In normal circumstances, interrupting a minute’s silence being held to mark an untimely death would be nothing short of a disgrace.
When the West Ham supporters who were packed into Villa Park did so, it was a spontaneous act of sincere affection for a man many consider to be the greatest manager we’ve ever had. John Lyall died aged just 66 on April 18, 2006, after suffering a heart attack at home. Five days later a West Ham team managed by Alan Pardew faced Middlesbrough in an FA Cup semi-final, and before kick-off the crowd fell silent in the traditional tribute.
Then, after just seven seconds, a lone voice pierced the hush. ‘Johnny Lyall’s claret and blue army!’
The entire West Ham contingent took up the chant and said goodbye to a true legend with the heartfelt passion that makes this club so special.
West Ham went on to win the game against Boro 1-0 and reach the FA Cup final for the first time since 1980 – when the manager was none other than John Lyall. Cruelly, we had victory snatched away from us in 2006, of course. But it was a different story 26 years beforehand, when second-division West Ham outplayed red-hot favourites Arsenal at Wembley in a game that was a tactical triumph for the manager.
The win against the Gooners was Lyall’s second FA Cup success – West Ham beat Fulham 2-0 in the 1975 final in a fantastic culmination of his first season in charge.
He had assumed control after Ron Greenwood took the title of General Manager and handed over first team affairs to his protégé.
Lyall was with West Ham for an astonishing 34 years. He joined the club from school but a knee injury forced him to retire early in 1963. He took an office job with the club and learnt his trade as a coach under the watchful eye of Greenwood.
The shine was rather taken off his early success as manager when West Ham were relegated in 1978.
The club and players stuck with him and they got their reward with the FA Cup triumph against Arsenal.
West Ham were promoted that season – leaving the rest of the second division floundering in their wake – and reached the League Cup final, losing to Liverpool in a replay.
What followed was even better, as Lyall put together a squad that was capable of challenging for the league title.
The Boys of 86 came within a whisker of pulling it off, eventually finishing third – which is still the club’s highest league finish.
Some questionable transfers, both in and out, left the team seriously weakened and West Ham were relegated at the end of the 1988/89 season, which cost Lyall his job. Without him, the club would never be quite the same again.