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Malcolm Allison or “Big Mal” as he was affectionately known was one of the major influencers at West Ham United during the 1950s. His passion for the game and competitive spirit meant he continually strived for improvements on and off the pitch. Stories of his enthusiasm and how he represented the players abound. He was forthright in his views and without a doubt his influence on team tactics, training methods and possibly team selection, was not insignificant.
Born on September 5, 1927 Malcolm Allison died on October 14, 2010 aged 83.
Joins West Ham in February 1951
He played 238 league games for the Hammers, all in the Second Division, and his last appearances were in the 1957-58 promotion season, which meant Malcolm never achieved one of his ambitions to wear claret and blue in the top division.
A lasting memory of Allison’s playing career with the Hammers is how his career was eclipsed by Bobby Moore’s. As the master had made a recovery from tuberculosis and was ready for a return to first team action, it was the apprentice, Bobby Moore, who got the nod for his football league debut. That fateful day in September 1958 marked the end of Malcolm’s aspirations for resumption of his football league playing career.
The end of his claret and blue career soon triggered the start of what turned out to be a highly impressive coaching and management career. Albeit colourful and full of controversy.
First Team Debut in Essex Professional Cup
Prior to making his West Ham league debut, Malcolm made a couple of appearances in the Essex Professional Cup (EPC). In the 1950s the EPC was treated as a tournament for the first XI or XI’s comprising of many regular first teamers. So his initial game for the first team was the EPC semi-final on March 5, 1951 in the scoreless draw away to Leyton Orient. A week later on Monday March 12 he kept his place for the semi-final Upton Park replay and a 6-1 victory. Five days after this replay Malcolm made his Hammers league debut in a Division Two match.
Two days after the final Division Two game, on May 7 1951, Malcolm gained an EPC winners medal. He was the centre half in the team which beat Southend United 2-0 at Upton Park.
Talking of finals, Malcolm was also in the in the West Ham XI which drew the London Challenge Cup final 1-1 with Arsenal on December 6, 1954. Though he didn’t play in the replay of the final when the Hammers suffered a 2-1 defeat.
March 1951 League Debut
Allison's West Ham league debut, came a month after signing from the Addicts at home to Chesterfield Saturday March 17, 1951 in a 2-0 win with goals from Bill Robinson and Gerry Gazzard.
The team that day was:
George Taylor, Steve Forde, Harry Kinsell, Derek Parker, Malcolm Allison, Frank O’Farrell, Harry Hooper, Danny McGowan, Bill Robinson, Gerry Gazzard, Terry Woodgate.
For the next six seasons he was a regular in the first team. In his first three seasons he played in all but seven of the league games. And in his final season, 1957-58, he played in five of the first eight games before suffering a bout of tuberculosis which meant the removal of a lung in hospital.
Scores in Centre Forward Role
Nearly a year to the day after making his league debut Malcolm made a very rare appearance at centre forward in a home Essex Professional Cup tie. On March 12, 1952 the Hammers beat Southend United 2-1 and needless to say he led by example and crowned it with one of the goals. He also wore the number nine shirt in one of his 238 league appearances. This was as a deputy for an injured Fred Kearns in February 1953 in the goalless game at home to Blackburn Rovers.
Final League Appearance
His 238 Football League appearances included 10 goals, three of which were spot kicks. His first goal was from the penalty spot in his 61st appearance, the 3-2 home win over Nottingham Forest on October 18, 1952. His second spot-kick however didn't go to plan in the away fixture against Notts County at Meadow Lane December 27, 1952, Allison's initial effort was parried by custodian Bradley but he followed up to score on the rebound to make the final score 1-1. His second successful penalty came in the 80th minute at Filbert Street to conclude a thrilling 5-3 victory for the home club Leicester City.
His third and last successful spot-kick was in the promotion season’s opening fixture on August 24, 1957 in the 2-2 draw against Lincoln City.
• London FA XI Representative Honour – Malcolm is one of only five West Ham players to have played in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. In the early days of this European competition the London Football Association fielded teams comprising of players from London’s football league clubs. On March 27, 1957 Malcolm played in the London FA side which lost 1-0 away to Frankfurt in a group game. Also in the London FA XI that day was club mate, John Bond.
