after being seen playing for London Juniors.

The team relied heavily on Puddefoot's goals and it was great shock to the fans when Syd King sold him to Falkirk for the world record fee of £5,000 in February 1925. As the authors of the The Essential History of West Ham United (2000) pointed out that his departure "nearly caused a riot among Hammers fans". However, the club blamed Puddefoot in a statement issued after his transfer: "The departure of Syd Puddefoot came as no surprise to those intimately connected with him. It is an old saying that everyone has one chance in life to improve themselves and Syd Puddefoot is doing the right thing for himself in studying his future. We understand that he will be branching out in commercial circles in Falkirk and when his football days are over he will be assured of a nice little competency."

The truth of the matter was that Puddefoot was very reluctant to move to Scotland to play for Falkirk. However, at this time footballers had little control over these matters. At the time of his departure, it looked like West Ham United would win promotion to the First Division. However, without their top goalscorer, the club lost five of their last seven games and finished in 4th place at the end of the 1921-22 season.

This was only a temporary set-back because this time Syd King was determined to spend the money wisely and during the summer break purchased three talented players: Billy Henderson from Aberdare Athletic (£650), Dick Richards from Wolves (£300) and Billy Moore from Sunderland (£300). He was also convinced that the young Vic Watson would be even better than the departed Syd Puddefoot.

King made George Kay, the captain of the side. It has to be remembered that at this time the captain was far more important than he is today. It was the captain who decided on the tactics employed. This was also true of West Ham although Charlie Paynter did have a major say in this. For example, according to Jimmy Ruffell, West Ham’s young winger at the time: "Syd King was a good manager. But he left a lot of the day-to-day stuff to our trainer Charlie Paynter. It was Charlie that most of us talked to about anything. Syd King was more about doing deals to get players to play for West Ham… A lot of the time we, the players, would decide what we were going to do. George (Kay) and Jack (Tresadern) kept an eye on other players and came up with ways of playing them. But anything anyone had to say, Charlie Paynter chatted about."

The new line-up took a while to settle down at the start to the 1921-22 season, winning only three of their first fourteen games. This put them in 18th place and it looked like that the club had no chance of getting promotion that year.

The turning point came with a 1-0 victory over Clapton Orient on 18th November, 1921. West Ham won nine of their next eleven games. The forward line of Jimmy Ruffell, Billy Moore, Vic Watson, Billy Brown and Dick Richards began to click. As Ruffell pointed out: "West Ham were a good passing team. Most of the time you had an idea where men were or men would make themselves ready to get the ball from another player. I think we were one of the few clubs to really practice that. Then, with their good forward line, Vic Watson, Bill Moore and I was okay too, West Ham always had a chance at getting a goal."

West Ham United also beat Hull City 3-2 in the 1st Round of the FA Cup on 13th January, 1923. They faced Brighton & Hove Albion in the 2nd round. After a 1-1 draw they beat them 1-0 in the replay. This was followed by a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle. However, they took three games before the eventually beat Southampton 1-0 on 19th March, to reach the semi-final for the first time in their history.

West Ham was also in good form in the league going on a 10 match unbeaten run since the start of the new year. This included a 6-0 victory on 15th February away from home against Leicester City, one of their main rivals for the championship. Notts County and Manchester United were also doing well that season so it appeared that four clubs were fighting for the two promotion places.

On 24th March, 1923, West Ham played Derby County in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge in front of a 50,000 crowd. Derby, who had not lost a goal so far in the competition was expected to win the game. George Kerr, a 17-year-old supporter who lived in Boleyn Road, was one of those who watched the game. "For the first few minutes the ball hardly left the Hammers' half. Then Hufton took a goal-kick straight down the middle. Watson trapped the ball then swung around hitting it out to the left about 10 yards ahead of Ruffell who took it in his stride and carried it about another 20 yards before he swung over a slightly lofted centre which Brown volleyed into the top left-hand corner of the net."

The goal by Billy Brown was followed by another one from Billy Moore. After only ten minutes West Ham had a two goal lead. Further goals by Brown, Moore and Jimmy Ruffell gave the Hammers an easy 5-2 victory. The Stratford Express reported: "On Saturday we saw a team working together like a well-oiled machine, full of vitality in attack, confident in its methods, accurate in its execution and driving home its advantages to the full. The Derby defence was continually harassed by a forward line which would have tested the best defence in the country. There was method and precision in everything it did, and its deadly accuracy was confirmed by the fact on five occasions it beat a defence which in the previous four rounds had not given away a goal."

