theyflysohigh : Steve Marsh

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Banner Hammers Logo theyflysohigh GUNNING WHU Crystal Palace Team Group Reading dressing room Coach Trip 55_11_21 Crystal Palace v. WHU Friendly Back Gunning reserve report GUNNING Harry 2

Harry Gunning (1932 - 2005)

In the 1950s and 1960s there was significant transfer activity between West Ham United and Crystal Palace. Fans of this period may recall Johnny Byrne, Dave Sexton, George Petchey, Andy Smillie, John Cartwright, Eddie Presland and Dave Bickles all played for both clubs. But they were not the only ones to have played north and south of The Thames. Another who was one of the first to have played for both clubs’ first team was left winger, Harry Gunning.


Harry commenced his professional career with the Hammers, making a solitary Division Two appearance, before continuing his career with two more football league clubs, Crystal Palace and Reading.  


Born: Leigh, Lancashire February 8, 1932. Harry died July 7, 2005 aged 73.


by Roger Hillier

Gunning sign on

Minutes of Board Meeting held 12th June 1952

HG Army GUNNING Harry Action

His three year stint took in a friendly against his former club on Monday November 21, 1955. A disappointingly low 4,238 attendance watched Third Division Palace, including Harry in his usual left wing position, rise to the occasion to clock a 2-1 victory over Second Division West Ham.  

Despite John Dick giving the Hammers a 16th minute lead, Palace came back to score two goals in a five minute spell four minutes into the second half.  Inevitably the winner came from an Ex-Hammer and this time it was Alf Noakes. Palace’s first goal was scored by substitute Deakin who had replaced future Hammer Ron Brett for the second half. The local press reported that “West Ham took things very casualty after taking the lead”.

Gunning was the eldest of four children, Harry, Victor, Joyce and Mary and grew up in the Lancashire town more historically famed for its Rugby League than its football with the likes of  Alex “Yapper” Murphy OBE, Tommy Martyn and legendary winger Des Drummond to name but a few.


So for a lad up North to move down South was a revelation for the town of Leigh and his family and friends.

Crossed Hammer

Gunning played much of his early football with Southern League side Gravesend and Northfleet United (today they are known as Ebbsfleet United).

Harry was already something of a celebrity in his home town, having appeared on television as a gymnast with his speciality being the rings. His sporting talent continued to be encouraged during his time in national service and it was around this time that he caught the eye of one of West Ham’s scouts. Sport was an important part of the Gunning family’s life and one of the regular visitors to their household was the 1970 Commonwealth Games marathon gold medalist, Ron Hill.  

The outside-left had the chance of moving back up north to join First Division Bolton Wanderers. Who knows what opportunities a move to the 1953 FA Cup finalists could have bought....facing the great Stanley Matthews on Wembley’s turf?  But in the end Harry and his wife decided to stay in the south. Her family too had significant sporting heritage as her two brothers were holders of boxing’s top prize, a Lonsdale Belt.

West Ham Reserve Team Debut - 1951

In June 1952 after completing his Army national service the young Gunning signed on the dotted line for West Ham United and was one of the few players at that time to be given a “football House” to live in whilst on the Hammers books.

Gunning's two-year honeymoon at the Boleyn Ground ended in June 1954 when he was transferred across the Thames to Crystal Palace for the princely sum of £200.  

West Ham First Team Debut in Essex Professional Cup

Three months later on November 13, 1952 Harry made his first team debut in an Essex Professional Cup First Round tie away to Colchester United in a 3-2 victory.  Another debutant that evening was centre forward Tommy Dixon.  

West Country Tour

April 1953

Towards the end of the 1952-53 season the Hammers made a fleeting visit to the South West to play Swansea Town in a friendly and the day after an exhibition game against a St. Austell XI.


Gunning was in the West Ham touring party and played in the St. Austell game (April 29, 1953), contributing a goal in the 7-3 win.


The previous day’s friendly against fellow Division Two side, Swansea Town, was an unusual affair as it was hosted by Penzance Town.


Our connections with the Penzance club were established some years previously through Charlie Paynter, and the friendship between the two clubs deepened when Gerry Gazzard joined the Hammers from the Cornish club in May 1949. The Hammers paid regular end-of-season visits to them in the 1950s.


On this occasion the Hammers won 3-2 though the records only cover the goalscorers (Tommy Dixon, Gerry Gazzard, &  Jim Barrett Jnr) and not the starting XI.  So we are not sure if Harry was gunning down the left wing.  


Football League Debut 1952-53

Three days after appearing in the St. Austell friendly, Harry made his long awaited football league debut in the season’s final fixture away to Lincoln City.  

