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Gill the Apprentice ...

by Roger Hillier

68_05_13 Guildford City v. WHU Gill Test Eric Gill Gill Testimonial

Guildford City 1 - 4 West Ham United (HT 0-3)

Josephs Road : Monday May 13, 1968

Guildford City: (Vafiadis)

Spratley, Burns, Anthony, Scott, Bishop, More, Burge, Davies, Vincent, Vafiadis, Hudson



West Ham United: (Sissons, Peters, Dear, Gill)

Peter Grotier, Billy Bonds, Bobby Howe, Ron Boyce, Alan Stephenson, Martin Peters, Harry Redknapp, Jimmy Lindsay, Trevor Brooking, Brian Dear (Roger Cross), John Sissons (Stephen Gill).



Referee: A.D’Urso

Eric Gill Testimonial

Donald Trump’s dramatic rise from reality TV star in the original American version of ‘The Apprentice’ to President of the USA is a reminder of another apprenticeship. Under the guidance of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, West Ham United used to have their own apprentice scheme.


'theyflysohigh' caught up with Stephen Gill, one of West Ham’s former trainee's from the late 1960s and early 1970s, to hear about life as an apprentice professional footballer.

After success in school boy football which culminated in an England Schools trial match, Stephen joined West Ham United as a trialist in the summer of 1967, progressed to signing as a professional and graduated to play for West Ham United Reserves.


Despite scoring goals for the South East Counties, Metropolitan and Reserve side to take him to the fringe of the first team squad, he was released by the club in 1971. A life changing moment for the youngster as he suddenly found himself in the situation of having to find a new job.


Stephen carved out a successful 40-year career with the Department of Works & Pensions (DWP) which is where he met his future wife. As for football, this remained his burning passion and he continued to enjoy a successful playing career in the amateur ranks with several Sussex based clubs.  

Schoolboy Soccer with St. Lukes and Brighton Boys

GILL Stephen portrait

Southern Junior Floodlit Cup Semi-final  - Highfield Road

Stephen Robert Gill was born January 2, 1952 in Lambeth, south London. His father Eric Gill was a professional footballer playing in goal for Charlton Athletic. At the end of the 1951-52 season the goalkeeper transferred to Brighton and Hove Albion. Stephen was only 6-months old when the family moved to Hove, not too far from Brighton's Goldstone Ground that summer .


Aged nine, the wannabe footballer (he didn't fancy following in his father's boots by playing between the sticks) started his soccer career playing outfield for his school side, St. Lukes. The third-year pupil was allowed to play a year higher than his age group and Stephen recalls his first-ever game was on the losing side in a 4-1 defeat by local rivals Balfour, however the youngsters goalpoaching instincts came to the fore as he bagged a debut goal for St. Lukes.


The 1961-62 campaign ends with the striker scoring 12 goals from 20 games. Balfour also put paid to his first-ever medal when St. Lukes were defeated 3-2 in the final of the Fitzgerald Cup.


The following season a positional change as he moved inside from his outside-left berth which elevated his goal ratio as he bagged 31 of the sides 70 goals that campaign and a place in the Brighton Boys side as well as having a trail with South London. Stephen confesses he didn't play very well and was still picked.

Admission ticket

Varndean FC (1963-64 to 1966-67)

The 1963-64 season kicked-off with Stephen playing for Varndean Under-12s. Throughout his playing career the youngster kept a meticulous account of the games he played in, as well as recording each match, he also kept note of the goals he scored and a brief summary of his season.


Below are a few pages from his time with Varndean, Brighton and Sussex Boys.

Scrapbook page 05 Scrapbook page 04

The Hammers Come Calling

Crossed Hammer outline Crossed Hammer outline Varndean report

According to Gill's summary notes at the end of the 1966-67 campaign and his last with Varndean FC, "It was an average season for me", he goes on to write "during the season I was captain and played centre-forward. I made 10 appearances and scored 24 goals. I made my debut for the first XI (Varndean) this season against the Old Boys. I missed 7 games due to playing for Brighton Boys"


Stephen's notes also reveal he had a bad season playing for Brighton Boys, he writes "I missed plenty of games due to injury", "My position was never fixed for Brighton or Sussex, I was captain for Brighton during the first half of the season and scored 3 goals. Only one goal for Sussex"

Young Gill may have thought he had a bad season by his standards, however, the 15-year-old was spotted by West Ham scout, Wilf Chitty whilst playing for Brighton in their 4th Round English Schools Trophy match at Canterbury on 3 December 1966. The youngsters disappointment with a 4-1 defeat for Brighton was soon forgotten when Chitty offered the striker a trail match with the Hammers.


