Crystal Palace : First Match in All Seater Stadium in Britain ...
by Roger Hillier
The emotive discussion over the merits of West Ham moving to a stadium with an athletics track is a reminder of a small piece of history made by the club. The Hammers had the honour of playing in the first football match at a British all-seater stadium. This inaugural match provides a link with West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium as it was played in an all-seater stadium with an athletics track and it was the new home of British athletics.
If asked the date of this match, most football enthusiasts would guess just after the Hillsborough disaster (April 15, 1989) and the subsequent Taylor Report on the disaster. But 1990 is not the correct answer. The answer is 47 years ago on August 19, 1964 in the Crystal Palace Sports Stadium at the National Recreation Centre (NRC), Crystal Palace. This was 26 years prior to the Taylor Report.
Opening of Crystal Palace Stadium at the National Recreation Centre
The occasion was a friendly match, between Crystal Palace and West Ham, staged to mark the recent opening of the all-seater stadium. The match was billed as a “charity football match” in aid of the National Sports Development Fund.
This is the stadium which replaced the White City as the home of British athletics. The Crystal Palace Sports Stadium has staged many world athletic records and countless UK records but only the occasional football match. For sport enthusiasts the world records include several notable performances by British athletes over the years. For me the most memorable world records include Dave Bedford’s 10,000m (1973), Brendan Foster’s 2 mile (1973), Steve Ovett’s 2 mile (1978), the GB team’s (including Seb Coe and Steve Cram) 4 x 800m (1982) and Steve Backley’s javelin (1990).
Going back to the football the Hammers played three matches at the Crystal Palace Sports Stadium, all pre-season friendlies against Crystal Palace. The first was in 1964, the second in 1965 and the third in 1968. As far as we know the only other football league teams to have played at the stadium are Chelsea and Arsenal.
The three West Ham United v Crystal Palace matches may have been friendlies but they had an intriguing mix of unusual ingredients: an inaugural match at a new stadium, spectators viewing across an athletics track, fund raisers for a sporting charity, controversial ticket pricing, two teams approaching a match with completely different attitudes, a match topping a festival of sport programme and a match sharing a double sporting bill with an athletics race.
First Friendly Game : August 19, 1964
Crystal Palace 4 - 1 West Ham United
Much of the local media pre-match attention focussed on the controversial ticket pricing. There was not a stampede for tickets. The fixture organised by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, priced tickets at a premium expecting a bumper crowd for this unique occasion. Tickets were initially marked at 10 shillings and £1. Expensive when compared with West Ham’s 1964-65 ticket prices of 7 to 11 shillings for the best seats in the West Stand. In fact you could buy a West Stand season ticket for £10 to £12! So not surprisingly ticket sales were slow which persuaded the Council to offer 4,000 seats behind the goals at a reduced 5 shillings (25p).
Match advertisement from Croydon Advertiser, August 14, 1964
West Ham United:
Jim Standen; John Bond, Jack Burkett, Eddie Bovington, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Peter Brabrook (Alan Sealey), Ron Boyce, Johnny Byrne, Geoff Hurst, John Sissons.
Glazier; Long, Sewell, Howe (Wood), Stephenson, Holsgrove, Werge, Whitehouse (Burridge), Holton, Kellard, Allen.
By the time the match kicked off at 8.00pm close to 9,000 tickets had been sold for the 12,000 capacity stadium. West Ham fielded their FA Cup winning team from three months earlier, against a recently promoted to Division II Crystal Palace. The home supporters still held fond memories of ex Palace player Johnny Byrne as the Croydon Times included a picture of their former favourite walking out onto the pitch.
Crystal Palace’s determined performance
Despite a strong line up West Ham suffered a 4-1 defeat which was probably not a surprise when you consider how each club treated the match. The short match report in the first West Ham home programme of 1964-65 season gives an insight into the different approaches: “The Glaziers were not looking upon this as an exhibition game; they played very hard from start to finish and took risks that are not usually expected in a non-competitive match”.
The Crystal Palace manager, Dick Graham, was quoted (Croydon Times August 14, 1964) as saying “We are preparing for this match as if it was a league game.” The Hammers were certainly not treating it as if league points were at stake. For them the match was an exhibition game hence its charity status.
The following is a brief summary of the match as reported in the Croydon Advertiser (August 21, 1964). In the early part of the match both teams hit the woodwork before the first goal. For the Hammers Brabrook hit the joint of the post and bar. The first goal arrived in the 21st minute when Palace’s Kellard took advantage of hesitation between Bovington and Standen to score with a low shot. Twenty three minutes later a Whitehouse strike gave Crystal Palace a 2-0 half time lead.
Sissons scores West Ham’s First goal in All-Seater Stadium
Palace’s 59th minute third goal was scored by their captain, Allen. West Ham finally responded with their consolation goal eight minutes later. Following a mix-up in the Palace defence John Sissons scored to achieve the distinction of being the first Hammer to score in a match in a British all-seater stadium. After this goal West Ham had the upper hand until Palace’s fourth and final goal, an 85th minute header by Burridge.
Croydon Times : Aug 21 1964
Johnny Byrne followed by Eddie Bovington
The Croydon Advertiser singled out Crystal Palace’s centre half, Alan Stephenson, with the following praise: “Alan Stephenson played former Palace man Johnny Byrne with the aplomb of a veteran. Byrne’s subtle touches sometimes won him the day, but generally Stephenson stuck like a leech and kept the England’s leader’s threat down to a minimum”. Within four years Stephenson and Byrne would swap clubs. Byrne re-joined Crystal Palace in February 1967 and 13 months later Stephenson moved the opposite way in a West Ham club record transfer deal.
