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At the end of 1955-56 Les left the Hammers and in August 1956 became player-coach for Clacton Town and three seasons later finished his football career with Southern League Division One side Romford in 1959-60.
In season 1954-55 West Ham United, then a Division Two side, were on the fringe of challenging for promotion to the top tier. To bolster their promotion chances, manager Ted Fenton signed up Tottenham Hotspur striker Les Bennett on December 23, 1954 for a reported fee of £3,000.
In a long and distinguished career Les had been a member of the Spurs team which became Division One champions in 1950-51 and runners-up in the following season.
Wearing their white shirt he scored 102 goals in 272 league appearances but after starting the 1954-55 season in the Lilywhites’ first team, he had been confined to their reserves.
Aged 36 when he moved to east London, West Ham’s fortunes looked up as following a run of six consecutive wins from March 5, 1955 to April 8, 1955, the Hammers moved up to 3rd place with seven games left.
Promotion into Division One looked a distinct possibility! But straight after this winning sequence the bubble burst in the season’s remaining seven matches the Hammers failed to register another win, losing five times and only netting three goals to finish in a disappointing 8th position. Overall a small improvement on their 9th placing when Les joined.
In his 18 months claret and blue tenure, Les made 30 league and cup appearances and contributed four goals before moving into local non-league football with Clacton Town.
Born: Wood Green, England January 10, 1918 Les died April 29, 1999 aged 81.
1954 Christmas Day Debut
Two days after signing for West Ham, Les was drafted into the side for the Christmas Day fixture against Derby County. He must have been a positive influence as West Ham won their first league game since the end of November. A single strike by John Dick gave the Hammers two points.
As Les made his claret and blue debut another forward, Tommy Dixon, made his last appearance for the first team.
The full eleven was: George Taylor, John Bond, Harry Kinsell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Malcolm Allison, Harry Hooper, Les Bennett, Tommy Dixon, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove
From his claret and blue debut to the end of the 1954-55 season, Les was ever present. In making his debut at the age of 36 years 11 months 16 days he claimed the Hammers’ record for the oldest debutant. This remained the club’s record for close to 41 years! On September 16, 1995 another Les, goalkeeper Les Sealey, snatched the record when he made his debut as an outfield substitution at the age of 37 years 11 months 19 days.
Currently, Les Bennett lies in 6th place of the oldest Hammers’ debutants, behind, Teddy Sherringham, Les Sealey, Robert Lee, Jussi Jaasklainen and Stuart Pearce.
Hammers’ Oldest Debutant
FA Cup Debut and First Goal
Bennett's first goal arrived in his fourth game, the 2-2 draw with Port Vale in the 3rd round FA Cup tie at Upton Park. The inside-forward scored the first of his three claret and blue league goals a month later in the 6-1 home win over Plymouth Argyle.
Back row: Andy Malcolm, George Wright, George Taylor, Malcolm Allison, Noel Cantwell, Frank O'Farrell
Seated front: Harry Hooper, Les Bennett, Billy Dare, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove
1955 Friendlies & Captaincy
After an early exit from the FA Cup, manager Ted Fenton arranged a number of friendlies. Les played in four of these: the first in a 4-1 home win over Division One Portsmouth (Saturday January 29,1955), and the second in another home win this time the Hammers thrashed the Austrian side SC Scimmering 8-2 (Saturday February 19, 1955).
Les scored one of the Hammers’ eight, though debutant Billy Dare grabbed the headlines by scoring a quartet.
In the following month Les captained the team for Holland Sports’ visit to Upton Park for a goalless game under the floodlights (Tuesday March 22, 1955).
Les Bennett exchanging souvenir pennants before the game against Holland Sports
Les Bennett shots for goal but his effort goes wide against Holland Sports
Six days later the Hammers drew another friendly, this time in Belfast against Distillery, a match arranged as part of the Brian Moore transfer deal.
The final match of the season was a more light-hearted local affair to mark the opening of Briggs Social & Athletic Club’s new sports ground and to raise money for the Sir Herbert Dunnico Memorial Fund. On Saturday May 14, 1955 the Hammers fielded a strong side against a Combined Area XI made up of local top amateurs.
In Les’ first season the Hammers harboured high hopes for promotion but these bubbles soon burst. In the following season it was the opposite as West Ham struggled and narrowly avoided relegation to Division Three.
Les found a first team place harder to come by as he faced challenges for an inside forward position from Jimmy Andrews, Brian Moore, Albert Foan and Terry Matthews.
Two Cup Semi-Finals
Les appeared in a couple of cup semi-finals. The first of these was in the Essex Professional Cup (EPC) on December 5, 1955 in a 3-2 defeat to Southend United at Upton Park.
In the second competition, the Southern Floodlight Cup, four months after the EPC semi-final and his final league game, Les was recalled to the side for the Southern Floodlight Cup semi-final away at Elm Park on April 4, 1956. This turned out to be his last first team appearance and in front of a 5,000 crowd the Hammers beat Reading 3-1. Nineteen days later West Ham beat Aldershot in the final.
London Challenge Cup
Back in the 1950s for the London Challenge Cup clubs would typically field an eleven made up of first teamers and reserves. Les made a couple of appearances for the Hammers in this competition. The first was the 1st round floodlit tie on October 3, 1955 at home to Brentford in a 2-2 draw.
A week later in the Griffin Park replay the Hammers lost 4-1 with Les scoring his side’s solitary net.
In front of an enthusiastic 4,000 crowd Dave Sexton’s hat-trick was just enough to win 3-2. Les pictured in aerial action (right) partnered Sexton and Dare in the attack.
Today the Briggs Sports Ground is known as Rush Green Stadium. West Ham United having purchased the ground from the previous owners Grays Athletic and now use the ground as the first team’s training facility and also to host the West Ham United Women's fixtures.
Finishes Career in Essex
Date of Birth:
Wood Green, London
January 10, 1918
December 23, 1954
26 Football League
2 FA Cup
1 Essex Professional Cup
1 Southern Floodlight Cup
3 Football League
1 FA Cup
Leslie Donald Bennett
February 12, 1955
Opening of Briggs Sports Ground
Les’ pulled on the claret and blue shirt for the last time in the Football Combination fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Goldstone Ground on April 30, 1956. Goals from Malcolm Musgrove and Doug Wragg secured the Irons a 2-0 victory.
Apart from George Fenn, the rest of the reserve XI had all seen first team duty: George Taylor, George Wright, Fred Cooper, Les Bennett, Bill Nelson, Bill Lansdowne, George Fenn, Albert Foan, Doug Wragg, Jimmy Andrews, Malcolm Musgrove
In his last season he made seven league appearances with a solitary goal scored in a 4-2 defeat away to Swansea on August 27, 1955.
This solitary goal was significant as at the time he became the fourth oldest claret and blue player, behind Charlie Bicknell, Syd Puddefoot and Victor Watson, to have scored a senior goal. Since then he has slipped to 7th oldest to have netted. The table below lists the golden oldies to have hit the net for the Hammers.
His final league appearance was on Saturday December 17, 1955, eight days short of the anniversary of his Christmas Day baptism. Away at Millmoor the Hammers lost 3-2 to Rotherham United.
The Irons’ eleven that afternoon was:
Ernie Gregory, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Malcolm Allison, Frank O’Farrell, Harry Hooper, Brian Moore, Les Bennett, John Dick, Ken Tucker.
Oldest West Ham Goalscorers