Syd King was born in Chatham in August, 1873. After being educated at Watford Grammar School he found work at an ordnance depot. A talented footballer, he played at right-back with Northfleet United in the Kent League. In 1897 he moved to New Brompton (Gillingham).
In 1899 Francis Payne, Thames Iron Works' secretary, was given the task of finding good players for the club's 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 signed several players including King, who at the time was considered to be the most promising full backs in the country and Derby County, one of the best teams in England, challenged Thames Iron Works for his signature.
Over the next few years Syd King developed a good partnership with Charles Craig, a left-back from Dundee. Syd King suffered a bad ankle injury against Tottenham Hotspur on 10th March, 1899. This ruled him out for the rest of the season. King played 28 games the following season.
In the 1901-02 King was part of the highly successful West Ham United team that included players like Hugh Mounteith, Fergus Hunt, Freddie Fenton, George Radcliffe, James Reid, Albert Kaye, Billy Grassam, Charlie Dove, Roderick McEachrane, Fred Corbett, Walter Tranter and Charles Craig that finished 4th in Division 1 of the Southern League.
Syd King, who had received a very good grammar school education, was seen as more intelligent than most players and at the end of the 1901-02 season was appointed as club secretary/manager. He continued to play but injuries restricted his appearances and he retired from the game after playing against Kettering Town on 15th April, 1903. King had played a total of 89 games for the club.
West Ham United lost their prolific scorer, Billy Grassam, to Manchester United before the start of the 1903-1904 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 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.
Attendances at games, compared to their close rivals, remained disappointing. One reason for this was no nearby railway station. West Ham United 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 West Ham financial crisis meant that King was forced to sell Charles Satterthwaite and William Kirby. Satterthwaite, who scored 18 of West Ham's 38 goals, was transferred to Arsenal and Kirby returned to Swindon Town. West Ham also lost two of their most talented youngsters, James Bigden (Arsenal) and William Barnes (Luton). While Herbert Lyon, who scored two goals in his debut as centre-forward, 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.
Syd King also recruited Charlie Simmons (West Bromwich Albion), Frank Piercy (Middlesbrough) 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.
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) and Christopher Carrick (6). West Ham also gave promising youngster, George Hilsdon, seven games, in which he scored 4 goals.
At the beginning of the 1905-06 season, Syd King recruited George Kitchen, a goalkeeper, from Everton. His most important signing was Fred Blackburn, who had such a good goal-scoring record at Blackburn Rovers that he had played for England against Scotland in 1901. Billy Grassam, who had been such a prolific scorer between 1900-04, returned to West Ham United after a season playing for Manchester United.
King also persuaded the highly experienced James Jackson to join the club. He had built up a good reputation as a tough-tackling full-back while playing for Glasgow Rangers, Newcastle United and Arsenal. Harry Stapley, a school teacher, who refused to become a professional player, was signed from local side, Woodford Town.
West Ham also lost the talented youngster, George Hilsdon, to Chelsea. He had been injured the previous season and while recovering he was seen by the Chelsea manager, John Robertson, playing for the reserves. He later wrote: "I never even set eyes on the player I went specially to see. They were glued all the time to the inside-left; a cockney lad, 19 years of age... If I get him he'll be our first team centre-forward next season."
Roberton's prediction was correct and Hilsdon went on to score 26 goals that season, and was a major factor in Chelsea's promotion to the First Division. Hilsdon also went on to play for England.
The loss of talented youngsters to league sides was a common story during the first five years of the 20th century. Other talented West Ham United youngsters who left the club during this period included William Barnes, Bill Yenson, James Bigden and Dick Pudan. 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."
West Ham had only a moderate season that year, winning only 14 of its 34 games. The Irons scored 42 goals against 39 conceded. The club also lost in the first round of the FA Cup against Woolwich Arsenal. After a 1-1 draw at Upton Park that was watched by 18,000 spectators, Arsenal won the replay 3-2.
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 looked a much better balanced team that 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 that season. His strike partner, Lionel Watson, added 12 more. Billy Grassam also returned to form with 10 goals. 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.
West Ham United was elected to the Second Division of the Football League after the First World War. The club decided to increase the admission price to 1 shilling (5p). Over 20,000 turned up to Upton Park to see the first league game against Lincoln City on 30 August 1919. The game ended up in a 1-1 draw.
The club finished in 7th place in the Second Division in the 1919-1920 season. The following season the club finished in 5th place. George Kay, the captain of West Ham, had been purchased from Bolton Wanderers for a fee of £100. A small group of young local players such as Syd Puddefoot, Jack Tresadern, Edward Hufton, Sid Bishop, George Carter and Jimmy Ruffell had also arrived in the first-team.