Stephenson was not the only Crystal Palace player with a West Ham connection. The Glaziers team included Bert Howe from West Ham’s 1957 FA Youth Cup final team.
Second Friendly Game : August 14, 1965
Crystal Palace 1 - 2 West Ham United
This second friendly was three months after the Hammers had won the European Cup Winners Cup final and it was one of the main attractions in Croydon’s Festival of Sport week. The festival was a week’s programme of sporting activities all held at the National Recreation Centre. Possibly the highlight of the week, the match was held on a warm Saturday evening in front of a reported 10,000 spectators.
As it was an event in the week’s festival, the game did not have a bespoke match programme. Instead the match details and team line ups were included as part of the week’s 28-page newspaper style festival guide. Which was slightly misleading as it had the Crystal Palace goalkeeper, John Jackson, as down for the left wing and Alan Stephenson also appearing in the forward line!
Festival of Sport at Crystal Palace
Things didn’t get any better for Crystal Palace as West Ham proved to be the dominant team. The Croydon Times reported “by the end they (CP) had resorted to a series of petty fouls in a bid to stop a West Ham goal riot.”
West Ham wearing their second choice strip of light blue with the two claret hoops, atoned for the previous year’s defeat with a 2-1 victory.
The Hammers “showed their obvious skill with some thoughtful play. Moore and Bovington were outstanding in defence while Sissons and Hurst had Palace’s defence in more than one tangle.” Despite West Ham having “control of the ball for 90% of the time and should have had a hatful of goals”, it was the home team who took the lead after three minutes with a goal by Keith Smith. West Ham’s contribution was a Geoff Hurst brace. The equaliser came from a header on the stroke of half time. While the winner came from the penalty spot in the 89th minute after Peter Bennett had been tripped in the area. In less than a year’s time, Geoff would become a household name by going one goal better with a hat-trick on Wembley’s turf.
West Ham United:
Jim Standen; Joe Kirkup, Jack Burkett, Martin Peters, Eddie Bovington, Bobby Moore, Alan Sealey, Ron Boyce, Geoff Hurst, Peter Bennett, John Sissons (Harry Redknapp).
Jackson, Sewell, Long (Burridge), Stephenson, Bannister, Payne, Stack (Kellard), Woods, (Long), Whitehouse (Cutler), Smith, Kellard.
Third Friendly Game : July 29, 1968
Crystal Palace 2 - 4 West Ham United
Three years later on Monday July 29, 1968 West Ham made a successful return to the Crystal Palace Stadium. Once again to play in a fund raiser for the National Sports Development Fund. The attendance was 5,000. This third occasion was unusual as the ticket covered a double sporting bill: the friendly football match and the half time entertainment of a 200m athletics track race.
With the 1968 Mexico Olympics only about 10 weeks away, spectators were treated to an invitational women’s 200m race. The competitors included the then golden girl of British athletics, Lillian Board, and a few other international sprinters. Lillian won in 23.9 seconds, followed by Madelaine Cobb (24.3s) and Janet Simpson (24.4s).
Considering this was 43 years ago the winning time was quite classy. Though surprisingly, this quality performance was not reported in the national or athletics press, but is recorded in Lillian’s biography “Lillian”.
This race was a stepping stone to Lillian winning an Olympic silver in the 400m at Mexico City. In the following summer the silver medalist won gold in both the 800m and 4x400m relay at the Athens 1969 European Championships.
Tragically the athlete never had the opportunity to fulfil her total potential as she died from cancer in 1970. As an aside and a reflection on the times, a week prior to this invitational race these athletes had been embroiled in a “too short-shorts” controversy. What would the 1968 athletics governing bodies have made of today’s female athletes wearing cropped tops?
West Ham United:
Bobby Ferguson, Billy Bonds, Bobby Howe, Martin Peters, Alan Stephenson, Bobby Moore, Harry Redknapp, Ron Boyce, Brian Dear, Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking
Jackson J, Sewell, Presland, Payne, McCormick, Blyth (Bannister), Lazarus, Kember, Woodruff, Jackson C, Light (Dawkins)
Returning to this third friendly, it included five players who had participated in the stadium’s inaugural match. The quintet included Alan Stephenson, who by now had switched teams, Moore, Boyce and Hurst for the Hammers and Sewell for Crystal Palace.
The Croydon Advertiser (August 2, 1968), match report’s heading “Palace start well, but West Ham class tells in the end” summed up West Ham’s superiority. This time it was West Ham’s turn to score four goals in a 4-2 win. The four goals included two from Geoff Hurst (30 & 51 mins), a rare goal from Harry Redknapp (60 mins) and the fourth from Brian Dear (81 mins). Crystal Palace’s two came from Mark Lazarus (75 mins) and an Alan Stephenson og (87 mins).
The Crystal Palace team included a couple of ex-Hammers with Eddie Presland starting and Trevor Dawkins coming on as a substitute.
West Ham’s link with the home of British Athletics continues
In 1964 West Ham participated in the first match played at the home of British athletics. Has this set a precedent for the Hammers playing regularly at the new home of British athletics? The process to clinch a move to the Olympic Stadium feels more like a marathon than a sprint. There is some distance to go before the last lap is reached.
The Taylor Report recommended that all major stadia convert to an all-seater model. This resulted in the English and Scottish Football Leagues introducing regulations that clubs in the highest divisions (top two in the English leagues) must comply with the recommendation.