Graham Kelly: Respect for supporters will revive the West Ham way

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Martin Peters could always turn his hand to most sports. In the 10th annual Bobby Moore Golf Day at Wentworth last week he was using a new set of woods, though no one would have guessed.

That we exchanged precious few words about West Ham United's current situation was entirely down to my waywardness off the tee, but Harry Redknapp was optimistic about the Hammers' chances of a quick return to the top flight.

Both, of course, were products of the celebrated West Ham "Academy" of the 1950s and early 1960s which has made such a major contribution to English football over the years, and it is notable that the foundations of their system were laid while the club were playing in the old Second Division. They did not attain promotion until they won that division's championship in 1957-58, by which time there was well and truly a "West Ham way" of playing and also of doing things.

Dave Sexton, who became one of England's foremost coaches, joined the Hammers as a young inside-forward from Luton Town in the seminal year of 1953, and believes it was the stimulus given to the domestic game by the 6-3 thrashing handed out to England at Wembley that year by the Hungarians that provoked the West Ham players into having endless discussions as to how football should really be played. This was the catalyst for their thirst for knowledge.

Malcolm Allison, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Frank O'Farrell Andy Malcolm and Malcolm Musgrove would form groups who met in the cafés around Upton Park to talk about the game all day long.

Musgrove, who subsequently assisted O'Farrell in managing Manchester United, was a goal-scoring wing-back years before the term was invented. Meanwhile, the manager Ted Fenton, a former West Ham player himself, either had no choice but to allow the charismatic Allison to take the lead, or he had the intelligence to understand that the central defender, whose career was hampered by illness while at the club, had a special innovative coaching ability.

O'Farrell, who had come to the club from Cork in 1948, was no doubt a gentle and restraining influence in this adventurous group of players. Moreover, he, more than anyone, appeared, as an incomer, to understand that, in an area that had gone through so much in the war, there was a "West Ham way" of doing things, which was about treating people fairly and upholding the proper values. The players were close to the supporters during the match, but they also lived in the tightly-knit locality and thus came into contact with them on a regular basis. There was always a warm bond between the players and supporters. The fans obviously wanted the team to win, but defeat was not the end of the world.

In the modern game, the national community programme costs a substantial chunk of the television millions. It is administered from a special headquarters in Manchester and guarantees that the players honour their contractual commitment to spend a couple of hours a week of their valuable time with the fans, and future fans, who will pay their wages and buy the shirts with their names on the back.

There was a fan who stood in the old "Chicken Run" at Upton Park and he had these very principles passed down to him by the master tactician Ron Greenwood in one word: Respect. Before playing, coaching and managing at the Boleyn Ground, John Lyall was taken on as a ground-staff boy and office junior in 1955. Making up the wages (in cash) for 65 professionals on a Friday morning was quite a task for him. Two years later he was playing full-back in the same England youth team as Jimmy Greaves.

That noted goalscorer was one of the few, along with Terry Venables - both East End schoolboy players - who wriggled out of the net of the famed Hammers chief scout, Wally St Pier, during his 47 years service for the club. Opinions vary as to what proportion of players historically came from the immediate locality, but manager Fenton certainly set out to expand the development system across Essex, with St Pier as chief scout and senior players such as Allison and Cantwell coaching the youngsters in the evenings. Moore, Geoff Hurst and Peters comprised a decent return for starters.

Peters's guest and playing partner in our four at Wentworth was Gerry Wright, 72, a retired Thames lighterman and friend of his father, which, I believe, illustrates my theme perfectly.

And the indefatigable Stephanie Moore, Bobby's widow, raised another £75,000 on this bitter-sweet occasion, taking the Bobby Moore Fund (for cancer research) soaring over £2m. You can help the fight against the bowel cancer which so tragically took England's most beloved football hero by logging on to www.cancerresearchuk.org/bmf

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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