Billy Bonds says he will always be grateful for the
influence that the late Ron Greenwood had on his legendary career
at Upton Park.
Bonzo, West Ham United's longest-serving player, was brought to the club by Greenwood in May 1967, signing in a £49,500 deal from Charlton Athletic and is quick to pay tribute to the impact Ron made on his playing abilities.
"It's very sad news," says Billy, "and I could talk all day long about Ron and the influence he had on me as a player. He signed me as a big, strong 20-year-old right-back in 1967 and turned me into a central midfielder - the position in which I believe I enjoyed the best years of my career.
"I think Ron had first seen me playing in the old London five-a-side tournament at Wembley, and he then came to watch me for Charlton. We were playing against Birmingham and, after the game, our manager Bob Stokoe told me that Mr Greenwood from West Ham would like a word.
"As a young, naïve 20-year-old, I wasn't sure what I should say, but I thought I'd be honest and tell Ron that two other clubs, Leicester and Sunderland, had also shown an interest in me. Afterwards, Bob Stokoe went mad and said to me: "You've said the wrong thing there!"
"At that point, I thought I'd blown it, so I drove over to Upton Park in the hope that Ron would still be interested. We met after West Ham had played Manchester City, and there was a little problem because a couple of players were meant to be going to Charlton in exchange, but apparently didn't want to move, so Ron just said he'd pay the full £49,500 instead."
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Billy went on to become one of the greatest players in West Ham United's history, making a total of 793 league and cup appearances between 1967 and 1988, and he admits the teachings of Ron during his early years at the Club were unlike anything he had experienced before.
"He was a great coach who was years ahead of his time, and I think any player who worked under him would say that he helped to make them a better player," says Billy. "Everybody respected his knowledge and vision of the game.
"As a coach, he was always planting little seeds in your mind, and using simple little terms like: 'Always be on the half-turn', 'Have a picture in your head before you receive the ball' and 'If the space isn't in front of you, it's behind you.'
"They were only little sayings but, when you thought about them, you realised how clever and simple they were. His most famous line, of course, was 'Simplicity is genius' and that summed up how his teams played the game.
"And to Ron, football was an entertainment. He never once compromised his beliefs or changed the style of the team. I suppose you might say that, after the success of the mid-60s, West Ham slightly under-achieved in the years that followed, but Ron wouldn't have changed his methods or approach."
Billy, who in 1990 followed in Ron's footsteps by becoming manager of the Club, always looked upon his former boss as a father-figure, and insists that his contribution will never be forgotten by anyone connected to West Ham United.
Billy recalls: "He always called me 'William'. To everyone else, I was Bill or Bonzo, but Ron was a stickler for formality and called everyone by their full Christian name. Later on, when I became manager of the Club, he would come to the games and pop his head in the dressing-room.
"He'd come into the manager's office with his grandson, but he never interfered or told me if I was doing anything wrong. I'm sure he would have loved to got involved, but it just wasn't his style.
"The traditions and philosophy he put in place back in the early 60s have remained at the Club ever since. I think even Alan Pardew now is aware of that tradition, and knows that West Ham supporters expect their team to play with a certain style.
"It's impossible to over-estimate the impact he had on the Club and, as someone who played for him over a lengthy period of time, I'll always be grateful for the influence he had on me. He was a pleasure to work for, and there was certainly something very special about Ron Greenwood."