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John Simkin

The Sackings of West Ham Managers

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When John Lyall was dismissed at the 1988-89 season he became the first West Ham manager to be sacked because of the performance of the team. This amazing fact tells us a great deal about what has been wrong with the West Ham set-up over the years.

Syd King was appointed secretary/manager of the club in September 1901. He had been on the playing staff since 1899. King held the job until he was suspended in November 1932 for being drunk at a West Ham board meeting. 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.

King was replaced as manager by the trainer Charlie Paynter. He had joined the playing staff in the 1900-01 season and after retiring because of a serious leg injury he was appointed to the coaching staff and eventually became trainer in 1911.

Paynter, who was a teetotaler, did not get into any “moral” problems and despite his lack of success as a manager he was allowed to continue in the job until he decided it was time to retire at the age of 71 in 1950. He was even allowed to select the man to replace him as manager. His choice was Ted Fenton who had played under him at West Ham between 1932 and 1946.

Fenton managed the club until 1961. Officially, he retired for “health reasons”. However, according to West Ham players who were interviewed for Brian Belton’s book, Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties (1999), Fenton was sacked for similar reasons to Syd King. Malcolm Allison later claimed that "Ted Fenton got the sack. They were rebuilding the stand and he was pinching some bricks and paint. Putting it in the back of the car. One of the directors caught him." Ken Tucker thought he had been dismissed because he had negotiated a reduction in the price of equipment, but was only passing on a percentage of the savings to the club.

Ron Greenwood replaced Fenton and held the position until 1977 when he decided it was right for John Lyall should takeover the day to day activities of managing the club. Lyall was sacked in 1989.

Why is it that over a 88 year period no West Ham manager was sacked for football reasons? It is clearly a record that no other club gets anywhere close to equaling. The reason why Syd King, Charlie Paynter and Ted Fenton survived even though they were unable to bring football success to the club was because this was not the main objective of the exercise. As Charles Korr points out in his excellent book based on the minutes of the West Ham board meetings, the mangers were under instructions to make a profit. The main way they did this was to buy cheap and sell dear. West Ham became a club that made money from selling players. King, Paynter and Fenton had one thing in common, they could spot talented young players. These were then groomed to be sold to the more ambitious clubs.

The 1905 edition of Association Football included the following passage: "It is the proud boast of the West Ham club that they turn out more local players than any other team in the South. The district has been described as a hot-bed of football and it is so. The raw material is found on the marshlands and open spaces round about; and after a season or so, the finished player leaves the East End workshop to better himself, as most ambitious young men will do. In the ranks of other organizations many old West Ham boys have distinguished themselves."

For example, in the 1912-13 it seemed that West Ham would win the Southern League championship for the first time. Danny Shea was the star of the side but after scoring 15 goals in 22 games he was sold to Blackburn Rovers in January 1913. Blackburn had won the First Division of the Football League title in the 1911-12 season. They struggled for goals the following season and decided to pay a British record transfer fee of £2,000 for Shea, who had scored 103 goals in a 166 games for West Ham.

West Ham was elected to the Second Division of the Football League in the 1919-20 season. In the first season they finished a promising 7th. They followed this with a 5th place in the 1920-21 season. West Ham fans thought that 1921-22 season would be their year. This seemed to be the case as they were challenging for the title until the board decided to sell Syd Puddefoot, the star striker, who had scored 107 goals in 194 games for the club. The team relied heavily on Puddefoot's goals and it was great shock to the fans when King sold him to Falkirk for the British record fee of £5,000 in February 1922. Poor old Puddefoot did not want to go. He was a local lad who wanted to remain at the club he supported, but in those days, players had no control over their destiny.

West Ham had a bad run of results after the loss of Puddefoot and the club finished in 4th place. However, the important thing was the club made a profit that year.

King was allowed to keep the rest of his young local players such as Vic Watson, Jimmy Ruffell, Syd Bishop, Jack Tresadern and Ted Hufton and the players rewarded them by getting promoted to the First Division in 1924. They also got to the final of the FA Cup that year. The question remains, would they have won the cup that year if they had retained the services of Syd Puddefoot?

However, King was given no money to buy in new players and eventually the board of directors resorted to selling off their best assets and relegation became inevitable.

In April 1936 Bert Davis, one of West Ham directors, told a reporter of the Evening News that he “preferred to have West Ham near the top of the second division rather than in the first division… because it is a better paying proposition”. The West Ham fans had suspected this attitude for sometime but even they were surprised that the board would admit to such a strategy. As a result of this controversy the West Ham board was forced to make a statement claiming that Davis had been misquoted. However, we know from the board minutes that Davis had been expressing the views of the club. As long as West Ham managers could continue to develop young players for sale, the club could continue to fulfill its major objective, to make a profit. Davis was right, the gate receipts in the Second Division were not so different from those in the First Division. It made financial sense to sell your best players and to stay in the Second Division than gain promotion to the First Division. It was recognized by the board that West Ham fans would still go to matches as long as the team played “good football”.