December turned out to be a good month, he also learnt that he was selected for a series of England trials. In January 1967, he played in the winning South East England side against their South West opponents at Hounslow. In February a 2-1 victory, playing for the South against the North at the Basball Ground, Derby. Stephen's parents were taken to the match by West Ham chief scout Wally St. Pier and Chitty who were monitoring the progress of the youngster.


Around this period both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur offered Stephen trail games, which he accepted. Gill has recollections of sitting in Bill Nicholson’s (Spurs manager) and Bertie Mee’s (Arsenal manager) offices. However, he decided that West Ham had looked after him and his parents the best. The Gill family’s recollections of St. Pier at the crucial time in the young man’s career were that Wally was a “lovely man” and his influence persuaded Stephen to sign for the Hammers.

As an apprentice his remuneration was £8 per week (plus the club paid £4 for lodging & 4 shilling vouchers (20 pence) for Cassettari’s Cafe.


Gill lived in lodgings for first 18 months near to Boleyn Ground in Henicker Street where he was looked after by an a landlady.


He later moved on to share new lodgings for two years with another apprentice Bobby Sutton. (Bobby would later be Stephen’s best man at his wedding)

Practice matches would typically be, Youth v. "A" team and Reserves v. First XI, and as the weekend approaches Friday's would normally consist of light training ahead of the Saturday fixtures.


Coming from schoolboy football Gill's level of fitness when he first arrived was behind the others and he worked hard with Bill Watson on extra fitness training. This included working in extra afternoon sessions to improves leg speed and sprinting.


The weekly training routine for the budding apprentice was not always glamorous. The young charges would help out kit man Albert Walker to place out the first team kit on match days. They were also expected to sweep out the changing room and even the terraces after a league game at the Boleyn Ground, clean the boots of senior players and even paint the stands.


On one memorable occasion, while waiting to clean out the Upton Park changing rooms after a Division One fixture, Stephen was amazed to see James Bond actor, Sean Connery, walk in as a guest of West Ham captain Bobby Moore.

Having joined his new teammates at Chadwell Heath, the fledgling apprentice is ready to start his “probation”, he is kitted out, and a note made on his “Record Card” of height and weight which is checked at regular intervals. Along with the other new intakes they are ready to begin the carefully prepared Training and Coaching Curriculum.

The Fledgling Apprentice

A typical training day at Chadwell Heath would include morning sessions, mainly concerned with physical development and are carried out with the professionals. This helps the boys to get into the right atmosphere of the game and makes them realise they are part of the Club.


Afternoon sessions consist mainly of training in the “aspects and skills” of the game. Split into three groups  which would include a mix of senior and youth players for third man running, fitness & practice moves, giving special attention to individual weaknesses.


The curriculum was carefully balanced so that each apprentice receives individual attention in all phases of his development.

Seven months into his trail period, and having just turned 16-years-of-age Stephen signed his first apprentice professional contract with the east London club on February 16, 1968.


A day after puting pen to paper he was in the starting XI for the SECL Colts side that played Watford at their South Oxhey base. Stephen had displaced the injured and future Academy Director Tony Carr from the side. Hammers in-form Colts striker Keith Keary bagged another couple to add to his tally, with Gill also adding his name to the scoresheet along with David Bedford and Jim Mullin in the 5-2 victory.

Young Hammer feature (in Sept 1968 v Spurs prog) says he played for Reserves last season – is this correct?

Stephen joined the first team squad for his father, Eric Gill’s, testimonial match. Gill senior was a goalkeeper who had played for a few professional clubs including Charlton Athletic and Brighton & Hove Albion. While at the Goldstone Ground he was a member of Seagull’s Division Three promotion winning side of 1958.

The 16-year-old appeared as a second-half substitute in a strong Hammers side that included Martin Peters, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Trevor Brooking and Johnny Sissons. Stephen came on for Sissons and scored West Ham’s fourth goal in the 47th minute. After the game he asked his father if he had seen his goal, to which his father replied “I was too busy selling raffle tickets!”

October 28, 1968

London Youth Cup Winners’ Medal in 1967-68

London Youth Cup Final 1967-68.  

This 1967-68 season’s final was held over until early in the following season due to fixture congestion.

Hammers beat Chelsea 3-1 on aggregate over the two final legs.  After a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge on September 4, the colts won Upton Park’s 2nd leg 2-0.  Stephen scored the first of West Ham’s goals in the home win.

FA Youth Cup – 2nd Round

Monday December 2, 1968

West Ham Youth 2 – 1 Fulham Youth

The youth side includes future first teamers: Peter Grotier, John McDowell, Clive Charles, Pat Holland and Joe Durrell.