• The 1956 FA Cup run was another highpoint as the Hammers narrowly missed out on a semi final place when they lost a 6th round replay at home to Tottenham Hotspur. On their way to the quarter final they had disposed of two first division sides.
• An Italian Tactical Lesson - The third memorable game selected is a friendly against European opposition. This match was played on Tuesday December 14, 1954 under the Upton Park floodlights against arguably one of the very best European sides at the time. The opposition was AC Milan who gave West Ham a lesson in football with their 6-0 win.
Friendlies against International Club Sides
The 1954 AC Milan friendly provides a link to an Upton Park friendly three years earlier. On February 10 1951 first division Charlton Athletic played the Hammers just days before Allison transferred to West Ham. He was in the Charlton Athletic side which thrashed the Hammers 5-1 with four of the goals scored by a Swede, Hans Jeppson.
Back in the 1950s this was before the advent of the Football League Cup and European club competitions, which meant friendly games were an integral part of the fixture list. During he’s seven seasons at West Ham he played in many friendlies ranging from games against non-league town sides to prestigious games against top European opposition.
The flow of attractive teams visiting Upton Park continued in 1955-56. In September a FA Amateur XI played the Hammers as part of the amateur’s preparations for the 1956 Olympic tournament. Behind the Hammers’ 6-1 win is a good story and insight into Malcolm’s colourful character.
According to his autobiography “Colours of My Life”
…the winning members of the West Ham team were due a £2 first XI win bonus which had not been paid.
This resulted in Malcolm leading the team to the brink of a strike and a threat of not turning out for the next Division Two league match away at Nottingham Forest unless the bonus was paid up. Apparently Ted Fenton quickly returned with the expected bonus payments and the team duly trotted out to play Nottingham Forest!
Season 1956-57 saw Malcolm play in October 1956’s Geoff Hallas / Brian Moore testimonial match, the first such game for members of West Ham’s playing staff. The second testimonial game for a West Ham player who was forced to retire early would turn out to be Malcolm’s in two year’s time. A notable game for Malcolm this season was the visit of Sparta Prague for a friendly in March 1957. The sharing of six goals included a penalty from Malcolm. The end of season tour of Czechoslovakia would prove to be Malcolm’s last claret and blue friendly games. On this tour Malcolm moved to wing half as Ted Fenton introduced a young up and coming centre half, Ken Brown, into the team. Just as Malcolm was bought in to replace Dick Walker, Ted was now considering support and a future replacement for Malcolm.
Last Ever Game in Claret & Blue
Early in the 1957-58 season when West Ham finally gained promotion to Division One, Malcolm suffered from TB which resulted in losing a lung and much of his fitness. But his determination to return to first team action saw him work hard to regain match fitness, though possibly not as good as he had enjoyed prior to his illness. Early in season 1958-59 Malcolm was well on the road back to match fitness and his comeback included a few Football Combination reserve team games. By September he felt ready for a return to the first team. However, the story is well documented on how Ted Fenton asked Noel Cantwell for a recommendation on who should fill the vacant half back spot for the September 1958 league visit of Manchester United. Should it be Malcolm Allison or a young star in the making, Bobby Moore? Noel recommended Bobby Moore. Unfortunately for Malcolm this ended his first team aspirations.
Malcolm’s Testimonial Game v A Selected All Star XI November 17, 1958 (7- 6)
Coaching & Managerial Career
After a West Ham career taking in 265 competitive first team matches his first team days were over. The 265 games covered 238 league games (10 goals), 17 FA Cup, 3 Southern Floodlight Cup and 7 Essex Professional Cup appearances (2 goals). Whilst at West Ham he developed his coaching interests as part of the famous West Ham academy which met at Cassertari’s café to discuss and devise new tactics. He also helped with coaching the juniors. Soon after leaving West Ham he continued coaching in roles with Sutton United and Cambridge University. Around this time he made a short return to playing with Southern League side, Romford in 1963 before finally hanging up his boots to pursue his coaching career.
