Saturday, 5 September 2009

History Repeating Itself

The philosopher George Santayana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, as Aldous Huxley has pointed out: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

This is unfortunately true of West Ham. Ever since Arnold Hills decided in 1900 that he was no longer in a position to finance the club he had formed when managing director of the Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Company, the club has experienced one financial crisis after another. The solution to this problem has been to sell our best players. For example, in 1901, the club sold their star player, Charlie Dove, to bitter rivals, Millwall.

This failed to solve the problem and the directors of West Ham were seriously concerned about the financial situation of the club at the beginning of the 1903-04 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 fall in season ticket sales (not surprising given their transfer policy). The club was forced to sell to sell their best players. This included Charlie Satterthwaite, who had scored 18 of West Ham's 38 goals that season.

The following season, Syd King, once again had to sell his leading scorer, Billy Grassam, to Manchester United. These sales meant that West Ham could never reach their full potential. However, King was a genius at developing young players and so the club was able to survive.

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."

Every time it looked like Syd King and his coach, Charlie Paynter, were beginning to build a successful team they were forced to sell their best players. A good example of this was Danny Shea. Born in Wapping, he was 21 years old and playing football for the Builders Arms pub team in Stratford when he was discovered by Paynter, in 1908.

Shea, a skillful inside-forward, was an immediate success. In his first season in the Southern League he ended up as top scorer with 20 goals. This was followed by 31 (1909-10), 28 (1910-11) and 24 (1911-12). All told he had scored 103 goals in a 166 games. 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."

Blackburn Rovers, who 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. West Ham fans were devastated.

In the 1913-14 season Blackburn once again won the league title. Danny Shea was in great form scoring 27 goals. He also went onto play for England. Everton’s Patsy Gallagher, described Shea as "one of the greatest ball artists who has ever played for England... his manipulation of the ball was bewildering."

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/BLACKBshea.htm

West Ham’s next outstanding talent was Syd Puddefoot. Born in Bow on 17th November 1894 he was educated at Park School in West Ham and played football for Limehouse Town. Puddefoot was signed by West Ham United manager, Syd King, after he saw him play for London Juniors against Surrey Juniors in 1912.

As John Northcutt and Roy Shoesmith point 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... He proved he could find the net when opposed by a quality defence, scoring in both games of a replayed cup-tie against Liverpool."

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. That season he scored 16 goals in 20 cup and league games.

West Ham United finished in 4th place of the Southern League in the 1914-15 season. Puddefoot was top scorer with 18 goals in 35 league games. This included a hat-trick against Exeter City on 2nd January 1915. The local newspaper reported that: "Some 14 minutes elapsed before Puddefoot, who completely outshone every other forward on the field, opened the scoring for his side and ten minutes later he was again successful in finding the net."

The outbreak of the First World War resulted in the disbandment of the Southern League in 1915. Puddefoot returned to league football in the 1919-20 season and he was once once again top scorer with 26 goals in 43 league and cup games. He continued in good form in the 1920-21 season with 29 goals in 38 league games.

Syd King and Charlie Paynter had managed to build a very good West Ham team that included Jimmy Ruffell, George Kay, Edward Hufton, Jack Tresadern, Vic Watson, Sid Bishop, Richard Leafe, Billy Brown and Jack Young. The team relied heavily on Puddefoot's goals and it was great shock to the fans when King sold him to Falkirk for the British record fee of £5,000 in February 1925.

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 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.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WHpuddefoot.htm

Hopefully, Zola and Clarke are as good as King and Paynter and they will continue to build a good team based on local youngsters. If not, we may be seeing the demise of West Ham as a leading club in the country.

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