The Daily Mail argued that: "West Ham have never played finer football. It was intelligent, it was clever, and it was dashing. They were quick, they dribbled and swerved, and passed and ran as if the ball was to them a thing of life and obedient to their wishes. They were the master tacticians, and it was by their tactics that they gained... Every man always seemed to be in his place, and the manner in which the ball was flashed from player to player - often without the man who parted from it taking the trouble to look - but with the assistance that his colleague was where he ought to be - suggested the well-assembled parts of a machine, all of which were in perfect working order."

The prospect of playing their first FA Cup Final did not damage their league form. A week later West Ham United beat Crystal Palace 5-1 with Vic Watson scoring four of the goals. They followed this with a 5-2 win over Bury. There were also wins against Hull City (3-0) and Fulham (2-0). However, with the title in their grasp, pre-cup nerves set in and the club lost games against Barnsley and Notts County in the weeks preceding the final that was to be the first to be held at the Empire Stadium at Wembley.

I will write about the cup final on another thread but it is true to say that the West Ham team was put at a considerable disadvantage by the conditions in which the game was played and would have undoubtedly have forced it to be replayed if they took it to court (The FA Rule 5 had been constantly broken during the game).

Only 48 hours after the final West Ham United had to play penultimate game in the 1922-23 season. The players held their nerve and beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough 2-0 with goals from Vic Watson and Billy Moore. The Hammers were top of the league on goal average. However, Leicester City and Notts County both had the same number of points. With only the top two going up, if West Ham lost their last game, they could still fail to get promoted.

The last fixtures of 1922-23 paired West Ham United with Notts County and Leicester City and Bury. Over 26,000 fans turned up to Upton Park on 5th May 1923 to see the game against their main promotion rivals. Although the home team pushed forward they found it difficult to create any real good chances. In the 38th minute, disaster struck as inside-forward, Harold Hill, put County ahead. The good news was that at Bury was leading Leicester City by a single goal at half-time.

George Kerr reported that "the second-half began much as before, with the Hammers striving hard but creating little in the way of scoring chances." The game at Gigg Lane had started 15 minutes earlier than the one at Upton Park and at 4.30 the West Ham fans began to look towards the North Bank. Kerr observed what was taking place: "The half-time scoreboard was situated in an elevated position at the rear of the North Bank. At the extreme right as we looked at it was a cubby-hole with a telephone and in which the operator was housed. We noticed that he was walking along the gang-plank to the opposite end and having reached it adjacent to the sign which would indicate the score of the Leicester City v Bury match, he marked the full-time result - 0-1 to Bury. Immediately the mood of the crowd was transformed from one of utter dejection to complete ecstasy."

West Ham was unable to score and the game resulted in a 1-0 victory to Notts County, who not only got promoted but had won the Second Division championship. However, West Ham had a better goal average than Leicester City and joined County in the First Division. It now became clear of the significance of the 6-0 victory at Filbert Street on 15th February. Without this result, it would have been Leicester who would have been promoted.

The form of the West Ham players had impressed the English selectors and both Vic Watson and Jack Tresadern were selected to play in the game against Scotland at Hampden Park. This was very unusual for Second Division players to be called-up for such an important game. Sid Bishop, Edward Hufton, Billy Brown, Billy Moore and Jimmy Ruffell also played for England over the next couple of years. Dick Richards was also a regular with Wales during this period. Eight of the West Ham team who played in the 1923 FA Cup Final became internationals. At 32 years old, George Kay, the West Ham captain was considered to be too old to be selected. Billy Henderson was called up to the England squad but a serious knee injury that brought an early end to his career stopped him from representing his country. The team had cost £2,000 in transfer fees. This was less than the £5,000 that West Ham had received for Syd Puddefoot. Like the other graduates of the West Ham coaching system, Puddefoot also went on to play for England.

The development of such a great team of youngsters was not lost on the major clubs of the time but West Ham refused offers for their stars and players like Vic Watson and Jimmy Ruffell remained at the club for many years.

Syd King decided to only add Tommy Yews, a winger from Hartlepool United, and Norman Proctor, an inside-forward from Rotherham United, to strengthen his squad for the club's first season in the First Division. King also had high hopes of several young local lads, such as Jim Barrett, George Carter, Billy Williams and Jimmy Collins, that were emerging from the Paynter academy.

