Tributes from those who knew John best

It's almost 17 years since John Lyall left West Ham United, following 34 years of service at Upton Park, but there are still a handful of members from his backroom staff who are still working for the Club to this day.

Here we gather some tributes from the people who grew so close to John having worked with him day in, day out, during the 70s and 80s…

Tony Carr, Youth Academy Director and coach under John
"It's devastating news to hear and it still hasn't completely sunk in yet. I only spoke to John a couple of months ago and he was fine, as friendly and as enthusiastic as ever.
"John was my youth team coach when I joined the Club as a 15-year-old in the mid-60s and, after my own playing career ended prematurely - just as his had done - he set me on the path to coaching. I eventually became one of his backroom staff and went on to work under him as youth team coach and reserve team coach.
"Everything I learned about coaching and about the game in general was thanks to John Lyall. He was a manager who did absolutely everything for the Club. He genuinely cared about everyone who worked there and was simply terrific with young players coming through the ranks. He would go house-hunting with them, advise them on what car to buy - it's no wonder that everyone looked up to him as a father figure.
"I remember the day he left the Club - I actually took the call from the chairman Len Cearns and passed the phone to John. After his dismissal, he sent every one of his staff a long, hand-written letter, thanking us for our service and giving us encouragement for the future. It was typical of John, to be thinking of others when he should have been thinking of himself. I still have that letter, and will always treasure it.
"He was a fantastic man, and a fantastic coach. Along with Ron Greenwood, he developed the ethos that made this Club what it is today, and it is uncanny that we have lost them both in the space of two months. It's also ironic that we have lost John this week, just before the semi-final of the FA Cup - a trophy he won twice. What a fitting tribute it would be if we could go on to win it again this year.
"For me, personally, John Lyall was the best. I have no hesitation in saying that, without his influence and guidance, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Eddie Gillam, Kit Man for more than 20 years
"John was what I would call the perfect gentleman. He was calm, collected and loved talking about football. He knew his players - which ones he had to shout at and which ones he had to cuddle - and I never knew him to lose his rag.
"He gave me the job of kit-man in the mid-80s, after I'd already known him for around 15 years through my work as a pools rep and organiser of away-match coach travel.
"I last saw him a few months ago at a funeral, and he hadn't changed. He still loved talking about football, still remembered everybody, and was the proper gentleman that he has always been."

Shirley Austin, Training ground cook from 1980
"I started working at the training ground in 1980, just after we had won the FA Cup final, and John ensured that I was made to feel at home straight away. When he came in first thing of a morning, he used to have a cup of tea - always with a cup and saucer - and then sit in the canteen talking to the coaches and preparing the training sessions.
"He was someone that everybody had respect for - the perfect gentleman. If you had a problem or a worry, he would be there for you - and it didn't matter who you were."

Jimmy Frith, Youth coach for more than 30 years

"John Lyall was a great football man. First and foremost, he knew how to treat people. It didn't matter who you were. One of his favourite sayings was: 'It's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice.' It was with those sentiments that we developed the young players at West Ham.
"I actually first got to know him because we shared the same barbers in Canning Town. We'd often bump into each other and, when he found out that I did a bit of coaching in local schools, he invited me to come over and join in. I didn't miss a session, and have been here ever since.
"I'm still coaching now, using methods that John was using 30-odd years ago, and trying to encourage the youngsters to learn the same good habits he taught. For John, it was all about playing football the right way. No shortcuts - do it the right way.
"After home games, we used to sit in his office and talk about the game for hours, sometimes until nine or 10 at night. He just loved to talk football. If we pointed out that a player couldn't head a ball or was weak on his left foot, he used to say: 'Well coach him then, teach him.'
"He was very thorough in everything he did at the football club and, most of all, he was one of life's true gentlemen. For me…he was top of the tree."

Steve Bacon, Club Photographer since 1980
"It was pre-season and we were FA Cup holders, having beaten Arsenal a couple of months earlier. John asked me if I would like to become the Club's Official Photographer…and I jumped at the chance. "You know all the lads," he said, "and you get on well with them, so you're the best man for the job."
"I had been covering games for some years already, but John kindly offered me this coveted position. This led to me travelling many miles in the company of one of the most genuine, honest men you could ever encounter. We shared many meals together - a few drinks too - and many hours of conversation. For a born and bred Hammers fan, this was a dream come true, and one which I will be forever indebted to him for.
"An example of his generosity had come just before that famous 1980 final, when John handed me an envelope containing two tickets for Wembley and a hand-written note thanking me for all my efforts. How many people in the game today would give away Cup Final tickets?!
"I'm so thankful that I met up with John last year at the 1975/80 FA Cup winners' reunion. I had not seen him since he had left the club many years earlier, and I took the chance to have my photograph taken with him and the trophy. That now takes pride of place at home.
"He looked so well as I chatted with him and his wife Yvonne for ages. I cannot believe I will never see him again."