It’s a much used phrase at Upton Park and one that seems to be mocked by other supporters and football pundits, but is it a myth or is there something in the “The West Ham Way?”
Over the decades, we always seemed to play a style of football that was enjoyed by our fans and even earned plaudits from opposing supporters. I can recall it being mentioned that West Ham United were a lot of people’s second team. The football was neat, played on the ground, there was flair and attacking play and alongside that we always had players that could create.
Then things seemed to change. Notably with the media friendly Sam Allardyce, with whom anyone who is in football seemed to support during his tenure at the Boleyn and then after he was gone. Suggestions of going down, as did Blackburn and Newcastle after Big Sam left, and that we needed him to have any chance of staying up, were a constant on the TV and the radio.
Of course, what they forgot last season was the relegation form after Christmas, the thumping in the FA Cup and the fact that the football was dreadful for the paying public to watch.
Add to that a distinct lack of a Plan B and the usual diatribe of how unlucky we were, whilst playing well, after each defeat.
I’ve seen the idea of there being a ‘West Ham way’ debated on TV and we’ve been mocked that it doesn’t exist and if it does, it doesn’t do us any good because we don’t win anything. I can still clearly hear Robbie Savage on a BBC talk show telling the listening audience what he thought of the West Ham way and how I hope that he and others will think again at the end of the season.
The West Ham way was well and truly gone. In the recent past, Zola tried to play good football, Grant lost his way completely, Curbs was far too defensive for my liking, but with Bilic, the football seems to be pleasing the watching fans. Are we getting back to the West Ham way, and where did it all begin?
To see where all this started, I need to take you back to the late 1950s. Up until that point West Ham had been an average Second Division side. We didn’t win anything, we weren’t a big team, we were just, well, average. Then in 1958, we won promotion to the First Division with players like John Dick, who was top scorer that season. That paved the way for success in the years to come.
A lot of the credit for our style of play must be given to the manager of the time, Ted Fenton. Ted Fenton had been brought back to the club in 1948 to assist Charlie Paynter (manager before Fenton) in re-developing the team after the war. Fenton had previously played for West Ham from 1934 through to 1946, making 201 appearances, scoring 44 goals and earning five caps in the process as a wing half for England.
In 1950 he assumed the reins fully as Paynter retired, severing the final link to the club’s foundry origins.
Fenton was praised as a forward-thinking manager. He pushed for the establishment of “The Academy” that brought through a series of young players to augment a side that could not be improved with the limited finances available. Two of the signings he did manage to make were those of John Dick and Malcolm Allison.
Other players of the day included John Bond, Dave Sexton, Jimmy Andrews and Frank O’Farrell. They were all part of an original ‘Cafe Cassettari’ club started by Fenton as a result of the restrictive budget..
“There [Cafe Cassateri], Allison would hold court and the players would exchange views on the game and make tactical plans around the dinner table, illustrating their ideas with the use of salt and pepper pots. The culmination of those years of hard work, on and off the field, was the Second Division championship in 1958 – the springboard to great cup successes at a much higher level in the mid-60s … no one should underestimate the positive influence of Malcolm Allison’s earlier role in Hammers’ history.”- West Ham Club History, John Hellier
Cafe Cassettari sat opposite the Boleyn Ground, and Fenton organised a deal that saw meals and a warm welcome for the players of the club at a price the club could manage.
It became a place for routine discussion of the team, and ideas and wisdom freely passed back and forth. The tradition lasted long into the 1960s even after Fenton had moved on and saw the likes of John Lyall and Harry Redknapp flourish under the guidance of another forward thinker, Ron Greenwood.
Ron was captivated by how the Hungarian team of the 1950s played and brought continental ideas to the East End. Players were encouraged to give their thoughts, to earn their coaching badges and it’s no surprise that a number of ex-Hammers went onto manage teams of their own, each staying true to the ‘West Ham way.’
It should not be forgotten that under Fenton’s Academy, the likes of Moore, Peters and Hurst were able to learn, to flourish and to give England it’s proudest day in our footballing history.
After Greenwood, John Lyall carried the West Ham way onwards again and despite relegation, West Ham played their brand of football that won the FA Cup twice, were runners-up in the European Cup Winners Cup, League Cup runners-up, Charity Shield runners-up and built up the feeling of a decent family club, playing good football.
After many years, Slaven Bilic has the finances that Ted Fenton and his predecessors never had, the stadium that we move into next year, the stage, the glamour of the Premier League and the best squad that we’ve had in a long time.
It’s his time now to bring West Ham alive again, playing our brand of free flowing, attacking, easy on the eye football that everyone in claret and blue has been waiting for, and I think he will. I think that’s already underway.
So, my question was; The West Ham Way – Fact or Myth?
For me, it’s a fact. There is a West Ham way and it’s coming back with a former player at the helm.
Just how it should be – just like the old days.