On This Day: The story of how West Ham United Football Club was born
After being founded as an amateur works team for the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company in Canning Town, Thames Ironworks FC turned professional on entering the Southern League in 1898.
As the club sought to become ever more competitive, professional players were signed from all over the country, with the Southern League Second Division title being won at the first attempt in the spring of 1899.
The following season, 1899/00, the Hammers needed a play-off victory over Fulham to retain their First Division status, and it was clear further improvements were needed if the club was to continue on an upward trajectory.
Off the field, meanwhile, Thames Ironworks owner Arnold Hills wanted to acquire engineering firm John Penn & Sons in a takeover.
To raise capital to finance the deal, Hills decided to turn the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company into a public company, preventing him from using company money to fund Thames Ironworks FC in the future.
In spring 1900, proposals for a ‘reorganisation’ of the football club were published in the West Ham Guardian newspaper, followed by details of a share offer which would fund the new club.
Hills offered four thousand, ten-shilling (50p) shares in the new public limited company, whose headquarters were based at 55 Barking Road, Canning Town. The philanthropic businessman also offered the use of the Memorial Grounds in Plaistow – the stadium he build for the club in 1896 – for a nominal rent.
Anticipating the share offer would be under-subscribed, Hills promised to match the sale by buying one for himself for every other share purchased, while any fan who bought ten shares was promised a position on the Board of Directors.
It was hoped that at least 2,000 supporters would buy shares but even the ten-shilling price was out of the reach of many local people.
Regardless, the reorganisation went ahead and Thames Ironworks FC was wound up and resigned from the Southern League in June 1900.
A new club, West Ham United, was formed almost immediately and incorporated as a company on 5 July 1900.
The minutes of West Ham United’s first Board meeting, held four days later at 55 Barking Road, reveal that the pioneering board of directors who would supervise the fledgling football club were A. Brown, J.W. Cearns, G.C. Fundell, G.C. Handley, G.J. Hone and C.E. Osborn (chairman).
The directors’ first task was to recruit Abraham ‘Abe’ Norris as trainer at 35 shillings per week (£1.75p). A number of the players from the Thames Ironworks club were also taken on, as many were still employed at the shipyard.
The former Ironworks players who would play a part over the coming season were goalkeeper Tommy Moore, defenders Syd King, Charlie Craig, Charlie Dove and George Neil, half-backs Robert Allan and Roderick McEachrane, and forwards Fred Corbett, Frank Taylor and Len Walker.
King, of course, would go on to become one of the most-important figures in the club’s history, being appointed as the first manager in 1902 and holding the post for three decades.
In addition, a number of new players were signed to bolster the squad, including Scotsmen Billy Grassam and Jimmy Reid, who shared six of the goals in the 7-0 Southern League First Division victory over Gravesend in the new club’s inaugural fixture.
The West Ham United which continues to thrive, 120 years on, had been born.