West Ham United rightly have a proud tradition in English football for playing entertaining, attacking football. It is an approach that has thrilled millions since the east London club was formed in 1900, five years after the inception of our forerunners, Thames Ironworks.
It is enshrined in Hammers' history that regardless of their status at any given time, whether challenging for silverware or fighting relegation, the club has never sacrificed its long-held football principles. Our knowledgeable fans have come to expect nothing less and they are proud of it.
Throughout the years, West Ham United have invariably employed managers who embody these values, doing much themselves to promote and sustain our footballing philosophy. The majority of them joined the club as youngsters, were brought up through the playing ranks at the Boleyn Ground, so they understood everything the club stands for.
Even Ron Greenwood, the first 'outsider' to be appointed manager when he arrived from Arsenal in 1961, epitomised the West Ham Way. Greenwood continued to build on the excellent foundations laid by his predecessor, Ted Fenton, and the vastly influential skipper, Malcolm Allison, in the 50s which established the club's famed 'Academy'. Allison combined his defensive duties in the then second division side with coaching the schoolboys. He, more than anyone, helped nurture the man who would ultimately replace him in the first team and become arguably the most famous English footballer of all - Bobby Moore.
Allison, with the encouragement of Fenton, inspired progress in all the youngsters who came under his tuition at the coaching sessions he held on the old main forecourt of the Boleyn Ground each Tuesday and Thursday night. He commanded the respect of team-mates young and old and was a tactician ahead of his time.
At the instigation of Allison, who marvelled at the magnificent Hungary side of the late 50s, West Ham embraced continental ideas and thinking before any of our English rivals. We adopted foreign training methods and were the first to wear new, lightweight boots, smaller shorts and lighter, silk shirts.
Allison and his disciples, great club men like Noel Cantwell, Frank O'Farrell, Dave Sexton, Malcolm Musgrove and Jimmy Andrews, would follow daily training sessions by getting together again in the afternoons at Cassettari's Cafe, just a short walk from the ground in Barking Road (it's still there today). There, Allison would hold court and the players would exchange views on the game and make tactical plans around the dinner table, illustrating their ideas with the use of salt and pepper pots.
The culmination of those years of hard work, on and off the field, was the second division championship in 1958 - the springboard to great cup successes at a much higher level in the mid-60s. Those later achievements owed much to the tactical genius of Greenwood and the emergence of quality players like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, but no one should underestimate the positive influence of Allison's earlier role in Hammers' history.
West Ham United's most successful period came in the mid-60s, when the club reached three consecutive cup finals. Although, never been able to sustain a serious challenge on the league championship, we have enjoyed a reputation as a more than useful cup side. Our first taste of the big occasion came in 1923, when United met Bolton Wanderers in the first FA Cup final to be played at Wembley Stadium. On a day remembered more for the extraordinary crowd scenes than the football itself, Syd King's 'Irons' lost 2-0.
The 1923 FA Cup final first put the club on the map
The next cup final appearance was at Wembley against Blackburn Rovers in the 1940 Football League War Cup, which West Ham United won 1-0. The patient fans had to wait another 24 years before returning to Wembley. Greenwood's side, playing with typical style and swagger, inflicted a memorable 3-1 semi-final defeat over FA Cup holders Manchester United in the mud at Hillsborough before finally overcoming Preston North End, 3-2, in 1964's showpiece, with long-serving midfielder Ronnie Boyce heading the last minute winner.
If United were not near their best in beating Preston, they reached probably an all-time high on their return to the national stadium just over a year later to meet West Germany's TSV Munich 1860 in the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup. On an evening that nobody who was present will ever forget, West Ham United scaled new heights, playing the brand of entertaining, attacking football that had become synonymous with the club.
Right winger Alan Sealey emerged as the unlikely hero, scoring both goals in a well-earned 2-0 triumph, yet within a year his top-flight career had virtually ended after he broke his leg in a bizarre training ground accident. Sealey was playing cricket with team-mates during a break in pre-season training when he sustained the serious leg break while falling over a wooden bench.
The European Cup Winners' Cup win represents the pinnacle of United's achievements as a club but for the trio of Moore, Hurst and Peters, there was an even more glorious day in prospect against German opposition just a little over a year later, when England hosted the 1966 World Cup finals for the first time.
The final, against West Germany, was won 4-2 after extra time - and all three Hammers distinguished themselves. Moore, as captain, set up the opening goal for Hurst - a quick free- kick to the near post, where Hurst got free of his marker to head home. The move looked simple yet it was the product of Greenwood's training ground routine at Chadwell Heath and would yield many similar goals at club level, too. Peters, rated the most naturally talented of the famous trio, slotted England's second goal but the rest of the day belonged to Hurst, the former wing-half who Greenwood had converted into a forceful, hard-working centre-forward.