The question remains. Does West Ham still follow the same agenda as in the past? Do we still sell our best young players? Are we willing to invest in top quality players to support our home grown talent? It seems that recent managers like Harry Redknapp and Alan Pardew were willing to play by these rules in an attempt to make the club profitable. It is also worth noting that both men were sacked for “moral” reasons rather than “football” reasons.

Will the current regime allow the club to keep players like Mark Noble? Will Curbishley be allowed to keep his star striker, Dean Ashton? The following months will show if the West Ham strategy has changed since 1901.

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Guest Gary Loughran
When John Lyall was dismissed at the 1988-89 season he became the first West Ham manager to be sacked because of the performance of the team. This amazing fact tells us a great deal about what has been wrong with the West Ham set-up over the years...

...As Charles Korr points out in his excellent book based on the minutes of the West Ham board meetings, the mangers were under instructions to make a profit. The main way they did this was to buy cheap and sell dear. West Ham became a club that made money from selling players...These were then groomed to be sold to the more ambitious clubs...

...Will the current regime allow the club to keep players like Mark Noble? Will Curbishley be allowed to keep his star striker, Dean Ashton? The following months will show if the West Ham strategy has changed since 1901.

Funny enough John Lyall makes broadly the same point in his autobiography [iIRC - would have to go to the loft to dig it out if necessary]. On more than one occassion he mentions how 'successful' he was at being West Ham manager - in terms of breaking even or the £1 million profit he makes. This he implied was a success that would prevent the sack. Even as a teenager reading this I was alarmed at the sentiment - enough to recall it with ease now - though on reflection I don't recall the complete context.

Worth noting also the money that was beginning to pour into football then (2 years prior to Sky wasn't it?). A second tier club would not generate the revenue that a 4th from bottom top tier club would, obviously. Lyall had just got us relegated. The advent of Sky money etc. makes being in the top flight imperative, finanacially.

Pardew was a miracle worker. He got a team promoted with next to nothing in cash - nearly all of whom have been sold for handsome profit (Reo-Coker, Harewood, Zamora etc. etc.). Compare with the Magnusson/Curbishley fiasco. Hardly one player they bought has a sell on value - in fact we now pay over the odds to remove the player from the books...utterly disgraceful...slaves my backside.

So with the Icelandic mans bank getting slughtered in the credit crunch combined with the Hammer's hefty payroll (replete with dodgy injured players), Sears, Ashton, Noble, Green etc. sadly are all ripe for the picking from more ambitious clubs...

This year will be another consolidation year. The strategy seems to be determining the bare minimum required to stay up and maintaining it. A lot of our big buys were emergencies and purchased only for that soul purpose - staying up. In essence the strategy hasn't changed in 107 years and unlikely to in the near future, unless another 1986 comes from nowhere.

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Funny enough John Lyall makes broadly the same point in his autobiography [iIRC - would have to go to the loft to dig it out if necessary]. On more than one occassion he mentions how 'successful' he was at being West Ham manager - in terms of breaking even or the £1 million profit he makes. This he implied was a success that would prevent the sack. Even as a teenager reading this I was alarmed at the sentiment - enough to recall it with ease now - though on reflection I don't recall the complete context.

That is interesting. I have not read his autobiography.

You are right of course that Sky money means that it is no longer an option to stay out of the top division. I also agree about Pardew's signings although I do think it was right to sack him because in my view we were heading for relegation that season.

I also have not been impressed with Curbishley's buys. However, I feel he deserves at least another season to show he can get it right.

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People have always praised West Ham for the way the directors appoint former players and stay loyal to managers. This has meant that poor managers such as Charlie Paynter, Ted Fenton and Glen Roeder have been kept on for so long that they caused untold damage to the club. The point I was trying to make in the posting was that this so-called loyalty was really a strategy for selling off our best players to please the bank manager.

Soon after Ron Greenwood became manager of West Ham in 1961 he said: “One of the things wrong with this club is an over-abundance of loyalty.” Malcolm Allison, who played for West Ham between 1951 and 1957, analyzed the problem in more detail when he told Charles Korr (West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club): “They (the West Ham directors) were incompetent, neither had any idea of what a professional football club was... The directors had no sense of how to achieve anything or to be successful. The club was like the poor who always makes excuses for not improving their situation. It’s an excuse to call it (retaining managers) loyalty because it really means they’re afraid of outsiders. They’re people who live in an iron village all their lives and appoint their own people.”

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