Welcome to the West Ham United Memorabilia Collection featuring everything Claret and Blue
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As an aside the week commencing December 13, 1954 was an important week for English club football. West Ham’s match was sandwiched between two English club matches against top Hungarian opposition. On the Monday Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Honved 3-2, and on the Wednesday afternoon Chelsea faced Red Banner.
In the Chelsea team who drew 2-2 was a couple of players with a West Ham connection. At centre half was West Ham’s future manager Ron Greenwood and on the wing was Ex-Hammer Eric Parsons.
West Ham’s loan signing Antonio Nocerino from AC Milan last season was a reminder of an earlier West Ham United - AC Milan connection. Sixty years ago on Tuesday December 14, 1954 the top Italians visited Upton Park for a prestige friendly.
The early 1950s was an age before the European club and Football League Cup competitions kicked off leaving clubs to focus on the league and FA Cup, interspersed with the occasional friendly match. One of Ted Fenton’s significant contributions to the club was his foresight and ability to attract some extremely attractive European opposition to Upton Park for floodlit friendly affairs.
In season 1954-55 West Ham was firmly entrenched in Division Two and had yet to mount a serious challenge for promotion. But despite languishing in the second tier, Fenton’s commercial guile enticed some of Europe’s top club sides to East London.
In the last quarter of 1954, V.F.B. Stuggart (Germany), FC Wacker (Austria) and AC Milan visited Upton Park. That October the Hammers achieved two notable results beating Stuggart 4-0 and FC Wacker 3-1. Seven weeks later, on Tuesday December 14, West Ham met the Italian giants.
Biggest Match at Upton Park to Date?
Minutes of Board Meeting held Tuesday 12th October 1954
Minutes of Board Meeting held Monday 1st November 1954
Playing AC Milan was one of the biggest home matches in the club’s history, possibly the biggest to date. In 1954 AC Milan would certainly have been one of Europe’s finest sides and among the best in the world. Why?
For starters AC Milan included the world’s then most expensive footballer, inside forward Juan Schiaffino (£72,000), and one of the game’s most feared centre-forwards, Swede Gunnar Nordahl. They also included two players, Tognon and Frignani, from Italy’s 1954 World Cup squad.
West Ham handbooks and history books record the result without a match report or an account of the pre-match negotiations but the intrigue behind the match and what happened on the pitch is a story worth telling. This was a time when a club manager held wider responsibilities than those of today. Not only did West Ham manager Ted Fenton select the team, he was also heavily involved in the negotiations with clubs for friendly matches. Minutes from West Ham board meetings confirm the AC Milan negotiations as well as a visit Fenton made to Brussels to meet representatives of Honved FC and Anderlecht FC in October 1954. Though matches against the Hungarian and Belgium sides could not be agreed.
However, Fenton had his work cut out to persuade the Italians to visit Upton Park. According to The Times (December 15, 1954) this was the first Italian club side to visit England. The full commercial details are not published but AC Milan did request a hefty appearance fee. The Stratford Express (December 3, 1954) recounts Fenton’s flying visit to Milan to agree terms and match arrangements while long distance telephone calls between the manager in Milan and West Ham chairman Reg Pratt helped finalise the lucrative deal.
The Italian Ambassador shakes hands with Rigagni before the match
Back row: Puricelli, Busini, Buffon, Tognon, Silvestri, Bergamaschi, Zagatti, Maldini, Liedholm, Beraldo, Schiaffino, Toros, Pedroni, Guttman
Front row: Nordahl, Fontana, Frignani, Valli, Vicariotto, Rigagni, Soerensen
Fenton’s quote in the local paper summed it up: “AC Milan is willing to come to Upton Park but the overhead expense of a visit will be terrific. We may have to put up the prices in order to pay our way.”
As it turned out, the club decided that a loss in gate receipts would be more than compensated by the prestige value of the match. Ticket prices were left untouched and remained the same as for a Division Two league match.
The gamble paid off as 35,000 spectators poured into Upton Park and the gates were closed half an hour prior to kick-off. This prestigious friendly was the largest home crowd of the season and it would not be topped for another five years. Gate receipts totalled £4,570. The 35,000 attendance was, and will forever remain an Upton Park record for a non-competitive match.
TV Highlights - BBC Sportsview
Interest in the match stretched further than East London. A BBC request to televise the match live was turned down by chairman Reg Pratt on the basis that it may have kept paying fans away from the game. Instead the BBC showed recorded highlights on their “Sportsview” programme three evenings later.
Buffon, Beraldo, Zagatti, Liedholm, Pedroni (Bergamaschi), Tognon, Soerensen, Rigagni, Nordahl, Schiaffino, Frignani,
West Ham United 0 - 6 AC Milan (HT 0-2)
Tuesday December 14, 1954
West Ham United team:
Harry Kinsell (Noel Cantwell 46 mins)
Prestige Game Attracts Record Attendance for an Upton Park Friendly
A.C. Milan was founded as Milan Cricket and Football Club on 16 December 1899 by English expatriates Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin, who had originated from Nottingham.
