‘Ron Greenwood didn’t deserve to be the forgotten man of West Ham’

Mike Miles’ new biography lifts the lid on the man whose impact on our club should not be undervalued

Old Trafford’s postal address is Sir Matt Busby Way, Manchester. At Anfield, there is a statue of Bill Shankly. Elland Road has a Don Revie stand. 

But when it comes to Ron Greenwood, the man who laid the foundations for what West Ham have become, there is considerably less celebration.

Until recently, there has also been a distinct lack of recognition of Greenwood on the bookshelves, but that has been put right by West Ham fan Mike Miles’s new biography, Ron Greenwood: The Forgotten Manager.

Miles told Blowing Bubbles that whilst the club was more than happy to celebrate the legacy of John Lyall, when it came to the man who made Lyall the manager he was, things were, for some reason, less high-profile.

‘If John Lyall were still with us today, I have no doubt that he would say that he wouldn’t have been who he went on to be without Ron Greenwood, but writing the book, I found there has been at best an ambivalent attitude towards him from the club,’ he said.

Greenwood came to West Ham from a coaching role at Arsenal, oversaw the emergence of the club’s most successful crop of players, many of them home-grown, and also nurtured the coaching talents of his successor, Lyall, who also went on to achieve great things. 

But once he had served his time at the club – some might even say outstayed his welcome – he was happy to move on, rather than have any huge emotional attachment to the place.

‘I don’t think he was cut out to be an upstairs man or a guru, someone like Matt Busby who moved up to the boardroom,’ said Miles. ‘When he became England manager in 1977, what stood out was his desire to get out on the training ground in a tracksuit, that’s where he was happiest.

‘He had a strange relationship with the club – it wasn’t that he was an outsider, and he would never have bad-mouthed the club or anything like that, but what sums it up best is that Harry Redknapp said how when he came back to a game at Upton Park, Greenwood didn’t even ask for a car park permit, he parked a couple of miles away and walked the rest of the way. That says a lot.’

One of the biggest challenges Greenwood faced as a manager was precisely that – managing.

Coaching was what he loved, but the personnel side of things did not come naturally to him at all, and he had the extra challenge of having to deal with the club’s greatest player, Bobby Moore. It was not an easy relationship.

‘Their relationship went back to Bobby’s youth team days, and Ron probably hoped that he would develop into someone who could take his coaching onto the pitch, in the way that Billy Bonds was to do later for John Lyall, but it never worked out that way,’ he said.

After West Ham’s FA Cup success of 1964 and the Cup Winners’ Cup triumph of 1965, in 1966 England won the World Cup with the West Ham triumvirate of Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst playing key roles. But the club’s failure to build on this national triumph highlighted more flaws in Greenwood’s personality and approach.

‘Ron hated having to have discussions with players about wages, he’d much rather have had someone else to deal with that, and particularly after he broke into the England team, Moore knew his worth, and was always the last one to hold out on signing a new contract, to get the best terms he could. Greenwood was incredibly uncomfortable with that,’ said Miles.

‘Before the 1966 World Cup, Moore was out of contract and so had to sign a new deal to be able to play for England, who then went on and won it, which just made things more strained between them. 

‘All of a sudden, Moore in particular went onto a different level of public profile, and was keen to make the most of his celebrity. This meant outsiders getting involved, people who Greenwood thought were interfering – he could never come to terms with that.’

Although 1966 was the culmination of so much, it also marked a plateau for Greenwood, with England’s successful style of play the opposite of what he liked to see, in addition to the transformed status of the players. For club and manager, things were never quite the same again.

‘When you’ve won two trophies in two years, then your players have been at the heart of a World Cup-winning side, you have to wonder how you manage not to go on and build a more successful team, but it soon became apparent that that wasn’t happening,’ said Miles.

‘It was almost a bit like Arsene Wenger staying at Arsenal too long – by about 1968, maybe someone should have had the nerve to say this isn’t progressing, let’s shake things up.  

‘At one point, Gordon Banks, the best goalkeeper in the world, could have come to West Ham, and wanted to, but Greenwood had already agreed a deal to buy Bobby Ferguson from Kilmarnock, and he wasn’t the sort of person who would go back on something like that.

‘I didn’t come across any evidence that the club ever really discussed Greenwood’s future, they just seemed to think things would get better – but they didn’t.’

Given the lack of dynamism, and the way the club was drifting, the emergence of Lyall as Greenwood’s protégé could not have come at a more convenient time.

‘It was always a matter of when, not if, with John taking over,’ said Miles. ‘Ron had always had an eye on him as his successor, with the advantage of him coming up from within, and also having been taught the way Ron wanted. He’d become increasingly disillusioned with the way English football was going, so this definitely made it easier for him to leave.’

In the aftermath of having their fingers burnt by the short and sour reign of former Leeds boss Don Revie as England manager, when the Football Association needed a safe pair of hands available at short notice in 1977, Greenwood fitted the bill perfectly.

‘He wanted to get back into a tracksuit too, so the move suited everyone – he was someone respectable who wouldn’t rock the boat, and would restore stability, so when England came along, there was no compensation or anything, West Ham put no obstacles in his way.’

In 1982, Greenwood took England to their first World Cup since 1970, with Trevor Brooking in his team, before making a quiet exit post-tournament, to be replaced by the livelier, more colourful Bobby Robson. Greenwood did not even pass on his phone number to the FA. Again, the forgotten manager.

‘As long as people like Harry and Billy, people he’d worked with, were at West Ham, there was a personal connection, but in those days former players and managers weren’t given the respect they are now, and as familiar faces left, the connection with the club lessened,’ said Miles. 

Symbolically, Greenwood’s final appearance at Upton Park was in March 1993, to lay a wreath in memory of Moore, who had died three weeks earlier. 

In retirement, Greenwood developed Alzheimer’s disease, and in February 2006 he died at the age of 84, after a heart attack. Just two months later, Lyall also died of a heart attack, aged just 66. Only now has someone thought to tell his story.

‘I was surprised when I found out no-one had written a book about him, so I wanted to find out why – he didn’t deserve to be forgotten,’ said Miles. 

‘Greenwood was an intriguing character. He had his faults, he wasn’t a great man manager and could be offhand with his manners too, but with some of the decisions he took in his career, he revealed a lot about his character, and there weren’t many like him around. 

‘He was a man of high principles – the problem for him was that sometimes they came up against the hard reality of how English football was run.’

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