Some commentators were highly critical of King's decision not to bring in experienced First Division players. However, Scribbo, the football reporter of the East Ham Echo was more optimistic: "There is every reason why they (West Ham) should do well in first-class company. They revealed themselves an exceptional side last year."

West Ham's first game of the season was against Sunderland, one of the best teams in the country. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. However, the match was a disaster as Vic Watson, the team's leading scorer, broke a toe, an injury that would keep him out of the side until April 1924. Syd King was unable to find a replacement for Watson and therefore West Ham struggled for goals that season. However, the defence did well and only let in 43 goals that season. Only four other clubs in the First Division: Huddersfield Town (1st), Cardiff City (2nd), Bolton Wanderers (4th) and Aston Villa (6th) had better defensive records.

Stanley Earle was King's only significant signing for the 1924-25 season. King was criticised for this but unfortunately he was not in a position to buy new players. West Ham rarely had attendances over 20,000 in the 1923-24 season. Compare this to the numbers that saw them play in away games: Chelsea (51,000), Arsenal (40,000), Aston Villa (40,000), Sunderland (35,000) and Cardiff (33,000).

Again West Ham United finished in 13th place. Vic Watson, who had now fully recovered from his broken toe, finished as top scorer with 22 goals. King kept the same squad for the 1925-26 season. That year the Hammers had little difficulty scoring goals but the defence had a torrid time letting in 76 in 42 games, finishing in 18th place.

King refused to panic and once again he made no major purchases. George Kay was sold to Stockport County and Jack Hebden became the new club captain. Other players in the team that year included Jim Barrett, Sid Bishop, George Carter, Alfred Earl, Stanley Earle, Vivian Gibbins, Tommy Hodgson, Edward Hufton, Billy Moore, Jimmy Ruffell, Vic Watson, Billy Williams and Tommy Yews. Eight of the team had been developed via the academy system, whereas two others had been purchased cheaply from other clubs while still young. Only Moore had an established career before joining West Ham.

West Ham United reached their peak in the 1926-27 season. This included a 7-0 victory over Arsenal and two 5-1 wins against Aston Villa. At the end of the season they were in 6th place scoring an impressive 86 goals.

I am afraid it all went downhill after that. The attack continued to score goals via Watson (50 league and cup games in only 44 games in the 1929-30 season), Gibbins, Ruffell, Moore, Earle and Yews. However, the defence was a disaster area. This pattern continued for several years. In the 1931-32 West Ham finished bottom of the First Division and were relegated. That year they scored 62 goals in 42 games but conceded 107, one of the highest totals in Football League history.

At a board meeting on 7th November, 1932, Syd King insulted one of the West Ham directors. At an emergency board meeting the following night, it was decided that King had been drunk and insubordinate and that he should be "suspended for three calendar months from November, 9, 1932, without salary". Being drunk was a serious crime to the directors of a club established by a leading figure in the Temperance Society. Charlie Paynter, a teetotaller, became the temporary manager.

At another board meeting on 3rd January, 1933, doubts were expressed about King's honesty in the day-to-day business of running the club. It was decided that King should be sacked from the post of manager. However, he was granted an ex-gratia payment of £3 per week. Syd King was devastated by the news and a few weeks later he committed suicide by drinking a corrosive liquid.

Paynter continued to produce good young players but he was unable to create the right mix and the team languished in the Second Division until his retirement in 1950. However, he had been largely responsible for developing the philosophy of using young local talent to play entertaining attacking football. He also helped to create the tradition of producing managers.

George Kay became manager of Liverpool and in the 1946-47 season won the First Division championship. Matt Busby and Bob Paisley both played under Kay and claimed they based their managerial styles on what they saw him do at Liverpool. Paisley claimed that Kay "took Liverpool… to come out a bit like West Ham did after the First World War ... He was one of the people who laid the ground for the way Liverpool teams would play in the future ...keeping the ball on the ground and passing it well ...but being strong on the ball as well."

You can read about the careers of all the players mentioned in this article at:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WestHam.htm

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I often wondered how well the the 1980-81 team would have done if they'd been in the 1st Division that season.

Coming off the back of the FA Cup win the team impressively reached the 1/4 final of the Cup Winners Cup, claimed several 1st Division scalps on the way to the League Cup Final (which they only lost to Liverpool after a replay) and won the 2nd Division title by a mile.

