In May, 1895, West Bromwich Albion beat Aston Villa, in the FA Cup Final in front of 42,560 spectators. The game created a sensation and David Taylor, the foreman of the shipbuilding department of Thames Ironworks, suggested to Arnold Hills, that maybe the company should form its own football club.
Hills, who had been involved in a bitter industrial dispute with his employees that year, thought that the formation of a football club might help improve the mood of his workforce. On 29th June, 1895, Hills announced in his newspaper, the Thames Ironworks Gazette, that he intended to establish a football club. The information appeared under the headline: "The importance of co-operation between workers and management". He referred to the dispute that had just taken place and insisted he wanted to "wipe away the bitterness left by the recent strike". Hills added: "Thank God this midsummer madness is passed and gone; inequities and anomalies have been done away with and now, under the Good Fellowship system and Profit Sharing Scheme, every worker knows that his individual and social rights are absolutely secured."
The article asked workers interested in joining the Thames Iron Works Football Club to contact Francis Payne, a senior clerk at the company. Charlie Dove, an apprentice riveter with the Thames Iron Works, was one of those who paid an annual subscription of 2/6 (12.5p) to join the club. He was joined by about fifty other colleagues in this new venture. Training took place on Tuesday and Thursday nights in a gas-lit schoolroom at Trinity Church School in Barking Road. Training mainly consisted of Army physical training exercises. They also went for runs along the Turnpike Road (Beckton Road).
Other employees who played in the team included Thomas Freeman (ship's fireman), Johnny Stewart (boilermaker), Walter Parks (clerk), Walter Tranter (boilermaker) James Lindsay (boilermaker), William Chapman (mechanical engineer), George Sage, (boilermaker), George Gresham (ship's plater) and William Chamberlain (foreman blacksmith).
Thames Ironworks in Canning Town, was London's last surviving major shipbuilding firm. In 1860 it had employed 6,000 men, but by 1895 it was half that number, and was suffering from serious competition from companies based on the River Clyde and in the North East of England.
Arnold Hills hoped that he would be able to persuade local people to watch his team play. As Charles Korr points out in West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986): "Dock work was casual labour, and it was essential for dockers to live close by. The Victoria and Albert Docks were the biggest single source of employment for men in West Ham, and a great deal of cheap housing was built in the Canning Town Tidal Basin and Custom House areas of West Ham near them." It is estimated that around 7,000 men living in West Ham worked as dockers. Another 20,000 worked in local factories, with around half employed in the metal and machine trades.
Hills had himself been a talented footballer and had represented Oxford against Cambridge in the varsity match. He was also good at other sports and was the A.A.A. one-mile champion while at university. Hills also played for Oxford University in the F.A. Cup Final in 1877. For many years he was a member of the Old Harrovians and in 1879 won an international cap playing for England against Scotland. A game that England won 5-4.
In Football and the English: A Social History of Association Football in England (1997) Dave Russell points out that the Thames Ironworks football club was established as part of a "wider apparatus of company leisure institutions which included a string band, a drama group and a temperance operation." James Walvin argues in The People's Game (1994): "The football club was founded in 1895 as part of Hills's belief in the importance of cooperation between workers and management. The game would, he believed, be useful (and enjoyable) for the workers and beneficial for the company".
The club was financed by members' subscriptions and a generous contribution from the Thames Ironworks. It was run by a club committee made up of "clerks, foreman or supervisors at the Ironworks". As over 50 men had joined the club, it was necessary to find enough matches for two teams.
Home games took place at Hermit Road, Canning Town. It had previously been used by Old Castle Swifts, a company club sponsored by Donald Currie, the owner of the Castle Shipping Line. Old Castle Swifts had been the first professional football club in Essex but it went out of business at the end of the 1894-1895 season.
Francis Payne was appointed as club secretary. The local newspaper praised Arnold Hills for forming a football team: "If this example were only followed by other large employers, it would lead to much good feeling."
Robert Stevenson became captain of the team. He was the Thames Ironworks most experienced footballer and had previously played for Woolwich Arsenal. Other players included John Woods, who also played cricket for Essex and George Gresham, who had been a regular scorer with Gainsborough Trinity. However, the star player was the 17 year old William Barnes.
The first match was a friendly against Royal Ordnance on 7th September, 1895. The result was a 1-1 draw. This was followed by victories against Dartford, Manor Park, Streatham and Old St Stephens. The local newspaper praised Arnold Hills for forming a football team: "If this example were only followed by other large employers, it would lead to much good feeling."
Thames Iron Works pioneered floodlit football. The pitch was surrounded by light bulbs attached to poles. The football was dipped in pails of whitewash to make it easier to see. The first night match took place on 16th December, 1895. It was later reported that "the occasion was a success". It went onto the say that the generator "met the requirements and worked well" and "ten lights each of 2,000 candle power gave a good view to those present".
Their fourth floodlit game was against Barking Woodville. In his book, Iron in the Blood, John Powles quotes a report in the West Ham Herald: "Boys were swarming up over the fences for a free view when I put in an appearance. And what a smart man the Ironworkers have at the gate. He seemed to think my ticket was a real fraud until he had turned it upside down and inside out, and smelled at it for a considerable time. But he graciously passed me at last." The Irons won 6-2 with Charlie Dove getting a hat-trick.
On 20th March, 1896, Thames Iron Works played a night game against the famous West Bromwich Albion. The club committee arranged for the erection of canvas screens round the moat-ringed pitch, and charged the public for watching the game. WBA won 4-2.
By the end of the season the Thames Iron Works had won 30 of its 46 games. The team also defeated Barking Woodville to win the West Ham Charity Cup. The first match ended in a 2-2 draw with Robert Stevenson and Johnny Stewart scoring the goals for the Irons.
The third match took place at the St. Lukes ground at Beckton. Watched by a crowd of 3,000 people, Thomas Freeman and George Sage missed some good opportunities to open the scoring. After 20 minutes, Langford, one of Barking's forwards was forced to go off with a bad injury.
In the second-half Johnny Stewart with his "mazy runs" continued to cause Barking problems. Thomas Freeman was injured and both sides were now down to 10 men. Near the end of the game, William Chamberlain had a shot deflected for a corner. George Sage took the corner and the teenage William Barnes, fired in a low, fast shot, scoring the only goal in the game.
In 1896 the Thames Iron Works entered the London League. The team played in 'Royal Cambridge Blue' shirts and white shorts. They also wore a red cap, belt and socks.
The team had lost its star player, William Barnes, who had joined the league club Sheffield United. However, the club could still call upon the services of Robert Stevenson, Charlie Dove, Walter Tranter, George Gresham, William Chapman and George Sage. David Furnell, who worked as a labourer at the Thames Iron Works, also played his first game for the club. So also did George Neil, who had been playing local football with West Norwood.
The club secretary, Francis Payne, also signed Edward Hatton (Reading), Johnny Morrison (South West Ham), Fred Chalkley (Park Grove), Frank Dandridge and Peter Davie. The club now had enough players to field three teams every week. Payne also entered the first-team into six cup competitions.
Arnold Hills continued to take a close interest in the fortunes of the club. At the beginning of the season he sent a message to every member of the team: "As an old footballer myself, I would say, get into good condition at the beginning of the season, keep on the ball, play an unselfish game, pay heed to your captain, and whatever the fortunes of the first half of the game, never despair of winning, and never give up doing your very best to the last minute of the match. That is the way to play football, and better still, that is the way to make yourselves men."
Tom Robinson was the team's trainer. He had originally worked with Old Castle Swifts. According to the reports at the time, on the Monday following a match, the players would go on a brisk walk to free up stiff joints. Later that week they would spend time sprinting and running long distances to build up their stamina. Players also used a punchball and weights to strengthen the upper body. Only a short period was spent training with the ball.
The Irons regular line-up that season was H. Graham (goalkeeper), Robert Stevenson and George Neil (fullbacks), Frank Dandridge, Dick Bird and William Morton (half-backs), John Morrison, Charles Read, H. Butterworth, George Gresham and Peter Davie. Walter Tranter and Fred Chalkley covered the full-back position. Charlie Dove filled in wherever he was needed whereas Edward Hatton and Alex Cowie were replacement forwards. William Chapman and George Sage, two of the stars the winning West Ham Charity Cup Final Team, only got a couple of games that season.
The Irons had a warm-up friendly against Chatham Town. They were beaten 9-0 and goalkeeper Graham, who had been one of the heroes of the West Ham Charity Cup final the previous season, had a bad game and was dropped from the side.
Soon after the start of the season the club was evicted from the Hermit Road ground for violating their terms of tenancy by erecting a perimeter fence and charging admission to matches. Arnold Hills arranged to lease a piece of land at the junction of Byron Avenue and Browning Road in East Ham. In 1896 this was a huge undeveloped area.
Alf Chalk of Barking Woodville was sent off in a game against Thames Ironworks. Chalk, who was born in Plaistow and worked as a railway clerk, was one of the best players in the area. Three years later Chalk was a member of the Upton Park team that represented Great Britain and beat France in the 1900 Olympic football tournament final.
In 1897 Arnold Hills opened the headquarters of the Thames Ironworks Federated Clubs in Barking Road. Francis Payne was appointed to run the organization. Hills described Payne as the "indefatigable worker connected with the Federated Clubs and who is primarily responsible for the existence" of the institution."
Thames Iron Works lost 8-0 to Sheppey United in the first round of the FA Cup. The Irons goalkeeper, Southwood, was now replaced by Alex Duff, who had played for Scottish League side, Cowlairs, in the early 1890s. He in turn was replaced by David Furnell who played in the final game of the season against Barking Woodville.
The Irons lasted longer in the London Senior Cup and was finally knocked out by Bromley, 2-0, on 13th February, 1897. Thames Iron Works had a successful season in the league and after winning seven out of their 12 games finished second to 3rd Grenadier Guards. George Gresham, George Sage, Charlie Dove, Johnny Morrison, Charles Read and Edward Hatton all scored goals for the Hammers.