In honour of its English origins, the club has retained the English spelling of the city's name, as opposed to the Italian spelling Milano which it was forced to bear under the fascist regime. The Cross of St George also makes up part of the club crest.
Did You Know ...
Memorable Night But Not for the Best Reasons
As for the match, West Ham had bitten off more than they could chew. The Hammers were completely outclassed and comprehensively beaten 6-0 by a classy side containing six current Italian internationals. They also lost their unbeaten record of friendly games under the Upton Park floodlights. The unbeaten run of nine floodlit matches commenced with a triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in the inaugural game in April 1953.
It was a night to remember for all the Hammers, especially goalkeeper George Taylor who was the busiest player on the field. He stood up to a barrage of shots as the West Ham defence was continually foxed by clever AC Milan forwards. Though on a positive note, West Ham started well. They were the first to attack as two shots by Jim Barrett were not far wide and a long range effort by Harry Kinsell flew over the bar. Then AC Milan opened the scoring after 15 minutes when Ken Brown deflected a low shot by Rigagni into his own goal. Soon after John Dick and Malcolm Musgrove tested the AC Milan goal keeper, Buffon, before a Milan defender nearly scored an own goal when deflecting a Harry Hooper centre against his post.
Just before half time Nordahl headed AC Milan’s 2nd goal although from the Hammers’ perspective a half-time deficit of 2-0 was not too disappointing.
For the second half Noel Cantwell replaced the injured Kinsell and West Ham followed this with their best spell of the match. Buffon made spectacular saves from Hooper, while Musgrove and Cantwell also put in fierce shots.
But the tide soon turned and The Times’ match report (December 15, 1954) heading “West Ham collapse in second half” summed it up. In the last 30 minutes AC Milan scored another four goals. After the hour and in the space of two minutes, Rigagni and Nordahl each scored. Thereafter the Italians continually pressed the West Ham goal and it was perhaps surprising that AC Milan only scored another two. Soerenson and a Cantwell own goal completed the rout to give a final score of West Ham 0 – 6 AC Milan.
An unusual aspect of the match was the Hammers’ team strip. As the usual satin finished claret & blue, developed for the early floodlit games, clashed with AC Milan’s red and black strips, the hosts played in lighter coloured kit. The match programme lists West Ham’s strip as blue shirts with white sleeves and collars but from the match photos it is not possible to see if the Hammers played in blue shirts or an all-white kit.
Hammers in Different Strip
It was a memorable evening for the players especially Noel Cantwell. In the space of three days he went from the extremes of playing for West Ham reserves against Bristol City reserves to appearing against one of the world’s best teams. Unfortunately, he capped the occasion with an own goal.
Hammers on the defence
(left to right) Noel Cantwell, Malcolm Allison and Ken Brown with Hammers’ keeper, George Taylor, on the ground
Watershed for Several West Ham Players
The West Ham XI who was privileged to appear on the same pitch as AC Milan was the same as for the preceding and subsequent Division Two league games. Four days after playing AC Milan it was back to the more mundane affair of a Division Two home fixture against Swansea Town.
The crowd 20,000 less than four days earlier, again witnessed six goals but this time the opposition generously shared them. Still, this was a slight improvement on the 2-1 defeat away to Lincoln City three days before the AC Milan friendly.
The friendly was something of a watershed for the team as soon after three of the player’s first team careers quickly came to a close. Jim Barrett, Tommy Dixon and Harry Kinsell would only play another one, two and three league games respectively before joining new clubs.
The team’s poor league form prompted Ted Fenton a couple of months later to sign an aging Les Bennett from Tottenham Hotspur, to try and bolster the forward line.
Stepping Stone to Promotion
The players and fans would not forget the evening of December 14, 1954. It certainly left an indelible mark in Malcolm Allison’s memory as he referred to it in his autobiography “Colours of My Life”. Malcolm explains that by 1957 West Ham were emerging as strong candidates to gain promotion to Division One and he recognised the team’s improvement since the winter of 1954.
"We had moved, in terms of tactical sophistication, a long way from the night in 1954 when AC Milan appeared in a friendly match at Upton Park. They beat us 6-0. They had five internationals in their forward line. Ken Brown was centre half for us, I was at left half. When Gunnar Nordhal appeared in the centre circle Ken Brown turned to me and said “Oh God, what a bloody giant.” He stood 6ft 3 inches, weighing 15 stone. And he was a magnificent player.
They also had the great South American Schiaffano. We 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."
A painful journey it may have been but the game perhaps was something of a turning point as three seasons later the Hammers finally made that long awaited return to Division One.
West Ham Connection in Hungarian Friendly
Match Photos from the private collection of Ken Brown and Bo Berglind, Newspaper coverage courtesy of Richard Miller
West Ham put AC Milan goal keeper Buffon under pressure
West Ham’s John Bond watches on as keeper George Taylor foils an AC Milan attack
West Ham’s Andy Malcolm clears the ball watched by George Taylor (on the ground), Ken Brown and John Bond (No.2)
Ball Watching (left to right) Malcolm Allison, goalkeeper George Taylor, Ken Brown and Harry Kinsell as centre-forward Nordahl scores with a sensational back-header