The Coronation of 1953 heralded a new Elizabethan era in the austerity of post-war Britain. But for West Ham it was another year of graft and anonymity in the second tier of the Football League.
However, manager Ted Fenton was nurturing players that would help shape the club’s future. Centre half Malcolm Allison was the team’s de facto coach whose approach would establish the Academy of Football. John Dick was signed from Crittall Athletic in the close season. He would become one of the club’s most prolific goal scorers and spearhead the drive for promotion.
The 1953/54 league campaign spluttered to a 13th place finish. Our interest in the FA Cup ended in the fourth round having lost to Blackpool 3-1 in a replay. An 8th place finish in the league was the highlight of the 1954/55 season. In the FA Cup West Ham were slain in the third round by Port Vale after a replay.
Sixteenth place in the league was the price of a Cup run in 1956. In the third round Preston North End were dispatched 5-2 including a hat-trick from inside forward Albert Foan. The Hammers were 2-1 behind at half time but staged a remarkable comeback in the second half.
The Stratford Express were effusive in their praise of Foan: ‘he gave a demonstration of slide rule passing and quick fire shooting that had Preston defenders running in circles’. Cardiff City provided more top flight opposition in the fourth round. True to form, manager Ted Fenton took the players to Brighton in preparation for the game.
Players took in the sea air and trained at the Hove dog track. All which might seem unconventional to modern eyes, but it paid off as West Ham won the tie 2-1 at home. A tricky fifth round tie against Blackburn Rovers required a replay. Rovers were eventually overcome 3-2 with goals from John Dick and Harry Hooper. Only two games now stood between the club and a Wembley appearance.
It was the Hammers’ first appearance in the last eight since 1933 and pitted them against old rivals Spurs. However, West Ham’s unmistakable DNA was on full display at White Hart Lane. A massive crowd of 69,111 saw a classic London derby. The visitors raced into a 3-0 lead as John Dick bagged a hat-trick; a penalty scored by Tommy Harmer reduced the arrears before half time.
Almost inevitably, goals from Len Duquemin and George Robb dragged Spurs back into the game. The replay at Upton Park was a more sedate affair as the Hammers lost by the odd goal in three. For John Dick, who scored six goals in the Cup run it was the biggest disappointment of his career.
The Busby Babes of Manchester United were the focus of attention in the 1956/57 season. They won the first division championship by a comfortable eight points and scored 103 goals. United were denied a probable league and cup double when goalie Ray Wood was injured in the final. For West Ham, it was another season of consolidation as they finished 8th in the league.
The Cup was similarly underwhelming as they were eliminated by Everton in the fourth round. After a 26 year absence West Ham gained promotion back to the top tier in 1957/58. John Dick and Vic Keeble shared 40 goals in a dazzling season for fans; and there was also a half decent cup run to savour.
The campaign began with a thumping 5-1 win over Blackpool who featured Stanley Matthews in their line-up. Stockport were dispatched in the fourth round, while Fulham provided the opposition in the fifth round. The tie would become the first ever all-ticket match at Upton Park.
Legendary Fulham playmaker Johnny Haynes was in majestic form, despite the close attentions of Hammers’ midfielder Andy Malcolm. An exciting game left both teams locked at 2-2 after an hour. But it was that man Haynes that made the difference, as he played a neat one-two to win the game for Fulham.
The next three seasons in the Cup brought little joy for the Hammers. They went no further than the fourth round between 1958 and 1961. However, Ron Greenwood was now in post as manager and a golden era for the club was about to begin. In 1961/62 West Ham drew Plymouth Argyle in the third round; on the face of it a relatively good draw as they’d already been beaten that season in the League Cup. But the wheels shot off in spectacular style as the Hammers were soundly defeated 3-0.
The 1962/63 season straddled one of the coldest winters on record. No football was played for six weeks as pitches were unplayable. West Ham’s third round tie against Fulham was postponed and eventually played in February. A 0-0 draw was ground out on a still snowbound pitch.
The replay at Craven Cottage was played in a snowstorm. But the Hammers squeezed through 2-1 with goals from Ronnie Boyce and Johnny Byrne. The same pair scored the winners against Swansea and Everton respectively. This set up a quarter final against Liverpool at Anfield.
West Ham dominated the match for long phases with an adventurous 4-2-4 formation. But nine minutes from time Roger Hunt settled the matter and the Hammers’ interest in the Cup was over for another season. But the portents were encouraging as a young and exciting team was taking shape.