Attendances at the East Ham ground was disappointing. At the end of the season Arnold Hills announced that he had purchased land at Canning Town, Hills built what became known as the Memorial Grounds. It cost £20,000 to build and was considered to be one of the best stadiums in the country. Hills claimed it could hold 133,000 spectators and applied to hold an FA Cup Final at the Memorial Grounds. This only allowed 16 inches for each person and the Football Association turned the idea down.
Hills wanted to hold other sporting events, including cycling and athletics. As well as a football arena, it also had a cinder running track, tennis courts and an outdoor swimming pool. According to one report, the 100 feet (30.4m) long pool was the largest in England. The Memorial Grounds was opened in June, 1897. Hills made a speech where he pointed out that it had "the largest cycle track in London where they would hold such monster meetings that the attention of the Metropolis would be called to the Thames Ironworks".
The site had been chosen because it was planned to build Manor Road railway station close to the stadium. Unfortunately the project was delayed and it was not finished until four years later. This meant that attendances at the ground were much lower than expected.
The Irons lost some of their best players at the end of the previous season. Robert Stevenson had returned to Scotland to play for Arthurlie. Others no longer at the club included Thomas Freeman, Johnny Stewart, Walter Parks, James Lindsay, William Chapman, William Barnes, John Woods, George Sage and William Chamberlain.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade men to play for the team. A major problem was the fear of an injury that would result in them being unable to work for the Thames Iron Works Company. The club committee therefore decided to insure the players against loss of wages that might follow an injury sustained during league and cup fixtures. However, the club committee issued the players with a warning that anyone who had been injured in a match had to be home by 8.p.m. every evening. They were obviously concerned that they did not try to ease the pain by spending their time drinking in the local public houses.
Henry Hird, a ships plater, who had recently arrived from Stockton on Tees, joined the club. The Hammers also signed several players with experience of playing football at a higher level including Jimmy Reid and Robert Hounsell of Reading). Others who joined included Simon Chisholm (Inverness) and Percy Mills (Gravesend). The Sportsmen reported on 3rd September, 1897: "It is only reasonable to expect an establishment that employs nearly 5000 people to turn out a very good team of footballers. The Thames Ironworks opened their season yesterday at the Memorial Recreation Grounds... During the past few months some very capable players have found employment in the Works and as a result a very creditable exposition of the game was seen."
Season tickets for the 1897-98 were fixed at 5 shillings (25p). Tickets for individual matches cost 4d. However, attendances at games were very disappointing. Only 200 people saw the first game against Northfleet. This is not surprising when you compare this with the price of other forms of entertainment. It usually cost only 3d. to visit the musical hall or the cinema. It has to be remembered that at this time skilled tradesmen usually received less than £2 a week.
On 13th December 1897 the club secretary wrote: "The support we have received has not been so large as we should wish for, the gates not totalling near the number we might expect and certainly not so many as the quality of the play of our men should warrant."
As Dave Russell points out in Football and the English: A Social History of Association Football in England (1997): "in terms of social class, crowds at Football League matches were predominantly drawn from the skilled working and lower-middle classes... Social groups below that level were largely excluded by the admission price." Russell adds "the Football League, quite possibly in a deliberate attempt to limit the access of poorer (and this supposedly "rowdier") supporters, raised the minimum adult male admission price to 6d".
Women were initially allowed in free at some grounds as it was believed that it would improve the behaviour of make fans. When Preston North End introduced free tickets in April, 1885, over 2,000 women turned up for the game. Free entry for women was so popular that by the late 1890s all the football clubs had discontinued the scheme.
Arnold Hills sent a message to every member of the team: "As an old footballer myself, I would say, get into good condition at the beginning of the season, keep on the ball, play an unselfish game, pay heed to your captain, and whatever the fortunes of the first half of the game, never despair of winning, and never give up doing your very best to the last minute of the match. That is the way to play football, and better still, that is the way to make yourselves men."
Thames Iron Works also introduced a new kit in the 1897-98 season. The strip consisted of Royal Cambridge blue shirts, white shorts, red cap, belt and stockings. The Thames Ironworks Gazette commented that the new colours: "The contrast supplied by the delightful green turf is very pleasing." One newspaper reporter commented: "A prettier and more distinctive costume than theirs I have never yet seen on a football ground. Light blue shirts, white knickers and scarlet stockings were their colours." However, when the club played a game during a thunder storm in November, 1897, a local newspaper commented that the "Ironworks appeared on the field with brand new white spotless clean knickers and light blue shirts, but before they had been playing long they were like blackamoors".
Thames Iron Works beat Redhill 3-0 in the first round of the FA Cup. However, they were finally knocked out by St Albans in front of 1,000 spectators. This was the third successive season that the club had been knocked out of the FA Cup by a Southern League side.
Thames Iron Works did much better in the league. They beat Leyton 4-0 at the Memorial Grounds on 2nd October, 1897, with Jimmy Reid getting two of the goals. A crowd of over 3,000 turned up to see the rematch at Leyton's ground later that month. Henry Hird and Robert Hounsell gave the Irons a two goal lead. However, in the second-half, Leyton was awarded a dubious penalty which they converted. Hird, who was still disputing the decision after the goal had been scored, was sent off by the referee. This caused some crowd trouble but the 10 man Hammers held out and even added a third goal, scored by George Gresham, before the end of the game.
The match created a great deal of comment in the West Ham Guardian. The reporter at the game blamed the Hammers for the trouble. "Why will the Thames Ironworks resort to such shady tactics to ensure victory when every member of the team can play good sound football if he likes? Arthur Russell was so badly used by the Ironworkers... that he has since been confined to his bed under the doctor's orders... This roughness should be checked by the Ironwork's committee if they have any regard for the club's good name."
These comments angered supporters of the club and one wrote to the newspaper putting forward a completely different interpretation of the game: "Now as a common or garden onlooker, I emphatically deny that the roughness was all on one side. In the opening stages of the game one of the Leyton halves adopted very shady methods, and this in the main was responsible for the greater portion of the objectionable tactics. Then, too, the ordering off of the outside left (Henry Hird) was sufficient to drive the team to desperation."
Football in the 1890s was a much more physical game than it is today. Players were allowed to "charge" an opponent. A charge was defined as a player who used his shoulder against an opponent's upper body. The main objective of this tactic was to "knock an opponent off the ball". Players were also allowed to obstruct an opponent if they were running into a space to receive the ball from a colleague.
However, players were often cautioned or sent off if they criticized a decision made by the referee. There were plenty of examples of players being ordered from the field because they had used foul and abusive language. In one game against Fulham, the Chelsea Mail reported that after a goal scored by Roderick McEachrane was disallowed, the referee "informed a section of the spectators that unless their remarks were less personal they would be removed."
The newspapers were concerned about the example being set by the football players. In his book, Iron in the Blood, John Powles, points out that a journalist reported after one London League game: "I am not an anti-tobacconist but I do not think it is at all good form for a goalkeeper to be seen smoking a cigarette in goal whilst the game is in progress, and for a linesman to be seen smoking a pipe. Yet both incidents occurred on Saturday at Ilford."
Arnold Hills used to organize a New Year party for the children of his employees. For example, this is how a local paper reported the party that brought in 1898. "Professor Anderson gave a few conjuring tricks and the young people were much amused by the comical actions of some of the Thames Ironworks Minstrels. Mr Hills gave a short address, and after nearly two hours had been spent in an enjoyable manner the children were marched out of the hall, each receiving a bun and an orange." The newspaper also reported that members of the Thames Ironworks football team were in attendance.
The Hammers were praised for the football they played that year. After their game against Queen's Park Rangers, the local paper reported: "Ironworks are a well balanced side, solid in defence, with a nippy forward line... Hird is an exceptional player both at dribbling and shooting."
In the final few weeks of the season it became clear that the title race was between Thames Iron Works and Brentford. The two teams played against each other on 23rd April, 1898. The Irons had not lost a game all season and had a one point advantage over Brentford. A party of 200 supporters left Ironworks Wharf and travelled along the Thames to Kew where they caught a train to Brentford. Watched by over 3,000 people, the game went badly for the Irons. They played most of the game with only 10 men after Arthur Woodcock had to go off with a twisted knee. Henry Hird also had a goal disallowed and the Irons lost to a goal scored by David Lloyd.
Brentford now had a one point lead with only one game to go. Brentford played Barking Woodville, who were third from bottom in the league, whereas the Irons had to face the 2nd Grenadier Guards. During the game Charlie Dove was badly injured and could play no further part in the proceedings. However, it did not stop the Irons winning 3-1 with Robert Hounsell (2) and George Gresham getting the goals. Soon after the game news arrived that Brentford had been surprisingly beaten by Barking Woodville. The Irons had won their first league title.
Nine of the league winning side played in the majority of games: George Gresham (16), Jimmy Reid (16), Simon Chesham (15), George Neil (14), Henry Hird (12) Walter Tranter (12), Charlie Dove (10), David Furnell (10) and Robert Hounsell (10). Top scorers were Gresham (12), Reid (10) and Hounsell (8).
During the season several Hammers received representative honours. David Furnell played in goal for Essex in a game against Middlesex. The former Iron, William Barnes, scored one of Essex's goals. George Neil and Walter Tranter, the club's full-backs, represented the London League against the London Football Association.
On 21st June, 1898, a 6,000 ton warship Albion became the first ship to be launched by a member of the royal family at the Thames Iron Works and Shipbuilding Company. The Duke of York, the future George V, and his wife, arrived for the launching ceremony in the early afternoon. Around 30,000 local people also competed to get a good view of this historic event. Over 200 people stood on a workmen's slipway alongside the uncompleted warship. At 2.50 pm the Duchess of York broke a bottle of champagne over the hull of the Albion. The ship entered the water faster than intended. This caused a massive backlash of water like a tidal wave that knocked people standing on the workmen's slipway into Bow Creek.
A total of 38 people died in the accident. This included a brother and sister, Ernest and Kittie Hopkins. Probably the saddest case was of Isabel White. When her body was recovered, her children, Lottie 5, and Queenie 2, were still clinging to her frock.
