The Second World War had just entered its fourth year when the 1943-44 season started, and it would see the Allies take Italy, the Siege of Leningrad and the D-Day Landings at Normandy. West Ham finished second in the League South and were pipped for the title by Spurs. The Football League War Cup was now organised on a regional basis with the ‘North’ and ‘South’ winners playing each other in the grand final.
West Ham had drawn Southampton, Watford and Chelsea in the first round group stage. Teams would play each other on a round robin basis with fixtures home and away. However, progress was thwarted as Watford did the double over the Hammers. A subsequent 4-0 defeat away at Chelsea sealed our fate. Beating the Blues 6-1 at home was scant consolation for falling at the first hurdle.
The following season coincided with the murderous V-1 flying bomb offensive. Upton Park was hit by a ‘Doodlebug’ in August 1944 which damaged part of the West Stand (later replaced by the Doc Martens Stand). Whilst repairs were made, the Hammers were forced to play their games away from home until December. It didn’t adversely affect the team’s form as 96 goals were scored in just 30 league games.
The Hammers finished second in the League South to Spurs (again). The Cup saw West Ham drawn against Aldershot, Spurs and QPR in the group stage. Winning four and drawing one game secured a semi-final against Chelsea.
However, the game at White Hart Lane would see the Hammers lose by the odd goal in three.
After six long years the war in Europe ended in May 1945. Victory in Japan was secured in August, just in time for the start of the new season. To ensure clubs were properly adjusted the regional leagues continued for another season. The FA Cup was reinstated on a two-leg basis until the semi-finals to generate extra income for clubs.
West Ham drew Arsenal in the third round with the first leg at Upton Park. It turned into a rout as the Hammers won 6-0 in a devastating display of attacking football. The Stratford Express excitedly reported a ‘Blitzkrieg at Upton Park’ as four goals rained in during an exciting first half. Two further goals were added in the second half to make a round half dozen.
Against an Arsenal team that included England internationals Cliff Bastin and Laurie Scott it was a notable victory. A bumper crowd of 35,000 was swelled by fans breaking through bomb damaged walls and fences. The result made the second leg largely academic but Arsenal salvaged some pride with a 1-0 victory. There was another London Derby as West Ham played Chelsea in the fourth round. A massive crowd of 65,000 attended the first leg at Stamford Bridge. Sadly, the Hammers had no answer to the fire power at Chelsea’s disposal.
Tommy Lawton was in peerless form as he laid on the second goal for Dick Spence to secure a 2-0 victory for the Blues. The return was played in the midst of a hailstorm at a largely roofless Upton Park. Chelsea were soon reduced to ten men as ex-Hammer Len Goulden sustained a broken collar bone. West Ham pummelled Chelsea who got men behind the ball to defend their lead. However, they could not add to the goal scored by Almeric Hall in the first half.
In March 1946 West Ham released one of the finest strikers in the club’s history; but virtually all his goals were scored during wartime and are not recognised in official records. George Foreman was an amateur England international and signed from Walthamstow Avenue in 1938. He played six games and scored one goal before war broke out.
Foreman went on to play in 179 league games and score 154 goals. He was equally prolific in cup games, scoring 33 goals in 49 appearances, and was a member of the side that won the Football League War Cup in 1940. His total of 187 goals would have put him third in the Hammers’ list of all time goal scorers. But like so many players of the era his best years were taken by the war. George Foreman had one season with Spurs then quietly drifted out of the game.
The next seven seasons in the FA Cup were nothing short of dismal for West Ham. They progressed no further than the fourth round and fell victim to Leicester, Blackburn, Luton and West Brom at the first hurdle. The closest resemblance to a Cup run during this period was in 1952 when they lost 4-2 to Sheffield United in a fourth round replay. There was Cup success of sorts in the Essex Professional Cup which the Hammers first entered in 1950-51.
West Ham beat Southend 2-0 in the final seen by a highly respectable 6,000 crowd for a minor competition. In 1952 West Ham lost the final 3-1 to Colchester United. The following year we were beaten in the semi-final by Leyton Orient on the toss of a coin. With the greatest respect to that competition, it was symptomatic of the mediocrity to which the club had sunk.
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth took place in June 1953 but would it signal a new golden age for the Hammers?