The Best Ever West Ham Team?

The best West Ham team I have seen was the one that played between 1963-65. It was of course the team that won the 1964 FA Cup and the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup. However, it was not a consistent team and only finished 14th (1963-64) and 9th (1964-65) in the First Division championships.

The other great team West Ham team that I have seen was the one that played in the 1985-86 season. It was a much more consistent team than the 1963-65 version as it finished 3rd in the league. However, it did not win anything (got knocked out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage and did not get past the 3rd round of the Milk Cup). It was also a one season wonder finishing in 15th place the following season. The team was clearly too dependant on the goals of McAvennie (26) and Cottee (20). Although Cottee retained his form, McAvennie only got 7 in 36 league games in the 1986-87 season.

The record books show that the West Ham team that played between 1922 and 1927 might have been better than either the 1964-65 and 1985-86 teams. More importantly, the team built by Syd King and Charlie Paynter during this period created the West Ham tradition that we are all so anxious to preserve. That is to say producing teams made up of local lads who play entertaining attacking football.

In the early years Thames Ironworks/West Ham played in the Southern League. Syd King was signed by West Ham in 1899. He was considered to be one of the best full-backs in the country and several First Division clubs were after him. However, West Ham had just been promoted to the First Division of the Southern League and the secretary/manager, Francis Payne, had been given £1,000 by Arnold Hills, the owner of the club, to find the best players available. It is not known what the fee was but the main attraction would have been the wages that clubs in the Southern League was willing to pay their star players. These were usually higher than those being paid in the First Division where there was a wage-cap. As West Ham was only getting gates of around 2,000, at the time, it was totally dependent on the generosity of Hills, who at that time was making good money from the ownership of the Thames Ironworks Shipbuilding Company.

At the end of the 1901-02 season Arnold Hills appointed Syd King as their player/manager. This was a revolutionary decision at the time. In the early days of football managers were nearly always people with a business background. King was not only a footballer but was still playing as he was only 28 years old. Clearly, King had shown Hills that he was something a bit special. King was a very intelligent man and was one of the few professional players with a grammar school education. There were of course university educated players at the time but they were always amateurs and would not have considered the humble post of football manager.

As it happens, King suffered a serious leg injury and he was forced to retire from playing in April 1903. Over the next few years West Ham remained a mid-table Southern League team. They never seriously threatened to win the title, nor did they ever get into a relegation fight. However, during this period he developed the strategy that was turn West Ham into one of the best teams in the country. At the time Charlie Paynter was an assistant trainer at the club. Paynter, like King, had been a player at the club whose career was ended by a serious leg injury at the age of 22. In his spare-time, Paynter also coached local youngsters and King decided to make him a partner in his project.

Over the next few years Paynter supplied West Ham with a stream of young talent. This included players such as George Hilsdon and Danny Shea. Both went onto play for England. However, King was always forced to sell this talent in order to balance the books. Hilsdon was sold to Chelsea and Shea went to Blackburn Rovers. In fact, Shea was sold for a world record fee of £2,000 in 1912.

Professional football was abandoned during the First World War. After the conflict had come to an end, West Ham applied to join the Football League. They were accepted and in the 1919-20 season West Ham played in the Second Division. King was given only a small budget for players. This enabled him to buy George Kay, from Bolton Wanderers for a fee of £100. A small group of young local players such as Syd Puddefoot, Jack Tresadern, Edward Hufton, Sid Bishop and Jimmy Ruffell had also arrived in the first-team via Paynter’s academy.

Syd King, was a great spotter of potential talent. He made some shrewd signings for small fees. This included Vic Watson, a young striker from Wellingborough Town for a fee of £25. King must have had a trusted scout working in County Durham. Just after the war he signed several young coalminers playing in colliery teams in this region. This included Billy Brown, Tommy Hodgson and Jack Young.

The star of the side was Syd Puddefoot who had scored 107 goals in 194 games for the club. He was another product of the Paynter academy who had been recruited in 1912 after being seen playing for London Juniors.

The team relied heavily on Puddefoot's goals and it was great shock to the fans when Syd King sold him to Falkirk for the world record fee of £5,000 in February 1925. As the authors of the The Essential History of West Ham United (2000) pointed out that his departure "nearly caused a riot among Hammers fans". However, the club blamed Puddefoot in a statement issued after his transfer: "The departure of Syd Puddefoot came as no surprise to those intimately connected with him. It is an old saying that everyone has one chance in life to improve themselves and Syd Puddefoot is doing the right thing for himself in studying his future. We understand that he will be branching out in commercial circles in Falkirk and when his football days are over he will be assured of a nice little competency."