Arnold Hills was devastated by the accident and arranged to pay all the bereaved families' funeral expenses and personality visited the homes of the victims. Although the coroner criticized the organization of the launch (he recommended that in future accommodation should be provided by specially erected stands) Hills that he "met with no shadow of bitterness, no tone of complaint".
Soon afterwards two other terrible accidents had an impact on the people who lived in the area. An explosion onboard the Manitoba moored in the Albert Dock killed five workmen. This was followed by the loss of the 7,000 ton liner Mohegan on the Cornish coast. An amazing 34 members of the crew who died in the accident lived in West Ham.
It was hoped that the new 1898-1899 season would help take the workers' minds off these terrible events. That season Hills reluctantly accepted the proposal of Francis Payne that the club should recruit some professional players. Although a strong supporter of amateur football he argued it was "necessary to introduce a little ferment of professional experience to leaven the heavy lump". Payne's main argument was that better players would attract larger crowds. With attendances averaging 2,000, the club was being run at a loss and Hills was constantly being asked to subsidize the venture.
In the 1890s professional players received about £3 a week during the season, £2 during the close season. However, star players could earn over £10 a week. Clubs owned by industrialists like Arnold Hills might also provide players with a high-paying job with the company.
Others joined the club on the understanding they would be paid a generous signing on fee. This was the case with David Lloyd of the 3rd Battalion Guards. As he was a soldier he could work for Thames Iron Works. This six foot four inches defender played his first two games at full-back. He was switched to centre forward for his third game and he rewarded the club by scoring a hat-trick. The disadvantage of this scheme was that players rarely stayed long with the club. For example, in a four year period, 1896-1900 he played for four different clubs. This only came to an end when he was sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.
People like Arnold Hills reluctantly accepted the professionalism of football. Dave Russell attempted to explain why the upper-classes disliked this development in his book Football and the English: A Social History of Association Football in England (1997): "Professionalism, it was believed, would encourage gambling, partisanship and the will to win at all costs; turn what should be a source of pleasure and moral virtue into a mere job of work and, by leaving the professional sportsman with too much time on his hands, render him a highly unsuitable role model for the young working classes."
Francis Payne replaced Tom Robinson with Jack Ratcliffe. Robinson had been the trainer of the Thames Iron Works since 1895. The first league game of the season was against Brentford. Irons scored their first goal when George Gresham bundled the Brentford goalkeeper into the net whilst he had the ball in his hands. This was within the rules and this is why keepers tended to punch the ball rather than catching it in the 19th century. The Irons won the game 3-1.
The Irons won four of their first seven games. Their eighth game was against Fulham, who they beat 2-1. The Chelsea Mail reported that: "on the play the Irons were a much cleverer and smarter team. The forwards excelled in tricky work but against a determined defence like the Reds (Fulham) I think it was overdone... There was a vast difference in the styles of the two lines of forwards, the Reds adopting the kick and rush plan and the Irons the quick, short passing method."
In a match against Maidenhead United on 31st December 1898. Charlie Dove achieved the difficult task of playing in every position for the team when he deputized for regular goalkeeper Tommy Moore, who missed the train and was unable to get to the ground in time. Dove kept a clean-sheet as the Irons won the game 4-0.
The Irons were known for playing good football. After a game against Eastbourne Town, the local paper reported that "the visitors made a most honourably impression on the crowd... by their play, which, apart from its cleverness, was of such a strictly fair and gentlemanly character as to put many an amateur team to the blush. Their footwork was a treat to watch and their accurate heading was a feature of the game."
However, the fans of the Irons were sometimes criticized for their behaviour. After the Hammers lost 4-1 against Wycombe Wanderers, the local paper reported that "a certain section of the crowd, happily very small, made some very objectionable remarks to the Wycombe players. It is to be hoped that these enthusiast's behaviour will not be repeated."
Tommy Moore was a fine goalkeeper but he had the reputation for taking unnecessary risks. Until 1912 goalkeepers were allowed to handle, but not carry, the ball anywhere in their own half of the field. Moore developed the strategy of moving upfield and starting an attack by punching the ball into the opposition half. In a game against Chesham, the game was so one-sided that Moore spent most of the game on the offensive. Moore helped the Irons score 8 goals in the game. However, he was caught upfield when the Chesham winger broke away to put the ball into an empty net.
Thames Iron Works won 13 out of their first 16 games. Over 4,000 people turned up to see their next game against Southall, which they won 2-0. This was followed by victories against St. Albans, Wolverton and Fulham. By this stage they were already league champions. In their last game they beat Maidenhead United 10-1 with David Lloyd scoring another hat-trick. Jimmy Reid got two and this gave him a total of 9 in only 13 games.
Thames Iron Works easily won the Southern League Division 2 in the 1898-1899 season. They obtained 9 points more than their nearest rivals Wolverton and Watford, who tied for second place. Outstanding performers that season included Charlie Dove, Tommy Dunn, Tommy Moore, Henry Hird, George Gresham, Walter Tranter, Jimmy Reid and Roderick McEachrane. The main star was David Lloyd who scored 12 goals in only 11 league appearances.
Arnold Hills, raised doubts about the wisdom of employing highly paid professionals. At the end of the season he wrote: "The committees of several of our clubs, eager for immediate success, are inclined to reinforce their ranks with mercenaries. In our bands and in our football clubs, I find an increasing number of professionals who do not belong to our community but are paid to represent us in their several capacities... Now this is a very simple and effective method of producing popular triumphs. It is only a matter of how we are willing to pay and the weight of our purses can be made the measure of our glory. I have however, not the smallest intention of entering upon a competition of this kind: I desire that our clubs should be spontaneous and cultivated expressions of our internal activity."
Francis Payne, the club secretary, was given the task of finding good players for Thames Iron Works first season in the top division of the Southern League. According to one report, Arnold Hills, gave Payne £1,000 to find the best players available.
Payne employed an agent and former professional footballer named Charles Bunyan to obtain a player based in Birmingham. Bunyan missed his appointment with the player targeted by Payne. He then approached another player he thought might be interested in joining the club. However, this player reported Bunyan to the Football Association. The FA held an investigation into the matter and as a result, Bunyan was suspended for two years. Payne was also suspended and the Thames Iron Works was fined £25.
In 1900 the Football League introduced a maximum wage of £4 per week. This was double what a skilled tradesmen received at this time. At the same meeting they also voted to outlaw match bonuses. To encourage men to play for clubs for some time, players were to be awarded a benefit after five years. It was claimed at the time that this was an attempt the curb the power of the wealthier clubs. For example, some of West Ham's London rivals had far higher attendances. During the early 1900s Chelsea and Spurs had an average of around 30,000 people watch their home games.
George Neil became the new secretary/manager. He immediately made three important signings from Tottenham Hotspur: Tom Bradshaw, Bill Joyce and Ken McKay. Initially, Arnold Hills, refused to sanction the transfers because he claimed the club could not afford them, but he eventually relented. Bradshaw who played on the left-wing for England against Ireland in 1897, whereas Joyce and McKay had done well in Scotland before moving south.
Albert Carnelly, a talented inside forward, was signed from Bristol City. Payne also signed Charles Craig from Dundee and Syd King from New Brompton. King was considered to be the best full back in the Southern League and Derby County, one of the best teams in England, challenged Thames Iron Works for his signature.
All the top clubs at that time had a large number of Scots in the team. The Pastime Magazine write: "The spectator does not care, whether his team or village team is composed of bona fide natives ior Scotchmen hired from afar. Provided that they win their matches, he is well satisfied."
At the beginning of the 1899-1900 season, the Irons had ten Scots in their squade: Bill Joyce, Ken McKay, Tommy Dunn, Peter McManus, Roderick McEachrane, Jimmy Reid, William Stewart, Simon Chisholm, Tommy McEwan, George Reid, Patrick Leonard and Robert Allan.
George Neil also replaced George Radcliffe with Sam Wright as trainer. It is believed that Wright was recommended by Syd King who had worked with him at New Brompton. Radcliffe became Wright's assistant.
As the Irons were now in the top league it was decided to increase season ticket prices. It was now 10s. 6d (52.5p) for the grandstand and 7s. 6d. (37.5p) for the rest of the ground. The first home game was against Chatham. The attendance of 1,000 was lower than most games the previous season and was probably a reaction to the price rise.
The Irons team that day was: Tommy Moore, Tommy Dunn, Charlie Dove, Peter McManus, Roderick McEachrane, Fred Corbett, Ken McKay, Bill Joyce, Albert Carnelly, and Tom Bradshaw. They won the game 4-0 with Carnelly and McKay both scoring a couple of two goals.
The next two games were in the FA Cup and both ended in easy victories. They beat Royal Engineers 6-0 and Grays United 4-0. This was followed by a 1-0 league victory against Brighton United. These four victories encouraged local supporters to see the next home game against league leaders, Bedminister. The Irons won the game with a Bill Joyce penalty.
Hammers good form continued when the beat Dartford 7-0 in the next round of the F.A. Cup (Albert Carnelly 2, Ken McKay 2, Bill Joyce, Roderick McEachrane, Tom Bradshaw). The new signings were doing especially well and the Irons were accused of buying success. This is what a Dartford newspaper had to say about the game: "No one was greatly surprised at the 7-0 result. In these days the banking account has to be considered and the luxury of passing into the next round with little effort has proved an expensive one to the Ironworks. No more than 1400 were present and roughly speaking £30 was taken at the gate. Consequently the Thames share does not reach the wages bill, quite apart from the other expenses."
The reporter went on to praise the quality of the performance: "The Irons played the passing game with quick and accurate exchanges and there was no time to stop their defence which was on the Dartford men in a second... That the Works were far more superior is beyond all doubt."
The first big game for the Irons was an away against their long-time rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. The club organized "horse brakes and buses" to take supporters from Canning Town to White Hart Lane. The 7,000 crowd watched the Irons take a 7-0 beating. The game was at first fairly even but Tommy Dunn "ricked his hip" and was forced to leave the field. Tommy Moore sustained a "serious injury to thumb", Peter McManus ("knee badly cut") and Bill Joyce ("three deep wounds on the right knee") were also injured. At a time where substitutes were not allowed, the Irons were down to 7 fit men.
