Lawrie Leslie - 1935-2019
Everyone associated with West Ham United has been left deeply saddened by the passing of the first goalkeeper to win the Hammer of the Year award, Lawrie Leslie, at the age of 84.
A fearless, whole-hearted and talented stopper, Scot Leslie spent two seasons in east London, totalling 61 appearances in all competitions and becoming a cult hero to the Claret and Blue Army.
Born in Edinburgh in 1935, the goalkeeper had already starred for local clubs Hawkhill Amateurs and Newtongrange Star and served in the Royal Artillery before before moving into the full-time game with Hibernian in 1956 following a successful trial.
After appearing for Hibs in the 1958 Scottish Cup final, Leslie moved to Airdrieonians, where he was appointed captain and earned five caps for Scotland, making his debut against Wales in Cardiff in October 1960.
The following year, Ron Greenwood made the outstanding goalkeeper his first signing as West Ham manager, spending £14,000 to bring Leslie south.
After making his debut in a 1-1 First Division draw with Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground, Leslie’s second appearance came in front of more than 50,000 fans in a 2-2 draw with local rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
While the open, attacking nature of the game at the time meant it would be 23 games before Leslie kept his first clean sheet – he kept just five in his 61 appearances – the new man between the sticks quickly endeared himself to the West Ham faithful.
By the end of the 1961/62 season, the Irons had finished eighth in the First Division table and Leslie had been voted Hammer of the Year, edging out fellow Scot and prolific forward John Dick and making him the first goalkeeper to win the prestigious accolade.
Leslie’s second season saw his fearless approach catch up with him in November 1962, when he suffered a broken leg in a home match with Bolton Wanderers, ruling him out for six months.
To his immense credit, he returned to action, as good as before, in May 1963, starting the final four games of the season, keeping two clean sheets and fittingly ending his West Ham career in a 6-1 win over Manchester City in Upton Park.
With Jim Standen arriving and being preferred at the start of the 1963/64 season, Leslie departed for Stoke City, where he featured in a League Cup final, before completing his playing days with Millwall and Southend United, where he later coached.
Leslie never lost touch with West Ham, however, and returned to the Boleyn Ground in 2015 to be reunited with his former teammates at the launch of a book featuring all those who played for the Club alongside Bobby Moore.
The thoughts of everyone connected with West Ham United are with Lawrie’s loved ones and this sad time.