Leonard (Len) Goulden was born in Hackney, London, on 16th July 1912. During the First World War the family moved to Plaistow. A talented footballer Goulden turned out for West Ham Boys. Goulden was selected to play as inside-forward for England Schoolboys against Wales and Scotland in 1926.
Goulden was brought back to West Ham and he made his debut against Charlton Athletic on 8th April 1933. Two weeks later he scored his first goal for the club in West Ham's 4-3 victory over Nottingham Forest.
The following season he played in 40 of the 42 league games and developed a great understanding with fellow forwards, Jimmy Ruffell, John Morton and Vic Watson. The team also included Jim Barrett, Alfred Chalkley and Ted Fenton. Despite this group of talented players, West Ham United could only finish in 7th place in Second Division. That year Goulden scored seven goals with Watson ending up as top scorer with 29 in 32 games.
Ernie Gregory, who watched Goulden from the stands of Upton Park before signing for the club in 1936 claimed that: "We've had some great forwards over the years at West Ham but Len was the greatest - the daddy of them all. He was the one I paid my money to see... I can still see Len now - controlling the ball, he killed it instantly... But don't just take my word for it, ask any of the old-timers - they'll tell you the same, Len was the tops."
Over the next few seasons the Goulden inspired West Ham continued to do well without ever being able to clinch promotion finishing 3rd (1934-35), 4th (1935-36) and 6th (1936-37). Despite playing in the Second Division and facing competition from inside-forwards such as Raich Carter, Cliff Bastin, Ray Westwood, Edwin Bowden and Freddie Steele, Goulden was selected to play for England against Norway on 14th May 1937. Goulden celebrated winning his first international cap by scoring in England's 6-0 victory. He retained his place in the side and that year played against Sweden (4-0), Northern Ireland (5-1), Wales (2-1) and Czechoslovakia (5-4).
The England team that year included players such as Stanley Matthews, Albert Geldard, Wilf Copping, Cliff Britton, Stan Cullis, Willie Hall, John Morton, Freddie Steele, George Male, Eddie Hapgood, Cliff Bastin, Alf Young, Bert Sproston, Vic Woodley and Eric Brook.
West Ham United could only finish 9th in the 1937-38 season but Goulden retained his place in the England side. In May 1938 England went on a tour of Europe. The first match was against Germany in Berlin. Adolf Hitler wanted to make use of this game as propaganda for his Nazi government. While the England players were getting changed an Football Association official went into their dressing-room and told them that they had to give the raised arm Nazi salute during the playing of the German national anthem. As Stanley Matthews later recalled: "The dressing room erupted. There was bedlam. All the England players were livid and totally opposed to this, myself included. Everyone was shouting at once. Eddie Hapgood, normally a respectful and devoted captain, wagged his finger at the official and told him what he could do with the Nazi salute, which involved putting it where the sun doesn't shine."
The FA official left only to return some minutes later saying he had a direct order from Sir Neville Henderson the British Ambassador in Berlin. The players were told that the political situation between Britain and Germany was now so sensitive that it needed "only a spark to set Europe alight". As a result the England team reluctantly agreed to give the Nazi salute.
The game was watched by 110,000 people as well as senior government figures such as Herman Goering and Joseph Goebbels. England won the game 6-3. This included a goal scored by Len Goulden that Stanley Matthews described as "the greatest goal I ever saw in football". According to Matthews: "Len met the ball on the run; without surrendering any pace, his left leg cocked back like the trigger of a gun, snapped forward and he met the ball full face on the volley. To use modern parlance, his shot was like an Exocet missile. The German goalkeeper may well have seen it coming, but he could do absolutely nothing about it. From 25 yards the ball screamed into the roof of the net with such power that the netting was ripped from two of the pegs by which it was tied to the crossbar."
Goulden retained his place in the England side against Switzerland on 21st May 1938. Unfortunately, Eddie Hapgood and Stanley Matthews both suffered serious injuries during the early part of the game and with only nine fit men lost the game 2-1. In the third game of the tour England beat France 4-2.
In the game against Wales the England management selected 19 year-old Tommy Lawton to play alongside Goulden. The two men quickly developed a good partnership and both men scored in the 3-0 victory over FIFA. Later in the season Goulden played in the games against Scotland (2-1), Italy (2-2), Yugoslavia (1-2) and Romania (2-0). Goulden, who was now 27 years old, was in tremendous form. Lawton later argued that Goulden was so good that "he would have played for England in any era."
Goulden played in West Ham's first two matches in the 1939-40 season. However, on Friday, 1st September, 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. On Sunday 3rd September Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. The government immediately imposed a ban on the assembly of crowds and as a result the Football League competition was brought to an end.
On 14th September, the government gave permission for football clubs to play friendly matches. In the interests of public safety, the number of spectators allowed to see these games was limited to 8,000. These arrangements were later revised, and clubs were allowed gates of 15,000 from tickets purchased on the day of the game through the turnstiles. The government imposed a fifty mile travelling limit and the Football League divided all the clubs into seven regional areas where games could take place.
Goulden joined the police force soon after the outbreak of the Second World War and was able to continue to play 152 friendly games (52 goals) for West Ham United and six unofficial international games for England during the conflict.
After the declaration of war in September 1939, Adolf Hitler did not order the attack of France or Britain as he believed there was still a chance to negotiate an end to the conflict between the countries. This period became known as the Phoney War. As Britain had not experienced any bombing raids, the Football League decided to start a new competition entitled the Football League War Cup.
The entire competition of 137 games including replays was condensed into nine weeks. However, by the time the final took place, the "Phoney War" had come to an end. On 10th May, 1940, Adolf Hitler launched his Western Offensive and invaded France. In the days leading up to the final, the British Expeditionary Force was being evacuated from Dunkirk.
In the final held at Wembley on 8th June, 1940, West Ham United beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0. Despite the fears that London would be bombed by the Luftwaffe, over 42,300 fans decided to take the risk of visiting Wembley. The only goal was scored by Sam Small after a shot from George Foreman had been blocked by James Barron, the Blackburn goalkeeper. It was the only medal Goulden won in his football career.
Goulden was 34 years old by the time the Football League began in the 1946-47 season. He was considered too old to play for England but Chelsea was willing to pay £5,000 for his services. During his time at West Ham United Goulden scored 54 league goals in 239 appearances.
Goulden now had the opportunity to play First Division football for the first-time. Tony Matthews, the author of Who's Who of Chelsea, described Goulden as "a brainy footballer, he could change the point of attack with one flash of brilliance, sweeping out a pass fully 40 yards".
Goulden now joined up with Tommy Lawton who had also been signed by Chelsea. Lawton later claimed that Goulden's passes were "just the sort that centre-forwards pray for." Despite Goulden's good form, Chelsea struggled in the league and over the next four seasons finished 15th (1946-47), 18th (1947-48), 13th (1948-49) and 13th (1949-50).
Goulden retired in May 1950. During his time at Chelsea he had scored 19 goals in 111 appearances. He remained at the club as a coach. In November 1952 he was appointed as manager of Watford. He also coached in Libya.
In 1956 Goulden began work as a sub-postmaster. Later he was employed at a United States Air Force base in Northamptonshire before working as a coach at Oxford United (January 1969 - February 1970).
Len Goulden died in Cornwall on 14th February 1995.