It was the turning point of the season. The Irons lost 8 of their next 10 games. Several regulars missed games with injuries, including Tommy Dunn, Peter McManus and Bill Joyce. Tom Bradshaw who had started the season so well, and was captain of the team, was taken ill and died of consumption on Christmas Day 1899. However, one close friend was convinced that he died as a result of a kick to the head he had received while playing for Liverpool. Bradshaw complained that he suffered terrible pains when he headed the ball. Bradshaw, who was only 26 years old, left a widow and two young children.
Four day's after Bradshaw's death the Irons played Queen's Park Rangers at the Memorial Grounds. Once again the home side lost. The local newspaper reported that the fans did what they could to encourage the Hammers: "At intervals during the game a chorus of about twenty voices felt it a duty to jerk - I say "jerk" advisedly - out some encouragement to this effect: "Pl-a-a-y up I-I-ron-wor-ks". The voices were the nearest approach to that of a foghorn I have ever heard on the mainland. Such a distracting row, surely, was never intended to help our fellows on."
The Irons were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall. 13,000, the largest crowd of the season at the Memorial Grounds, watched Millwall win 2-1. The local newspaper criticized the home fans for not being as vocal as the visitors. The reporter suggested that the Millwall supporters "must have had cast iron lungs as they were shouting all afternoon".
Millwall also beat the Irons 2-0 at the Memorial Grounds in the league. This time there was 12,000 to see the match. However, Thames Iron Works did get revenge in the return game, with Ken McKay scoring the only goal of the game.
Thames Iron Works finished second from bottom in the league that season. They therefore had to play a Test Match (play-off) against Fulham, who had finished as runners-up in the Second Division. Bill Joyce scored a hat-trick in the Irons 5-1 win.
The club's new signings had a good season. Bill Joyce scored 18 goals in all competitions. Albert Carnelly got 14 and Ken McKay finished third in the list with 13. These three men were responsible for 24 of the goals scored that season in the league. However, the other players contributed only six and 30 goals in a season was just not good enough. For example, the champions that year, Tottenham Hotspur, scored 67 goals.
In 1900 Arnold Hills decided to expand his business interests by acquiring the engineering firm of John Penn & sons. In order to raise new capital to finance the takeover, he decided to make Thames Iron Works a public company. This meant that in future he would be accountable to shareholders. Hills was no longer in a position where he would be allowed to pump company money into the football club.
On 7th March, 1900, the West Ham Guardian reported that: "It is announced that the committee of Thames Ironworks FC are to consider some sort reorganization. A proposal is evidently on the table. For one who has it on authority says it will 'if adopted, undoubtedly be to the club's advantage'. This is good news. Supporters are tired of seeing the club so low down as fourth from the bottom".
A few weeks later the West Ham Guardian reported that the football would be sold. "With regard to next season however, a meeting will be called, and the Mayor of West Ham will be asked to preside, at which gathering the locals will be asked to take up 500 £1 shares. If this amount be raised Mr A. F. Hills will add to it another £500, and, in addition, grant the use of the Memorial Grounds. Another condition is that all members of the team must be teetotallers. It is probable too, that the name of the club will be changed to Canning Town." The newspaper was wrong about this and the new club was called West Ham United. The idea that all players should be teetotallers was also dropped.
It was hoped that over 2,000 supporters would buy shares in the new club. The West Ham Guardian urged local people to buy shares: "There is little question that the present question of managing small teams is not the right one. For so many clubs get into debt and finally are snuffed out... A shareholder will have everything to gain, by attending the matches, and inducing others to come with him, therefore it seems to me that the nail has been hit right on the head, and the problem of the football world of management is about to be solved."
Hills announced that anyone who purchased just ten shares would be allowed to join the Board of Directors of the club. Despite this offer, a large number of shares remained unsold and the the finances of the new club remained in a poor state. had trouble selling these shares to supporters.
In September, 1900, The Morning Leader reported: "The prospectus of the new limited liability company, to be known under the title of the West Ham Football Club Company Limited is at hand. The primary object will be to encourage and promote the game of football in West Ham and district, and powers have also been taken by the company authorising them at any time to acquire land and other property."
It was also announced that: "The directors propose to make the following charges, to shareholders only, for season-tickets for the football season 1900/01: admission to ground and open stand, 7s 6d, admission to ground, enclosure and grand stand 10s 6d and 12s 6d respectively.... Mr. A. F. Hills who will most likely to take up £500 worth of shares, is very keen on playing a teetotal eleven next season, and the experiment is worth trying if only to vindicate the rights of football employers to call their own tune after paying the piper."
The capital of West Ham United was £2,000 (4,000 shares at 10s each). Arnold Hills purchased 1,000 shares and remained the major influence at the club. However, he was unable to enforce the idea that all players should be teetotallers.
Lew Bowen, a clerk at the Thames Iron Works & Shipbuilding Company, became the new club secretary. The club made several new signings including: Hugh Monteith (Bristol City), Fergus Hunt (Arsenal), Freddie Fenton (Gainsborough Trinity), George Radcliffe (Grimsby Town), James Reid and Billy Grassam (Port Vale) and Albert Kaye (Chatham Town).
These new players joined established players in the team such as Charlie Dove, Roderick McEachrane, Fred Corbett, Charles Craig and Syd King. Walter Tranter returned from a spell with Chatham Town, but the club did lose the services of top scorers, Bill Joyce, Albert Carnelly and Ken McKay.
The season started well with a 7-0 victory over Gravesend United (Grassam 4, Reid 2, Hunt). West Ham could not maintain that momentum and lost 7 of its next 13 games. That included a game at Millwall that attracted a crowd of 10,000. The best attendance that season at the Memorial Grounds was the game against Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately for the home supporters, they saw West Ham defeated 4-1.
Queen Victoria died in January, 1901. The Football Association called for a stoppage to all soccer on the Saturday following the death of the monarch. The Southern League objected to this directive on the grounds that this was an infringement of a professional footballers' right to earn a living. West Ham's game with Watford on the 26th January was one of only four Southern League fixtures that went ahead. West Ham won the game with Billy Grassam scoring the only goal of the game.
Results improved after Christmas and by the end of the season West Ham was in sixth place behind Southampton, Bristol City, Portsmouth, Millwall and Tottenham Hotspur. West Ham's goals were scored by Billy Grassam (15), Fred Corbett (9), James Reid (5), Albert Kaye (5), George Radcliffe (4) and Fergus Hunt (4).
West Ham had a good run in the FA Cup and over 12,000 saw them draw 1-1 with Clapton Orient. West Ham won the 5th round replay 3-2 with Billy Grassam scoring a hat-trick. The next round saw the visit of mighty Liverpool. Watched by a home crowd of 6,000, Liverpool won 1-0.
The directors of West Ham were pleased to discover that the sale of season tickets had doubled to 110. To improve the financial situation 500 additional shares of stock were sold.
West Ham lost several of their best players at the end of the 1900-1901 season. James Reid left for Worksop Town whereas Freddie Fenton joined Swindon Town. The biggest blow of all was the club's longest-serving player, Charlie Dove, leaving for bitter rivals, Millwall.
However, at the beginning of the 1901-02 the Football League introduced a maximum wage of £4 per week. As some players had been earning as much as £10, they decided to join Southern League clubs where there were no restrictions on wages. As John Harding pointed out in For the Good of the Game: The Official History of the Professional Footballers' Association (1991) "In effect, the Football League abolished the free market where players' wages and conditions were concerned... there were 'escape routes' to clubs and countries where a player could ply his trade freely and earn a reasonable (indeed, where some Southern League clubs were concerned, highly lucrative) wage."
Players who could not play because of injuries or sickness had to be indoors by 8 pm every evening. According to the board minutes on 6th January 1902: "The penalty for the first offence was a 5s fine, any subsequent offence had to be dealt with by the Directors."
William Linward, an outside left, joined West Ham from Doncaster Rovers. Fred Griffiths was another recruit. Griffiths, 6ft 2ins and 15 stone, was one of the largest goalkeepers in football. He was also one of the best and in 1900 had played for Wales against both Scotland and England. West Ham also obtained a second goalkeeper, William Biggar from Sheffield United. It was Biggar who started off the season in goal.
West Ham also signed Peter Kyle, a very talented centre forward from Scotland. However, after only one league and two cup games he was involved in a straight swap for Welsh international defender William Jones from Kettering Town.
Despite the loss of several good players, West Ham won six of their first seven games. A local lad, James Bigden, a wing-half, looked a very promising prospect. Other local recruits, William Yenson and Dick Pudan also did well when they played. Billy Grassam continued the good form of the previous season and scored 7 goals in his first six games.
West Ham played Millwall on 26th October, 1901. Over 9,000 people saw West Ham lose their first game of the season 2-0. The next visitors were Tottenham Hotspur who were also on a good run. This time 17,000 attended the game, a club record. West Ham lost 1-0. They also lost their next three games and ceased to become challengers for the league title.
In the FA Cup West Ham were drawn at home to Essex village side Grays Athletic. The goalkeeper, Tommy Moore, who had played for West Ham until being replaced by Hugh Monteith the previous season, played for Grays that day. He saved an avalanche of shots from West Ham's potent forwards and was only beaten once during the game. Grays managed to score two and the Irons suffered their first ever "giant-killing".
West Ham made a late but could only finish 4th with 40 points. Portsmouth won the league with 47 points followed by Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, who were both on 42. The Hammers had a good defensive record but only scored 45 goals during the season. The top scorers for the club were Billy Grassam (10), George Radcliffe (10), Fred Corbett (6), Fergus Hunt (4), Roderick McEachrane (4) and William Linward (3).
West Ham lost the services of four of their best players at the end of the 1901-1902: Roderick McEachrane (Arsenal), Charles Craig (Nottingham Forest), William Jones (Aberdare) and Hugh Mounteith (Bury).