After leaving Romford FC he started his coaching career in earnest at Bath City. This was quickly followed by his first appointment with a football league club, Plymouth Argyle. From the West Country he soon moved to Manchester City as Joe Mercer’s assistant. His eight year spell at Manchester City (1965-1973) was his most successful coaching stint and helped build his credibility and reputation as a flamboyant character who delivered results. The Mercer and Allison era was probably the best in the club’s history as they won the First Division (1967-68), FA Cup (1969), Football League Cup (1970) and European Cup Winners Cup (1970). When the Mercer-Allison relationship deteriorated, Malcolm was left in sole charge in 1972. A year later in March as the team struggled Malcolm resigned.
After this first spell with Manchester City he moved on to Crystal Palace and this was one of many relatively short tenures with many clubs both in England and overseas.
LEYTON ORIENT 5th March 1951
Taylor, Kearns, Kinsell, Jackman, Allison, Moroney, Hooper, McGowen, Robinson, Gazzard, Woodgate
Allison started his professional career with Charlton Athletic who were a top division side back in the 1950s. He was on the fringe of their first team and after making a couple of Division One league appearances he became one of Ted Fenton’s early signings. In February 1951 West Ham United paid first division Charlton Athletic £7,000 for Malcolm who was signed as a replacement for the veteran centre half Dick Walker.
Six and a half years after his debut, his last league game proved to be away to Sheffield United on Monday September 16, 1957. By now Ted Fenton had built a side good enough to win Division Two. On that September afternoon, Malcolm was the only survivor from the West Ham side on his debut. The team for the 2-1 defeat in front of West Ham’s lowest attendance in that promotion season was:
West Ham United team:
Brian Rhodes, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Malcolm Allison, Mike Grice, Billy Dare, Bill Neville, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove.
Despite not reaching Division One, there were several memorable matches in his playing career including:
A lesson Malcolm didn’t forget and he referred to it in his autobiography “Colours of My Life”:
We (West Ham) all struggled. They were all so much more accomplished in every phase of the game. They worked brilliantly off the ball and all of their players could beat a man when they needed to. I remember getting on the trolley bus to go home, feeling very low. A chap got on the bus complaining about the team, all the way to Ilford. It was a painful journey.
The AC Milan performance was an eye opener for West Ham, especially Malcolm. From that December 1954 defeat to the promotion season three years later, Allison recognised how: We had moved, in terms of tactical sophistication, a long way from that night in 1954 when AC Milan appeared in a friendly match at Upton Park.
Soon after announcing the retirement of his football league playing career, the West Ham board granted Malcolm a testimonial game. The Board recognised that similar to Geoff Hallas and Brian Moore, his playing career had been prematurely curtailed. On November 17, 1958 a strong All Star XI visited Upton Park for a floodlit game. An attendance of 21,000 contributed about £3,000 towards his testimonial fund. To add a lighter touch to the occasion, the match officials were current first division players - referee Jimmy Hill (Fulham) was ably supported by linesmen Frank O'Farrell (Preston) and Danny Blanchflower (Spurs). The 21,600 attendance contributed just over £3,000 in gate receipts. After West Ham had deducted match expenses and allowed Malcolm to buy his club house at Barkingside, he was left with £700. In 1958 the average weekly wage for a man was about £12, so £700 was a tidy sum.
All Stars XI:
Colin MacDonald (Burnley)
Don Howe (WBA)
Graham Shaw (Sheffield Utd)
Jimmy Scoular (Newcastle)
Joe Shaw (Sheffield Utd)
Ray Barlow (WBA)
Peter Brabrook (Chelsea)
Bobby Collins (Everton)
Brian Clough (Middlesbrough)
Bobby Charlton (Man Utd)
Joe Haverty (Arsenal)
In season 1952-53 he played in several notable games. These included the February 1953 Flood Relief Benefit game against Portsmouth held in Belgium. in a match in aid of the Belgian, Dutch and British Flood Relief Funds. The Fund was set up after the major disaster which struck the Costal areas of Britain and the Low Counties; Pompey and ourselves played by filling a vacant Saturday, caused by elimination from the F.A. Cup. The Hammers party pose for a team photograph before taking off for Antwerp.
