Harry Hooper

Name: Harry Hooper
Date of birth: 14 June 1933 Pittingdon, England
Debut: Division Two, West Ham United 4-2 Barnsley, 3 February 1951
Final game: Division Two, West Ham United 3-2 Bury, 19 March 1956
Appearances: 131

Next time you walk through the John Lyall Gates and towards the main entrance to the West Stand at the Boleyn Ground, think of Harry Hooper.

When the winger was sold by West Ham United to Wolverhampton Wanderers for £25,000 in 1956, the money was used to buy land from St Edward's School, which occupied the site that is now covered by the main car park.

Before his departure, Hooper had become a real favourite in east London, impressing supporters with his electric wing-play and fine goal-scoring record.

Born in County Durham in June 1933, the youngster joined West Ham after his father began working for the club as a coach.

After making his debut in a 4-2 Division Two win over Barnsley in February 1951 at the age of just 17, Hooper went on to score 44 goals in 131 appearances in claret and blue - a superb return for a wide player.

An England Under-23 and B international, he was also named on the standby list of players for the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland - an outstanding achievement for player with a Division Two club.

On departing the Boleyn Ground, Hooper enjoyed a successful single season with today's opponents, scoring 19 goals in 39 Division One games before moving on to Birmingham City and Sunderland.

Now 77, Hooper recently returned to the East End for the visit of Manchester City to pay homage to his former Hammers team-mate Malcolm Allison, who died in October.

"I recently came back to pay tribute to Malcolm. He was a true legend of the club and a real character, coach and manager. I have never known such an enthusiastic player in my life as Malcolm.

"He was a fit bloke and sometimes I thought he might be too fit and burn himself out. That is the sort of bloke Malcolm was. He was a good leader, a good captain and well liked by all the players. It's just a shame he's not around any more.

"They used to go to the café around the corner. I'm not saying I didn't go round there, but I wasn't in that group myself, to be honest. They started all this thing about playing football from the back.

"They started playing from the back instead of playing it up to the front and it caused a bit of ups and downs between the forwards and the defenders, but we all got on!"

Hooper made a name for himself as a lightning-quick winger with an eye for goal, regularly getting his name on the score-sheet during his six years with West Ham.

The young wideman netted two goals in a match on no fewer than four occasions, while his sole hat-trick in a Hammers shirt came in the 6-1 Division Two victory over Doncaster Rovers in October 1955.

"I was a winger and a goal-scorer as well. I was lucky in that I was a natural runner. I used to love training. I was lucky in that way."

More than 50 years since he last flew down the wing in front of the Chicken Run, Hooper believes football has changed hugely on and off the pitch - most notably in terms of the lightweight, weather-proof equipment available to modern-day players.

"The modern players have got it made and, not only that, they have got the pitches, the boots and the footballs. We used to have big football boots and big leather football boots that would become really heavy in the rain, the snow and the mud.

"Nowadays they say 'Bend it like Beckham' but we could only bend it a bit, not like they do now!

"I'd love to play nowadays but we still had a great time. We enjoyed it and we were well-paid - we earned 12 quid a week and those were good wages in 1950. I was playing the game I loved."

While New Year's Day football has long been a tradition in English football, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fixtures have long since disappeared.

Back in Hooper's playing days, teams would play one another on Christmas Day or Boxing Day before contesting the reverse league fixture on the following afternoon.

In December 1955, West Ham defeated Swansea City 5-1 on Christmas Eve before travelling north to Ayresome Park for a Boxing Day meeting with Middlesbrough, going down to a 2-0 defeat.

That night, the teams caught the train to London before playing each other again at the Boleyn Ground. This time, West Ham won 1-0.

"We used to play three matches in four days. I remember playing one Christmas and we lost at Middlesbrough on the Friday and then we travelled back overnight on the same train as the Middlesbrough players and then we beat them down here. How do you fathom that? You can't believe it!"