The truth of the matter was that Puddefoot was very reluctant to move to Scotland to play for Falkirk. However, at this time footballers had little control over these matters. At the time of his departure, it looked like West Ham United would win promotion to the First Division. However, without their top goalscorer, the club lost five of their last seven games and finished in 4th place at the end of the 1921-22 season.

This was only a temporary set-back because this time Syd King was determined to spend the money wisely and during the summer break purchased three talented players: Billy Henderson from Aberdare Athletic (£650), Dick Richards from Wolves (£300) and Billy Moore from Sunderland (£300). He was also convinced that the young Vic Watson would be even better than the departed Syd Puddefoot.

King made George Kay, the captain of the side. It has to be remembered that at this time the captain was far more important than he is today. It was the captain who decided on the tactics employed. This was also true of West Ham although Charlie Paynter did have a major say in this. For example, according to Jimmy Ruffell, West Ham’s young winger at the time: "Syd King was a good manager. But he left a lot of the day-to-day stuff to our trainer Charlie Paynter. It was Charlie that most of us talked to about anything. Syd King was more about doing deals to get players to play for West Ham… A lot of the time we, the players, would decide what we were going to do. George (Kay) and Jack (Tresadern) kept an eye on other players and came up with ways of playing them. But anything anyone had to say, Charlie Paynter chatted about."

The new line-up took a while to settle down at the start to the 1921-22 season, winning only three of their first fourteen games. This put them in 18th place and it looked like that the club had no chance of getting promotion that year.

The turning point came with a 1-0 victory over Clapton Orient on 18th November, 1921. West Ham won nine of their next eleven games. The forward line of Jimmy Ruffell, Billy Moore, Vic Watson, Billy Brown and Dick Richards began to click. As Ruffell pointed out: "West Ham were a good passing team. Most of the time you had an idea where men were or men would make themselves ready to get the ball from another player. I think we were one of the few clubs to really practice that. Then, with their good forward line, Vic Watson, Bill Moore and I was okay too, West Ham always had a chance at getting a goal."

West Ham United also beat Hull City 3-2 in the 1st Round of the FA Cup on 13th January, 1923. They faced Brighton & Hove Albion in the 2nd round. After a 1-1 draw they beat them 1-0 in the replay. This was followed by a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle. However, they took three games before the eventually beat Southampton 1-0 on 19th March, to reach the semi-final for the first time in their history.

West Ham was also in good form in the league going on a 10 match unbeaten run since the start of the new year. This included a 6-0 victory on 15th February away from home against Leicester City, one of their main rivals for the championship. Notts County and Manchester United were also doing well that season so it appeared that four clubs were fighting for the two promotion places.

On 24th March, 1923, West Ham played Derby County in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge in front of a 50,000 crowd. Derby, who had not lost a goal so far in the competition was expected to win the game. George Kerr, a 17-year-old supporter who lived in Boleyn Road, was one of those who watched the game. "For the first few minutes the ball hardly left the Hammers' half. Then Hufton took a goal-kick straight down the middle. Watson trapped the ball then swung around hitting it out to the left about 10 yards ahead of Ruffell who took it in his stride and carried it about another 20 yards before he swung over a slightly lofted centre which Brown volleyed into the top left-hand corner of the net."

The goal by Billy Brown was followed by another one from Billy Moore. After only ten minutes West Ham had a two goal lead. Further goals by Brown, Moore and Jimmy Ruffell gave the Hammers an easy 5-2 victory. The Stratford Express reported: "On Saturday we saw a team working together like a well-oiled machine, full of vitality in attack, confident in its methods, accurate in its execution and driving home its advantages to the full. The Derby defence was continually harassed by a forward line which would have tested the best defence in the country. There was method and precision in everything it did, and its deadly accuracy was confirmed by the fact on five occasions it beat a defence which in the previous four rounds had not given away a goal."

The Daily Mail argued that: "West Ham have never played finer football. It was intelligent, it was clever, and it was dashing. They were quick, they dribbled and swerved, and passed and ran as if the ball was to them a thing of life and obedient to their wishes. They were the master tacticians, and it was by their tactics that they gained... Every man always seemed to be in his place, and the manner in which the ball was flashed from player to player - often without the man who parted from it taking the trouble to look - but with the assistance that his colleague was where he ought to be - suggested the well-assembled parts of a machine, all of which were in perfect working order."

