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Class of '54 - FA Youth Cup Semi-Finalists 1953-54 ...

West Ham’s appearances in the 1957 and 1959 FA Youth Cup finals are well documented and the Hammers’ teams for the respective finals are recorded for posterity in the club’s record books. But there is an earlier largely forgotten FA Youth Cup campaign from the 1950s that deserves recognition.

 

Before the 1956-57 and 1958-59 youth squads proved to be probably the best in the south and ranked second in the country, the 1953-54 season’s under 18s rose to prominence by reaching the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup in the competition’s second year. In reaching the last four of this national knockout cup, the 1954 young Hammers were arguably ranked in the top four in the country.  Also as West Ham was the only team from the south to reach the semi-finals there is a very strong case to say they were the best in the south.

 

The 1953-54 youth squad’s achievement was all the more meritorious as the senior team was struggling in Division II of the Football League.  When the 1957 and 1959 youth teams reached their finals, their senior counterparts finished higher in their divisions of the Football League than the 1953-54 seniors. In 1956-57 the seniors finished 8th in Division II while the 1958-59 seniors achieved the giddy height of sixth in Division I.  The 1953-54 first team finished an undistinguished 13th in Division II.

by Roger Hillier

Youth Soccer with the "Hammers"

The recent appointment of Bill Robinson as youth team manager coupled with the club's excellent recently introduced Youth policy was starting to pay dividends. Robinson, supported by chief scout Wally St. Pier, guided the team through five rounds of the FA Youth Cup to reach the two legged semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers.  

FA Youth Cup Semi-Final :

In the semi-final the young Hammers knew they would be facing very good opposition. The Wolverhampton Wanderers team would have been the favourites to progress to their second final as it included four players who had appeared for the club in the previous season’s FA Youth Cup final and others who had played in the reserves' league (Central League).

 

The semi-final’s 8-2 aggregate score in favour of Wolves suggests that the young Hammers were completely outclassed. But the scoreline is misleading as the following match summaries explain. For the record Wolves progressed to meet Manchester United in the final for the second consecutive year, only to lose the two legged final 5-4.

1st Leg : Wednesday March 31, 1954

Wolverhampton Wanderers 6 - 1 West Ham United

This first leg floodlit game would have been a wonderful experience for both XIs as it was played in front of a 21,608 crowd. This attendance figure was higher than for all of West Ham’s home league gates from December 1953 to the end of the season!

 

The match report in the 2nd leg’s programme explained that West Ham were severely handicapped when centre forward Alan Blackburn suffered a significant shoulder knock as early as the 10th minute. Despite this “West Ham’s superior forward play in the opening quarter of an hour gave the better of the exchanges, and swift raids in which their wingers (Foreman & Lill) were prominent were a constant threat to the homesters’ goal”. West Ham even hit the bar with a header.  But soon after Wolves gained a 3-0 lead before Terry Matthews scored the Hammers’ only goal of the night.  The half time score was 3-1. But three more were conceded in the 2nd half, including a Matthews own goal.  

2nd Leg : Thursday April 8, 1954

West Ham United 1 – 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers  

The home attendance was a disappointing 4,000 for what many West Ham fans thought was a lost cause. Though, the Hammers put on a brave fight to lose a closely fought game 2-1. At half time it was scoreless. But in the 58th and 64th minutes Wolves scored their two goals. West Ham’s consolation goal arrived in the 85th minute and was described as the “best goal of the match” when “Alan Blackburn let a long pass from Lill run past the centre half to just the right spot before hitting it with his left foot into the far corner”. In the last 20 minutes of the tie West Ham had the better of the play and were unfortunate not to grab an equaliser on the night.

1954’s FA Youth Cup Campaign

The side was predominantly of amateur junior players with a couple of professionals. A couple, Alan Blackburn and Terry Matthews, had played for the reserves in the Football Combination.  Brian Rhodes and Micky Lill had played in the Metropolitan League (3rd team). Captain and right back, Joe Ling, inside forward John Francis and left winger Stan Foreman had played for their respective county XIs.

 

In the seven match campaign the young Hammers enjoyed some magnificent victories and scored a total of 26 cup goals whilst conceding 11. In the five games leading to the semi-final only three goals had slipped past goalkeeper Brian Rhodes. The West Ham defence more than held their own against the forwards of Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and Leyton Orient.

 

Prior to the semi-final West Ham scored a total of 24 goals, very close to an average of five goals per game. Their closest tie turned out to be in the first round against north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.  Despite being a home tie it was played at the Spotted Dog Ground in Clapton and it required extra time to settle the match. An Alan Blackburn goal early in the first period of extra time saw the Hammers advance to the next round.

Hat-Tricks by Blackburn and Lill

The rest of their ties pitched them against Briggs Sports Minors, Fulham, Pinehurst Youth Centre (Swindon) and local rivals Leyton Orient.  These ties included some notable goal scoring performances. Centre forward, Alan Blackburn, led the way with a quintet in the 6-1 win over Briggs Sports and a hat-trick in the following round’s win over Fulham. Not to be out done, right winger Micky Lill scored a treble against the Swindon based side. Blackburn missed out on a third consecutive hat-trick when only managing a brace against Pinehurst.    

 

The quarter-final against east-London neighbours, Leyton Orient, was expected to be closer than the 3-0 result indicated. The 3,500 crowd watching as snow fell, witnessed second half goals from right half John Taylor, inside left John Francis and finally from Alan Blackburn.

 

Blackburn was top scorer with 13 of the Hammers' 26 FA Youth Cup goals. He also had the distinction of scoring in six of the seven games. The exception was the first leg of the semi-final when he sustained a shoulder injury. Behind Blackburn in the goal scoring stakes was Lill on five, Francis 3, Stan Foreman & Terry Matthews with two apiece and a single net from John Taylor.

Progression to the First Team

In this FA Youth Cup campaign the Hammers called on 14 players. Three of the fourteen progressed to make their football league debuts with West Ham.  A fourth, Micky Lill, left Upton Park to pursue his football league career with several other clubs.

 

The three to later play for the West Ham league side were goalkeeper Brian Rhodes, Alan Blackburn and Terry Matthews.

Brian Rhodes

Brian Rhodes enjoyed the longest spell with the club as his first team games were spread over six seasons. He made 61 league appearances plus another two and three in the FA and League cups respectively. His West Ham league debut came over three years after this FA Youth Cup campaign when he played against Blackburn Rovers on September 2, 1957 in the clubs Division II championship winning season.  In that championship winning term he played five league games. His best season for first team games was 1960-61 when he played in 36 of the 42 Division I matches.  Brian also had the distinction of appearing in West Ham’s first ever XI fielded in the League Cup. In September 1963 he left the club to join Southend United where he played another 11 league games.

Alan Blackburn

Striker Alan Blackburn was the first of this 1954 youth side to make his league debut when he played away at Derby County in the 0-0 draw on December 27, 1954. Similar to Rhodes, he too participated in the Hammers 1957-58 championship season.  Allbeit a single game, the 3-0 home defeat to Sheffield United on September 9, 1957. This was the last of his 15 league and two FA Cup games. He made the score sheet on three occasions. In November 1957 Blackburn transferred to Halifax Town where he played 124 league games (35 goals).

Terry Matthews

Inside right Terry Matthews’ name is etched in the club’s record books as one of the distinguished group to have score a goal on their first team debut. On March 17, 1956 Terry scored West Ham’s solitary goal in the 4-1 defeat away at Blackburn Rovers. The 1955-56 season turned out to be the only season he played in the league side. Terry enjoyed a run of nine league games out of a possible ten.  In July 1957 he moved to Aldershot (62 league games & 22 goals) before later spending a spell with Gillingham (9 league games & 1 goal).

Micky Lill

Of the 1953-54 youth team, Mickey Lill was very much one of the side’s stars. Prior to the April semi-final 2nd leg against Wolves he received a call up to join the England Youth squad for 1954’s International Youth Tournament in Spain.  According to the Rothmans Football Year Book he gained an England Youth international cap and this may well have been in the April 1954 tournament. He is listed in the Rothman’s Yearbook as an “Essex” team player and this may have been during his time on West Ham’s books and before he left the club. Soon after the final of the 1954 FA Youth Cup Lill transferred to the Molineux club.  Lill played for three football league clubs as his career stretched to 1962. Despite joining Wolves in the summer of 1954 he had to wait until 1957 before he made his football league debut. He played 30 league games (15 goals) for Wolves before transferring to Everton in 1959 where he played 31 (11 goals) league games. His final transfer was to Plymouth Argyle in 1962 (21 league games & 7 goals).

1954 FA Youth Cup Programmes

Programmes of the Hammers’ 1953-54 FA Youth Cup matches are a valuable reminder of the club’s first successful venture into the FA Youth Cup nearly 60 years ago.  We have images of five of the seven FA Youth Cup ties.  The exceptions are the programmes for the 1st and the 2nd round ties. The programme for the first round match played at Clapton’s ground against Tottenham Hotspur is either extremely rare or it is possible no programme was issued.  While the match programme for the Hammers' "home" tie with Briggs Sports Minors at Dagenham F.C.'s Victoria Road ground is very rare.

 

The programmes for the 4th round December 1953 match against Pinehurst Youth Centre (Swindon) is also another rarity which is why it recently fetched over £100 at auction.  

The Class of '54 will be remembered as the first to have an impact in the FA Youth Cup

The programmes’ team listings include the names of a sprinkling of players who progressed to the football league. For those who didn’t make it to the senior side, they will always be remembered for their contribution in making this the first under 18 Hammers side to have an impact in the FA Youth Cup.

54_03_31 Wolves v. WHU FAYC Semi 54_04_08 WHU v. Wolves FAYC Semi 54_03_01 WHU v. Leyton Orient FAYC 5 53_11_28 WHU v. Fulham FAYC3 53_12_28 WHU v. Pinehurst Youth Centre FAYC4 Youth Soccer 01

An Introduction to the Youth Section of the

West Ham United Football Company Ltd

Bill Robinson Guides Team to Semi-Final

How we run our Youth Section

From the list of personnel on Page One you will realise straight away that our Youth Section is now a highly organised activity.

 

The boys themselves fall into two categories: (a) those who attend out Tuesday and Thursday evening sessions and (b) those who, specially selected for their outstanding promise, are taken on to our staff, and receive full-time training and coaching with our professionals.

 

 

 

Staff Juniors

The boy who is accepted by us a “Staff Junior” must have two qualifications. First, he must be of exceptional promise, and secondly, he must want to be a professional more than anything else. This is very important.

 

 

 

Saving Schemes

It has always been our practice to encourage all our players to “put a little something away” each week, and most of them do. Various methods of saving have been devised for them, and very useful has the habit proved.

 

 

 

Lads from Distant Parts

It sometimes happens that a lad comes to us from a part of the country from which daily travel to the ground is extremely difficult, if not impossible. He, and his parents, may rest assured that he can continue to enjoy the comforts of home life to the full, in one of our many select residences retained by the Club for this purpose.

 

 

 

General Welfare

If a football club is to be successful it must first of all be a happy club, from top to bottom. That means that everyone in it must be happy, and pull together.

Every individual is different, and one of the most important jobs of our management is to know each one of the staff as a person – his likes and dislikes, his whims, his fancies, his strengths, his weaknesses. We must be ready to share his triumphs and his troubles alike.

 

West Ham United enjoy a reputation for gentlemanly conduct not only in this country but all over Europe, where we have toured for over thirty-six years. We are proud of that reputation and we mean to keep it.

We want our youngsters to grow up to be proud of their Club, as we in turn want to be proud of them.

 

 

 

Football as a Career

The answer is simple – it is a good life. Indeed, for the man of the right character and with the necessary ability it can be a wonderful life.

Extracts from the Youth Section Handbook given to each parent

Molineux

1 - 6 (Matthews)

Rhodes

Ling

Taylor

Vichion

Swan

Wickers

Lill

Matthews

Blackburn

Francis

Foreman

Upton Park

1 - 2 (Blackburn)

Rhodes

Ling

Taylor

Vichion

Swan

Wickers

Lill

Matthews

Blackburn

Francis

Foreman

SLUG Memorabilia 420 BLACKBURN Alan

First Round : Monday October 5, 1953

West Ham United 1 – 0 Tottenham Hotspur

Spotted Dog Ground, Clapton

1 - 0 a.e.t. (Blackburn)  0 - 0 full-time

Rhodes

Ling

Pilgrim

Lill

Swan

Taylor

Kelsey

Francis

Blackburn

Matthews

Foreman

 

Third Round : Saturday November 28, 1953

West Ham United 7 – 2 Fulham

Upton Park

7 - 2 (Blackburn 3, Francis 2, Foreman 2)

Second Round : Saturday October 24, 1953

West Ham United 6 – 1 Brigg Sports

Victoria Road, Dagenham

6 - 1 (Blackburn 5, Lill)

Blackburn

Blackburn 5, Lill

Blackburn 3, Francis 2, Foreman 2

Blackburn 2, Lill 3, Matthews, Foreman

Taylor, Francis, Blackburn

Matthews

Blackburn

MATTHEWS Terry SLUG Memorabilia

WEST HAM PROGRAMME MATCH REPORT:

 

The Colts’ side scored a very good win in the First Round of the F.A. Cup against the Spurs’ Juniors at the Spotted Dog Ground, Forest Gate.

Five of the side were newcomers to us this season, and they found themselves opposed to a team which all had metropolitan League or “A” Team experience with the Lilywhites.

Although they took a little time to settle down, the Hammers steadily gained the upper hand. Blackburn hit the woodwork two or three times, but at end of 90 minutes there was no score. It seemed likely that greater experience would carry our opponents through during the extra half-hour, but when Blackburn scored within a few minutes of the restart we kept on top and were good winners.

 

We now meet Briggs Sports Minors in the Second Round; this should be a “home” game for us, but we have to fix a venue and at the moment there has been nothing  settled.

 

WEST HAM PROGRAMME MATCH REPORT:

 

Although Briggs were without two of their regular side (both playing for Essex during the afternoon) it was apparent from the start that we were to be the better side, and a 3-0 superiority was established at the interval despite some fine efforts by the works’ team. The second-half  brought much the same result and we succeeded by a 6-1 score. Alan Blackburn had a “field day”, netting five times, Mickey Lill being our other scorer.

Rhodes

Ling

Pilgrim

Vichion

Swan

Taylor

Lill

Matthews

Blackburn

Newman

Foreman

Rhodes

Ling

Pilgrim

Vichion

Swan

Taylor

Lill

Matthews

Blackburn

Francis

Foreman

 

 

Fourth Round : Monday December 28, 1953

West Ham United 7 – 0 Pinehurst Youth Centre (Swindon)

Upton Park

7 - 0 (Blackburn 2, Lill 3, Matthews, Foreman)

Rhodes

Ling

Pilgrim

Taylor

Swan

Lill

Vichion

Foreman

Matthews

Blackburn

Newman

WEST HAM PROGRAMME MATCH REPORT:

 

Our Colts’ team played their Fourth Round tie before an attendance of a little over 1,000. Their opponents were Pinehurst Youth Centre (Swindon), a club which had dismissed Barnstaple and Gloucester City from the earlier rounds of this national tournament.

It was the greater experience of our side that decided the issue, for although Pinehurst gave a very gallant display they were unable to match the greater thrust of our entire team. Far too often their centre-forward found himself opposed by several defenders through his fellow-attackers failing to keep up with the play,  and after gaining a 3-0 interval lead the Hammers coasted to a victory by seven clear goals.

Three of these were scored by Lill; after Blackburn had headed home in the opening minutes our left-winger’s shot from the touchline went into the far corner of the net at the end of half-an-hours play, whilst he added two more in the last three minutes with drives from about 12 yards, after moving into the inside-right position through an injury to Matthews. Matthews had intercepted a back-pass to the opposing goalkeeper to score our third goal just before half-time and Blackburn again headed in for our fourth tally soon after the interval. The other goal was credited to Foreman, whose long shot along the ground went just inside the post as the goalkeeper dived for it.

Fifth Round : Monday March 1, 1954

West Ham United 3 – 0 Leyton Orient

Upton Park

3 - 0 (Taylor, Francis, Blackburn)

Rhodes

Ling

Taylor

Vichion

Swan

Wickers

Lill

Matthews

Blackburn

Francis

Foreman

WEST HAM PROGRAMME MATCH REPORT:

 

The deplorable weather kept down the attendance at our Youth Cup match to 3,500 and it is likely that given better conditions this “gate” might easily have been doubled. Those who did brave the elements were duly rewarded with a very fine game, and although our Colts finally beat Leyton Orient juniors by three clear goals the issue was in doubt until well into the second-half.

Snow fell soon after the kick-off but it came on even more heavily after the interval. We had more chances than the O’s but they held us scoreless until nearly an hour had passed. Then a speculative shot by right-half Taylor from long-range was misjudged by the goalkeeper to put us one up after which Francis turned home a cross pass from Foreman with his head to make it 2-0. Bu this time our youngsters were well on top and Blackburn ploughed his way through the middle to put the issue beyond doubt.

The result appeared to somewhat surprise our opponents, for they are leaders of the South Eastern Counties Cup competition and expected to progress much further in the Youth Cup.

 

"Details of the club's youth policy are explained in Appendix 1 at the end of this feature."

Appendix 1:

Youth manager Bill Robinson and chief scout Wally St. Pier

1953-54 FA Youth Cup Statistics

Two Matches at Upton Park on Same Day

As an aside, the 3rd round tie against Fulham was unusual for a couple of reasons. First the game kicked off at the early time of 10.30am, and then in the afternoon the club hosted a second competitive match. About two hours after the final whistle had been blown on the FA Youth Cup tie, the whistle was sounded for a Football Combination game against Cardiff Reserves. The reserve fixture kicked off at 2.15pm and a 5,200 attendance watched the Hammers reserves win 2-1, goals courtesy of Harry Hooper and a penalty by Gerry Gazzard.  Two victories on the same day and same pitch – a very good day for the club!  

53_11_28 WHU v. Cardiff City Reserves FA Results 437 RHODES Brian

Footnote:

"If any of the players or members of the players' families would like to add any recollections or memorabilia from the 1954 FA Youth Cup campaign, please get in touch"     theyflysohigh@fsmail.net

WEST HAM PROGRAMME MATCH REPORT:

 

Although there was a disappointingly small attendance here for our Colts’ match they were well rewarded with seeing nine goals. As seven of these were netted by the Hammers we had good cause for jubilation at the continued success of our under-18 youngsters who were only playing together for the fifth time as a complete team.

Making the most of their first-half chances the Hammers were 4-0 up at the interval and they remained on top for the greater part of the second-half despite an injury to Swan, who finally ended up on the wing for the last quarter-of-an-hour.

54_04_08 WHU v. Wolves FAYC Wolves v. WHU FAYC Semi-Final - Back LILL Micky NEWMAN C

C. Newman

Newman was an inside forward who contributed to the youth squad's impressive cup run. He played in two of the early rounds as a deputy for John Francis in the games versus Briggs Sports Minors and Pinehurst Youth Centre (Swindon). "

Wolves

Micky Lill in the Wolverhampton Wanderers Championship winning squad of 1958-59

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