While the West Ham Way may have been conceived in Ted Fenton’s time, there is no doubt that it grew up and matured under the fatherly eye of Ron Greenwood.
He was the first manager who had no previous connection with the club, but his footballing philosophy was precisely what was needed to develop the style that had been created on his predecessor’s watch.
Greenwood joined West Ham from Arsenal in April 1961 – the same month that Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. His ideas about how the game should be played can be traced back to the day he saw the brilliant Hungarian team of the mid-1950s trounce England 6-3 at Wembley.
It was a performance that revolutionised his thinking and convinced him he wanted to become a coach when his playing days as a centre-half were over.
Greenwood believed in open, attacking football – based on the concept that it is more important to score goals than it is to prevent them. Despite the chant that ‘we’re West Ham and we play on the floor’, Greenwood was quite prepared to put the ball in the air – only he wanted to do it in such a way as to produce panic in the defence rather than frustration in the stands.
In particular he favoured the near post cross, a tactic he took from the Hungarians. He made his players practise the move endlessly. It was to become a West Ham trademark.
England, too, benefited from the work put in on the Hammers’ training ground.
Geoff Hurst’s first goal in his 1966 World Cup final hat-trick was a direct result of knowing instinctively where Moore was going to put the ball from a free kick. And the only goal of the quarter final against Argentina was the combination of a Martin Peters’ cross and a Hurst header
By then, Greenwood had already taken West Ham to Wembley – first to win the 1964 FA Cup and then, the following year, the European Cup Winners’ Cup. It truly was a glittering period in the club’s history.
Greenwood’s detractors are quick to point out that a side which had Hurst, Moore, Peters and Brooking should have won far more than it did. But the lack of trophies is due more to his failings as a man-manager than any flaw in his basic thinking about how the game should be played.
He wasn’t great at motivating his team, and often he couldn’t get his ideas across. ‘Ron talked about the game at such a high level that sometimes he went straight over the head of the average player,’ Bobby Moore told Jeff Powell in his biography.
‘Some days I believe there were only a couple of us who understood a word he was on about. He never realised that he should have been talking down to more than half the team.’