The star of the side was Syd Puddefoot who had scored 107 goals in 194 games for the club. The team relied heavily on Puddefoot's goals and it was great shock to the fans when Syd King sold him to Falkirk for the British record fee of £5,000 in February 1925. Puddefoot had netted 107 goals in 194 games for the club.
As the authors of the The Essential History of West Ham United (2000) pointed out that his departure "nearly caused a riot among Hammers fans". However, the club blamed Puddefoot in a statement issued after his transfer: "The departure of Syd Puddefoot came as no surprise to those intimately connected with him. It is an old saying that everyone has one chance in life to improve themselves and Syd Puddefoot is doing the right thing for himself in studying his future. We understand that he will be branching out in commercial circles in Falkirk and when his football days are over he will be assured of a nice little competency."
The truth of the matter was that Syd Puddefoot was very reluctant to move to Scotland to play for Falkirk. However, at this time footballers had little control over these matters. At the time of his departure, it looked like West Ham United would win promotion to the First Division. However, without their top goalscorer, the club lost five of their last seven games and finished in 4th place at the end of the 1921-22 season.
However, Syd King used the money wisely and purchased three talented players: Billy Henderson from Aberdare Athletic (£650), Dick Richards from Wolves (£300) and Billy Moore from Sunderland (£300). He was also convinced that the young Vic Watson would be even better than the departed Syd Puddefoot.
According to Jimmy Ruffell, it was trainer Charlie Paynter who decided on the team's tactics: "Syd King was a good manager. But he left a lot of the day-to-day stuff to our trainer Charlie Paynter. It was Charlie that most of us talked to about anything. Syd King was more about doing deals to get players to play for West Ham."
The new line-up took a while to settle down at the start to the 1921-22 season, winning only three of their first fourteen games. This put them in 18th place and it looked like that the club had no chance of getting promotion that year.
The turning point came with a 1-0 victory over Clapton Orient on 18th November, 1921. West Ham won nine of their next eleven games. The forward line of Jimmy Ruffell, Billy Moore, Vic Watson, Billy Brown and Dick Richards began to click. As Ruffell pointed out: "West Ham were a good passing team. Most of the time you had an idea where men were or men would make themselves ready to get the ball from another player. I think we were one of the few clubs to really practice that. Then, with their good forward line, Vic Watson, Bill Moore and I was okay too, West Ham always had a chance at getting a goal."
West Ham United also beat Hull City 3-2 in the 1st Round of the FA Cup on 13th January, 1923. They faced Brighton & Hove Albion in the 2nd round. After a 1-1 draw they beat them 1-0 in the replay. This was followed by a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle. However, they took three games before the eventually beat Southampton 1-0 on 19th March, to reach the semi-final for the first time in their history.
West Ham was also in good form in the league going on a 10 match unbeaten run since the start of the new year. This included a 6-0 victory on 15th February away from home against Leicester City, one of their main rivals for the championship. Notts County and Manchester United were also doing well that season so it appeared that four clubs were fighting for the two promotion places.
On 24th March, 1923, West Ham played Derby County in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge in front of a 50,000 crowd. Derby, who had not lost a goal so far in the competition was expected to win the game. George Kerr, a 17-year-old supporter who lived in Boleyn Road, was one of those who watched the game. "For the first few minutes the ball hardly left the Hammers' half. Then Hufton took a goal-kick straight down the middle. Watson trapped the ball then swung around hitting it out to the left about 10 yards ahead of Ruffell who took it in his stride and carried it about another 20 yards before he swung over a slightly lofted centre which Brown volleyed into the top left-hand corner of the net."
The goal by Billy Brown was followed by another one from Billy Moore. After ten minutes West Ham had a two goal lead. Further goals by Brown, Moore and Jimmy Ruffell gave the Hammers an easy 5-2 victory.
The Daily Mail argued that: "West Ham have never played finer football. It was intelligent, it was clever, and it was dashing. They were quick, they dribbled and swerved, and passed and ran as if the ball was to them a thing of life and obedient to their wishes. They were the master tacticians, and it was by their tactics that they gained... Every man always seemed to be in his place, and the manner in which the ball was flashed from player to player - often without the man who parted from it taking the trouble to look - but with the assistance that his colleague was where he ought to be - suggested the well-assembled parts of a machine, all of which were in perfect working order."
