Goodbye Greenwood

RON GREENWOOD... one of the salient figures of post-War English football.-AP

Ron Greenwood will be best remembered for his outstanding stewardship of West Ham United.

ONE of the salient figures of post-War English football, Ron Greenwood, recently died at the age of 84 after a long illness. Though Ron had a far from negligible playing career, winning a League Championship medal after playing half the games (21) in Chelsea's first ever conquest of the title (they had to wait for another 50 years and Roman Abramovich's money before they won it again) he will be best remembered for his outstanding stewardship of West Ham United.

In his long, productive years at Upton Park, the club came to be known as an "academy of arts and sciences." Greenwood believed in pure, intelligent, adventurous, technically accomplished football. When England won the 1966 World Cup, they could surely never have done so without the massive contributions of the left half and captain Bobby Moore, voted player of the tournament, Geoff Hurst — a hat-trick in the Final — and the cleverly sophisticated Martin Peters. All three of them products of Greenwood's expert coaching. In fact, both Moore and Hurst benefited radically from a change of role. Moore was originally a centre half, but in that position — as in fact we would see when he was once obliged to play there for England against West Germany in 1972 — he was an indifferent header of the ball and lacked essential pace.

What he did have, as his contemporaries at West Ham will tell you, was an astonishingly cool head on such young shoulders. Nothing ever seemed to upset him; as we would see so remarkably on the eve of the World Cup finals in Mexico of 1970, when he was falsely accused of stealing a bracelet in a Bogota, Colombia, hotel and briefly subjected to house arrest there. Greenwood converted him into a second stopper, the roles being somewhat more sharply differentiated then than they are now, playing on the left of the centre half. As such, his sheer anticipation, his sophisticated reading of the game, ensured that he was seldom caught out for speed, and his long ball passing could often make important goals.

Peters was initially a right half though the inspiration of the 1966 England manager Alf Ramsey eventually, in those finals, put him on the deep left wing where, though a right footed player, he did substantial damage. Indeed, it was his perfectly calibrated cross from the left, perfectly anticipated by Hurst who knew the move so well from Hammers games, which enabled Geoff to leap and score England's winning goal in the bruising quarterfinal against Argentina. After which Ramsey made his notorious "act as animals" remark. But at one point, early in his Upton Park career, Hurst a none too special wing half, was on the point of being sold off to Third Division Southend United. Luckily for West Ham and for England, Greenwood changed his mind, kept him and turned him into the outstanding striker who would score those World Cup goals.

Meeting the blond, compactly built, fluently spoken Greenwood, you would be hard put to realise that his early life had been spent in wretched poverty up in the North of England, in Burnley, where he could not even afford proper shoes.

The family, however moved South to London and the teenaged Greenwood found work at Wembley Stadium where he was destined to become so familiar a figure, as a sign painter. Meanwhile, he played football, to such effect that he was signed, for the first time, by Chelsea. In 1940, when World War II was well under way, Chelsea pocketed a substantial fee when selling him to Bradford Park Avenue; then a solid Second Division club. After wartime service in the Forces, Ron resumed his career with a club, which initially boasted of none other than the flamboyantly gifted inside left Len Shackleton, casually discarded as a lad by Arsenal on the eve of the War, who'd return to his native Yorkshire.

Bradford PA, alas, were doomed ultimately to bankruptcy and extinction, at least as a professional club. But in Greenwood's day they were quite a force. How well I remember them coming to Highbury in January 1948 and knocking an Arsenal club on its way to the Championship out of the third round of the FA Cup.

Later that year, Ron found himself back in London again, transferred to another Second Division club in Brentford. I still recall him putting up a doughty performance at White Hart Lane, where The Bees unexpectedly held the Spurs to a draw.

But it was in coaching and managing that his destiny lay. Leaving Chelsea for a season at nearby Fulham, he became coach to the amateur team of Eastbourne Town. From there, Arsenal enterprisingly appointed him as coach to their manager and ex-goalkeeper, George Swindin. Bill Dodgin junior, then Arsenal's centre half and already a keen student of the game, told me at the time that George and Ron were "like night and day". Generally, the players responded well to Ron's innovative coaching. He was arguably the outstanding pupil of Walter Winterbottom, who had set up an FA coaching scheme, which, unlike Greenwood himself would alas degenerate over the years into orthodox and jargon.

At Highbury, Ron found the occasional dissident, notably the free scoring little Welsh international Derek Tapscott who said to me, with a meaningful gesture, "I'd like to hit him!"

Ron moved Eastwards across London to West Ham where he revitalised the club. During his halcyon years, and before he was, so to speak kicked upstairs, disillusioned with the way the game was going, he revolutionised tactics and training. Hammers never came close to the Championship, but they won the FA Cup in the 1960s, beating Manchester United in a magnificent semi-final, and the European Cupwinners Cup against Munich 1860, both games at Wembley.

It was the Oxford scientist Professor Sir Harold Thompson, who'd admired Ron's coaching at the University and wanted to cleanse the bleak memory of Don Revie, who'd walked out on the England role, who persuaded Ron out of retirement. He was never quite the same figure, promptly dropping from the England team his own West Ham star playmaker, Trevor Brooking, later dropping Glenn Hoddle after a superb debut against Bulgaria, declaring "Disappointment is part of football."