WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Name: Bill Lansdowne
Date of birth: 9 November 1935
Debut: 21 April 1956
Last game: 18 August 1962
Half a century ago, Bill Lansdowne was a West Ham United hero. A member of the 1957/58 Second Division title-winning squad under Ted Fenton, the inside-half made 17 appearances and scored twice as the Hammers secured their place in the top-flight by notching 101 goals in 42 league games. Now 73, Lansdowne's memories of that successful season are as fresh as if they were yesterday, let alone 50 years ago.
"When we started the season we obviously didn't realise that we'd finish at the top but it was an exciting time," said the Shoreditch-born player. "Everybody seemed to get on well with each other, which made it so much easier. When the results started to come in, we got more and more confident and you really felt something was going to happen."
That something was a run from mid-table obscurity to a championship medal. Sparked by captain Noel Cantwell, wingers Mike Grice and Malcolm Musgrove and strikers Vic Keeble and John Dick, the Hammers lost just three of their last 29 league matches to pip Blackburn Rovers to the title.
Born in November 1935, Lansdowne was evacuated to Wales during the Second World War but returned afterwards to the new family home in Debden, where he began to show his footballing talents. Despite being an Arsenal fan who idolised Gunners centre-back Leslie Compton, the youngster was spotted by Hammers chief scout Wally St Pier and, after completing his national service with the RAF, moved to the Boleyn Ground in 1956. As a wide-eyed 18-year-old, Lansdowne recalls those days fondly.
"At West Ham, more than most, it was important to the club to have local youngsters coming through the ranks," he said. "We were very lucky to have Wally St Pier, who took me from Loughton Town Boys to come and play. It was like having your uncle come along and say 'We can look after you'.
"You'd play against boys playing for different schools and then when you were invited down to West Ham you'd see them again and we'd all be thinking 'Wow, this is lovely'."
Two years later, Lansdowne and his team-mates were celebrating promotion as the Academy of Football took shape in east London. Among the earliest graduates was a certain Bobby Moore. It was the future England captain's emergence that eventually put paid to Lansdowne's Hammers' career. Dropped in late 1958, the form of Andy Nelson, John Smith and finally Moore meant it was April 1960 before he returned, fleetingly, to the side. Despite being overlooked, he still has happy memories of his playing career.
"I always thought it was about enjoyment," he said. "We all wanted to go out and enjoy it. There wasn't so much pressure as there is about now where they've got to go out and win. Obviously that was still the basis but a lot of it was about enjoying training and enjoying going out and playing."
After a hip injury ended his playing career prematurely in 1965, Lansdowne turned to coaching, moving first to non-league Eastbourne United and then back to the Boleyn Ground as youth-team manager in 1968.
"I was recommended by Ron Greenwood to manage Eastbourne so I went down there for a couple of seasons and, luckily enough, just as I was thinking about staying down there, they needed someone back to take over the youth side. I was lucky enough to come back and have another ten years at West Ham. It was a very exciting time and very enjoyable."
Lansdowne remained at the club until 1979, having been promoted to reserve-team manager in 1974. As first a member and then architect of the club's Academy, he is in favour of blooding the club's own young players. Despite the pressures of the modern-day Premier league, he has been encouraged by the form of fellow graduates Mark Noble, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears this season.
"I was always keen to develop young players. I preferred to stay on that side of it rather than move up to the senior side. These days, it's more difficult to bring players through quick enough. The young boys have done well recently and played well against Chelsea. Sears also looks an exciting prospect. You have got to have pace if you play up front and be a finisher and he certainly has both of those traits."
After his coaching career ended, Lansdowne and wife Pat ran a family curtain-making business. Now retired, living in Ilford and spending more time with his four children - including former Hammers striker Bill Jr, who went on to forge a successful playing and broadcasting career in Sweden - and six grandchildren, the textiles expert is adamant the curtain will not come down on West Ham United's Premier League status this season.
"It's going to be a tough one but they'll stay up," he added.