The prospect of playing their first FA Cup Final did not damage their league form. A week later West Ham United beat Crystal Palace 5-1 with Vic Watson scoring four of the goals. They followed this with a 5-2 win over Bury. There were also wins against Hull City (3-0) and Fulham (2-0). However, with the title in their grasp, pre-cup nerves set in and the club lost games against Barnsley and Notts County in the weeks preceding the final that was to be the first to be held at the Empire Stadium at Wembley.

I will write about the cup final on another thread but it is true to say that the West Ham team was put at a considerable disadvantage by the conditions in which the game was played and would have undoubtedly have forced it to be replayed if they took it to court (The FA Rule 5 had been constantly broken during the game).

Only 48 hours after the final West Ham United had to play penultimate game in the 1922-23 season. The players held their nerve and beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough 2-0 with goals from Vic Watson and Billy Moore. The Hammers were top of the league on goal average. However, Leicester City and Notts County both had the same number of points. With only the top two going up, if West Ham lost their last game, they could still fail to get promoted.

The last fixtures of 1922-23 paired West Ham United with Notts County and Leicester City and Bury. Over 26,000 fans turned up to Upton Park on 5th May 1923 to see the game against their main promotion rivals. Although the home team pushed forward they found it difficult to create any real good chances. In the 38th minute, disaster struck as inside-forward, Harold Hill, put County ahead. The good news was that at Bury was leading Leicester City by a single goal at half-time.

George Kerr reported that "the second-half began much as before, with the Hammers striving hard but creating little in the way of scoring chances." The game at Gigg Lane had started 15 minutes earlier than the one at Upton Park and at 4.30 the West Ham fans began to look towards the North Bank. Kerr observed what was taking place: "The half-time scoreboard was situated in an elevated position at the rear of the North Bank. At the extreme right as we looked at it was a cubby-hole with a telephone and in which the operator was housed. We noticed that he was walking along the gang-plank to the opposite end and having reached it adjacent to the sign which would indicate the score of the Leicester City v Bury match, he marked the full-time result - 0-1 to Bury. Immediately the mood of the crowd was transformed from one of utter dejection to complete ecstasy."

West Ham was unable to score and the game resulted in a 1-0 victory to Notts County, who not only got promoted but had won the Second Division championship. However, West Ham had a better goal average than Leicester City and joined County in the First Division. It now became clear of the significance of the 6-0 victory at Filbert Street on 15th February. Without this result, it would have been Leicester who would have been promoted.

The form of the West Ham players had impressed the English selectors and both Vic Watson and Jack Tresadern were selected to play in the game against Scotland at Hampden Park. This was very unusual for Second Division players to be called-up for such an important game. Sid Bishop, Edward Hufton, Billy Brown, Billy Moore and Jimmy Ruffell also played for England over the next couple of years. Dick Richards was also a regular with Wales during this period. Eight of the West Ham team who played in the 1923 FA Cup Final became internationals. At 32 years old, George Kay, the West Ham captain was considered to be too old to be selected. Billy Henderson was called up to the England squad but a serious knee injury that brought an early end to his career stopped him from representing his country. The team had cost £2,000 in transfer fees. This was less than the £5,000 that West Ham had received for Syd Puddefoot. Like the other graduates of the West Ham coaching system, Puddefoot also went on to play for England.

The development of such a great team of youngsters was not lost on the major clubs of the time but West Ham refused offers for their stars and players like Vic Watson and Jimmy Ruffell remained at the club for many years.

Syd King decided to only add Tommy Yews, a winger from Hartlepool United, and Norman Proctor, an inside-forward from Rotherham United, to strengthen his squad for the club's first season in the First Division. King also had high hopes of several young local lads, such as Jim Barrett, George Carter, Billy Williams and Jimmy Collins, that were emerging from the Paynter academy.

Some commentators were highly critical of King's decision not to bring in experienced First Division players. However, Scribbo, the football reporter of the East Ham Echo was more optimistic: "There is every reason why they (West Ham) should do well in first-class company. They revealed themselves an exceptional side last year."

