Boleyn People

Colin Benson has filled a host of important and interesting roles at West Ham United
Since his first visit to the Boleyn Ground in September 1958, Colin Benson has been hooked on the Hammers…
From his teenage years as a promising player on Bournemouth’s books, injury stunted Colin Benson’s playing career before he turned his attentions to a number of other roles within the beautiful game.

Benson started out writing for West Ham’s official programme, progressing to the role of editor as successor to the late Jack Helliar, while he also provided commentary on Club video productions.

The versatile Benson also took on administrative roles as club secretary at Peterborough United – where he worked with former Hammers captain and Posh manager Noel Cantwell – and Cambridge United.

Now in his 70s, the lifelong West Ham fan has returned to journalism and remains a regular visitor to the Boleyn Ground on matchdays.

First Game
My first West Ham game was against Manchester United in September 1958, it turned out to be very significant because Ted Fenton gave this fair-haired youngster his debut. It was of course, Bobby Moore.
You saw that there was a real talent there but it was early days. No-one knew who he was back then which is funny to think now.

It was an amazing game, we were 3-0 up then United got two goals back. We had a really tense last eleven minutes, but we managed to hold on to the victory.

Ted Fenton
Ted Fenton was quite an amazing guy. He always wore a trilby hat and had a pipe in his mouth. His car had a registration plate WHU1!

He was an exceptional manager and brought in a lot of new techniques to training such as trampolining, high jumps and sprinting.   

Forgotten Star
Phil Woosnam who is somewhat of a forgotten player, yet was absolutely fantastic. His slide-rule passes were so accurate it would impress Pythagoras! That’s how good he was good; he was a top class player.

He was a tough man as well. He once smashed into the North Bank and was completely knocked out. On came the trainer, and as usual back then, the magic sponge came out and he continued like it was nothing.
First Impressions           
I was so cheesed off with my injury, I left home in Bournemouth and went to London. I was still football mad so I went to all London clubs, but West Ham had this magic. They had a 22-piece band which would lead into the pre-match Post Horn Gallop. It was a homely sort of place, but compared to Bournemouth it was a massive ground.

First Job
My first role at the Club was to introduce colour programmes.

John Helliar’s dad, Jack, did the programmes but their printers didn’t do colour, I was working for a company called Mayback which could do colour, so I took over doing the programme.

I can’t remember how many pages we had in a programme or what our print run was. I was all on my own so it was pretty busy!

Colour Programmes
We started with colour inserts and then that spread to full-colour programmes in the 1970s. It was quite expensive back then. We had a run of 25,000 a week, for all manner of different programmes across the country, from Middlesbrough down to West Ham.

When the cost came down, that was when full-colour programmes started being produced.

There were no laptops or computers when I started, so it was a very different process, you had to do hard copy and then take it to the printers.

In 1983/84, we were drawn against Bury in the League Cup; we won the first leg 2-1 which everyone was quite excited about. So we were asked to film the replay at Upton Park, which we won 10-0! Bury didn’t want to know.

We filmed the rest of the season and turned it into a story of the season; I did the voiceovers.
The next season we filmed every game live, and I did the commentary up on the gantry. 
Favourite Season
My abiding memory is of the 1985/86 season. People forget but there was a TV blackout until about Christmas time over pay so a lot of it wasn’t filmed.  

Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee struck up a fantastic relationship, they really gelled together. We finished third in the league, we were really were fantastic that year.

They were the best West Ham team I’ve seen, not the best individuals, although they had a few great players, but the balance and the understanding was quite special.

Ray Stewart, Alvin Martin, Tony Gale, George Parris and Steve Walford were all fantastic players. This was a marvellous, balanced team. An unsung hero was Alan Dickens, a youngster who came through the West Ham ranks. They were a joy to watch.

Over the years, there have been great goals and great games, but me it’s the players that really make West Ham and the Boleyn Ground special.

Alan Devonshire
What a player he was, but he was so nervous when he first joined! During his first training session he collapsed on the running track, he said: “The first time I saw my new teammates was when they were running over me!”

The following day, he threw up on the Tube on the way to the game, that’s how nervous he was. We signed him from a non-league club called Southall so it was a big step up.

Billy Bonds
A charismatic personality that really demanded your attention and respect. At 41 he was still coming first in the pre-season cross country race!  

He was the hardest player to pin down for a post-match interview because by the time I’d got down from the gantry, he’d already left the ground.

He used to say about the Chicken Run: “You’d know how well you were playing by how hard they hit you on the back when you went over for a corner!” 

Geoff Hurst
What you have to remember about Geoff and all these players is what they were up against. These players had to contend with the likes of Norman Hunter, Chopper Harris, Billy Bremner and Dave Mackay, hatchet men!

Geoff actually wore two pairs of shin pads, one on the back and one on the front of his legs!

Trevor Brooking
He is a great guy, a real gentleman. I commuted from Cambridge so sometimes I would be late. Trevor was all ready to leave but he would let you into his car and do the interview there. He was always obliging. A great, great player.

Phil Parkes
I have seen every goalkeeper West Ham have had since Ernie Gregory. Phil Parkes was the greatest goalkeeper I’ve ever seen in a West Ham jersey.

He was ever-present in the 1980/81 season; he conceded just 29 goals in 42 league games, an outstanding achievement which helped us storm the title that year.

Farewell Boleyn
It symbolises West Ham doesn’t it? That is everyone’s first thought when they think about West Ham.
I really feel like you can feel the former players’ presence at the ground. There’s a huge community around West Ham, it’s a great place and very homely.

This interview originally appeared in the Official Programme for the Emirates FA Cup third-round tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday 9 January 2016.