Stars turn out for Ernie

Dozens of West Ham United greats turned out to give a perfect East End send-off to long-time Hammers goalkeeper and coach Ernie Gregory.

With bright sunshine blazing over his native east London, Gregory, who passed away on 21 January at the age of 90, was laid to rest at the City of London Crematorium in Manor Park. There, a fitting service saw Brian Dear pay a personal tribute before closing with Vera Lynn's version of 'Bubbles'.

Afterwards, Hammers heroes from the 1950s to the 1990s paid their respects and shared stories from Gregory's amazing 51-year career with the club at a wake held at the Boleyn Ground.

Among the mourners were Gregory's team-mates from the 1950s, Harry Hooper, Frank O'Farrell and Vic Keeble. Joining them were scores of players who enjoyed his coaching from the 1960s through to his retirement in 1987 - Peter Brabrook, Alan Dickie, Ronnie Boyce, Brian Dear, Jim Barrett, Ken Brown, Martin Peters, Mick McGiven, Eddie Bovington, Pat Holland, Billy Jennings, John Ayris, Frank Lampard, Billy Bonds, Alan Devonshire, George Parris, Paul Goddard, Paul Allen, Alvin Martin, Phil Parkes, Sir Trevor Brooking, Steve Potts, Kenny Brown, Tony Gale and Tony Cottee.

O'Farrell said his former team-mate was not just a great goalkeeper, but a great man.

"First of all, I was very sad to learn that Ernie had died and I felt it right that I should travel up and come to the funeral," said O'Farrell, who played 211 games for West Ham between 1950 and 1956. "He was a first-class goalkeeper, a top goalkeeper, but a likeable person as well. He had a lovely personality and you could have a laugh and a joke with him at the right time. He gave the defence a lot of confidence.

"I suffered by him being a big, strong lad one day at Sheffield Wednesday. Derek Dooley was playing centre forward for Sheffield Wednesday and I jumped with him for a header and all of a sudden I was on the floor, flat on my back and unable to breathe and I got carried off on a stretcher! It was Ernie, who had come out for the ball and flattened me as well.

"He didn't take any prisoners when he came out for the ball and it was just unlucky that I was in his way! He had a presence and authority about him that you always wanted to see in a goalkeeper."

Hooper, who scored 44 goals in 131 games between 1951 and 1956, agreed that Gregory had been a calming influence whenever he played for the Hammers.

"Having a goalkeeper behind you like Ernie gave you more confidence than ever, especially the defenders. He was always there. He was a great man and you wouldn't get a better goalkeeper. He gave more than 50 years of service to the club. You won't see his like again.

"It was a fitting tribute to Ernie. A good turn-out from the lads, some of whom had travelled a long way to be here."

After his retirement from playing in 1960, Gregory spent nearly 30 years coaching, filling the roles of first-team coach, reserve-team manager and goalkeeper coach at Chadwell Heath.

One player who enjoyed Gregory's tuition was Billy Jennings, who scored 41 goals in 127 games between 1974 and 1979 and was welcomed to the club by the great man.

"When I arrived at the club, it was a big thing for me because I was young and coming from a lower-division club in Watford. He made me feel very comfortable early on and had lots of stories to tell about the old days.

"He was a really lovely guy who made me and the other young lads who came in very welcome. He would always preach about how good the club was and those are my memories of him. Ernie was always around giving encouragement.