Stephen was in the side which exited at the hands of Leyton Orient in the following round.

April 19, 1969

Coventry Youth 1 – 2 West Ham Youth

Hammers reach the final which was held over to early in the following season October.  West Ham won the cup final beating Ipswich Town Youth 2-1 on aggregate in the final.

One of West Ham’s scorers was  Bermudian Clyde Best.

Final of SE Counties League Cup Final 2nd leg – Upton Park


April 25, 1969


Stephen Gill was a member of winning cup final side



West Ham Youth 3 – 2 Millwall Youth

April 2, 1969 1st leg – The Den       Millwall Youth 0 – 2 West Ham Youth  

West Ham win cup 5-2 on aggregate


Africa Tour – May 1969



nine game itinerary against youth team (under 19s) games in Zambia and Malawi.


John Lyall the team manager. West Ham officials also included: Wally St.Pier, Bill Lansdowne & Albert Walker

Tour part-sponsored by Rothmans. Rothmans (tobacco company) presented the Peter Stuyvesant Trophy to the young Hammers for winning a three game series against Zambia Schools..

Stephen top West Ham’s goal scorers table with 9 of the 24 goals netted. Second top scorer Carl Humphreys on 3.




Journey to Africa took in flights to Rome and then on to Nairobi and Malawi.

Stayed with white families and also school dormitories for a five day spell.

Days included training before breakfast, match, match and sight-seeing visits to Kariba Dam, Chobi Game Reserve, Zambezi River, a sugar estate, a copper mine & Hillcrest Falls.

Very hot temperatures and in those days did not take in liquid during games.  Played nine games in 18 days.


Three days after return from Africa

May 1969


Called into reserve team tour when Timmy Clements injured.

Reserve Team Tour – Switzerland – games in Geneva & Zurich

Southern Junior Floodlit Cup

October 20, 1969


West Ham Youth 4 – 0 Reading Youth

Hat-trick from Stephen.

Debut for reserve team in Football Combination game1969-70


Debut game TBC

Signs Full Professional West Ham United contract

January 2, 1970


Buys first car. Recollections of ferrying team mates, Bobby Sutton & Ken Wallace, to training and matches. (what was the car?)

Signs Apprentice Professional Forms

1967-68 Hammers Debut

South East Counties League Division Two "Juniors"

Tottenham Hotspur 5 - 2 West Ham United

Stephen Gill’s debut match for the Hammers came in the South East Counties League Division Two Cup fixture against Tottenham Hotspur at their Cheshunt training ground on September 30, 1967. The side included future first team players John McDowell and Clive Charles. By all accounts the game went completely against the juniors, who succumbed by 5-2 after being two down at the interval.


At that time the Division Two Cup tournament was based on a mini-league format that included the juniors sides of Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Millwall, Orient and Romford. Seven days after his debut he came up against the same opposition with similar consequences.  This time Spurs ran out 5-0 winners in the return encounter at Chadwell Heath.


Four games into his claret and blue trail period on September 28, he scores his first goal for the Hammers in the 2-2 draw at Walthamstow, home to the Orient Juniors.


South East Counties League Division One "Colts"

Brighton & Hove Albion 2 - 6 West Ham United

His performances in those early games and his first goal for West Ham was enough to elevate him into the Colts side for the away fixture with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Hove Greyhound Stadium. The Hammers over came their south coast opponents by six goals to two. The line up on November 18, 1967 was Peter Grotier, Michael Westburgh, Alan Butcher, K. Childs, D. Vaughan, Peter Keary, Terry Stanley, Pat Holland, Keith Keary, David Bedford and Stephen Gill.


While it was Keith Keary who grabbed the headlines and the matchball after his hat-trick, Gill showed his promise by wading in with a double strike. A David Bedford penalty wrapped up the points for the Hammers.


Stephen’s summary notes that first season reveal that he was enjoying his best ever year of football.


His role throughout his first season was mainly as a striker but there were occasions when this was changed to a midfield or orthodox winger.  

He started the season as an amateur with the Juniors and the Colts and used to travel up from his Brighton home on Friday evenings to stay with his Nan before playing on a Saturday.


The travelling came to a stop when he signed apprentice forms. Club policy, was that you had to live within an hour of the training ground. In Stephen's case, that meant he had to move to London to fullfill his full-time job as a footballer.

