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1959 FA Youth Cup Final / The Class of 1959

by Roger Hillier

Under Ted Fenton’s stewardship West Ham commenced the development of home grown talent and what today is labelled The Academy. This has become part of the club’s heritage as it has produced some excellent youth teams and players over the last 50 years or so.  Any debate on which season’s youth team was the best will never be conclusive. Was it one of the FA Youth Cup winning sides from 1963, 1981 or 1999?  My favourite contender is the 1958-59 season’s team which oozed quality.


The class of 1959 will be remembered most notably for reaching the FA Youth Cup Final and for being captained by the gifted Bobby Moore.  But further consideration of the players’ and the team’s achievements highlight just how good their credentials were. This team also won the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup (second in importance only to the FA Youth Cup), included seven youth internationals, helped progress nine players to first XI duty, contributed four players to the 1964 FA Cup winning team and in a friendly convincingly beat an England Youth XI. Oh……and for good measure contributed two players to England’s 1966 World Cup winning team!

FA Youth Cup slips from Hammers’ Grasp

As for the FA Youth Cup this was very close to being decorated with claret and blue ribbons. The Stratford Express opening two sentences in their coverage (8th May 1959) of the final’s 2nd leg summed up how close the Hammers came to winning the cup: “West Ham may well go down in history as the unluckiest FA Youth Cup finalists of all time. In the second leg of this year’s final at Ewood Park on Monday, they lost by the only goal scored, somewhat desperately and with a strong suspicion of off-side, in the 10th minute of extra-time. It gave the Rovers a 2-1 aggregate victory.” This was a Blackburn Rovers team who had beaten Manchester United in the semi-final in front of 30,000 at Old Trafford and included future stars Mike England, Keith Newton and Fred Pickering.


The following summaries of the two legs taken from the Daily Mail and local newspaper reports highlight just how close the Hammers came to winning.

Final 1st Leg:
West Ham United 1 - 1 Blackburn Rovers
Upton Park 27th April 1959  

The West Ham United team for the Upton Park leg was

Frank Caskey, Harry Cripps, Jack Burkett, Eddie Bovington, Bobby Moore, Micky Brooks, Derek Woodley, Mick Beesley, Andy Smillie, John Cartwright and Tony Scott.  

WHU v. Blackburn FAYC Final Report
59_04_27 WHU v. Blackburn Rovers FAYC Final

The first leg was a lively affair with both teams creating several chances and hitting the woodwork. While West Ham were desperately unlucky not to receive a penalty. John Cartwright hit the post before West Ham took the lead in the 30th minute when Cartwright floated a long cross into the penalty area for Andy Smillie to head home. Blackburn subsequently hit the woodwork before Bradshaw cracked home an equaliser seconds before half-time. From the Hammers’ perspective the main second half incident was the referee’s mistake in not awarding the Hammers a penalty in the 74th minute. To quote from The Blackburn Times (1st May 1959) “Smillie charging after a loose ball down the right side of the Rovers penalty area was bowled over by Griffiths (Blackburn goalkeeper). The referee awarded an indirect free kick when quite frankly a penalty looked the more just decision.”


Blackburn’s Evening Telegraph (28th April) singled out John Cartwright as perhaps “the man who caught the eye more than anyone”. While The Stratford Express singled out Cartwright and Smillie as the stars in attack, and in defence full backs Harry Cripps and Jack Burkett impressed.  


Unfortunately, West Ham’s two future 1966 World Cup stars did not figure as prominently as hoped. According to The Stratford Express “pivot Bobby Moore lacked his usual drive. He was obviously feeling the effects of a heavily strapped right ankle.”  An injured Geoff Hurst meant Micky Brooks stepped in at left half. Hurst’s injury gave Brooks his only appearance in the 1958-59 FA Youth Cup run and the prestige of appearing in the listings of West Ham teams to play in a cup final.


The 10,750 crowd was easily West Ham’s largest of the four home games in their cup run.

Final 2nd Leg:
Blackburn Rovers 1 - 0 West Ham United
Ewood Park 5th May 1959
59_05_04 Blackburn Rovers v. WHU FAYC Final 2

For the 2nd leg Ewood Park had a taste of Wembley about it. The 28,500 attendance was exceptional and prior to the kick off both teams were presented to Sir Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, and the mayor of Blackburn.


The Daily Mail (5th May 1959) report’s headline “Hammers pay for missed penalty”, summed up a frustrating evening for the Hammers. At the end of 90 minutes the match score stood at 0-0, and the aggregate score 1-1. This meant extra time. Disappointingly for the Hammers a goal in the 11th minute of extra time by Daly settled it.  


West Ham’s best opportunity was the 41st minute penalty awarded when Blackburn’s captain, Pickering, handled the ball.  Unfortunately for the Hammers their goalkeeper rose to the occasion. Andy Smillie’s well struck penalty was reported as producing a “wonder save by Griffiths” (Blackburn Times 8th May) and “Griffiths pulled off one of the finest saves” (The Evening Telegraph 5th May).  Match reports were unanimous in that West Ham was unlucky not to have been awarded an earlier penalty when Mike England handled in the 4th minute.


If the penalty had been converted would West Ham have held on for a 1-0 win after 90 minutes and won on aggregate?  To be fair Blackburn Rovers played well and had the lion’s share of the 2nd leg’s chances.  The Blackburn Times was generous in its praise of the losers: “The Hammers, I must admit, were the better footballing formation: clean cut in approach and more capable of finding their men.  Yet, for all their class and speed they could make no real impression near goal and put in scarcely any shots worthy of note.” Mick Beesley who had scored in every previous round did not get a shot in thanks to successful marking by Keith Newton. To give Blackburn credit they even played with 10 men for the last eight minutes when a player was stretchered off.

The West Ham United team for the 2nd leg at Ewood Park leg was

Frank Caskey, Harry Cripps, Jack Burkett, Eddie Bovington, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Derek Woodley, Mick Beesley, Andy Smillie, John Cartwright and Tony Scott.  

Blackburn v. WHU 01
Blackburn v. WHU 02

Pictured above are the West Ham Colts who won their way to the Final of the F.A. Youth Cup.

Bovington, Hurst, Burkett, Caskey, Cripps, Moore

Woodley, Smillie, Beesley, Cartwright, Scott

Blackburn v. WHU 05
Blackburn v. WHU 04
Blackburn v. WHU 03

Evidence of Geoff Hurst’s inclusion in Cup Final Team

The Hammers used 14 players in their cup run. In addition to the 12 who played in the final’s two legs, Bobby Keetch and Peter Reader played in earlier rounds.  


The 10 match FA Youth Cup run saw the Hammers rattle in 27 goals with only 7 conceded.  They hit the net in every match apart from the second leg of the final. The cup run covered wins over some very good opposition including a quarter final win over Aston Villa and a semi-final win over Arsenal.  Mick Beesley and Andy Smillie were on fire contributing 21 of the total 27 goals. Beesley topped the scoring table with 12 to Smillie’s 9.  Beesley scored in every round bar the final. While Smillie only drew a blank in the semi-final. Something to saviour from the 3rd round 6-0 win over Eastbourne United were the rarities of Bobby Moore scoring from the penalty spot and an Eddie Bovington goal.  In case you are wondering why Geoff Hurst did not score in any of his nine FA Youth Cup games – this was before he converted from half back to forward.  

The West Ham team for the 2nd leg included one change from the first leg. Geoff Hurst had recovered from injury and replaced Micky Brooks at left half.  The detail of Geoff’s inclusion in the team for the 2nd leg has not been correctly reported in several of the club’s handbooks and other publications on the club’s history.  Conclusive evidence of Geoff’s place in the team is clearly stated as his name appears in the team line ups reported in The Stratford Express and Daily Mail.  Also a reference in a feature on Geoff in the programme of West Ham v Arsenal (21st April 1962) states “Owing to injury Geoff missed the first leg of the Final of the FA Youth Cup against Blackburn Rovers at Upton Park in April 1959: that match ended in a 1-1 draw so he was able to take part in the return, but a goal in extra time meant that Geoff had to be content with a runners-up medal.”        

Run to the FA Youth Cup Final

Southern Junior Floodlit Cup Win

Due to end of season fixture congestion the final of the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup final was held over to October in the following season.  By which time goalkeeper Peter Reader had recovered from injury to participate in the team’s 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. A 15th minute penalty from Andy Smillie was sufficient to bring the cup home to Upton Park for the third consecutive season.  The team’s SJFC run was impressive.  In four matches they scored 12 with only three slipping past Reader and Caskey, who shared the goalkeeping duties. The route to the final included wins over Millwall, Fulham and Reading. Due to international call ups and injuries 15 players played a part in the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup run.  In addition to the 14 used in the FA Youth Cup, winger Terry McQuade made an appearance in the first round 3-0 win over Millwall.

Chelsea 0 - 1 West Ham United
Stamford Bridge 14th October 1959

Final deferred from the 1958-59 season

59_10_14 Chelsea v. WHU SJFC 58-59 Final
58_11_10 WHU v. England Youth XI

Another indicator of the team’s quality was the 8-1 Upton Park win over an England Youth XI on 10th November 1958. Mick Beesley grabbed the headlines with five goals. Andy Smillie (2) and Derek Woodley shared the rest.  


The 1959 cup performances by the under 18s were all the more notable as six of the 12 players who appeared in the FA Youth Cup final were eligible to play in the following season’s tournament. The 1959-60 cup team captained by Hurst also included Beesley, Brooks, Burkett, Caskey and Woodley.












West Ham United 8-1 England Youth XI
Upton Park 10th November 1958












Seven England Youth Internationals

Inevitably a successful team will attract individual honours.  Of the 14 players who contributed to the FA Youth Cup run, seven were capped for England Youth. The magnificent seven were John Cartwright, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Peter Reader, Tony Scott, Andy Smillie and Derek Woodley. The seven capped players gained a total of 57 England Youth caps with Bobby Moore (18 caps), Tony Scott (12) and Peter Reader (11) leading the way.  Moore’s 18 caps was a record which stood until overtaken by another Hammer, Paul Allen, in 1980. It remains a mystery as to why Mick Beesley never gained international honours.  Five goals against an England Youth XI and averaging over a goal a game in the FA Youth Cup – how many more goals did he need to score?

Nine reach Hammers First Team

At club level the class of 1959 was a credit to manager Bill Robinson and chief scout Wally St.Pier. Twelve of the 14 players either had or soon signed professional terms with the club.  Caskey and Keetch were the exceptions. With nine of this 12 progressing to make West Ham first team debuts. Some of the nine became cornerstones in the club’s 1960s cup successes. Five played close to or over 100 first team games: Bobby Moore (647 games), Geoff Hurst (503), Eddie Bovington (184), Jack Burkett (185) and Tony Scott (97). The other four to reach the first team were Mick Beesley, John Cartwright, Andy Smillie and Derek Woodley. Beesley and Woodley marked their league debuts with goals.  Derek Woodley narrowly missed a hat trick with two against Luton in October 1959. While another four, Cripps, Keetch, McQuade and Reader, moved on to make their league debuts for other London clubs.  

League Debuts Elsewhere for Cripps, Keetch, McQuade & Reader

Harry Cripps played in all 10 of the FA Youth Cup matches. Apart from an appearance in the Southern Floodlight Cup, he never made a recognised competitive first team appearance.  October 1959 was a memorable month for Cripps as his Southern Floodlight Cup debut (a 3-1 win Upton Park win over Millwall) was on 13th October 1959, and in the following evening he played in the youth team which won the delayed 1958-59 Southern Junior Floodlit Cup final.  Would any of today’s footballers play in competitive games on consecutive nights?   I couldn’t imagine Cripps or any other member of the youth squad complaining about playing two competitive matches in two days!  However he left the club in 1960 to join Millwall and went on to become a cult hero. He achieved a Millwall club record of 400 league appearances (38 goals) between 1961 and 1974, and was awarded a testimonial match. Naturally the Hammers provided the opposition for the testimonial match played on 4th May 1972. A match marred by crowd trouble. Cripps finished his career with 20 league games (4 goals) for Charlton.  For a full back Cripps’ career strike rate of one goal every 10 league games was exceptional.    


Tough tackling Bobby Keetch played in three of the early cup rounds. Two of these were as the centre half replacement for Bobby Moore before Keetch transferred to Fulham in April 1959. Had Keetch delayed his transfer he could have been Hurst’s half back replacement in the 1st leg of the FA Youth Cup final and secured a place in the West Ham history books as having appeared for the club in a national cup final. Though in the previous season Keetch did collect a Southern Junior Floodlit Cup winners medal as a member of the Hammers youth team who beat Arsenal 5-1 in the April 1958 final. After leaving West Ham he went on to play 106 league games (2 goals) for Fulham between 1962 and 1965, before moving to QPR in November 1966.  The first of his 51 QPR league games was a week after QPR’s famous 1967 League Cup win. Yet another cup final narrowly missed!


Peter Reader and Terry McQuade completed a trio from the 1958-59 youth squad who joined Millwall.  Reader and McQuade joined Millwall in June and October 1961 respectively. Reader played a single league game for the club in 1961. McQuade had a longer league career starting with 34 games and 7 goals before moving on to QPR in July 1963. 20 league games and 2 goals at Loftus Road was followed by a fleeting four month visit to Orient but no league games. He finished his football league career with a return to the Den and three more games including a solitary goal.  

1959 for some a stepping stone to greater glories

The 1958-59 youth squad proved to be one of most accomplished to wear claret and blue.  For some this season was a stepping stone to greater personal achievements while for others it was possibly the peak of their playing careers.  The spectrum of personal achievements proved to be cavernous.  Seven years later Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst conquered the footballing world while others slipped into the obscurity of lower division and non-league football. The paths of the lesser known players, Peter Reader, Frank Caskey, Micky Brooks and Terry McQuade may be a story for another day.


1. FA Youth Cup Matches: 1958-59

Table 1

Total Goals: Beesley 12, Smillie 9, Woodley 2, Bovington 1, Cartwright 1, Moore 1, Scott 1.

2.  FA Youth Cup Appearances: 1958-59

Table 2

Appearances: Cripps, Burkett, Woodley, Smillie, Beesley, Cartwright, Scott 10, Bovington, Hurst 9, Moore 8, Caskey 6, Reader 4, Keetch 3, Brooks 1.


1. Southern Junior Floodlit Cup Matches: 1958-59

Table 3

Total Goals: Cartwright 5, Beesley 3, Smillie 2, og 2.

2. Southern Junior Floodlit Cup Matches: 1958-59

Table 4

Appearances:  Cripps, Burkett, Hurst, Woodley, Cartwright 4, Bovington, Beesley, Moore, Smillie, Scott 3, Caskey, Keetch, Brooks, Reader 2, McQuade 1.

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