Former West Ham United player Alan Blackburn has sadly passed away at the age of 78.

Born in the Derbyshire town of Mansfield in August 1935, Blackburn spent part of his childhood in a Barnardo's orphanage before being discovered by Hammers scouts while playing for his junior school in Hertfordshire.

A centre or inside forward, the teenager proved to be a prolific scorer for the Club's youth team, netting an incredible 13 goals during West Ham's run to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals in 1953/54. Blackburn scored in six of the Hammers' seven ties, including five in the 6-1 win over Briggs Sports, a hat-trick against Fulham and two more against Swindon-based Pinehurst Youth Centre.

Blackburn also netted in the semi-final second-leg 2-1 home defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers, who went on to reach the final. However, the forward had suffered a shoulder injury in the first leg at Molineux - there were no substitutes in those days - which West Ham lost 6-1.

The same season, Blackburn hit the net regularly for the reserves, helping to fire the Hammers to the Combination League title.

Blackburn's fantastic goalscoring form was rewarded with a first-team debut three months past his 20th birthday - ironically in a goalless Division Two draw at Derby County on 27 December 1954.

In March 1955, after four first-team appearances, he was called-up to do National Service, meaning he did not play for West Ham at senior level again until a 2-0 home win over Stoke City on 30 March 1956.

Alan Blackburn

A maiden first-team goal arrived 17 months after his debut on 14 April 1956, when the forward was on target in a 2-1 league defeat at Leicester City.

Blackburn also hit the target in a home win over Bristol City that season before netting his third and final West Ham goal in a 2-0 victory at Blackburn Rovers on 27 August 1956. The forward's 17th and last West Ham appearance came in a 3-0 home Division Two defeat by Sheffield United on 9 September 1957.

Two months later, Blackburn joined Division Three (North) club Halifax Town for a £2,900 fee. He went on to score 35 goals in 124 league games for the Shaymen before dropping into the non-league game with Southern League Margate in 1961.

After moving to Wellington Town in Shropshire 1965, he hung up his boots three years later. In retirement, Blackburn ran a window cleaning business.

Everybody at West Ham United would like to pass on their sincere condolences to Alan's family and friends at this sad time.