The prospect of playing their first FA Cup Final did not damage their league form. A week later West Ham United beat Crystal Palace 5-1 with Vic Watson scoring four of the goals. They followed this with a 5-2 win over Bury. There were also wins against Hull City (3-0) and Fulham (2-0). However, with the title in their grasp, pre-cup nerves set in and the club lost games against Barnsley and Notts County in the weeks preceeding the final that was to be the first to be held at the Empire Stadium at Wembley.
The new stadium had just been built by Robert McAlpine for the British Empire Exhibition of 1923. It was originally intended intended to be demolished at the end of the Exhibition. However, it was later decided to keep the building to host football matches. The first match was to be the 1923 Cup Final and it was only completed four days before the game was due to take place.
To Syd King, promotion to the First Division was the most important objective and he consistently played his strongest team in the league, giving no one a rest. As a result, West Ham also had injury problems and Jimmy Ruffell, Edward Hufton, Vic Watson and Jack Young all faced fitness tests on the morning of the final.
The Empire Stadium had a capacity of 125,000 and so the Football Association did not consider making it an all-ticket match. After all, both teams only had an average attendance of around 20,000 for league games. However, it was rare for a club from London to make the final of the FA Cup and supporters of other clubs in the city saw it as a North v South game.
Jimmy Ruffell commented that getting to the FA Cup Final was very important to the people living in the area: "It seemed like the most wonderful thing anyone had done as far as anything to do with West Ham was concerned... It was a hard time for most people around the East End. That was the best thing about it really; giving people, kids, something to smile about." It has to be remembered that in the 1920s an average of 150 Britons died every day as a consequence of malnutrition. A significant percentage of these people lived in the East End of London.
The Bolton Evening News reported: "It is computed that fully 250,000 people made their way to the imposing and spacious ground form all parts of the Empire, all anxious to see the blue riband of the football world decided. About 60,000 people had passed inside the turnstiles when pandemonium broke loose. One of the main exits was broken down and thousands of people surged inside the enclosure, and from that moment the situation showed signs of getting out of hand. People scaled high walls and clambered into seats for which others had paid. Such was the pressure on the ringside fences that they gave way. The crowd rushed across the large cinder track which encircles the playing pitch, and in an incredibly short time the beautiful greensward was occupied by a black uncontrollable mass. The police, apparently taken by surprise, were for a time powerless to deal with the situation and even after more officers, mounted and on foot, had been rushed to the ground, the task of clearing the playing pitch was a tediously slow process."
According to The Times newspaper, about a 1,000 people were injured attempting to get into Wembley Stadium that day. The spectators at the front were pushed onto the field making it impossible for the game to get started. For a while it seemed that the game would have to be postponed. However, in the words of one East Ham Echo reporter, "...then came the miracle. Half a dozen mounted policeman arrived on the scene, and working from the centre of the pitch by great efforts, filched a little more space from the crowd, which the cordon of police endeavoured to hold.... But wonders of wonders was the work of an inspector on a dashing white horse." The inspector on the white horse was G. A. Story and as a result of these efforts the game began after a 40 minute delay.
Jimmy Ruffell was later interviewed about the game: "Most of the people at Wembley seemed to be Londoners. Well, the ones I saw seemed to be. As we tried to make our way out onto the field everyone was slapping us on the back and grabbing our hands to shake them. By the time I got to the centre of the pitch my poor shoulder was aching."
West Ham trainer, Charlie Paynter, complained: "When the players of both sides got on the pitch there seemed quite a hundred London supporters to every Bolton supporter. My boys were slapped and pulled about, while the Bolton players got through practically unscathed. Unfortunately Ruffell, who had just got over an injured shoulder, which was naturally tender; and Tresadern both received severe shakings before they reached the pitch... It was a pitch made for us until folks tramped all over the place. when the game started it was hopeless. Our wingers, Ruffell and Richards were tripping in great ruts and holes... The pitch had been torn up badly by the crowd and the horses wandering over it."
The game eventually started 43 minutes late. In the second minute Jack Tresadern got stuck in the crowd after going in to retrieve the ball for a throw in. Before he could get back onto the field, the ball was sent into the West Ham United penalty area. Jack Young gained possession of the ball but he gave it away to Jimmy Seddon. The ball was then passed to David Jack. According to The Times reporter at the game: "Jack feinted to pass out to Butler; when the pass looked as good as made, he dribbled inside to the left, went through the West Ham United defence at a great pace and scored from close in with a hard high shot into the right-hand corner of the net."
