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Syd King's History of West Ham United

John Simkin

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In 1905 Syd King, the manager of West Ham, was asked to write a history of the club. King was the right man to ask as he joined the club as a player in 1899. I thought members might be interested in reading this article:


In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of "hammers" was heard on the banks of Father Thames and great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Ironworks Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the North country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goalwards. And so when the idea was first suggested that an amateur club should be formed, it met with a ready response from the employs of the Thames Ironworks. These early organisers, of what, in a later age, is known as West Ham United, also found a generous patron in Mr. A. F. Hills.

Before passing along to the first appearance of the club in the field, I ought to point out that West Ham is one of the oldest football centres in the country. The fact is not generally known that Blackburn Rovers have met Upton Park - not the present club of that name - in a late round of the Association Cup competition in West Ham Park. "The oldest inhabitant " tells me that Blackburn Rovers won. I mention these things to show that when the Thames Ironworks F. C. came before the local public a great deal was known about the game; and, indeed, the way had been prepared for the Ironworks by clubs like St. Luke's, Old St. Luke's, and Old Castle Swifts. Canning Town and West Ham, generally in those days even, was a hotbed of football. Old Castle Swifts had the distinction of being the first professional club in Essex, and they played on a field hard by the Hermit Road. Their existence was brief. The Hermit Road "cinder heap" - it was nothing better - lay untenanted after their demise, and it was this barren waste that the Thames Ironworks decided to occupy. A few meetings were called, and the project talked over. Foremen and overseers in the Limited were persuaded to give their support, a committee was elected, and secretaries appointed. Roughly speaking, the membership did not exceed fifty. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines, and their first principle was to choose their team from men in the works.

On September 7, 1895, eleven men from the works turned out at Hermit Road to play the reserve team of the Royal Ordnance F. C. The pages of history record that the result was a draw, 1-1, and everybody went home satisfied.

Bob Stevenson who captained Woolwich Arsenal at one period of their existence, was the first captain of the Thames Ironworks, and in those early days the training was done on week nights at a school-room in the Barking Road. The players used also occasionally to go out for a moonlight spin on the turnpike road. Their trainer was Tommy Robinson, and he is still trainer to West Ham United. There is a break of several seasons in his service, however, during which we saw him smoking his cigar on match days and thinking hard when the game was going against the side in which he has always taken a deep interest.

The Ironworks' first season came to a close, with happy results. They had to move from Hermit Road, though, the next year, and they subsequently appeared at Browning Road, East Ham. For some reason, not altogether explained, the local public at this place did not take kindly to them, and the records show that Browning Road was a wilderness both in the matter of luck and support. Still there was a bright time coming, it was thought, and people were beginning to talk about the Memorial Grounds at Canning Town. This vast athletic enclosure was built by Mr. Hills, and, if my memory is not at fault, I think it was opened on Jubilee Day, 1897. History has been made at the Memorial Grounds. Troubles and triumphs are associated with the enclosure, but, somehow, West Ham never succeeded there as it was once thought they would. Thames Ironworks, however, won the London League championship in 1898.

The next season they entered the Second Division of the Southern League and won the championship at the first time of asking. The season 1898-9 will also be remembered as the year in which they embraced professionalism. One of the arguments advanced at the time was that none but a tip-top team of good players could draw the multitude to the Memorial Grounds. Following its adoption there were more trials and troubles. Those supporters who remained loyal will remember the year as one in which West Ham United certain officials came under the ban of the F.A. It was distinctly unfortunate, and for a time dark clouds threatened the club.

Thames Ironworks were next invited to knock at the door of the First Division of the Southern League. And knock they did. They were admitted, only to discover that the higher you go the more difficulties you may expect to encounter. In September, 1899, then, they made their entry into the First Division. Ill-luck dogged them all the way. They won only eight matches, and finished in the table just above Sheppey United. All this while the man in the street was talking about the club.

The time was ripe for a limited liability company, and the public were shortly afterwards invited to take up shares. Next year the name was changed from Thames Ironworks to West Ham United, and henceforward the doors of the club were open to the rank and file.