However, the decision by the Football League to introduce a maximum wage of £4 per week, helped clubs in the Southern League like West Ham. According to John Harding, the author of For the Good of the Game: The Official History of the Professional Footballers' Association: "Southern League clubs began enticing Football League stars to defect with promises of up to £100 signing-on fees plus £4-£5 a week all the year round."
The season started with two draws against Reading and Queen's Park Rangers. The next game was a 5-1 hammering from Wellingborough Town. Goals by Billy Grassam and William Barnes gave West Ham three victories out of the next four games.
Although Grassam continued to score on a regular basis, the Irons had difficulty getting too many wins. The home defeat against Millwall in front of 10,000 spectators was especially painful. West Ham was also knocked out of the FA Cup in the first round by Lincoln City.
West Ham finished the season in 10th place, 20 points behind the champions, Southampton. This was disappointing after the previous season's 4th place. The team scored seven less goals but the real problem was in defence with an increase of 21 goals in the against column.
That season West Ham lost another defender. Syd King, who was considered the best full-back in the division, suffered two very bad injuries while playing for the Hammers and after playing Kettering Town on 15th April, 1903, decided to retire from the game.
The directors of West Ham were seriously concerned about the financial situation of the club at the beginning of the season. It had lost £900 in the past two seasons and had an overdraft of £770 and assets of less than £200. The main problem was a decline in season ticket sales.
West Ham lost their prolific scorer, Billy Grassam, to Manchester United before the start of the season. Dick Pudan, a local lad from Canning Town, who had played well at full-back the previous season, left for Bristol Rovers. He later went on to play for Newcastle United in the 1908 FA Cup Final.
Syd King, the new manager, brought in Charles Satterthwaite from New Brompton to replace Grassam. William Kirby, a right-winger who had a good scoring record, was signed from Swindon Town. Tommy Allison was brought in from Reading to bolster the defence. Herbert Lyon, a forward, also joined from Reading. Len Jarvis, a talented local boy, was also brought into the team.
The first game of the season was away to Millwall. Both the new forwards, Charles Satterthwaite and William Kirby scored but West Ham still lost 4-2. This was the story of the season, Satterthwaite and Kirby scored 29 goals between them but they could not stop West Ham from losing 17 of their 34 games.
The Hammers did better in the FA Cup, beating Brighton & Hove Albion, Clapton Orient and Chatham Town in the first three rounds. However, they lost 1-0 to Fulham in the 4th round in front of 12,000 people. This was West Ham's largest crowds of the season.
Attendances at games, compared to their close rivals, remained disappointing. West Ham began to verge on the edge of bankruptcy and by the end of the season the club only had had the money to pay the wages of one professional player, Tommy Allison, during the summer.
Arnold Hills was also having financial problems and was unwilling to re-negotiate a rental agreement to use the Memorial Grounds that was acceptable to West Ham United. The club was forced to find another sponsor. A local brewery agreed to advance them a loan to help them purchase a new ground.
Syd King was given the task to find West Ham a new home. It was suggested that he should take a look at Boleyn Castle field, just off Green Street, East Ham. The land was owned by the Catholic Ecclesiastical Authorities and used by the Boleyn Castle Roman Catholic Reformatory School.
A deal was arranged with the Catholic Ecclesiastical Authorities but the Home Office made it clear that they did not approve of the land being used by West Ham United. Syd King went to see Sir Ernest Gray, an influential Member of Parliament. As King later explained, "through his good offices, subject to certain conditions, we were finally allowed to take possession of Boleyn Castle".
The financial crisis meant that Charlie Satterthwaite and William Kirby both left the club. Satterthwaite, who scored 18 of West Ham's 38 goals, was transferred to Arsenal and Kirby returned to Swindon Town. West Ham also lost one of their most talented youngsters, James Bigden (Arsenal). William Barnes also moved to Luton Town, while Herbert Lyon was transferred to Brighton & Hove Albion.
West Ham also lost their goalkeeper, Fred Griffiths to New Brompton. In two seasons with the club, Griffiths kept 13 clean sheets in 48 league appearances. Griffiths was replaced by another international goalkeeper, Matt Kingsley from Newcastle United. Tony Hogg points out in Who's Who of West Ham United (2005) that "Matt was a feisty character who had a habit of fisting the ball way instead of catching it, to avoid being bundled into the back of the net as was the practice in those days."
Syd King also recruited Charlie Simmons (West Bromwich Albion), Frank Piercy (Middlesbrough), Herbert Bamlett (Newcastle United), William McCartney (Everton), Jack Flynn (Reading), John Russell (Everton) and Jack Fletcher (Reading). The most significant signing was David Gardner, a defender who had played at the top level for Newcastle United. A great favourite with West Ham fans, he was appointed captain of the side. King also introduced, Billy Bridgeman, a local teenager, into the side.
Improvements undertaken at the Boleyn ground were not finished by the time the season started. Even so, 12,000 were able to watch the first home game against Millwall on 1st September, 1904. West Ham won the game 3-0 with Billy Bridgeman, scoring two of the goals.
The next home game was against Queen's Park Rangers. This time the attendance was 14,000. However, the result was disappointing, with West Ham losing 3-1. The next visitors, Tottenham Hotspur, drew 16,000 people to the ground. Once again the result was disappointing, with the Hammers only getting a 0-0 draw.
West Ham did get a 4-0 victory against Wellingborough Town with Jack Fletcher getting a hat-trick. This was followed by a 2-1 win against Plymouth Argyle on 19th November, with Charlie Simmons getting the goals. This was followed by 9 successive defeats. This included being knocked out of the FA Cup by Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Irons returned to form on 28th January, 1905, when they beat Luton Town by 6-2. Christopher Carrick, who had just been brought into the team, scored a hat-trick. This started a good run of results and West Ham began to move up the table.
On 17th March, 1905, Matt Kingsley was seen to kick former Hammer, Herbert Lyon during the game against Brighton & Hove Albion. This caused a crowd invasion and a near riot took place before Kingsley was sent off and Lyon was carried from the field. The Stratford Express reported: "No sooner had the referee pointed to the centre than the West Ham keeper ran at Lyon and kicked him to the ground, and matters looked ugly for the international keeper, who was ordered off the ground by the referee, but the Brighton officials, with a posse of police, acted very promptly and escorted him from the playing arena before any violence was used." It was the last game Kingsley played for West Ham and after completing his suspension he was transferred to Queen's Park Rangers.
By the end of the season West Ham had climbed to 10th place in the league, scoring 48 goals in 34 games. Top scorer was Billy Bridgeman with 11 goals. Others who made a major contribution included Charlie Simmons (8), Jack Fletcher (7), Christopher Carrick (6) and Jack Flynn (4). West Ham also gave promising youngster, George Hilsdon, seven games, in which he scored 4 goals.
The 1905 edition of Association Football included the following passage: "It is the proud boast of the West Ham club that they turn out more local players than any other team in the South. The district has been described as a hot-bed of football and it is so. The raw material is found on the marshlands and open spaces round about; and after a season or so, the finished player leaves the East End workshop to better himself, as most ambitious young men will do. In the ranks of other organizations many old West Ham boys have distinguished themselves."
During the first season at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham turned the previous season's £800 loss into a £400 profit. The main reason for this was that gate money had increased from £2,900 to £4,300.
In 1905 Syd King signed George Kitchen from Everton as a replacement for Matt Kingsley who had been sold to Queen's Park Rangers. An outstanding goalkeeper he was considered to be one of the best in England. He joined a defence that included Tommy Allison, Frank Piercy, David Gardner and Len Jarvis.
Syd King also persuaded Fred Blackburn to join the club from Blackburn Rovers. The previous year he had played for England against Scotland. A third signing was Billy Grassam from Manchester United. He had previously played for West Ham between 1900-1903.
The opening match of the season was against Swindon Town. West Ham won the game 1-0 in front of 10,000 supporters. George Kitchen became the first ever goalkeeper to score a goal on his debut. Kitchen was the team's penalty taker and he added three more that season. Despite this early victory, West Ham had a poor start to the season and lost 9 of their first 13 games.
The most significant signing that year was of Harry Stapley. A school teacher who had previously played amateur football he scored on his debut against Portsmouth on 23rd December 1905. He followed this with goals against Luton Town (1-1), Norwich City (6-1), Southampton (3-0), Northampton Town (4-1) and Queen's Park Rangers (1-0).
On 13th January 1906, West Ham played Woolwich Arsenal in the first round of the FA Cup. A crowd of 18,000 at Plumstead saw George Kitchen score a penalty to draw the game 1-1. West Ham lost the replay at the Memorial Grounds 3-2.
West Ham finished up in 11th place in the Southern League. Top scorer was Harry Stapley with 9 goals in 13 games. Other scorers included Lionel Watson (7), Billy Bridgeman (5), Fred Blackburn (5), George Kitchen (4) and Billy Grassam (3).
In June 1906 John Tait Robertson, persuaded Syd King to let George Hilsdon join Chelsea on a free transfer. Colm Kerrigan, the author of Gatling Gun George Hilsdon (1997) has argued that: "It is difficult to understand why the shrewd Syd King was willing to let him go on a free transfer. Perhaps he had despaired of George ever successfully getting over his injury. Or perhaps, with Stapley doing so well as centre-forward and with competent cover available in the form of Bridgeman and the recently returned Billy Grassam, he may have seen no place for him in his future team plans."
In his book, West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986), Charles Korr has carried out a detailed investigation of the wages paid by West Ham United. "In 1906 the average wage for the whole team (a pool of 30 players) was £2 10s per week over the whole year. At least 12 were paid between £4 and £4 10s during the season and a minimum of £2 10s during the summer... Veterans who had been with the club since 1900 filled the reserve and third teams and their wages ranged from £2 during the season to as little as 15s per match. The directors insisted that all players earning more than £2 10s during the season should not take another job; they were full-time professional footballers and were being paid as such."
Charles Korr goes on to compare wages of footballers in 1906 with other occupations: "In 1906 casual dockers earned between 5s 6d and £1 2s 7d for a 44-hour week. Tram drivers made £2 3s for a 60-hour week and men employed in the building trades averaged £2 8s for a 44-hour week."