Three minutes later, Dick Pym, the Bolton goalkeeper, missed a corner-kick from Jimmy Ruffell and the usually reliable Vic Watson, blasted the ball over the crossbar. The Times journalist covering the game wrote: "Pym, misjudging a perfectly taken corner by Ruffell, came out of goal and missed the ball. The ball came to Watson, who had an open goal yawning only a few yards in front of him. How he managed to kick the ball over the cross-bar instead of into the net one cannot imagine; if a player tried to do it, the odds against him would be generous. Watson, however, did fail to score."
Soon afterwards West Ham United had another chance when Dick Richards finished off a brilliant dribble with a clever shot that Dick Pym managed to save. After 13 minutes the game was brought to a halt after the crowd spilled on to the pitch in front of the main stand. It was another ten minutes before the mounted police cleared the pitch and the match could resume.
Once the game had restarted Joe Smith appeared to scored from a clever centre from Billy Butler but was ruled offside. Bolton were the better team in the first-half and the East Ham Echo reported that this was "because they were more experienced and better fitted temperamentally to stand the strains of the extraordinary conditions."
The teams did not leave the field at half-time but crossed over and resumed play after a five-rninutes' interval. West Ham United began the second half well and Vic Watson just failed to convert a cross from George Kay. This was followed by another near miss. According to George Kerr: "It was a hard low cross from Richards on the right wing arriving about chest-high outside the six-yard box. Watson went for it and had he contacted he must have scored but Pym, the goalie, managed to get his hand to it, knocking it down and collecting it."
In the 54th minute Joe Smith received a pass from Ted Vizard and volleyed against the underside of the bar. The referee ruled that it had crossed the line, before rebounding back into play. Bolton Wanderers now had a two-goal lead.
West Ham United continued to press forward but failed to make anymore chances. The Daily Mirror reported: "The prescence of the crowd on the touchlines considerably hampered the work of the wingers." Jimmy Ruffell later admitted: "It was a hard game for West Ham to play as the field had been churned up so bad by horses and the crowd that had been on the pitch well before the game. West Ham made a lot of the wings and you just couldn't run them for the crowd that were right up close to the line."
According to the Stratford Express: "It was a tame finish to a disappointing match, spoiled of all its interest by the lamentable conditions under which it was decided... Bolton won because they more nearly approached their more usual form than West Ham did, and because they were less upset by the unusual happenings. On the day's play they were the better side, and deserved their victory."
After the game Syd King remarked that: "I'm too disappointed to talk. I want't to forget it." However, Charlie Paynter, the trainer, pointed out that Rule 5 was constantly broken during the FA Cup Final. "It is pure imagination for anyone to say that the touchlines were clear. They were not." Rule 5 states that the player making the throw-in has to be behind the touchline. This rarely happened during the game.
The East Ham Echo reported: "There is talk of a protest to the FA against regarding the game as the FA Cup Final, but disappointed and disatisfied as they must be with in the West Ham directors and their team are too good sports to do that." Syd King then issued a statement: "Although inundated with requests to lodge a protest against the result of the final tie, the directors of the West Ham club are satisfied that they were beaten by the better team on the day (under the conditions in which the match was played) but they do consider that the responsible officials of both clubs should have been informed at half-time as to whether the match was to be a Cup-tie or not; as in their opinion the match was not played under the rules of the FA (particularly with regard to Rule 5). Rule 5, deals with the conditions under which the ball shall be thrown from the touchline, but on Saturday the crowd were on the touchline practically all the time."
Only 48 hours after the final West Ham United had to play preultimate game in the 1922-23 season. The players held their nerve and beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough 2-0 with goals from Vic Watson and Billy Moore. The Hammers were top of the league on goal average. However, Leicester City and Notts County both had the same number of points. With only the top two going up, if West Ham lost their last game, they could still fail to get promoted.
The last fixtures of 1922-23 paired West Ham United with Notts County and Leicester City and Bury. Over 26,000 fans turned up to Upton Park to see the game against their promotion rivals on 5th May 1923. Although the home team pushed forward they found it difficult to create any real good chances. In the 38th minute, disaster struck as inside-forward, Harold Hill, put County ahead. The good news was that at Bury was leading Leicester City by a single goal at half-time.
George Kerr reported that "the second-half began much as before, with the Hammers striving hard but creating little in the way of scoring chances." The game at Gigg Lane had started 15 minutes earlier than the one at Upton Park and at 4.30 the West Ham fans began to look towards the North Bank. Kerr observed what was taking place: "The half-time scoreboard was situated in an elevated position at the rear of the North Bank. At the extreme right as we looked at it was a cubby-hole with a telephone and in which the operator was housed. We noticed that he was walking along the gang-plank to the opposite end and having reached it adjacent to the sign which would indicate the score of the Leicester City v Bury match, he marked the full-time result - 0-1 to Bury. Immediately the mood of the crowd was transformed from one of utter dejection to complete ecstasy."
