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James Tomkins’ selection for the GB football team for the London Olympics revives West Ham’s trend of supporting Great Britain’s Olympic football teams. In previous post-war Olympics the club entered into the spirit of the games by helping GB’s Olympic football teams prepare for their Olympic tournament games by providing the opposition in friendly matches.
We should also mention three other West Ham United links with the 2012 Olympics. Ex-Hammer, Stuart Pearce, has been appointed team manager of the GB football team. The second link is the strong possibility that Stratford’s Olympic Stadium could become West Ham United’s new home. For the third another member of West Ham’s playing staff had a small part to play, or rather run. Kenzer Lee first-year professional was selected as one of the 8,000 official Torchbearers to run a leg with the Olympic torch through his home Borough of Barking and Dagenham on Sunday July 22.
The 2012 London Olympic media coverage serves as a reminder of West Ham’s role in providing the opposition in four Olympic trial matches. These friendly matches were part of Great Britain’s amateur team’s preparation for the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics. This was a time when only amateurs participated in the Olympics. The international amateur football team was disbanded in the summer of 1974 when the Football Association abolished the distinction between amateurs and professionals, simply calling them "players”.
West Ham United rekindles the Olympic flame!
To help the GB team prepare, second division West Ham United faced the amateurs on three occasions. The first game was in April 1955, the second in September 1955 and the third in May 1956.
An interesting aspect of the 1956 GB Olympic arrangement is that it nearly set a precedent for the 2012 GB team. For the 1956 Olympics the home countries agreed that GB should participate in the Olympics but that the English FA would undertake all the arrangements as well as providing the team. For the 2012 London Olympics there was early speculation that the team could be all English. As it turned out there are a couple of interlopers.
The opposition for each of the three games had different labels but for all intents and purposes comprised of English amateur internationals. A brief outline of these games is as follows.
At the end of the 1954-55 season a Hammers XI played an amateur FA XI. Before a 4,000 crowd West Ham won 1-0 with a goal by Brian Moore.
On this occasion the line up was of reserve strength:
Ernie Gregory, John Bond, Geoff Hallas, Derek Parker, Ken Brown, Doug Bing, Doug Wragg, Brian Moore, Roy Stroud, Alan Blackburn, Bill Haley.
West Ham faced a team billed as an FA Amateur International XI. This time a stronger West Ham XI won the Upton Park match 6-1. The 9,000 attendance was the largest of the four matches against top amateur opposition. According to the Stratford Express match report (September 30, 1955) “The England Amateur XI, after a promising first half, were completely run off their feet by West Ham, who cracked home six goals and could have added to their score.” Despite being routed, the England team took the lead after 17 minutes before West Ham led 2-1 at half time. A West Ham forward, Ken Tucker, scored a hat trick. The other three goals were scored by W.Lawrence, the Barnet amateur who made a guest appearance for the Hammers, Harry Hooper and John Dick.
The third game prior to the Melbourne Olympics was unusual as it was played behind closed doors at Clapton’s “Spotted Dog” ground on Wednesday May 15. Unfortunately the score and teams have not been reported. The only record of the game we have found is in a letter published in a local newspaper.
The letter from Clapton FC’s press secretary thanked West Ham in general and manager Ted Fenton in particular for the practice game. The Olympic team manager had asked for a practice against a side of first class ball players, playing “continental” style football supposedly similar to that which the amateurs were expecting to face in their next amateur internationals. Ted coached the team to play in such a manner.
2010 was the 50th anniversary of when West Ham last assisted the GB Olympic football team by providing the opposition in a trial match. On Monday February 8, 1960 West Ham played a Great Britain Olympic XI under the Upton Park floodlights in what was billed an “Olympic Trial Match”. The GB team comprised of the best amateurs and the trial was intended to help the selection of the GB teams for their remaining Olympic qualifying matches. A couple of weeks earlier, Arsenal had beaten the amateurs in a similar trial match.
The 4,824 Upton Park attendance witnessed West Ham’s 5-2 win. Though GB took the lead in the 25th minute and was drawing 1-1 at half time. A report in “The Times” (February 9th, 1960) summarised the match: “For 45 minutes the British Olympic trial team gave its best showing so far in this series of games against League opposition. But after the interval West Ham United quickly scored three goals to put the issue of the encounter beyond doubt.” The Hammers team was: Peter Shearing, Joe Kirkup, John Lyall, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Tony Scott, John Cartwright, John Bond, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove. The teams were as printed in the match programme with one change, for West Ham John Cartwright replaced Phil Woosnam.
From West Ham’s perspective there were a couple of important points about the match. The first was John Bond appearing at centre forward. The second was the guest appearance in goal by amateur, Peter Shearing.
Great Britain’s preparation paid off as they went on to win their qualifying group (including Eire & Netherlands) and qualify as one of the 16 teams in the 1960 Olympic tournament in Rome. In the Olympic tournament Great Britain finished 3rd in their group behind Italy and Brazil. A win, a draw and a defeat was not good enough to top the group and Great Britain was eliminated. For the record they lost the opener 4-3 to Brazil, drew 2-2 with Italy and beat Taiwan 3-2. This was the last time Great Britain has played in the Olympic tournament.