Syd King managed to bring in some useful looking players for the 1906-07 season. This included the Scottish international, David Lindsay, an outside right from from Heart of Midlothian. King also signed two defenders, Archie Taylor (Brentford) and Bill Wildman (Everton). David Clarke, who had formerly played for Bristol Rovers, was brought it as an understudy goalkeeper to George Kitchen.
West Ham opened the start of the 1906-07 campaign with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur with goals from Harry Stapley and Lionel Watson. The Stratford Express reported: "The Spurs began with dash, but West Ham settled down to the better game. A quarter of an hour had expired when Stapley opened the scoring for the visitors with a shot from close quarters, after dribbling the ball round several men."
The start of the season was marred by a game against Millwall. The East Ham Echo reported: "From the very first kick it was seen that there was likely to be some trouble. All attempts at football were ignored." According to the report, Len Jarvis smashed Alf Dean against a metal advertising board. Dean was so badly injured he was unable to continue. The Stratford Express commented: "This caused a deal of feeling between the sides." Another tackle forced Charlie Comrie to leave the field and Millwall was down to nine men. Soon afterwards George Kitchen scored a penalty to give West Ham a 1-0 victory.
Len Jarvis was cautioned by the referee for his tackle on Alf Dean but a subsequent investigation by the Football Association resulted in the player being suspended for 14 days. The supporters were also criticised for the fighting that took place in the stands. West Ham was also forced to post warning notices about future behaviour at home matches.
On 12th January 1907 West Ham played Blackpool in the FA Cup. West Ham won the game 2-1 in front of a home crowd of 13,000. It was the first time the club had beaten a side in the Football League. West Ham played Everton, one of the best clubs in the First Division in the next round. Despite a goal by Harry Stapley the club lost the game 2-1.
West Ham looked a much better balanced team in the 1906-1907 season. The defence that included George Kitchen, Frank Piercy, David Gardner, Len Jarvis, Tommy Allison and Bill Wildman, only conceded 41 goals in 38 games.
West Ham also had a potent forward line that season. Harry Stapley, the goal scoring schoolteacher hit the net 22 times. His strike partner, Lionel Watson, added 12 more. Billy Grassam also returned to form with 10 goals. This included a hat-trick against Portsmouth. All told, West Ham scored 60 goals that season.
A local lad from Barking, Tommy Randall, also made his debut for West Ham against Fulham in the last game of the season. Fulham, who had already been crowned champions, lost the game 4-1. This result pushed the Irons into 5th place. This was the best season since they had finished 4th in the 1901-1902 season.
The minutes of board meetings suggest that the club was deeply concerned about the behaviour of the players. As Charles Korr points out in his book, West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986): "Curfews were enforced on players, wages were held in trust for individuals who had drinking problems and a doctor's certificate was required for any failure to play or train."
Syd King appointed Frank Piercy as the new captain of West Ham United. He replaced David Gardner who had retired at the end of the 1906-07 season. The only signing of note was Danny Shea who had been spotted by the West Ham coach, Charlie Paynter, playing football for the Builders Arms pub team in Stratford.
The West Ham team now included Frank Piercy, Tommy Allison, Fred Blackburn, Arthur Featherstone, Billy Grassam, Alfred Harwood, Len Jarvis, George Kitchen, James Lindsay, Tommy Randall, Danny Shea, Harry Stapley, Archie Taylor, Lionel Watson, Bill Wildman and Robert Young.
The first game of the season was at home against Swindon Town. During the game Frank Piercy got involved in a fist fight with the veteran centre-half Charlie Bannister. This is how the Stratford Express described what happened between the two men: "Most of the spectators must have been made angry by the game which took place between West Ham and Swindon at Upton Park on Monday evening. Incidents which reflected discredit on those taking part were frequent, and eventually the game resolved itself into a scramble. One incident - a very regrettable one - will be enough to indicate the kind of game it was. In the second-half Swindon were leading by two goals. One of the Swindon defenders handled the ball, and a penalty was given by the referee. Grassam, in semi-darkness, converted the kick. A West Ham player was walking towards the centre of the field, after the penalty goal had been scored. A Swindon man, who was following him, either accidentally or purposely trod on his heels. The West Ham player - most likely without thinking - turned round and retaliated with his fist. The Swindon man required the services of the trainer before the game proceeded. It is a pity that such unseemly conduct should prevail amongst players of the great national game, for nothing will do more to jeopardise its popularity. And this was not the only incident which occurred; the players were not always particular about their methods of tackling. While everybody likes to see a vigorous display, it is not well to be too vigorous. Whether the matter will go any further it is impossible to say, but it certainly should."
The Football Association agreed with the reporter from the Stratford Express. The referee cautioned Frank Piercy and Charlie Bannister during the game. However, the FA thought this was too lenient and Piercy was banned for four weeks. Bannister, who started the trouble, received a six week suspension.
Frank Piercy was in trouble again when the club played Millwall on 26th October, 1907. Piercy's tackle resulted in Charlie Comrie, Millwall's left-half, being carried from "the field in an unconscious state". Piercy was sent off and suffered his second suspension of the season.
West Ham played Rotherham United in the first round of the FA Cup. Fred Blackburn scored the only goal of the game and this earned a trip to St James Park to face current Football League champions Newcastle United. In front of a 47,000 crowd West Ham put up a magnificent rear-guard performance. Unfortunately, George Kitchen, suffered a serious leg injury early in the second-half. Frank Piercy took over in goal but he was unable to stop Newcastle winning 2-0.
Danny Shea made his debut against Norwich City on 7th December, 1907. He scored three goals in 13 games. Harry Stapley was top scorer with 10 goals. As a schoolteacher he was unable to play in all the club's games and that year he made only 23 appearances. Whereas Billy Grassam, who finished in second-place with 9 goals, played in 32 games.
Scoring goals was a major problem in the 1907-08 season. They only managed 47 whereas the league champions Queen's Park Rangers scored 82. West Ham finished in 10th place that season.
The 1908 Olympic Games took place in London. West Ham's centre-forward, Harry Stapley was selected as a member of the squad. Vivian Woodward was captain of the England team that beat Sweden (12-1) and Holland (4-0) to reach the final against Denmark. England won the gold medal by beating Denmark 2-0 on 24th October, 1908.
West Ham started the season without the services of Harry Stapley who had taken a teaching job in Derbyshire. After scoring 41 goals in 71 appearances Stapley moved to Glossop in the Second Division of the Football League. Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, who was chairman of the club, employed Stapley as a private tutor and personal cricket and football coach to his sons.
Syd King bought Jack Foster, a centre-forward from Sunderland as a replacement for Harry Stapley. Other signings included William Yenson from Queen's Park Rangers and Herbert Ashton from Accrington Stanley. They joined a team that included Tommy Allison, Fred Blackburn, George Chalkley, Billy Grassam, Alfred Harwood, Len Jarvis, George Kitchen, Frank Piercy, Tommy Randall, Danny Shea, George Webb and Robert Young.
Jack Foster scored against Queen's Park Rangers on the opening day of the season. He also scored in his second game against Brighton & Hove Albion. On 10th October 1908 Foster hit an hat-trick against Portsmouth. He formed a great partnership with Danny Shea. On 28th December 1908, Shea scored four goals in a 4-0 victory against Plymouth Argyle. A few weeks later he added 3 more against Swindon Town.
Another promising youngster in the team was George Webb. He scored on his debut against Leyton on 9th April 1909. Like Harry Stapley he was an amateur and his business commitments meant that he was not available for every game. He was described by one football historian as "fast, had a great shot while a hefty physique made him even more redoubtable."
It was reported in the Ilford Recorder that the West Ham United directors were no longer selecting the team. It was stated that the task "has now been undertaken by Mr Syd King, who should know better than anybody the capabilities of his players.
Jack Foster remained in great form but after scoring 9 goals in 15 games he was sold to Southampton. Danny Shea continued to score goals but the loss of Foster had a bad impact on team performance and the club lost 7 of the next 13 games.
West Ham enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup. After a goalless draw at Queen's Park Rangers, a goal from Danny Shea settled the replay. West Ham had another away tie in the second round. Over 31,000 saw the Hammers gain a 1-1 draw against Leeds United at Elland Road. Shea scored both goals in West Ham 2-1 win at Upton Park.
On 12th December, 1908 West Ham led 3-1 in an away game against Norwich City. However, the ended up losing the game 6-3. It was the nearest they were to get in winning an away game in the 1908-09 season. This resulted in them finishing in 18th place in the Southern League. Danny Shea was the top scorer with 20 goals in 41 cup and league games.
Frank Cannon from Queen's Park Rangers was one of West Ham's new arrivals. Syd King also brought in Bob Fairman who had experience playing for Birmingham City in the Football League and Tommy Caldwell, a speedy left-winger from Southend United.
The season began with three wins against Exeter City (2-1), Norwich City (3-1) and Brentford (3-2). Danny Shea scored six of the club's first eight goals. Shea continued as he started but his fellow forwards failed to contribute on a regular basis and therefore the club remained in mid-table for most of the season.
West Ham beat Carlisle United 5-0 in the first round of the FA Cup. They did even better in the second round beating former FA cup winners, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 5-1, at Molineaux. In this match George Webb scored a hat-trick and Danny Shea got the other two. The Sportsman reported that: "At every point of the game West Ham United were superior to the Wanderers."
The The Athletic News, the country's main football newspaper, produced a long report on the game. "To say that West Ham sprung a surprise at Wolverhampton would to put it mildly. The fact is that most of those who assembled at the Molineux Grounds were inwardly convinced that their favourites would, in racing phraseology, romp home. But right from the kick off they were disillusioned."
For the second season in succession, West Ham were drawn against Queen's Park Rangers. The hugely talented George Webb gave the Hammers the lead but QPR equalized with a goal that should have been ruled offside. Over 18,000 watched the replay that went into extra-time before QPR's centre-forward, William Steer, grabbed the winner.