West Ham was unable to score and the game resulted in a 1-0 victory to Notts County, who not only got promoted but had won the Second Division championship. However, West Ham had a better goal average than Leicester City and joined County in the First Division. It now became clear of the significance of the 6-0 victory at Filbert Street on 15th February. Without this result, it would have been Leicester who would have been promoted.
The form of the West Ham players had impressed the English selectors and both Vic Watson and Jack Tresadern were selected to play in the game against Scotland at Hampden Park. This was very unusual for Second Division players to be called-up for such an important game. Sid Bishop, Edward Hufton, Billy Brown, Billy Moore and Jimmy Ruffell also played for England over the next couple of years. Dick Richards was also a regular with Wales during this period. Eight of the West Ham team who played in the 1923 FA Cup Final became internationals. At 32 years old, George Kay, the West Ham captain was considered to be too old to be selected. Billy Henderson was called up to the England squad but a serious knee injury that brought an early end to his career stopped him from representing his country. The team had cost £2,000 in transfer fees. This was less than the £5,000 that West Ham had received for Syd Puddefoot. Like the other graduates of the West Ham coaching system, Puddefoot also went on to play for England.
The development of such a great team of younsters was not lost on the major clubs of the time but West Ham United refused offers for their stars and players like Vic Watson and Jimmy Ruffell remained at the club for many years.
Syd King decided to only add Tommy Yews, a winger from Hartlepool United, and Norman Proctor, an inside-forward from Rotherham United, to strengthen his squad for the club's first season in the First Division. King also had high hopes of several young local lads, such as Jim Barrett, George Carter, Albert Cadwell, Billy Williams and Jimmy Collins.
Some commentators were highly critical of King's decision not to bring in experienced First Division players. However, Scribbo, the football reporter of the East Ham Echo was more optimistic: "There is every reason why they (West Ham) should do well in first-class company. They revealed themselves an exceptional side last year."
West Ham's first game of the season was against Sunderland, one of the best teams in the country. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. However, the match was a disaster as Vic Watson, the team's leading scorer, broke a toe, an injury that would keep him out of the side until April 1924. Syd King was unable to find a replacement for Watson and therefore West Ham struggled for goals that season. Top scorers were Billy Moore (9) and Billy Brown (6). However, the defence did well and only let in 43 goals that season. Only four other clubs in the First Division: Huddersfield Town (1st), Cardiff City (2nd), Bolton Wanderers (4th) and Aston Villa (6th) had better defensive records.
Stanley Earle was King's only significant signing for the 1924-25 season. Again West Ham United finished in 13th place. Vic Watson, who had now fully recovered from his broken toe, finished as top scorer with 22 goals. King kept the same squad for the 1925-26 season. That year the Hammers had little difficulty scoring goals but the defence had a torrid time letting in 76 in 42 games, finishing in 18th place.
King refused to panic and once again he made no major purchases. George Kay was sold to Stockport County and Jack Hebden became the new club captain. Other players in the team that year included Jim Barrett, Sid Bishop, George Carter, Alfred Earl, Stanley Earle, Vivian Gibbins, Tommy Hodgson, Edward Hufton, Billy Moore, Jimmy Ruffell, Vic Watson, Billy Williams and Tommy Yews.
West Ham United did very well in the 1926-27 season. This included a 7-0 victory over Arsenal and two 5-1 wins against Aston Villa. At the end of the season they were in 6th place scoring an impressive 86 goals. The club's main scorers were Vic Watson (34), Jimmy Ruffell (13), Stanley Earle (13) and Tommy Yews (8).
The 1927-28 season was a great disappointment with West Ham finishing in 17th place. The forwards remained in good form: Jimmy Ruffell (18), Vivian Gibbins (15), Vic Watson (15), Tommy Yews (11) and Stanley Earle (11). However, the 81 goals scored was cancelled out by 88 against.
Once again Syd King refused to buy any new players. He was highly criticised for this strategy when the club finished 17th in the 1928-29 season. He was not helped by the fact that West Ham's supply of talented youngsters seemed to have dried up. Once again it was the defence that was the problem with 96 goals conceded.
Vic Watson was the star of the 1929-30 season. He scored an amazing 50 league and cup games in only 44 games. This included hat-tricks in games against Aston Villa (home and away) and Leeds United. He also scored all four goals in West Ham's 4-1 FA Cup victory over Leeds. Watson's goals helped West Ham finish in 7th place in the First Division.