They still debate today whether Hurst's second goal actually crossed the goalline after his shot struck the underside of the crossbar but there was no doubt about his third - a thunderous left-foot shot that flew into the roof of the net in the final seconds of extra time. Geoff Hurst became the first, and so far only, player to score a hat- trick in the World Cup final.
With Moore collecting the Jules Rimet Trophy on behalf of the country, and Peters hitting the other England goal, most West Ham fans will tell you that it was the Hammers, not England, who won the World Cup in 66! Greenwood's reputation as one of the most intelligent coaches in the game led to his appointment as England manager in 1977, when his training ground protégé, John Lyall, stepped up to become the new United boss in his own right, having earlier become team manager under Greenwood in 1975.
Lyall made a great start to his senior management career, guiding West Ham United to their second FA Cup success in his first season in charge. The 75 final against Bobby Moore's Fulham was no classic but the men in claret and blue were well worth their 2-0 win, thanks to a brace from whippet-like winger Alan Taylor, a bargain signing from lowly Rochdale.
Billy Bonds remains the club's longest serving player
The cup win, with Billy Bonds lifting the trophy, meant another crack at the European Cup Winners' Cup the following season. West Ham United made it to the final again, but this time home advantage counted in favour of the Belgian side, as Anderlecht delighted the Brussels crowd with a 4-2 win.
Lyall simply continued to imbue all the same qualities of leadership, integrity and tactical nous of his predecessor. West Ham maintained their proud tradition for playing attacking football but, under Lyall, added a more steely edge that was crucial in winning the FA Cup in 1980, followed by the second division championship 12 months later with a record points haul.
For the 80 final against Arsenal, West Ham were the second division underdogs. But Lyall got his tactics spot on and had the players to carry out his instructions to perfection. Trevor Brooking, a stylish, creative midfield talent who emerged as Hammers' biggest star of the 70s and 80s, struck the winner with his head in a 1-0 victory. Brooking and skipper Billy Bonds, a lionhearted, swashbuckling character who gave everything as a player for 21 years before joining the management team at Upton Park, typified the loyalty that existed at the club, and which Lyall did so much to foster, during this period.
Even after United were finally relegated in 1978, following numerous narrow escapes, Brooking and Bonds never considered leaving. Since the late 70s the club has experienced a turbulent period. After regaining top flight status in 1981, Lyall continued to rebuild the side and in 1985/86 his efforts were rewarded when the club achieved their highest-ever league placing - third, behind champions Liverpool and Everton. West Ham went into the final Saturday of that season still in with a chance of winning the coveted title for the first time, only to see the dream shattered by Liverpool's victory at Chelsea.
Lyall was unable to build on that promising campaign and, just three years later, the club was relegated and its manager sacked. For the first time since Greenwood's appointment, the board sought a replacement from outside the West Ham United 'family' - and it backfired on them. Lou Macari, who had enjoyed some success lower down the league ladder with Swindon Town, did not really fit it and, amid personal problems, suddenly resigned just seven months into his tenure.
John Lyall oversaw the club's best ever season in 1985/86
His replacement, the legendary Bonds, proved a popular choice and at the end of his first full season in charge Bonzo's boys were promoted back to the first division in 1991 as runners-up to Oldham Athletic. But what should have been a happy return to the top flight quickly became a nightmare for Bonds and his players. The club had introduced a new bond scheme as a the prime means of funding the redevelopment of the Boleyn Ground following Lord Justice Taylor's Report into the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster which required all leading clubs to replace the old concrete terraces with expensive seating.
The club hoped to raise £19m through bonds bought by supporters to secure their seats at discounted prices over a long-term period, but the scheme was drastically under-subscribed and sparked a wave of unrest among die-hard fans whose loyalty was being tested to the limit. Crowds fell significantly and on-pitch protests and demonstrations ensued as fans made their feelings known.
The ultimate effect of this winter of discontent was relegation from the top division for the second time in three years. The 1991/92 season had taken its toll on Bonds' morale and before the start of the following campaign he brought in his former team-mate and good friend, Harry Redknapp, as his assistant. The new duo forged a formidable partnership which resulted in promotion back to the top flight, and a place in the newly-launched FA Premier League, as runners-up to Newcastle United.
The fans had a shock when Bonds quit in unhappy circumstances on the eve of the 1994/95 season. But Redknapp, whose efforts on the training ground and in the dressing room, had played a key role in regaining top-flight status and he was up for the challenge of keeping United there. It was a tough battle, with the greater financial resources of the wealthiest clubs, notably Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, having a major impact.