Appearances in the Southern League included Herbert Ashton (42), Fred Blackburn (42), Tommy Randall (39), Danny Shea (38), Bob Fairman (37), George Kitchen (36), Tommy Caldwell (35), Frank Piercy (29) and George Webb (18).
West Ham made a good start to the 1910-11 season and won four of their first six games of the season. Danny Shea was in great form scoring five goals in these games. On the last day of the year he scored four goals in West Ham's 6-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle. Shea was described as "an artful schemer and delicate dribbler who had the knack of wheeling suddenly when near goal and unleashing a thunderbolt shot."
Syd King signed William Kennedy, a school teacher, who had been playing for Northfleet. He scored on his debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on 5th November 1910. The following month the The Athletic News reported: "When Brighton opposed West Ham the other week at Upton Park, a wag pointed out that on one side there was a back named Blackman who was a fair man and on the other there was a back named Fairman who was a black man. The latter was Robert Fairman, the long, lithe dark featured player, who, by his good and consistently improving game, has made himself an immense favourite with the West Ham crowd". The journalist was talking about Bob Fairman who had been a great success since arriving from Birmingham City.
West Ham had another good FA Cup run. Danny Shea got both goals in their 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest. The game was played in thick fog. The East Ham Echo reported that "the game was nothing more or less than a pure farce under the conditions and description is out of the question." In an interview he gave to the All Sports magazine many years later, Shea confessed to punching both goals into the net."
The West Ham board of directors decided to double admission prices for the second-round tie against Preston North End to a shilling. As a result only 13,000 spectators turned up to see the game. George Webb was the star of the game, scoring a hat-trick in the club's 3-0 victory.
In the next round West Ham was drawn against Manchester United. Again admission costs were doubled but this time over 27,000 fans turned up to see the game. The East Ham Echo reported: "Every vantage point was seized upon by the spectators. Some climbed up the telegraph pole, others sat on the top of advertisement hoardings and looked every minute as if they would topple over, while others seated themselves on the top of the covered stand. Round the banks there was one huge mass of humanity, packed like sardines in a box but all as happy as could be."
West Ham won the game 2-1 with goals from Danny Shea and Tommy Caldwell. The Morning Leader reported: "The height of human happiness appeared to have been reached at Upton Park on Saturday when West Ham United in the last two minutes of a match of thrills provided the crowning sensation of a winning goal in the cup-tie with Manchester United. It was in every way a great achievement which will be best remembered by the ecstasy of the East End crowd that gave itself over to a headlong joy it was a privilege to share."
Blackburn Rovers were drawn against West Ham in the 4th round of the cup. Although the game was to be played at Upton Park the First Division side was expected to win the game. James A. Catton, the most famous football writer of the time, was sent by Athletic News, to report on the game. He was impressed by what he saw: "I must confess to being charmed by the Southern forwards. As a body more talented more thrustful more tricky and swifter in their enveloping movements than the Rovers. The rest of the 11 did not attain the same standard. The half-backs were honest plodders, the full-backs hardly up to a first-class club standard, and the goalkeeper, Kitchen, not so faultless as I have seen him."
James A. Catton went on to say: "I should doubt that there has been a finer Cup-tie this season. I cannot recall having seen a more entertaining match.... West Ham have had a splendid run of success, and have no need to feel the least discredited by this overthrow."
George Webb became the first West Ham player to win an international cap for England on 14th March 1911. England beat Wales 3-0 and Webb scored one of the goals. Webb also played in the game against Scotland (1-1) on 1st April 1911.
Syd King brought in Fred Harrison from Fulham in April 1911. Harrison scored the winning goal against Southampton but he was unable to prevent the team only gaining one point in their last three games. West Ham finished in 5th place that year. Top scorers were Danny Shea (28), George Webb (13), Herbert Ashton (6), Tommy Caldwell (4) and William Kennedy (4).
Tommy Randall replaced Frank Piercy as West Ham's captain in the 1911-12 season. Vic Glover of Southampton was the only new signing. Glover joined a team that included Herbert Ashton, Fred Blackburn, George Butcher, Tommy Caldwell, Bob Fairman, Fred Harrison, William Kennedy, Frank Piercy, Tommy Randall, Danny Shea and George Webb.
West Ham got off to a bad start to the season, winning only once in the first seven games. They won their eighth game 7-4 against Brentford, with both Danny Shea and William Kennedy scoring hat-tricks. This was followed by another defeat and the Hammers found themselves in the bottom half of the league.
Arnold Hills, West Ham's main shareholder, was suffering financial problems in the 1911-12 season. Hills, the chairman of the Thames Iron Works & Shipbuilding Company, complained that most of the new government orders were going to the northern shipyards of the Tyne and Clyde. On 1st January, 1912, Hills attended a protest meeting in Trafalgar Square before visiting the offices of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Hills was carried in on a stretcher and the Daily Mail described him as the "invalid builder of Dreadnoughts". The Thames Iron Works, the last great shipbuilder on the Thames, was closed down on 21st December, 1912.
Once again West Ham had a good run in the FA Cup defeating Gainsborough Trinity 2-1 on 3rd January 1912. George Webb and Fred Harrison got the goals. Harrison was also on target in the 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park. In the replay at Upton Park West Ham won with goals from Harrison and Herbert Ashton. This was a great achievement as Middlesbrough was sitting high in the First Division at the time. William Kennedy badly injured his knee in this game and did not play again.
On 20th January 1912 Frank Piercy was injured playing against Plymouth Argyle. After playing 214 games for the club he decided to retire from the game. Piercy was then appointed assistant trainer under Charlie Paynter.
West Ham finished in 13th place in the 1911-12 season. Top scorer was Danny Shea with 24 games in 36 league games. Fred Harrison also did well in his first full season at the club with 13 goals. Other scorers included William Kennedy (6), George Webb (4) and Herbert Ashton (3).
In July 1912 George Webb joined Manchester City in the First Division of the Football League. He had scored 32 cup and league goals for West Ham United. However, after playing the first two games of the season for his new club he resigned when he discovered that a transfer fee had been paid for his services. Webb now decided to retire from football. It is possible that his health was in decline because he died of consumption in 1915.
George Hilsdon returned to West Ham at the beginning of the 1912-13 season on a free transfer. He had been sold to Chelsea in 1906. He was an immediate success scoring five goals on his debut. That season his 26 goals helped Chelsea to get promoted to the First Division. In 1907 he won his first international cap for England. Hilsdon scored an amazing 14 goals in 8 international games.
The Fulham Observer reported after one game: "Hilsdon did very little at centre-forward with the exception of the one goal he scored. Perhaps he is unable to concentrate on the game." Another reporter stated: "He had become too sociable, too careless with his strength and vitality". It was rumoured that Hilsdon had a serious drink problem and he was dropped from the first-team. The East Ham Echo reported that during his first home game Hilsdon "had to run the gauntlet of some very uncomplimentary remarks from part of the stand".
Syd King also signed Albert Denyer. A centre-forward, he had been scoring lots of goals in amateur football. He joined a forward line that included Danny Shea, Fred Harrison, Herbert Ashton and George Hilsdon.
West Ham opened the campaign with a 4-0 victory over Exeter City. This was followed by wins against Watford (2-0), Plymouth Argyle (3-1), Southampton (3-1), Gillingham (4-0), Queen's Park Rangers (1-0), Swindon Town (4-1), Portsmouth (2-0) and Stoke City (5-0). West Ham suffered the occasional reverse, for example they lost 4-1 to Brentford, but it was clear that the club was in a position to challenge for the Southern League title.
George Hilsdon played at inside-left, with Fred Harrison at centre-forward and Danny Shea at inside-right. The combination played well together. As the East Ham Echo pointed out: "Good as Shea has always been, he is 20 per cent better since the introduction of Hilsdon."
Danny Shea was again top scorer with 15 goals in 22 games. Therefore the West Ham fans were devastated when Shea was sold to Blackburn Rovers in January 1913. Blackburn had won the First Division of the Football League title in the 1911-12 season. They struggled for goals the following season and decided to pay a British record transfer fee of £2,000 for Shea, who had scored 103 goals in a 166 games for West Ham.
In the FA Cup West Ham was once again drawn against a First Division side. West Bromwich Albion, beaten finalist the previous year, was fully expected to beat West Ham at the Hawthorns. However, the game finished 1-1 with Fred Harrison scoring West Ham's goal. On Thursday afternoon of the same week George Hilsdon scored two goals to earn the Hammers another draw. The second replay took place at Stamford Bridge. This time the result was conclusive with Hilsdon and Albert Denyer scoring the goals in the 3-0 victory.
The Morning Leader reported: "A good many people all over the country will rub their eyes when they read that West Ham beat West Bromwich Albion in the first round of the cup by three goals to nil. It was of course quite on the cards that West Ham would win, but a victory by three clear goals was undreamt of. The Midlanders have done enough this season to show that they are one of the best teams in England."
West Ham had to play Aston Villa, who were challenging for the First Division league title at the time, in the following round. The team included players of the quality of Sam Hardy, Andy Ducat, Harry Hampton, Harold Halse, Alex Leake, George Tranter, Howard Spencer, Clem Stephenson and Joe Bache. It was no real surprise when Villa won the game 5-0.
West Ham began a good run of form in January 1913 and a team that included George Hilsdon, Dan Bailey, Fred Harrison, George Butcher, Herbert Ashton, Albert Denyer, and Jack Casey went through the rest of the season unbeaten. This included 7 games won and 8 games drawn.
On 15th February 1913 West Ham United played Southampton. The East Ham Echo reported that: "Hilsdon was once more the master-mind of the attack, and it would be difficult to estimate his share in placing the Hammers fifth in the Southern League table this season as against twelfth at the same period last year."
West Ham finished the season in 3rd place, the highest ever position in the Southern League. George Hilsdon ended up top scorer with 17 goals in 36 cup and league games. Albert Denyer also did well with 12 in 33 games. However, they clearly missed the goals of Danny Shea in the second half of the season.