Once again West Ham United experienced defensive problems in the 1930-31 season letting in 94 goals in 42 games. Vivian Gibbins, a local schoolteacher who refused to sign as a professional, ended up as top goalscorer with 18 goals in 21 games.
West Ham's defensive problems were not sorted out and in the 1931-32 season they finished in bottom place with only 31 points and were relegated to the Second Division. That season the Hammers conceded 107 goals.
Ted Fenton who was signed as an apprentice in 1932 claims that King used to send him on trips to buy cases of beer, an arrand that carried a ten-shilling tip from the manager.
At a board meeting on 7th November, 1932, King insulted one of the West Ham directors. At an emergency board meeting the following night, it was decided that King had been drunk and insubordinate and that he should be "suspended for three calendar months from November, 9, 1932, without salary". Charlie Paynter became the temporary manager.
At another board meeting on 3rd January, 1933, doubts were expressed about King's honesty in the day-to-day business of running the club. It was decided that King should be sacked from the post of manager. However, he was granted an ex-gratia payment of £3 per week. Syd King was devastated by the news and a few weeks later he committed suicide by drinking a corrosive liquid mixed with alcohol.
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.
In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of "hammers" was heard on the banks of Father Thames and great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Ironworks Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the North country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goalwards. And so when the idea was first suggested that an amateur club should be formed, it met with a ready response from the employs of the Thames Ironworks. These early organisers, of what, in a later age, is known as West Ham United, also found a generous patron in Mr. A. F. Hills.
Before passing along to the first appearance of the club in the field, I ought to point out that West Ham is one of the oldest football centres in the country. The fact is not generally known that Blackburn Rovers have met Upton Park - not the present club of that name - in a late round of the Association Cup competition in West Ham Park. "The oldest inhabitant " tells me that Blackburn Rovers won. I mention these things to show that when the Thames Ironworks F. C. came before the local public a great deal was known about the game; and, indeed, the way had been prepared for the Ironworks by clubs like St. Luke's, Old St. Luke's, and Old Castle Swifts. Canning Town and West Ham, generally in those days even, was a hotbed of football. Old Castle Swifts had the distinction of being the first professional club in Essex, and they played on a field hard by the Hermit Road. Their existence was brief. The Hermit Road "cinder heap" - it was nothing better - lay untenanted after their demise, and it was this barren waste that the Thames Ironworks decided to occupy. A few meetings were called, and the project talked over. Foremen and overseers in the Limited were persuaded to give their support, a committee was elected, and secretaries appointed. Roughly speaking, the membership did not exceed fifty. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines, and their first principle was to choose their team from men in the works.
On September 7, 1895, eleven men from the works turned out at Hermit Road to play the reserve team of the Royal Ordnance F. C. The pages of history record that the result was a draw, 1-1, and everybody went home satisfied.
Bob Stevenson who captained Woolwich Arsenal at one period of their existence, was the first captain of the Thames Ironworks, and in those early days the training was done on week nights at a school-room in the Barking Road. The players used also occasionally to go out for a moonlight spin on the turnpike road. Their trainer was Tommy Robinson, and he is still trainer to West Ham United. There is a break of several seasons in his service, however, during which we saw him smoking his cigar on match days and thinking hard when the game was going against the side in which he has always taken a deep interest.
The Ironworks' first season came to a close, with happy results. They had to move from Hermit Road, though, the next year, and they subsequently appeared at Browning Road, East Ham. For some reason, not altogether explained, the local public at this place did not take kindly to them, and the records show that Browning Road was a wilderness both in the matter of luck and support. Still there was a bright time coming, it was thought, and people were beginning to talk about the Memorial Grounds at Canning Town. This vast athletic enclosure was built by Mr. Hills, and, if my memory is not at fault, I think it was opened on Jubilee Day, 1897. History has been made at the Memorial Grounds. Troubles and triumphs are associated with the enclosure, but, somehow, West Ham never succeeded there as it was once thought they would. Thames Ironworks, however, won the London League championship in 1898.
The next season they entered the Second Division of the Southern League and won the championship at the first time of asking. The season 1898-9 will also be remembered as the year in which they embraced professionalism. One of the arguments advanced at the time was that none but a tip-top team of good players could draw the multitude to the Memorial Grounds. Following its adoption there were more trials and troubles. Those supporters who remained loyal will remember the year as one in which West Ham United certain officials came under the ban of the F.A. It was distinctly unfortunate, and for a time dark clouds threatened the club.
Thames Ironworks were next invited to knock at the door of the First Division of the Southern League. And knock they did. They were admitted, only to discover that the higher you go the more difficulties you may expect to encounter. In September, 1899, then, they made their entry into the First Division. Ill-luck dogged them all the way. They won only eight matches, and finished in the table just above Sheppey United. All this while the man in the street was talking about the club.
The time was ripe for a limited liability company, and the public were shortly afterwards invited to take up shares. Next year the name was changed from Thames Ironworks to West Ham United, and henceforward the doors of the club were open to the rank and file.
The record of 1899-1900, however, would not be complete without some reference to the players who were associated with the club at that time. There was poor Harry Bradshaw, who came from the "Spurs" with Joyce. How well I remember that match with Queen's Park Rangers during the Christmas holidays, when Joyce brought over the sad message to the Memorial Grounds that our comrade had passed away. Poor Harry was one of the cleverest wing-forwards I have ever known, and he was immensely popular with everybody. He joined the club with me, and with us in the team were McEachrane (now with the Arsenal), Craig (Notts Forest), my partner at full-back, Carnelly, and Joyce. We had some rare talent in our reserve team too, for, if my memory is not at fault, there were J. Bigden (now of the Arsenal), R. Pudan (Bristol Rovers), and Yenson (Queen's Park Rangers).
Retaining several of their old players, in the following season, 1900-1, West Ham finished up sixth on the Southern League table. This, indeed, was progress. It was the first year of the intermediate rounds of the English Cup competition, and it was our fortune to meet Liverpool at the Memorial Grounds. They beat us by only 1 goal, and we were rather unlucky to lose. Goldie (Fulham) played against us, and Satterthwaite, who afterwards became identified with West Ham, was Liverpool's twelfth man. Grassam joined us that year, and Hugh Monteith kept goal for the "Hammers," as we were then styled.
Next season, 1901-2, is the brightest in the history of the club. It was roses all the way, but there was one ugly thorn, and that a beating from Grays United in the National Cup competition. We reached fourth position in the League table, finishing behind Portsmouth, "Spurs," and "Saints."
In that year I was appointed assistant-secretary, and at a later period, as is generally known, I became secretary-manager.
We lost the services of several of our best men the following season, 1902-3. That was the penalty, I suppose, we had to pay for success. All the same, we had a useful team, among whom was Fred Griffiths, the Welsh International goalkeeper; J. Blythe, who afterwards went to Millwall; and Linward, who was transferred to the Arsenal. And the club certainly deserved a higher position than tenth on the table, where we subsequently finished. The Cup competition saw us beaten at Lincoln, and the match will be remembered if only for the accident to Kelly, who, although he broke his ankle, went on playing till within a few minutes of the finish.
Now we come to the season 1903-4. This was one of the most eventful in the history of the club. The West Ham United Football Club Company dates from 1900-1. The open door, so to speak, had been productive of good results. The charge that the club was out of sympathy with the local public was not repeated in 1903. A lot of prejudice had been lived down and forgotten, and I don't suppose any club has had to fight harder for its existence than West Ham United. Even as we stood on the threshold of 1903-4 a great and overwhelming difficulty beset us. It was the last year of our agreement concerning the occupancy of the Memorial Grounds.
But before I pass along to the stirring events which marked the close of that season, let me say something about the team. We were reinforced by a strong contingent from Reading, including Allison, Cotton, Watts, and Lyon. With regard to the performances of the team that year, I regret to say that we did not succeed as we should have liked. Fulham beat us by a goal in the Cup competition, and in the League we were the reverse of comfortable - a fact which did not help to encourage us when we knew that we must leave the Memorial Grounds and that a new home had to be found. The immediate and pressing difficulty of West Ham at the close of the 1901 season was the question of ground. The directors endeavoured to negotiate with Mr. A. F. Hills for a further lease of seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years of the Memorial Grounds at a good rental, the club to have sole control.
Unfortunately as we thought then, but luckily as it afterwards turned out, no agreement could be arrived at. And we had to go. But where to? A piece of waste ground was offered us by the corporation, but this would not do. I well remember the facts concerning our lifting up and being placed on dry land, as it were. It was during our last few days at the Memorial Grounds. A match was being played between boys of the Home Office Schools. One of the Brothers from the Boleyn Castle School was present. We told him of our difficulty, and showed him the letter from Mr. Hills. An arrangement was made with the Brother there and then to go and see the Boleyn Castle Ground. We agreed to take it. A week later we were thrown back into the lap of despair again by being told that the Home Office would not approve of the action of the Brothers. A deputation of directors waited upon Mr. Ernest Gray, M.P., and through his good offices and certain conditions on our part we were finally allowed to take possession of Boleyn Castle.
