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London 5-A-Side Football Championships – The Early Years ...

A football competition long lost in the progressive commercialisation of the game is the 5-a-Sides. The longest running tournament was the London 5-a-Side Football Championship which was held on 29 occasions and sponsored by the London Evening Standard. The London 5-a-Sides were typically held at or towards the end the season.  

 

Introduced in 1954, the London 5-a-Side Football Championships were held for the last time in 1995. The competition was not held every year. Initially the tournament ran for seven years before taking a six year break from 1961 to 1966. Re-introduced in 1967 it then ran for 19 consecutive years before taking another short interlude this time from 1986 to 1992. In 1993 the tournament returned for a final three years before it discontinued after the 1995 event. In the latter years the competition was opened up to football league clubs outside London with Wycombe Wanderers the victors in the final year.    

by Roger Hillier

London Championship Venues

The inaugural tournament was held at the “Empress Hall” Earls Court, and a year later it transferred to the Harringay Arena. In 1959 the event moved to Empire Pool Wembley until 1978 when it switched to Wembley Arena, where it continued until its demise in 1995.

West Ham’s 5-A-Side Final Appearances

During the 29 years the event was held, West Ham United won the championship three times and reached the final on another five occasions.  The Hammers were losing finalists three times before winning the tournament for the first time in 1967. This feature covers West Ham United’s first three finals and their progress in those early years.  

West Ham’s First Three Finals

1954’s London 5-a-Side Championships – Wednesday May 5, 1954

1954 Final:

Charlton Athletic 3 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur

1954 Cover

In the inaugural event at Empress Hall Earls Court, West Ham failed at the first hurdle as they succumbed to Tottenham Hotspur 4-3. But 12 months later they made a significant improvement to reach their first final.

1955 Championship Finals - Wednesday April 13, 1955

Information on 1955’s tournament is sparse as a general strike resulted in the suspension of all newspaper publication. The news blackout ran from March 14 to April 20 1955 which unfortunately straddled 1955’s 5-a-Sides.

 

In their first print after the blackout on Thursday April 21, a week after the competition, London’s Evening Standard ran a summary of their championships.  This summary covered the semi-final and final but did not disclose the results of the earlier rounds.

1955 a side Programme 1955 a side Team

West Ham would have gained some satisfaction from beating Tottenham Hotspur after losing to them at the first hurdle the previous year. But the Hammers met their match in the final. Fulham won by a three goal margin, inside-right Jimmy Hill scored an early goal, Derek Parker equalised for West Ham. Bobby Robson then scored two goals in quick succession with inside-forward Johnny Haynes wrapping things up for the west London side by adding a fourth to take the trophy home to Craven Cottage.

The West Ham team:

Recognitions for Harry Hooper

The Evening Standard also mentioned Harry Hooper in its dispatch: “Harry Hooper got a personal award for his skill at shooting and dribbling and ball control in a special demonstration during the interval” of 1955’s event.

 

As an aside, a month later on the eve of the FA Cup final, Hooper received further recognition when he was selected to play for an England Under 30s team that played England Over 30s. Harry had also appeared in the same fixture a year earlier.

1957 Championship Finals - Wednesday April 3, 1957

A year later and the Hammers progressed to their second final, and once again they faced their west London rivals Fulham. Though this time the final result was much closer.  

 

In reaching the final West Ham first overcame Leyton Orient 2-1 courtesy of two strikes from Noel Cantwell. Ex-Hammer Jimmy Andrews replied for Leyton Orient. Hammer to be, Phil Woosnam, was also in Leyton Orient’s quintet.

In the semi-final West Ham repeated the 2-1 score line in their victory over Crystal Palace. Again Cantwell was on the score sheet.

In the other semi-final Fulham thrashed Chelsea 6-0. The Craven Cottage side fielded a very strong quintet with goals coming from Johnny Haynes 3, Jimmy Hill 2 and a single from Roy Bentley. Future Hammer, Jimmy Greaves failed to find the net for Chelsea.  

In the days of pounds, shillings and pence, the Harringay Arena tickets were priced from 3 shillings and 6 pence in the stalls to 17 shillings and 6 pence for the best in the arena. The programme one shilling.  

1959 Championship Finals – May 1959

It was recorded in the minutes of a West Ham board meeting held on May 5, 1959, that West Ham did not participate in the 1959 tournament due to a first team tour to Europe taking it Belgium, West Germany and the Netherlands in late April and early May.

1960 Championship Finals - Tuesday May 10, 1960

Three years after their previous final, West Ham field a young side including three from the previous May’s FA Youth Cup final: John Cartwright, Geoff Hurst and Andy Smillie. In goal was another product of the West Ham academy, goalkeeper Brian Rhodes.

Fourth Time Lucky

Despite three final appearances in the first seven years of the Evening Standard’s tournament, West Ham would have to wait a further seven years before reaching their next final this time against north London rivals Arsenal.

Fortunately for the Hammers it was a case of fourth time lucky in the 1967 tournament as they clinched their first Evening Standard London 5-A-Side Championship.  

5 A Side 1967 Harringay_Arena_Poster

Harringay Arena

Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer Early 5 A Side 02 1957 Evening Standard 1955 Fixtures 1955 Line-up Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer

The West Ham team:

In the final West Ham closed the losing margin to a single goal in a much closer final than two years earlier. Twice the Hammers fought back to equalise with goals first from John Smith and then Noel Cantwell. Fulham’s winner was a free kick by Haynes shot between Malcolm Allison’s legs. The Evening Standard reported: “A touch of tragedy for West Ham about this winning goal. Goalkeeper Gregory thought Haynes was taking an indirect free kick and tried to get his chest out of the way – unsuccessfully.”  So two goals from Fulham’s Haynes and another from Jim Langley took the trophy to west London.    

1957 Final:

Fulham 3 - 2 West Ham United

Ernie Gregory dives in vain

as Leyton Orient hit a consolation goal

West Ham United 2 - 1 Leyton Orient

WHU v. Spurs 5 a Side Crossed Hammer

Link to the

1967 Championships

1957 Medal Front 1957 Medal Back

Ernie Gregory's 1957 Runners-Up medal

1955 Medal Front 1955 Medal Back

Ernie Gregory's 1955 Runners-Up medal

The West Ham team:

1960 Cover 1960 Fixtures 1960 Line-up

In their opening game the Hammers again faced east London neighbours, Leyton Orient. And again the winning margin was a single goal. In the semi-final West Ham convincingly beat Brentford 4-1 with braces from Malcolm Musgrove and John Cartwright. In the other semi-final Tottenham Hotspur overcame Charlton Athletic 3-1 thanks to a hat-trick from Welshman Cliff Jones.

 

Unfortunately, in the final the free scoring Hammers succumbed 3-1 to Tottenham Hotspur. John Cartwright scored West Ham’s solitary goal.  

Ticket prices

1956 Championship Finals - Wednesday April 4, 1956

After reaching their first final 12 months earlier, the Hammers would probably have had high hopes for another final spot. But the rocks of west London shattered any hopes of survival.  Brentford, with a goal from Roe dispatched West Ham 1-0 in the 1st round.  

Crossed Hammer

1958 Championship Finals - Tuesday May 6, 1958

Highs and lows! Again the year after reaching the final West Ham fall at the first hurdle. This time they were dumped unceremoniously out of the tournament by Queens Park Rangers (QPR). To make matters worse two of QPR’s goals in their 3-1 win were netted by ex-Hammer George Petchey. Noel Cantwell replied for West Ham.

Phil Woosnam Collects Trophy

London champions for their first time were Leyton Orient captained by Hammer to be in six months time, Phil Woosnam. Also in the Orient quintet who beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the final was another ex Hammer, Jimmy Andrews.

5-a-Side Youth International

On the same billing that evening an England under 18 team faced their Welsh counterparts. In England’s 5-a-Side team was a trio of young Hammers: Peter Reader, Andy Smillie and Tony Scott. England ran out victors 5-2 with three of the goals from the young Hammers. A brace from Scott and a single net by Smillie.    

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