After too many seasons of struggle near the wrong end of the table, narrowly avoiding the drop in 1997, Redknapp and his new assistant, brother-in-law Frank Lampard senior, guided United to fifth place in 1999 and a brief return to European football via the Intertoto Cup. A 3-2 win in that final saw the club move into the UEFA Cup before being eliminated by Steaua Bucuresti.
Having guided the club to a 15th-placed finish, Redknapp moved on at the end of a 2000/01 season that was notable for the enigmatic Paolo Di Canio's goal of the season against Wimbledon that March, with Glenn Roeder stepping up from his position with the youth team. He promptly led the team to a highly creditable seventh place finish in his first campaign only for the club to relegated to the Championship - the new name for the second tier of English football - at the end of the 2002/03 campaign.
Despite a stellar squad featuring the likes of homegrown talents Glen Johnson, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe and big names such as David James, Trevor Sinclair, Frederic Kanoute and the hugely popular Paolo Di Canio, the haul of 42 points - the most ever gained by a relegated team - was not enough to avert the drop. Club legend Brooking had stepped in for the final games with Roeder absent through ill health but, with Di Canio restored to the lineup, a final-day 2-2 draw at Birmingham City was not enough with Bolton Wanderers winning 2-1 at home against Middlesbrough.
Two seasons outside the top flight followed under Alan Pardew, who arrived from Reading in October 2003 to take on the challenge of getting United back where they belonged. At the end of the first season, the club made it all the way to a promotion play-off final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium - only to lose 1-0 to Crystal Palace. A year later - thanks to Bobby Zamora's winner - West Ham United returned to the Welsh capital in style and defeated Preston North End by the same scoreline.
Bobby Zamora's name will go down in folklore
Pardew's team adapted quickly to the demands of the Premier League, finishing ninth in the table but real glory came in the FA Cup. Having won through to the final, and a third trip to Cardiff in three years, United raced into a two-goal lead courtesy of a Jamie Carragher own goal and Dean Ashton. Liverpool fought back though to parity before a cross-come-shot from Paul Konchesky looked like it would take the cup back to east London for the fourth time. With just seconds remaining, though, Steven Gerrard cracked in a thunderbolt from distance to cruelly level matters and then, after the agonies of extra time, Liverpool held their nerve to win 3-1 on penalties - Zamora, Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand all missing from the spot.
The 2006/07 season started with the arrival of Argentina sensations Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano but Pardew was unable to match the heights of the previous campaign. By 9 December, the club had been eliminated from the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle, were out of the League Cup after one round, and had won just four games from the first 17 matches. A managerial change saw Pardew depart and former midfielder Alan Curbishley brought in soon afterwards with the simple aim of salvaging the season.
It was not a straightforward task, with big-name winter arrivals like Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson suffering injuries, but gradually the spirit in the squad began to pay dividends with the likes of Robert Green, Mark Noble, Nigel Reo-Coker, Bobby Zamora, along with Tevez and the fit-again Neill, all coming to the fore. A run of seven wins from the final nine games culminating in a remarkable 1-0 success at Manchester United on the final day sparked mass survival celebrations.
As United look to the future, there remains plenty of optimism about the club. Moore, Hurst and Peters will probably forever remain the shining lights - along with Brooking and Bonds - and, the latter acquisition from Charlton aside, it is with a deep sense of pride that they are remembered as the finest products of the club's thriving youth policy of the late 1950s and 60s. But even in the modern era, where top-flight players routinely change clubs for multi millions and receive a weekly wage the average fan would be pleased to earn in a year, United's tradition among the leading entertainers in British football remains undiminished. So, too, is our reputation for discovering and producing exciting, young talent.
England internationals Glen Johnson, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe are modern-day examples of Premier League stars who cut their football teeth as members of the famed West Ham United Academy. Chief among them though is Rio Ferdinand, sold to Leeds United in November 2000 for an astonishing £18m, and still the club's most valuable product to date.
This commitment to youth continues unabated. More outstanding youngsters are coming through like James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears, who are following quickly behind the already established Mark Noble as the Academy production line rolls on. With Gianfranco Zola in charge from September 2008 after Curbishley's departure having secured an excellent tenth-place finish in 2007/08, the club looked set for a bright new era.
Zola was to have a tougher time of it in the 2009/10 campaign, with off-the-field events in the first half of the season hampering his progress. In the end the campaign - that saw Scott Parker's magnificent form earn him a second Hammer of the Year title - became a relegation battle, with the Hammers ending 17th place before Zola left the club.
Three FA Cup victories and a solitary triumph in Europe may not compare very favourably with the achievements of some of the club's more illustrious rivals, but West Ham United and its supporters are nevertheless proud of our virtues. Win, lose or draw, enterprising football, played by largely homegrown players for supporters who appreciate the finer points of the game. That says so much about what West Ham United represents.
Some of the great and good gathered to remember John Lyall in 2008