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On Monday October 10, 1960 under the Upton Park floodlights, in Ernie’s honour West Ham played Liga Deportiva Alajeulense (LDA) from the Costa Rican city Alajeula. The LDA team included guest players from two of Costa Rica’s other top clubs, so the team was close to a Costa Rican national side.
Prior to the kick off Ernie made a pitch appearance to receive an ovation from the crowd. This was followed by each of the visiting players presenting his opposite number with an LDA badge as a memento of their visit. With the pre-match ceremonies dispensed with the Hammers proceeded to win the match 3-2. Though according to The Stratford Express’ (October 14, 1960) report the score line did not reflect the Hammers’ superiority. The account described the opposition as “often looked little better than an average third division outfit in conditions that were obviously not to their liking”. For West Ham Phil Woosnam’s artistry received a special mention – “on six occasions in the first 15 minutes he split the LDA rearguard wide open with slide-rule passes”. Though in the first three minutes John Dick twice failed to score with only the goalkeeper to beat. Malcolm Musgrove also hit the inside of a post before Dick atoned for his earlier errors by netting a Woosnam pass in the fourth minute. Twelve minutes later and the Hammers scored a second courtesy of an own goal. LDA reduced the arrears with a 38th minute goal by Pearson to leave West Ham with a narrow 2-1 half time lead.
In the second half West Ham took their foot off the pedal which allowed LDA to hit a post before grabbing an equaliser from Jiminez in the 65th minute. However 10 minutes later a Dave Dunmore header restored West Ham’s advantage and settled the match. The match report also singled out John Lyall for praise with “one of the most impressive features of the evening’s entertainment was the display of young John Lyall. The left back tackled soundly and his distribution was first class”.
Except for a change at right half for LDA, the teams were as printed in the match programme. It may have been a testimonial game but West Ham took the match seriously enough to field the same team that had played in the league fixtures either side of Ernie’s match. Plus this starting line up stayed on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. No raft of half time substitutions in 1960.
Season 1960-61 had a familiar ring about it: 16th in Division One and exit from the FA and League Cups by lower division clubs. But it wasn’t all ‘dreams fading and dying’. The season did include a couple of important milestones in the club’s history. One was the appointment of Ron Greenwood as the fourth manager in the club’s history. The other was the recognition of long and loyal service from one of the club’s all time greats, Ernie Gregory.
After 24 years service and clocking up 406 competitive first team appearances Ernie stepped down from goalkeeping duties. His final appearance between the first team posts was the first division home game against Leeds United in September 1959. Just over a year later he was rewarded with a well deserved testimonial match.
Ernie Gregory Testimonial Match
West Ham United 3 - 2 Liga Deportiva Alajeulense
Upton Park 10th October 1960
West Ham United:
Brian Rhodes, John Bond, John Lyall, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Mike Grice, Phil Woosnam, Dave Dunmore, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove.
LDA Costa Rica:
Induni, Chambers (Barrantes), Villalobos, Montanan, Salas, Rodriguez, Pearson, Herrera, Ulloa, Gamaz, Jimenez.
Unfortunately the match did not attract the support Ernie deserved. The attendance of 13,573 was disappointing though not much lower than that for the previous Saturday’s home Division One fixture against Birmingham. Ernie’s fund was boosted by the £2,100 gate receipts which was a reasonable sum compared with 1960’s average annual wage of £650.
Helliar & Sons’ pocket size programme gave comprehensive coverage of Ernie’s career. This included a picture of Ernie in his first squad photo call in 1936. The Stratford Express bought Ernie’s club photos up to date with a post match picture taken in the changing rooms.
The shot shows Ernie surrounded by his former team mates. Standing from left to right are Bond, Rhodes, Lyall, Dunmore, Malcolm and Woosnam. Sitting from left to right are Grice, Gregory, Moore and Musgrove.
A few months later Ernie received another longevity honour this time from the West Ham United Supporters Club. The picture captures this occasion in November 1960 when the supporters club made long service presentations to both Ernie and the recently retired Billy Moore. This long serving duo’s combined service to West Ham in playing and coaching roles totalled close to 90 years. A rarity to see two club servants give such commitment and receive recognition in the same year.
Soon after retiring from playing Ernie took up the fresh challenge of coaching the club’s third XI. I almost said “since hanging up his goalkeeping gloves”. But he was from a generation who valued loyalty, played no matter what the weather and without the benefit of today’s specialist goalkeeping kit. He may have worn a flat hat to keep the sun out of his eyes but very rarely gloves.
Tribute to Ernie
1921 - 2012