1952-53 – Upton Park’s First Floodlit Friendlies
Top of steps:
John Bond, George Taylor, Terry Woodgate (holding hat), John Gregory, Jim Barrett Jnr.
On steps: Gerry Gazzard, George Wright, Eddie Chapman, Harry Hooper, Billy Moore
Front: Frank O'Farrell, Ted Fenton, Ernie Gregory, Malcolm Allison, Fred Kearns, Derek Parker
Allison was also in the team for West Ham's first ever floodlit games at Upton Park game beating first division and FA Cup semi-finalists Tottenham Hotspur (2-1) on April 16, and drawing with St.Mirren (3-3) four days later. Two weeks after facing the FA Cup semi-finalists he was playing down in the West Country at St. Austell where he scored a rare goal.
1953-54 – First Away Floodlit Game
In the next season the Hammers participated in several more prestigious friendlies. In October another first division side, Sunderland, visited east London to play in front of the biggest crowd for a floodlit home game at that time. 27,000 witnessed West Ham’s 2-0 victory. Two weeks later and he helped the defence keep a clean sheet in the 7-0 thrashing of Hearts of Midlothian. His next friendly on November 2 was away at Queens Park Rangers in West Ham’s first ever away floodlit fixture and win (4-2). Into the spring he was in the sides which beat St.Mirren (3-1), the Swiss side Servette (5-1) and drew with Brazilians, Olaria.
1954-55 – Upton Park’s First Televised Game
The 1954-55 season’s friendlies were just as memorable with West Ham beating several good club sides. Allison missed the October games against VFB Stuttgart and SC Wacker but was back in time for December’s footballing lesson from AC Milan. That evening’s Upton Park attendance of 35,000 was a new club record for a floodlit game. In January West Ham again beat first division opposition. This time it was Portsmouth who suffered a 4-1 defeat at Upton Park. Two February friendlies gave Malcolm the opportunity to play against opposition from countries he hadn’t played club sides from. The first was the Austrian team, SC Simmering (8-2) and the second the Belfast side, Distillery (2-2). In March he was in the first West Ham team to play live in a televised game when he appeared in the scoreless draw with Holland Sports
1955-56 – Threat of Players Striking
Fritz Walter and Malcolm Allison exchange pennants before the floodlight match between the Hammers and German champions Kaiserslautern in April, 1956
The next month saw a return visit of Distillery for a game of 12 goals with West Ham scoring seven! Another Austrian side, SK Rapid from Vienna gained a 1-1 draw in November. In the following April 1956 Kaiserslautern gained a surprising 4-2 victory for what was West Ham’s second defeat in an Upton Park floodlit game. The first was at the hands of AC Milan. For the Kaiserslautern game Malcolm was captain. Though I’m don’t know when he took over the captaincy from Frank O’Farrell.
1956-57 – Nets a Penalty v Sparta Prague
For the record his last ever game in claret and blue was possibly the Football Combination game at Upton Park on Saturday September 13, 1958. The team which lost 4-1 to Nottingham Forest Reserves was a mix of senior and junior professionals:
West Ham United Reserves:
Brian Rhodes, Fred Cooper, Trevor Hayward, Malcolm Pyke, Joe Kirkup, Malcolm Allison, Doug Wragg,
Andy Smillie, Billy Dare, John Cartwright, Terry McDonald.
Gregory, Bond, Cantwell, Malcolm, Brown, Lansdowne, Grice, Woosnam, Keeble,
Kebble 3, Bond [pen], Cantwell, Woosnam, Grice
Rolled-Up Shirt Sleeves to Fedora, Cigar and Champagne
While his greatest footballing achievements were in a coaching capacity, West Ham fans will remember him as the strong colourful character who helped to lay the foundations for West Ham to get back into the First Division. The English footballing world recalls his fedora, cigar and champagne but for West Ham fans it was his shirt sleeves rolled-up determination to lead on and off the pitch where he made his mark.
Rare image of Malcolm Allison in a Charlton Athletic
team line-up at Saarbrucken
September 5, 1927
17 FA Cup
3 Southern Floodlit Cup
7 Essex Professional Cup
2 Essex Professional Cup
Date of Birth: