John Lyall

'Dogged' manager of West Ham who won the club the FA Cup twice in 15 years of attacking football


John Lyall, footballer and manager: born Ilford, Essex 24 February 1940; player, West Ham 1955-64, youth team manager 1964-71, assistant manager 1971-74, manager 1974-89; manager, Ipswich Town 1990-94; married (one son); died Tattingstone, Suffolk 18 April 2006.

John Lyall's vision for West Ham United, where he spent 34 years as player and coach, was for the club to thrive by playing attacking football. After he inherited the first team from his mentor Ron Greenwood in 1974, the east London club maintained its tradition of playing with verve and inconsistency.

Following a long apprenticeship in management, his playing career curtailed at 23 by a knee injury, Lyall produced FA Cup-winning teams in 1975 and 1980. Twice they were relegated in his reign, which also saw West Ham achieve their highest league position, third, in 1985-86.

Lyall, born in 1940 of Scottish parents who met in London, had, like many footballers of his generation, honed his skills kicking a ball around in a back alley. He was spotted playing for Ilford schoolboys by the West Ham chief scout Wally St Pier and at 15 he left Ilford County High School to join the staff at Upton Park. There he did office work, continuing his education on day release and learning the game. A promising left-back, in February 1957 Lyall won a solitary England youth cap against Luxembourg at Upton Park, a 7-1 home victory in which Jimmy Greaves scored four.

He waited three years for his league début, versus Chelsea at Upton Park in February 1960. The match revealed his tenacity and a forte for strong tackling as he subdued Peter Brabrook, an England outside-right, in the Hammers' 4-2 win. But Lyall's next game, against Nottingham Forest, resulted in a twisted knee that put him out for the season.

In 1960-61 Lyall regained his place, playing more than 20 games - "my only good season as a player". He enjoyed life under manager Ted Fenton - "an excellent trainer . . . an innovator who tried to vary training routines" but who left the club in April after poor results to be succeeded by Ron Greenwood.

It was Lyall's misfortune to spend the next three seasons mostly in the reserves, in hospital or on the Upton Park treatment table. By 1964, having played just 35 first division games for West Ham, his knee was diagnosed as inoperable and his playing career was over. Lyall's view of himself was as "dogged, muscular, resolute, determined". The club kept him on. He had three jobs: wages clerk, coaching at Stepney School and part time youth manager. Among his first charges were Trevor Brooking, "a particularly bright boy", and Frank Lampard (senior)

Under Greenwood, Lyall assimilated the things that helped define West Ham: tactics such as perfecting the near-post cross into space for players to attack, richly exploited by the likes of Geoff Hurst; and behaviour - Greenwood insisted on good manners. In 1971 Lyall was appointed assistant manager; and three years later took command of the first team as Greenwood became general manager.

At the end of Lyall's first full season, West Ham won the 1975 FA Cup final, beating Fulham. The era of Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters had gone, but new local talent emerged: Trevor Brooking, Pat Holland, Frank Lampard. The two goals against Fulham came from the "raw but quick" Alan Taylor, signed earlier that season from Rochdale.

Under Lyall, West Ham's cup fighting tradition continued. They reached the European Cup-Winners' Cup final in 1976, losing 4-2 to Anderlecht at the Heysel stadium, Brussels; but hit poor form the following season, needing a 4-2 win over Manchester United to avoid relegation. As with Greenwood, Lyall's team could be less than the sum of its talents. The club unearthed another fine player, Alan Devonshire, for just £5,000 from Southall, but despite his promise, and stirring displays from the striker David Cross, signed for £180,000 from West Bromwich Albion, the Hammers went down in 1977-78.

Lyall was allowed to take stock and rebuild: West Ham was not, then, a sacking club. He relied on loyal old hands - Brooking, Lampard and Billy Bonds ("the cornerstone of my teams at West Ham for 15 years") - and new faces - the goalkeeper Phil Parkes, signed from Queen's Park Rangers for a record £565,000, Alvin Martin, a pivotal central defender, and Paul Goddard, whose strike partnership with Cross provided momentum for West Ham's return to Division One in 1981. That season, they also reached the League Cup final, losing 2-1 to Liverpool in a replay.

A season earlier, West Ham, typically, defied form and won the FA Cup, beating Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley with a rare headed goal from Brooking. Lyall, usually a creative coach, won the tactical battle against superior opponents by throwing up a defensive barrier on a spongy, strength-sapping pitch.

West Ham's return to the European Cup-Winners' Cup was turbulent, the first-round second leg against Castilla played behind closed doors at Upton Park, punishment for the riotous behaviour of fans during the first leg in Madrid.

Back in the First Division, West Ham became solid performers. In June 1984, Lyall was courted by Queens Park Rangers. The deal would have doubled his money but West Ham would not release him. Lyall stayed put, unwilling to be bartered over, expecting to stay at Upton Park "for the remainder of my working life". In 1985-86 he took West Ham to third place, to within four points of the champions Liverpool, success based on a robust back four of Ray Stewart, Alvin Martin, Tony Gale and Steve Walford holding things together and a potent attacking partnership of Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie.

This was Lyall's high-water mark. Thereafter, over the next three seasons, form slumped. Key players including Cottee left, while injuries laid low some of Lyall's best talent. There was always consolation in the emergence of home-grown talent such as Paul Ince but Lyall struggled to bed in new players amid loss of form and confidence. In 1989 the team was once more relegated and this time it cost Lyall his job.

Although not a great speaker, Lyall had always carried personal clout. He claimed not to have been bitter at being sacked but his 1989 autobiography, Just Like My Dreams, conveys the depth of affront:

You tend to look at other factors . . . success in the FA Cup . . . loyalty; long service . . . I couldn't say I noticed much sympathy, reluctance or any other emotion as he [the Chairman, Len Cearns] terminated my 34 years with the club. There was no personal acknowledgement or thank you from Mr Len.

Yet Lyall bounced back with a short spell scouting with Tottenham Hotspur and with England during preparation for the 1990 World Cup. Then he was appointed manager of Ipswich Town, guiding them in 1991-92 to the Second Division championship and promotion to the new FA Premier League.

However they were perennial strugglers, only avoiding relegation at the last in 1993-94. Lyall handed over day-to-day management to John Wark and Paul Goddard. He resigned in December 1994, the team floundering, and George Burley was appointed to the top job.

Andrew Mourant

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