1. GB Olympic Football Team at 1956 & 1960 Olympics – Wikapidia
2. West Ham Programmes
1959-60: v. Southampton Reserves
13/2/60: v. GB Olympic XI 8/2/60, v Chelsea 6/2/60,
1955-56: v. FA Amateur International XI 26/9/55.
3. Match Reports & Team Line Ups
Stratford Express: 30/9/55 & 12/2/60
The Times: 27/9/55 & 9/2/60
4. FA XI in April 1955: brief match details, team line up and scorer appear in
programme of WHU v FA Amateur International XI 26/9/10
1956 MELBOURNE OLYMPICS
Four trial matches against amateur international opposition
First Game : April 4, 1955
West Ham United 1 - 0 Football Association Amateur XI
Second Game : September 26, 1955
West Ham United 6 - 1 Football Association Amateur International XI
This game has some intrigue and was mentioned in skipper Malcolm Alison’s autobiography “Colours of My Life”. The story as explained in the autobiography is that 15 minutes prior to the kick-off in a Division Two match soon after this friendly, Malcolm had threatened to lead the team out on strike over the non-payment of a win bonus due from the friendly. Malcolm was standing up for his and the team’s £2 a head win bonus. The issue was quickly resolved when manager Ted Fenton returned with £22 in cash!
West Ham United:
Third Game : May 15, 1956
West Ham United ? - ? England Olympic XI
The trial matches no doubt helped the amateurs as the GB team reached the final tournament in Melbourne to achieve mixed results. They won their opening match beating Thailand 9-0 but were eliminated in the next round, the quarter finals, after losing 6-1 to Bulgaria. Perhaps not surprising as this was the era when Eastern Curtain countries’ top footballers were all amateur.
1956 GB Olympic Results
1960 ROME OLYMPICS
Fourth Game : February 8, 1960
West Ham United 5 - 2 Great Britain Olympic XI
Olympic Trial Match
A couple of reflections from 1959-60 highlight how today’s game has evolved. The first is how West Ham United filled its first XI fixture list. An early exit from the FA Cup at the hands of second division Huddersfield Town and no League Cup competition meant West Ham had to rely on the Southern Floodlight Cup, the Essex Professional Cup and friendlies to fill their fixture list. The GB Olympic match was just one of several first team friendlies played that season. Other visitors to Upton Park for friendly matches included UDA Dukla (Czechoslovakia), FC Austria and Flumineise (Brazil).
The second reflection is that West Ham generously donated the profits from the GB Olympic XI match to local amateur club, Clapton FC. Clapton was struggling financially and West Ham did not forget their neighbours. This was possibly an era when clubs really did have close ties to the local football community and were prepared to reciprocate support.
West Ham United:
The three days stretching from Saturday 6th February to Monday 8th February were a memorable three for John Bond. Normally the right back, Bond moved to centre forward to answer the club’s struggle to replace the injured Vic Keeble. The move was a short term success with Bond scoring two hat tricks in three days! The first hat trick was in Saturday’s 4-2 league win over Chelsea, followed by another three in the 5-2 win over the GB Olympic XI. Bond must have been “man of the match” against GB as he also laid on the pass for Tony Scott to score the fourth. Malcolm Musgrove grabbed the fifth.
Starting with the Chelsea game, John played six league matches as centre forward and scored six. The arrival of Dave Dunmore saw Bond return to full back. Incidentally, the Chelsea match was an important date in the careers of John Lyall, Tony Scott and Terry Venables. Lyall and Scott made their league debuts for the Hammers, while Venables started his illustrious career for Chelsea.
John Bond had the distinction of playing in three of these four matches against amateur opposition. It is possible he also played in the 1956 “closed doors” game.
West Ham’s struggle to find a consistent goalkeeper prompted the club to give Peter Shearing, an amateur with Hendon, a trial. Earlier in the season Peter had appeared for Hendon against West Ham in the London Challenge Cup. The GB friendly was Peter’s second match for the Hammers as a couple of weeks earlier he had made his debut for the “A” team. According to the GB match report in a West Ham programme, “he made one especially excellent save from Brown (GB) in a pleasing performance”. Following these appearances Ted Fenton was persuaded to sign Shearing in the summer of 1960. Shearing went on to play six league games for the Hammers in 1960-61. But he was not the long term solution to West Ham’s goalkeeper problem and left the club for Portsmouth at the end of the season.
1960 GB Olympic Results
As for GB’s preparations for the 1948 London and 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, we cannot trace any GB Olympic or FA trial matches against the Hammers.
Did you play in this game or know the result, we would love to hear from you.
Long may the Olympic flame burn at West Ham United.
James Tomkins : Team GB
Daily Mail 27th September 1955
The Times 26th September 1955
The Times 9th February 1960
Another West Ham United player looking to make an Olympic impression at London 2012 is Senegal international Mohamed Diame. Diame arrived at the Boleyn Ground from Wigan Athletic on July 1, 2012 and named in Senegal’s Olympic squad. The West Ham United midfielder is one of three over-age players named by the Senegal Football Federation for the Games, which will see Senegal take on his new team-mate James Tomkins and Team GB in Group A.
These four matches may have been trials for the international amateurs, but they had an intriguing mix of unusual ingredients: the West Ham team getting close to strike action over a bonus payment, a game played behind closed doors, the call up of a couple of guest players and a full back turned striker who scored a hat-trick.