It is a place with a history. There the unfortunate lady whose name is linked with that of Henry VIII. has resided. There are legends and stories about this fine old mansion - now a school.
At their new ground the West Hain Club hope to make football history, and I may say that 1904-5 - our first season at the Castle - was also the first year we have ever made a profit on the season's working.
Syd King was a good manager. But he left a lot of the day-to-day stuff to our trainer Charlie Paynter. It was Charlie that most of us talked to about anything. Syd King was more about doing deals to get players to play for West Ham. But he was good at that. He got us to the Cup final and got West Ham promoted in 1923 so you can't ask for much more than that can you...
A lot of the time we, the players, would decide what we were going to do. George (Kay) and Jack (Tresadern) kept an eye on other players and came up with ways of playing them. But anything anyone had to say Charlie Paynter chatted about. That's how it was done then, by the team, which included the trainer and manager; but it was the player's job to play.. .that's what you got paid for. And then, if things didn't go well it was down to the players. There wasn't always a set plan but you knew what was expected.
Syd King was a Mason, I think a few of the West Ham board were. He played a bit of golf and he liked a drink. A lot of people did. But like Paynter some of the players were Temperance or teetotal.
Dear Mr Syd King, - The tape on Saturday ticked out, West Ham 1 Fulham 0. We shout from the office window, "West Ham Won." In reply the boys say, "Tell us about Syd King and West Ham." So here goes!
The man of the "Two Doubles" they call you. Would you like to know why? Very well. It is because Syd King is West Ham and West Ham is Syd King. That is "one double." The other double - the cup and First League honours - is well on the way to fulfilment. One almost approaches you with fear and trembling until they know you, and then they find your bark is a thousand times worse than your bite.
You won't talk about yourself, and it makes it difficult for the scribes to portray you. Anyway, you can't say you are not from Kent. We all know the fighting spirit of the men of Kent, and that is perhaps why, added to your undeniable ability, your indomitable spirit has landed you into the very important position of Secretary-Manager to West Ham. That you fulfil the duties with efficiency and satisfaction to all is manifest. You have done great things for West Ham, and their supporters highly appreciate your efforts.
When we talk of West Ham we take you as part of the picture. Yes, and you will shortly be celebrating your 21st season of management. Once upon a time you played for Northfleet as a full back, and, I believe, you also have had association with New Brompton, now Gillingham, who figure in both the Third League and the Kentish League. It was, however, from the Northfleet club that you joined West Ham in 1899. One year later, in 1900, you had the misfortune whilst partnering Charlie Craig on the old Memorial Grounds to break your leg. That was in March, but by September of the same year you were found on the field again. However, you gave up active chasing of the leather in October, 1901, and for a time you carried on as player-manager.
In May, 1902 you were elected Secretary-Manager, a position you have held ever since. Simple arithmetic shows a service of 21 years in this responsible office. What a lot has happened in that period, and what an interesting book you could write - "West Ham from Failure to Success." Sometimes you get reminiscent - not about yourself - and tell the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate interesting tit-bits about the early struggles of your club. They read like fairy-tales, but they are true in all respects, for we old sporting men can vouch in every respect for their accuracy.
For instance, the old Memorial Grounds, what a "gate" you had! A record perhaps for lowness - £12 takings. Your opponents were Wellingborough. Twenty years later, "another record gate" - nearly £2,000, on Good Friday, when you drew with Bury. Yes, Mr King, you have certainly seen your team evolve from dire financial straits to be one of the premier teams of the country. The Memorial Grounds were left with a nice little packet of £3,000 liabilities. All sorts of difficulties had to be surmounted at your new permanent home: Boleyn Castle...
What a discerner of talent you are, too. You have unearthed at least a dozen successful goalkeepers, the principal ones being your present custodian, Teddy Hufton (who is a doubtful starter for the "final" owing to his leg injury when playing against Notts County last week and maybe Hampson will fill the gap), George Kitchen, Charlie Bolton, and Matt Kingsley. And surely there is no other club that can show such a splendid list of centre-forwards as West Ham have had. You undoubtedly have had a keen eye to have "spotted" men like Harry Stapley, Syd Puddefoot, the new international Vic Watson, George Webb, Hilsdon, to name but a few. If you can get local talent in your ranks, you are in a seventh heaven, and in pre-war days you often "fielded" a team with nine or ten locals in it. Even in these days the local element is telling. Jack Tresadern, another international, came from Barking Town, and Sid Bishop is the old Ilford amateur. Then you have Ruffell, also from Ilford. He played also for Wall End United.