The record of 1899-1900, however, would not be complete without some reference to the players who were associated with the club at that time. There was poor Harry Bradshaw, who came from the "Spurs" with Joyce. How well I remember that match with Queen's Park Rangers during the Christmas holidays, when Joyce brought over the sad message to the Memorial Grounds that our comrade had passed away. Poor Harry was one of the cleverest wing-forwards I have ever known, and he was immensely popular with everybody. He joined the club with me, and with us in the team were McEachrane (now with the Arsenal), Craig (Notts Forest), my partner at full-back, Carnelly, and Joyce. We had some rare talent in our reserve team too, for, if my memory is not at fault, there were J. Bigden (now of the Arsenal), R. Pudan (Bristol Rovers), and Yenson (Queen's Park Rangers).

Retaining several of their old players, in the following season, 1900-1, West Ham finished up sixth on the Southern League table. This, indeed, was progress. It was the first year of the intermediate rounds of the English Cup competition, and it was our fortune to meet Liverpool at the Memorial Grounds. They beat us by only 1 goal, and we were rather unlucky to lose. Goldie (Fulham) played against us, and Satterthwaite, who afterwards became identified with West Ham, was Liverpool's twelfth man. Grassam joined us that year, and Hugh Monteith kept goal for the "Hammers," as we were then styled.

Next season, 1901-2, is the brightest in the history of the club. It was roses all the way, but there was one ugly thorn, and that a beating from Grays United in the National Cup competition. We reached fourth position in the League table, finishing behind Portsmouth, "Spurs," and "Saints."

In that year I was appointed assistant-secretary, and at a later period, as is generally known, I became secretary-manager.

We lost the services of several of our best men the following season, 1902-3. That was the penalty, I suppose, we had to pay for success. All the same, we had a useful team, among whom was Fred Griffiths, the Welsh International goalkeeper; J. Blythe, who afterwards went to Millwall; and Linward, who was transferred to the Arsenal. And the club certainly deserved a higher position than tenth on the table, where we subsequently finished. The Cup competition saw us beaten at Lincoln, and the match will be remembered if only for the accident to Kelly, who, although he broke his ankle, went on playing till within a few minutes of the finish.

Now we come to the season 1903-4. This was one of the most eventful in the history of the club. The West Ham United Football Club Company dates from 1900-1. The open door, so to speak, had been productive of good results. The charge that the club was out of sympathy with the local public was not repeated in 1903. A lot of prejudice had been lived down and forgotten, and I don't suppose any club has had to fight harder for its existence than West Ham United. Even as we stood on the threshold of 1903-4 a great and overwhelming difficulty beset us. It was the last year of our agreement concerning the occupancy of the Memorial Grounds.

But before I pass along to the stirring events which marked the close of that season, let me say something about the team. We were reinforced by a strong contingent from Reading, including Allison, Cotton, Watts, and Lyon. With regard to the performances of the team that year, I regret to say that we did not succeed as we should have liked. Fulham beat us by a goal in the Cup competition, and in the League we were the reverse of comfortable - a fact which did not help to encourage us when we knew that we must leave the Memorial Grounds and that a new home had to be found. The immediate and pressing difficulty of West Ham at the close of the 1901 season was the question of ground. The directors endeavoured to negotiate with Mr. A. F. Hills for a further lease of seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years of the Memorial Grounds at a good rental, the club to have sole control.

Unfortunately as we thought then, but luckily as it afterwards turned out, no agreement could be arrived at. And we had to go. But where to? A piece of waste ground was offered us by the corporation, but this would not do. I well remember the facts concerning our lifting up and being placed on dry land, as it were. It was during our last few days at the Memorial Grounds. A match was being played between boys of the Home Office Schools. One of the Brothers from the Boleyn Castle School was present. We told him of our difficulty, and showed him the letter from Mr. Hills. An arrangement was made with the Brother there and then to go and see the Boleyn Castle Ground. We agreed to take it. A week later we were thrown back into the lap of despair again by being told that the Home Office would not approve of the action of the Brothers. A deputation of directors waited upon Mr. Ernest Gray, M.P., and through his good offices and certain conditions on our part we were finally allowed to take possession of Boleyn Castle.

It is a place with a history. There the unfortunate lady whose name is linked with that of Henry VIII. has resided. There are legends and stories about this fine old mansion - now a school.

At their new ground the West Hain Club hope to make football history, and I may say that 1904-5 - our first season at the Castle - was also the first year we have ever made a profit on the season's working.

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