Syd Kingused some of this money to buy Richard Leafe. Although only 20 years old he had scored 15 goals in 28 games for Sheffield United in the 1911-12 season. Another recruit was Tom Lonsdale, a goalkeeper from Grimsby Town. King also signed Tommy Brandon, the son of Tom Brandon, the famous Scottish international who had won a FA Cup winners' medal with Blackburn Rovers in 1891.
The West Ham United squad that year included Herbert Ashton, Dan Bailey, Fred Blackburn, George Butcher, Tommy Brandon, Jack Casey, Albert Denyer, George Hilsdon, Richard Leafe, Syd Puddefoot, Tommy Randall, Arthur Stallard and Jack Tresadern.
West Ham United played Millwall in the first game of the season. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with George Hilsdon getting the goal. Richard Leafe was brought into the team for the next game against Swindon Town and scored both goals in the 3-2 defeat. Leafe went on to score in his next three games.
On 22nd November, 1913, Syd Puddefoot, a local lad, was brought into the team against Gillingham. West Ham won 3-1 and Puddefoot scored one of the goals. He developed a great partnership with fellow strikers, Dan Bailey and Richard Leafe and was an ideal replacement for Danny Shea who was now playing in the First Division of the Football League. The introduction of Puddefoot meant that George Hilsdon was dropped from the first-team.
The East Ham Echo argued that: "He (Puddefoot) is a young player who should develop into a first class centre forward. He has plenty of dash and pluck, feeds his wings and partners well, and is ever ready to take advantage of the least slip on the part of the opposition." As John Northcutt and Roy Shoesmith pointed out in their book, West Ham United: An Illustrated History (1994): "The 19-year-old Syd Puddefoot arrived and he found the net on 13 occasions in his first 11 games."
In a game against Watford in March 1914, Syd Puddefoot suffered a serious ankle injury. West Ham was leading at the time but the game was soon after abandoned because of torrential rain. Puddefoot was out for the rest of the season. To make matters worse Watford won the re-run game 6-0.
Jack Tresadern made his debut on 1st April 1914. This highly talented player was only to play four games that season but after the First World War was to become a key player in the side. Arthur Stallard, another talented youngster, was brought into the team to play Millwall on 14th April 1914. He scored on his debut in the 3-2 victory. George Hilsdon got the other two goals.
Syd Puddefoot established an FA Cup goal scoring record for the club on 10th January, 1914, when he scored five times in an 8-1 victory over Chesterfield. He also scored against Liverpool in the 3rd round but unfortunately West Ham lost the game 5-1.
On 14th January 1914, Tom Lonsdale was reported to be "absent without leave". The West Ham board of directors decided to fine him a week's wages and to demote him to the reserve team. Lonsdale did not regain his first-team place until the game against Crystal Palace on 28th February 1914.
Injuries to Richard Leafe and Syd Puddefoot brought George Hilsdon back into the first team and he scored two goals against Millwall on 14th April 1914. The East Ham Echo reported that Hilsdon scored "with one of those terrific shots for which he is famed, but which we have seen all too few of late."
West Ham won only one more game after the injury of Syd Puddefoot and ended up the season in 6th place. Richard Leafe was top scorer with 21 goals. Puddefoot was second in the list with 16 in 20 cup and league games. Jack Casey (7 in 24), George Hilsdon (6 in 17), Albert Denyer (5 in 17) and Dan Bailey (5 in 20) were disappointing and despite the goalscoring activities of Leafe and Puddefoot, the club only scored 60 league goals that season.
Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August, 1914. Cricket and rugby competitions stopped almost immediately after the outbreak of the First World War. However, the Football League continued with the 1914-15 season. Most football players were professionals and were tied to clubs through one-year renewable contracts. Players could only join the armed forces if the clubs agreed to cancel their contracts.
On 7th August, 1914, Lord Kitchener , the war minister, immediately began a recruiting campaign by calling for men aged between 19 and 30 to join the British Army. At first this was very successful with an average of 33,000 men joining every day. Three weeks later Kitchener raised the recruiting age to 35 and by the middle of September over 500,000 men had volunteered their services.
On 6th September 1914, Arthur Conan Doyle, appealed for footballers to join the armed forces: "There was a time for all things in the world. There was a time for games, there was a time for business, and there was a time for domestic life. There was a time for everything, but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If the cricketer had a straight eye let him look along the barrel of a rifle. If a footballer had strength of limb let them serve and march in the field of battle." Some newspapers suggested that those who did not join up were "contributing to a German victory."
Frederick Charrington, the son of the wealthy brewer who had established the Tower Hamlets Mission, attacked the West Ham United players for being effeminate and cowardly for getting paid for playing football while others were fighting on the Western Front. The famous amateur footballer and cricketer, Charles B. Fry, called for the abolition of football, demanding that all professional contracts be annulled and that no one below forty years of age be allowed to attend matches.
West Ham had high hopes that they could win the Southern League for the first time and refused to cancel the contracts of their professional players. In Syd Puddefoot they had the country's most promising young goalscorer. The only significant new signing that year was Joe Webster from Watford.
West Ham won six of their first 12 games. Syd Puddefoot got nine goals during this period. George Hilsdon and Richard Leafe were also in good form and got 7 between them. Once again West Ham were challenging for the Southern League title.
In October 1914, the Secretary of State, Lord Kitchener, issued a call for volunteers to both replace those killed in the early battles of the First World War. At the beginning of the war the army had strict specifications about who could become soldiers. Men joining the army had to be at least 5ft 6in tall and a chest measurement of 35 inches. However, these specifications were changed in order to get more men to join the armed forces.
The Bishop of Chelmsford paid a visit in Bethnal Green where he gave a sermon on the need for professional footballers to join the armed services. The Stratford Express reported on 2nd December 1914: " The Bishop, in an address on Duty, spoke of the magnificent response that had been made to the call to duty from the King. All must play their part. They must not let their brothers go to the front and themselves remain indifferent. He felt that the cry against professional football at the present time was right. He could not understand men who had any feeling, any respect for their country, men in the prime of life, taking large salaries at a time like this for kicking a ball about. It seemed to him something incongruous and unworthy".
William Joynson Hicksestablished the 17th Service (Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment on 12th December, 1914. This group became known as the Football Battalion. According to Frederick Wall, the secretary of the Football Association, the England international centre-half, Frank Buckley, was the first person to join the Football Battalion. At first, because of the problems with contracts, only amateur players like Vivian Woodward, and Evelyn Lintott were able to sign-up.
As Frank Buckley had previous experience in the British Army he was given the rank of Lieutenant. He eventually was promoted to the rank of Major. Within a few weeks the 17th Battalion had its full complement of 600 men. However, few of these men were footballers. Most of the recruits were local men who wanted to be in the same battalion as their football heroes. For example, a large number who joined were supporters of Chelsea and Queen's Park Rangers who wanted to serve with Vivian Woodward and Evelyn Lintott.
Under considerable pressure from the Football Association eventually backed down and called for football clubs to release professional footballers who were not married, to join the armed forces. The FA also agreed to work closely with the War Office to encourage football clubs to organize recruiting drives at matches.
The Athletic News responded angrily: "The whole agitation is nothing less than an attempt by the ruling classes to stop the recreation on one day in the week of the masses ... What do they care for the poor man's sport? The poor are giving their lives for this country in thousands. In many cases they have nothing else... These should, according to a small clique of virulent snobs, be deprived of the one distraction that they have had for over thirty years."
Three members of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee visited Upton Park during half-time to call for volunteers. Joe Webster, the West Ham United goalkeeper, was one of those who joined the Football Battalion as a result of this appeal. Jack Tresadern joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. An intelligent man, he quickly reached the rank of lieutenant.
West Ham United supporters also formed their own Pals Battalion. The 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham Pals) were part of the Essex Regiment. On 5th March 1915 the East Ham Echo reported that Henry Dyer, the Mayor of West Ham, held a concert on behalf of the West Ham Battalion: "During the evening the Mayor briefly addressed the men. He remarked that it was the first time he had the opportunity of speaking to the Battalion as a whole. He was proud of them and when they had gone away a close watch upon their movements would be kept."
In his book War Hammers: The Story of West Ham United During the First World War, Brian Belton argues that the battle cry of the West Ham Pals was "Up the Irons." They saw action at the Somme, Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Cambrai. The war took a terrible toll on these men. Over the next three years the battalion suffered casualties of 37,404 killed, wounded and missing.
West Ham was once again drawn against Newcastle United in the FA Cup. Despite two goals from Richard Leafe, Newcastle earned a 2-2 draw. As a result of the war effort, FA Cup replays were prohibited in midweek so that the tie had its second performance at St James Park the following Saturday. Newcastle won the game 3-2.
Syd Puddefoot remained in great form and scored 18 goals in 35 games in the 1914-15 season. Richard Leafe (13 in 30) and Arthur Stallard (7 in 11) also made impressive contributions. However, the club was only able to manage only one point in their last four games and could only finish in 4th place in the league.
Attendances at league games fell dramatically during the second-half of the season because of the impact of the First World War. It was decided that the Southern League would not operate in the 1915-16 season. As football players only had contracts to play for one season at a time, they were now out of work. It has been estimated that around 2,000 of Britain's 5,000 professional footballers now joined the armed forces. This included most of the West Ham team.
Not all the West Ham players joined the armed forces. According to Brian Belton, the author of War Hammers, The Story of West Ham United During the First World War (2007): "Syd Puddefoot, worked long, exhausting and often dangerous shifts in munitions factories."
Five former West Ham United players were killed in action during the war: Fred Griffiths, Arthur Stallard, William Jones, Frank Cannon and William Kennedy. West Ham's star forward, George Hilsdon, had to endure a mustard gas attack at Arras in 1917. This badly damaged his lungs and although he played briefly for Chatham Town after the war it brought an end to his professional football career. Fred Harrison was also badly gassed on the Western Front and never played football again.
Major Frank Buckley kept a record of what happened to the men under his command in the Football Battalion. He later wrote that by the mid-1930s over 500 of the battalion's original 600 men were dead, having either been killed in action or dying from wounds suffered during the fighting.