West Ham's first game of the season was against Sunderland, one of the best teams in the country. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. However, the match was a disaster as Vic Watson, the team's leading scorer, broke a toe, an injury that would keep him out of the side until April 1924. Syd King was unable to find a replacement for Watson and therefore West Ham struggled for goals that season. However, the defence did well and only let in 43 goals that season. Only four other clubs in the First Division: Huddersfield Town (1st), Cardiff City (2nd), Bolton Wanderers (4th) and Aston Villa (6th) had better defensive records.

Stanley Earle was King's only significant signing for the 1924-25 season. King was criticised for this but unfortunately he was not in a position to buy new players. West Ham rarely had attendances over 20,000 in the 1923-24 season. Compare this to the numbers that saw them play in away games: Chelsea (51,000), Arsenal (40,000), Aston Villa (40,000), Sunderland (35,000) and Cardiff (33,000).

Again West Ham United finished in 13th place. Vic Watson, who had now fully recovered from his broken toe, finished as top scorer with 22 goals. King kept the same squad for the 1925-26 season. That year the Hammers had little difficulty scoring goals but the defence had a torrid time letting in 76 in 42 games, finishing in 18th place.

King refused to panic and once again he made no major purchases. George Kay was sold to Stockport County and Jack Hebden became the new club captain. Other players in the team that year included Jim Barrett, Sid Bishop, George Carter, Alfred Earl, Stanley Earle, Vivian Gibbins, Tommy Hodgson, Edward Hufton, Billy Moore, Jimmy Ruffell, Vic Watson, Billy Williams and Tommy Yews. Eight of the team had been developed via the academy system, whereas two others had been purchased cheaply from other clubs while still young. Only Moore had an established career before joining West Ham.

West Ham United reached their peak in the 1926-27 season. This included a 7-0 victory over Arsenal and two 5-1 wins against Aston Villa. At the end of the season they were in 6th place scoring an impressive 86 goals.

I am afraid it all went downhill after that. The attack continued to score goals via Watson (50 league and cup games in only 44 games in the 1929-30 season), Gibbins, Ruffell, Moore, Earle and Yews. However, the defence was a disaster area. This pattern continued for several years. In the 1931-32 West Ham finished bottom of the First Division and were relegated. That year they scored 62 goals in 42 games but conceded 107, one of the highest totals in Football League history.

At a board meeting on 7th November, 1932, Syd King insulted one of the West Ham directors. At an emergency board meeting the following night, it was decided that King had been drunk and insubordinate and that he should be "suspended for three calendar months from November, 9, 1932, without salary". Being drunk was a serious crime to the directors of a club established by a leading figure in the Temperance Society. Charlie Paynter, a teetotaller, became the temporary manager.

At another board meeting on 3rd January, 1933, doubts were expressed about King's honesty in the day-to-day business of running the club. It was decided that King should be sacked from the post of manager. However, he was granted an ex-gratia payment of £3 per week. Syd King was devastated by the news and a few weeks later he committed suicide by drinking a corrosive liquid.

Paynter continued to produce good young players but he was unable to create the right mix and the team languished in the Second Division until his retirement in 1950. However, he had been largely responsible for developing the philosophy of using young local talent to play entertaining attacking football. He also helped to create the tradition of producing managers.

George Kay became manager of Liverpool and in the 1946-47 season won the First Division championship. Matt Busby and Bob Paisley both played under Kay and claimed they based their managerial styles on what they saw him do at Liverpool. Paisley claimed that Kay "took Liverpool… to come out a bit like West Ham did after the First World War ... He was one of the people who laid the ground for the way Liverpool teams would play in the future ...keeping the ball on the ground and passing it well ...but being strong on the ball as well."

You can read about the careers of all the players mentioned in this article at:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WestHam.htm

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I often wondered how well the the 1980-81 team would have done if they'd been in the 1st Division that season.

Coming off the back of the FA Cup win the team impressively reached the 1/4 final of the Cup Winners Cup, claimed several 1st Division scalps on the way to the League Cup Final (which they only lost to Liverpool after a replay) and won the 2nd Division title by a mile.

That is an interesting point about the 1980-81 team. They did win the Second Division by 13 points that year. They only lost four league games that season (Luton twice, Derby County and QPR). They also reached the final of the League Cup. The Hammers lost to Liverpool, who also beat them in the Charity Shield.

The argument against this team is that they only did it in the Second Division. Virtually the same team could only finish 9th the following season in the First Division.

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