This, his one and only Division Two appearance in claret and blue was against Lincoln City at Sencil Bank on May Day. A 14,235 attendance witnessed The Imps 3-1 triumph over the Hammers.


The West Ham team that afternoon was:

Ernie Gregory, George Wright, Noel Cantwell, Danny McGowan, Malcolm Allison, Frank O’Farrell, Doug Bing, Jim Barrett Jnr, Tommy Dixon, Jimmy Andrews, Harry Gunning.


Unfortunately for Harry his Upton Park tenure coincided with some stiff left wing competition from Jimmy Andrews, Harry Hooper and latterly from Malcolm Musgrove.  So it was no surprise two years after signing pro Harry transferred to Division Three club Crystal Palace. Here he joined former Hammer colleagues George Petchey and Alf Noakes.  


Petchey had also made his two West Ham league appearances in the same 1952-53 season as Harry’s sole game.

Crystal Palace Friendly v. Hammers

November 21, 1955

Move to Guildford City

After leaving Elm Park Harry stayed in the south with a move to Southern League team, Guildford City and later went into lower league management when his hung-up his playing boots.

Many sportsmen, pop stars, actors and opera stars have hailed from Leigh in  Lancshire and the ‘Gunning’ family can be rightly proud of Harry and his achievements.

HG 01

Gravesend and Northfleet United

Harry Gunning CPFC 1954


Harry Gunning

Harry Gunning Small

Records indicate that Harry made his initial Hammers debut as a triallist for the Reserves Football Combination side on February 13, 1951 away to Ipswich Town at Portman Road.


The team that day was:

Taylor, Cooper, Nelson, Malcolm, Brown, Moroney, Southren, Petchey, Kearns, Foan, Gunning

National Service Army Football XI

GUNNING Harry handshake

A warm welcome 

left to right: Gerry Gazzard, Ernie Gregory, Harry Gunning, Dick Walker, Harry Kinsell and Terry Woodgate

theyflysohigh would like to thank Harry's nephew Mark Giles for providing information and photos from the Gunning family album

Coach Trip : Harry seated behind the two nodding players

Gunning Crystal Palace sandwich Gunning sign off

Minutes of Board Meeting held August 1954

An early record of Harry’s claret and blue career is his appearance in the second pre-season public practice match at the Boleyn Ground on August 16, 1952 when he wore the number 11 shirt in the Blues team against the Club Colours.

Club notes reveal he was due to play in the first friendly game but due to a pulled muscle he was unable to take up his right-wing postion.


Despite losing 4-1 Harry was in good company as the Blues included three up and coming team mates who would go on to become West Ham stars: John Bond, Ken Brown and Harry Hooper.

It seems as though Harry must have impressed the coaching staff at Upton Park as he was invited back to compete in both the London Mid-Week and Eastern Counties League fixtures at the tail-end of the 1951-52 campaign.

Crossed Hammer 52_08_16 Practice Match 01

Second Practice Match

Club Colours:




















Gregory J.




52_11_13 Colchester United v. WHU EPC1 52_11_13 Colchester United v. WHU EPC1 inside

West Ham United team was:

George Taylor

Ernie Devlin

Noel Cantwell

Eric Armstrong

Malcolm Allison

Danny McGowan

Tommy Southren

Tommy Dixon

George Petchey

Harry Gunning.

Programme Image courtesy of Nigel Turner

53_05_01 Lincoln City v. WHU 55_11_21 Crystal Palace v. WHU Friendly

Crystal Palace sandwich with Gunning the filling.

Ex-Hammer Ron Brett on the right

Eighteen months later at the end of 1956-57 season Harry transferred to his third and final football league club, Reading. In one season with the Biscuitmen he made 12 league appearances and scored a single goal before hanging up his football league boots. His three club career saw him clock a total of 75 football league appearances netting five goals.

Biscuitmen Finale

Reading team group Crystal Palace action 02 Crystal Palace action 01 palace-towers Reading badge Outline

Signs Pro for Hammers

In three seasons with the Selhurst Park club Harry was a regular first teamer clocking 62 league appearances and scoring four goals, and also played in two FA Cup First Round games against Southampton (0-0) at Selhurst Park and the replay which was lost 0-2 at The Dell 1955-56 season.


In May 1957 Harry joined his third and final league club, Reading, where he played a further 12 league games netting a single goal.

Transfer to Crystal Palace – June 1954

Thanks also to Pete Hurn

Leigh, Lancashire



February 8, 1932



Gravesend and Northfleet United



June 1952



1   League

1   Essex Profesional Cup





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Tributes Tommy Dixon Dylan Tombides