His goal against Preston North End in the 1964 FA Cup Final was one of the most important strikes in West Ham’s history and his 40-yard volley past Man City ‘keeper Joe Corrigan in 1970 still tops the list of best goals for many West Ham fans. But how many Hammers fans remember Ronnie Boyce’s favourite goal out of the 29 he notched for the Hammers in 342 appearances?
‘The one I was most pleased with was at Sheffield Wednesday in 1966,’ the 71-year-old told Blowing Bubbles in an exclusive interview. ‘Peter Eustace, who was playing for Wednesday at the time, was on their goal line when he kicked the ball out and it reached me. ‘I didn’t quite get hold of it right on the edge of the box but I managed to work my way towards the goal. ‘Hurst was around the edge of the six-yard box and as I worked my way in, I looked up and saw him there so I went to give it to him and the Sheffield Wednesday ‘keeper at the time, Ron Springett, came diving out but I hadn’t let the ball go so I just walked it in. I always felt that was the best goal I ever scored.’
Nicknamed Ticker, Boyce was a one club man and played for West Ham for 13 years after making his first team debut in a Southern Floodlight Cup game against Millwall on 13 October 1959. His first Football League game was over a year later, on 22 October 1960, in a 5-2 home win against Preston North End. ‘I was only 16 when I played against Millwall but I can still remember it very well,’ he continued. ‘What I can still vividly remember is walking out of the ground after the game with my father and the chairman spotting me and pulling me back for a drink. I can remember thinking to myself I obviously hadn’t done too bad.’
As well as the 1964 FA Cup final, Boyce was also part of the team to win the Cup Winner’s Cup at Wembley the following year but how did the two games compare? ‘The FA Cup final was great but the better game of football was the Cup Winner’s Cup final against Munich 1860,’ he replied. ‘They had a fair share of international players, as we did, and it was a great game of football – probably the best game I ever played in.’
Another game Boyce remembers but for all the wrong reasons was the 8-2 thrashing the Hammers endured at the hands of Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day in 1963.
‘I wish I knew what happened that day,’ he said. ‘It was a disastrous day. I can remember going home, having a bit of lunch and getting on the train with the Blackburn lads up north as we were playing them again on the 28th. ‘We managed to win 3-1 up there and it was a smashing performance. It was a game where I felt the squad had turned a corner and certainly had the league been Christmas 1963 to Christmas 1964, we would have won the league because we had such a good year.’
‘I wasn’t the quickest and I’m not too sure I could have dealt with the pressure easily so while it was perhaps a little bit disappointing not to get called up, my career at West Ham was marvellous.’ Asked if he had any regrets for not wanting to move to another club, he continued: ‘A little bit but I was sheepish and I didn’t like leaving my two sons who were at school at the time. ‘I loved the area and loved the club. You couldn’t beat the support at West Ham – it was great back then and it still is today.
The now Norfolk resident was also lucky to avoid any serious injuries during his career, apart from one non-football related injury. ‘We used to play on Monday nights and when we did, we had Tuesdays off and there was this one Tuesday that I went and played golf,’ he explained. ‘I’m not a golfer and when I went into training on the Wednesday, I couldn’t move and with medical staff and knowledge as it was back then, it took me about three months of swimming up and down a fair-sized bath to recover!’
Like many players, Boyce liked to stick to the same pre-game ritual but admits he wasn’t very superstitious about it. ‘I always liked to be at the ground at 1.30pm on match days,’ he said. ‘I only lived half a mile away from the ground and I used to go round to my wife’s parents’ house for something to eat because they lived just around the corner from the ground.
‘Even away from home, I always liked to get to the ground early. If we were in a hotel, I would leave the hotel earlier to get to the ground before the others, get stripped and changed as soon as I got there and do some exercises.’ After retiring as a player in 1973, Boyce became a key member of the coaching staff under John Lyall, a period which included the FA Cup final victories in 1975 against Fulham and against Arsenal in 1980. He subsequently coached under Billy Bonds.
Boyce also took charge of West Ham for one game as caretaker manager in February 1990 and was also appointed West Ham’s chief scout in September 1991, a position he held until 1995. Asked about his game as West Ham manager, he continued: “What had happened was that Lou [Macari] had left and I was out training on the Monday with lads. When we finished training, we headed back and there were about 30 reporters there.
‘I asked them what they were doing there and they informed me that I was the manager – nobody had told me. Our next game was away at Swindon which was a tough place to go to in those days but we managed to get a 1-1 draw.’ As for his favourite West Ham player in his 35 years at the club, he continued: ‘There were a few players who I could go for. You’ve got Trevor Brooking, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters but for me, it would have to be Billy Bonds.
‘He was a wholehearted player. He was fit and would run all day. One thing I always remember about Billy Bonds was that he was the first one in the shower, the first one dressed and the first away from the ground. As he left he used to say he had to shoot off because he had to go ‘through the pipe’ as he used to live the other side of the Blackwall Tunnel.’ Asked about what Bobby Moore was like off the pitch, he continued: ‘In the early 1960s we used to go out to America to try to push the game out there and we had six week tours so it was a long while to be away from home.
‘We were about to come home from one of these tours and I can’t remember exactly where we were but I can remember Ron [Greenwood] asking me to get Bobby out of his room. ‘Still to this day I can see him in there packing his gear and I can assure you his gear and his packing was better than mine going out. It was perfect. The shirts that he had worn were all folded up neatly
‘I can also remember getting in the changing room covered in mud after training, he would take everything off neatly and lay them out. He was an immaculate man and to me, the best defender I ever played with or against.’ The conversation moves onto Ron Greenwood and Jon Lyall and Boyce was also full of praise for both. ‘Up until Ron Greenwood arrived at West Ham, football training was running around the pitch, doing weights and a five-a-side but Ron came in and we were working with the ball all the time,’ he said.
‘We’d be working with the ball individually, in twos, threes and fours and across the pitch. ‘You just appreciated what he said to you and you certainly knew your job because before you went out to play, he made sure we knew exactly what was required of us. ‘He didn’t go overboard about the opposition and telling us what they were like because he just wanted us to out there and, as he always said, express ourseleves. ‘All we ever heard him say in training was “think, think, think” and after a period of time you just naturally felt like you were thinking more about what to do with the ball.
‘He appreciated and saw where things were going wrong – it came easy to him. His man management skills weren’t as good as John Lyall’s who had a great understanding of the players. ‘Yes he did work for Ron and would be the first to say he learnt everything from Ron but he was helpful not only to the players and the staff but also their families. If he heard there was something wrong, he would arrange for a bunch of flowers to be sent to the wife. That was Jon Lyall. He was a great man.
‘It is so hard to compare the two because they both had strengths and were two great people to work for.’ Our attention is turned to the current season and Boyce has high hopes for the current crop. ‘I sincerely hope we will continue to do as well as we’ve done in the first half of the season. There’s no reason to suggest why we won’t,’ he said. ‘They’ve really surprised me. I saw the first game of the season against Spurs and to be honest, after that game, I thought it was going to be a drab old season but it’s turn out to be good.’