Metropolitan League "A" Team

Cray Wanderers 3 - 1 West Ham United

The team at Foots Cray : Stephen Death, John McDowell, Steven Knowles, Pat Holland, Stuart Morgan, Keith Miller, Stephen Lay, Jimmy Lindsay, David Bedford, Tony Carr, Stephen Gill


Among the Apprentices ranks, there would always be two who were known as the “boss apprentices”. Their role was to help organise the group of apprentices. In Stephen's time the two to take on the "boss" role was goalkeeper Peter Grotier and the other, unsurprisingly was the great motivator Tony Carr.


A typical non-match day would entail meeting at the Boleyn Ground where the apprentices would board the club's transit van driven by youth team coach John Lyall to be taken over to the Chadwell Heath training ground. On arrival their routine, much the same as for a match day at Upton Park would include putting out the first team training kit and towels in the changing rooms.


After training sessions were over they were expected to tidy up the dressing rooms, collect the soiled training kit, shirt, shorts and towels ready to be washed back at the Boleyn Ground, and occasionally clean the professionals boots before piling back into the van for the return journey to Upton Park.


With their meal vouchers the youngsters would visit Cassettari’s Cafe for lunch, often joined by John Lyall and Ernie Gregory. On ocassions John Bond and Ken Brown would pop in, both had left West Ham for Torquay United, but continued to train with the Hammers.


In the afternoon's the apprentices had free-time to themselves and would often visit Boleyn Ground gym for a game of head tennis or even a visit to the local cinema.  

Boss Apprentice

Gill signature 68_03_25 WHU v. Crystal Palace LYJC Semi-Final 68_05_01 Cray Wanderers v. WHU Metro Crossed Hammer outline

Two London Youth F.A. Cup Semi-Finals

Crystal Palace and Millwall

A week later the Senior side contested their  Semi-Final tie against Millwall.


The Cup-tie turned out to be a disappointing one for the Hammers, with home advantage and a 1,634 attendance our under-18's were well beaten by our south London rivals. The Lions Colts were notably stronger and were comfortably able to withstand our constant pressure in the second-half when a strong wind was in the Hammers' favour.


The young Lions added another goal to the one they had netted before the interval, and the 2-0 margin was a fair representation of the exchanges.


The Senior team that evening : Busby, McDowell, Butcher, Cooper, Vaughan, Scales, Aylott, Charles C. (Hall), Bedford, Humphries, Gill


68_04_01 WHU v. Millwall LYC Semi-Final

In the latter part of his first campaign Stephen was chosen to play in league fixtures for both the South East Counties Juniors and the Colts' on alternate weekends as well as contesting both age-level Semi-Finals of the London Youth F.A. Junior and Senior Cup competions which provided mixed fortunes for the youngster.

The Juniors had a convincing win against Crystal Palace at Upton Park on March 25, their 4-1 victory taking them into the Final of the London Youth F.A. Junior Cup. The first goal was a penalty converted by David Bedford, an attendance of 1,300 saw Gill net the second to put us two up at the interval, although Palace had worked hard to reduce the margin in the second 45-minutes, Bedford went on to gain his hat-trick in the second half.


The Junior team that evening : Grotier, McDowell, Knowles, Tully, Vaughan, Scales, Lay (Aylott), Holland, Bedford, Carr, Gill


The final against Chelsea, the victors in the other semi-final was deferred until the following season because of a fixture congestion.

The Juniors finished their league campaign in second place with 18 points from 14 matches behind Champions Tottenham Hotspur with 23 points.

SECL Juniors : Runners-up

One last surprise for the fledgling apprentice before his first season with the Hammers had ended. He was drafted into the "A" team for the Metropolitan League fixture with Cray Wanderers at Foots Cray. A debut strike by Gill gave the Hammers a first-half lead, but three goals in the second 45-minutes gave the Wanderers a 3-1 victory.

1968-69 Youth team

Back row: Stephen Gill, Tery Scales, Clyde Best, Peter Grotier, John McDowell, Stephen Aylott, Clive Charles

Front row: Pat Holland, Stephen Lay, Tony Carr, Carl Humphreys, Keith Pointer

West Ham United Youth XI

1967-68 goals

At the end of the domestic season Stephen had played in 28 competitive games in his initial season and scored 18 goals in the process. He was selected to travel with the Under 20's on their end-of-season Youth tour to Switzerland playing in the Zurich Blue Stars and Martini Youth Tournaments. The youth squad also played three exhibition games on their tour to Zurich and Geneva. Although he was only selected to play in two matches the young striker had gained a wealth of experience.

1967-68 Match Stats and Goals Scored

Crossed Hammer outline

Eric Gill

Switzerland Youth Tournaments  23 May to 3 June

Crossed Hammer outline

1967-68 Season