Tuesday, 25 September 2012

West Ham Biographies

It is true most West Ham biographies are very dull. This is definitely true of footballers who are still playing. However, there are some really good ones by West Ham players. This includes Bobby Moore's "Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero" (1997), based on his interviews with his great friend, Jeff Powell. See for example, his views on Ron Greenwood and Malcolm Allison.
Here is a passage about Moore playing his first game for the Hammers. It is a game I still remember with great affection.

Malcolm had been battling for months to recover from tuberculosis. I'd even seen him the day he got the news of his illness. I was a groundstaff boy and I'd gone to Upton Park to collect my wages. I saw Malcolm standing on his own on the balcony at the back of the stand. Tears in his eyes. Big Mal actually crying. He'd been coaching me and coaching me and coaching me but I still didn't feel I knew him well enough to go up and ask what was wrong.
When I came out of the office I looked up again and Noel Cantwell was standing with his arm round Malcolm. He'd just been told he'd got T.B.

It wasn't like Malcolm to give up. By the start of that 1958 season we were battling away together in the reserves, Malcolm proving he could still play, me proving I might be able to play one day.

West Ham had just come up. They went to Portsmouth and won. They beat Wolves at home in their second game. After three or four matches they were top of the First Division, due to play Manchester United on the Monday night, and they had run out of left halves. Billy Lansdowne, Andy Nelson, all of them were unfit. It's got to be me or Malcolm.

I'd been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I knew. For all the money in the world I wanted to play. For all the money in the world I wanted Malcolm to play because he'd worked like a bastard for this one game in the First Division.
It would have meant the world to him. Just one more game, just one minute in that game. I knew that on the day Malcolm with all his experience would probably do a better job than me. But maybe I'm one for the future.

It somehow had to be that when I walked into the dressing room and found out I was playing, Malcolm was the first person I saw. I was embarrassed to look at him. He said "Well done. I hope you do well." I knew he meant it but I knew how he felt. For a moment I wanted to push the shirt at him and say "Go on, Malcolm. It's yours. Have your game. I can't stop you. Go on, Malcolm. My time will come."

But he walked out and I thought maybe my time wouldn't come again. Maybe this would be my only chance. I thought: you've got to be lucky to get the chance, and when the chance comes you've got to be good enough to take it.

I went out and played the way Malcolm had always told me to play. Afterwards I looked for him back in the dressing room. Couldn't find him.

Malcolm Allison, Colours of my Life (1975) is another great book. As Allison once said, I think of myself as more of a teacher than a coach. This is supported by Moore and the rest of those who played under him. However, as John Bond once said, the problem with Malcolm is that he was good at coaching others but a disaster managing himself.

Footballers are rarely great writers and the best books are like the one by Jeff Powell, based on interviews. A good interviewer can make most people articulate. Therefore, I highly recommend Brian Belton’s Days of Iron (1999).

I agree that Charles Korr's, West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986) is the most intelligent book written about West Ham. After all, it was Korr's Ph.D.

If you like biographies shorter than book length I suggest you visit: