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Cork Athletic 1951

Where it all began, Noel Cantwell back row fourth from left

Noel Cantwell (1932 - 2005)

by Roger Hillier

Cork Athletic 1951

After hanging up his playing boots Cantwell moved into the coaching and management side of the game. In his first managerial role at Coventry City he had the onerous task of following Jimmy Hill who had taken the club into the First Division for the first time in their history.

Cantwell kept the Sky Blues in the top flight by the skin of their teeth in his first two seasons before taking them to a sixth place finish in 1969–70, earning them qualification for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (a year before it was replaced by the UEFA Cup).


He left Highfield Road in March 1972 to take charge of the New England Tea Men in the USA, but within seven months was back in English football as manager of Peterborough United. He helped the Posh win Division Four in his first full season as manager, before leaving in May 1977 for a second spell with the Tea Men. This time he spent a year in the States.

He returned to Peterborough in November 1986 for a second spell as manager, remaining in this role until he became general manager in July 1988. He was general manager at London Road for a year until he quit football to become licensee of the New Inn at Peterborough, where he remained for a decade until retiring in 1999.

In January 2105 one of West Ham’s 1950s legends belatedly received further recognition for his sporting achievements. Cork City Council has named a walkway after one of the city’s finest sportsman and former West Ham player, Noel Cantwell.

In a formal ceremony on March 13, 2015 Cork City Council will unveil the walkway, ‘The Noel Cantwell Walk’, in the Mardyke district of Cork.

It’s never too late to receive recognition!

Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer

Noel’s sporting achievements covered the football and cricket pitches as he represented Eire in both sports. Better known for his football exploits, he started out with Cork Athletic before signing for West Ham and his later transfer to Manchester United.  On the cricket pitch he played for Ireland in several representative matches.


In his eight seasons of first team action Noel will be remembered for several achievements.

Born: Cork, Eire February 28, 1932 Noel Euchuria Cornelius Cantwell died September 8, 2005 aged 73.

Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer Crossed Hammer

As one of the stalwarts of the side which won 1957-58’s Division Two championship to return West Ham to the top tier


A member of the Hammers’ side which reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1956


278 competitive first team appearances & scoring 12 goals  


Winning 17 Eire full international caps


Cup winners’ medals from the Southern Floodlight Cup (1956), Essex Professional Cup (1959) and London FA Challenge Cup (1952)


Runners-up medal in the London Indoor Football Championships in 1957


Representative honour with London FA when in the London XI side for the 1955–58 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final on May 1, 1958


First class cricket for Ireland

Crossed Hammer

Cantwell’s association with West Ham started when Tommy Moroney bought Noel to the attention of West Ham manager Ted Fenton in the summer of 1952. The story goes that Fenton visited Cantwell at his Birmingham digs and persuaded the 17 and a half year old to sign for the Hammers in June 1952.

West Ham paid £725 for the Cork man with a further £200 after he made 15 appearances. Cantwell’s share of the transfer paid to Cork Athletic was £250.


'B' Team to Football League Debut

Originally signed as a centre-forward the young Irishman made his Hammers' debut for the 'B' team against Tottenham Hotspur August 30, 1952. The Metropolitan League home game at Glebe Road ended 2-2. A few weeks later he was moved to his more familiar full-back role.


The positional switch must have impressed his manager as on November 13, 1952 he made his first team debut in the Essex Professional Cup away to Colchester United in a 3-2 victory.  


The team at Layer Road that evening was

Taylor, Devlin, Cantwell, Armstrong,

Allison, McGowan, Southren, Moroney,

Dixon, Petchey, Gunning

London Challenge Cup Winners Medal

Less than a month after his baptism in the EPC, Noel was a member of the side which beat Brentford 2-1 in the final of the London FA Challenge Cup at Stamford Bridge. All of the team on that December 8, 1952 evening had first team experience: Taylor, Devlin, Cantwell, Moroney, Allison, O’Farrell, Southren, Barrett, Kearns, Andrews and Tucker.


On January 31 Cantwell again played for the first team on this occasion in a friendly against Division One side Blackburn Rovers.  Despite losing 2-1 Cantwell’s fellow defenders included three others, Gregory, Bond and Allison, who would be stalwarts in the promotion winning side five years later.


Cantwell's second season started well as he partnered George Wright in the season’s first 19 fixtures before being replaced by Harry Kinsell. Noel returned to the side in February and March to bring his season’s tally of league appearances to 23.

Early in the season Noel played in his first Upton Park floodlit friendlies as a member of the teams which beat Division One Sunderland (October 5) and the Scottish side Hearts (October 19) 2-0 and 7-0 respectively. Noel also has the distinction of appearing in the Hammers’ first ever away floodlit fixture, the 4-2 win friendly win at Queens Park Rangers in November.    

CANTWELL joins the Hammers 52_08_30 WHU B v. Tottenham Hotspur Metro WHU minutes 1952

Minutes of Board Meeting held Tuesday 2 September 1952

52_11_13 Colchester United v. WHU EPC 53_04_06 Fulham v. WHU

Football League Debut

Noel’s rapid rise to a place in the Hammers’ football league side within a year of joining West Ham was completed when he made his debut as the replacement for regular left back Harry Kinsell on Monday April 6, 1953 away at Craven Cottage.

A couple of other firsts in this match included Dave Sexton and Tommy Dixon scoring their first West Ham goals in the 3-2 win over Fulham.  As Cantwell made his league debut his fellow full back, Ernie Devlin, made his last.


The XI to face Fulham was:

Ernie Gregory

Ernie Devlin

Noel Cantwell

Danny McGowan

Malcolm Allison

Frank O’Farrell

Tommy Southren

Dave Sexton

Tommy Dixon

Jimmy Andrews

Harry Hooper



Harry Kinsell briefly returned for the next Division Two game before Noel played in the season’s final three league matches.

Eire International Debut in World Cup Qualifier

Ireland programme

In only his second season of first team football Noel made his debut for the Republic of Ireland on October 28, 1953 against Luxembourg at Dalymount Park. Cantwell was just 21 years of age as Eire ran out 4-0 winners in a 1954 World Cup qualifier.

Noel Cantwell International Cap

1954-55 – First Televised West Ham Appearance

A better season for the club as the team finished in 8th place with Noel playing in 17 of the matches. He also made his first FA Cup appearances in the drawn home tie against Port Vale and ensuing replay.


A couple of notable games this season would have been the floodlit friendlies against the Italians AC Milan and the Dutch side Holland Sports. In the December 14 match against the mighty Italians Cantwell came on as a 2nd half substitute though suffered the misfortune of scoring in his own net in the 6-0 defeat.  

The second occasion would have been more memorable as Noel was a member of the side which faced Holland Sports on March 25, 1955 in the first ever live transmission from Upton Park. Though viewers would have been disappointed to not see any goals.  A week later and Noel visited Belfast for the 2-2 drawn friendly with Distillery.

Noel Cantwell's International cap

55_03_27 WHU v. Holland Sports Club 54_12_14 WHU v. AC Milan

1955-56 - F.A. Cup Quarter Final


Noel Cantwell





Date of Birth:




Previous Club:




Joined Hammers:




Hammers Appearances:







Hammers Goals:




Cork, Eire




February 28, 1932




Cork Athletic




June 1952




248  League

15    FA Cup

12    Southern Floodlight Cup

3      Essex Professional Cup




11    League

1      Essex Professional Cup


The Hammers’ league form may have been disappointing as the club slipped to 16th place, but this was partly made up by the club’s best FA Cup campaign since 1933’s FA Cup semi-final. Noel figured in all of the club’s six FA Cup games including the closely fought quarter-final replay at White Hart Lane.

The left back position was now Cantwell’s as he played in all but two of the season’s 42 league games.

1955-56 Team Group

A cup success as West Ham won the Southern Floodlight Cup (SFC) in its inaugural season on April 23, 1956 with a 2-1 triumph over Aldershot.

Two season’s later nine of the following final XI would contribute to the Division Two Championship win.

Gregory, Bond, Cantwell, Parker, Nelson, Lansdowne, Grice, Smith, Dare, Dick, Tucker

Southern Floodlight Cup Win

Before the F.A. Cup campaign got underway, the stocky defender played in a couple of floodlit Upton Park friendlies. The opponents were FA Amateur XI (6-1) on September 26, and SK Rapid Vienna (1-1) on November 15.

Towards the end of the season on April 11, 1956 Noel was in the XI which suffered a rare home friendly defeat to the West German side Kaiserslautern (4-2).

International Club Friendlies


Back row: Cantwell, Gregory, Allison, Malcolm, Wright, Lansdowne

Front row: Grice, Smith, Dare, Dick, Musgrove

1956-57 – First Claret & Blue Goal

This season's league form showed more promise as the Hammers finished a more respectable 8th, paving the way for the following season’s championship triumph. The 1956-57 season included a run of scoring in 24 consecutive games, mid-way through which Cantwell scored his first goal for the club. The goal arrived on February 9, 1957 in the 3-2 home win over Sheffield United. John Smith and Eddie Lewis grabbed the others.


On May 1 in a friendly at Colchester Noel again found his scoring boots in a 4-3 win.

London Five-A-Side Football Championships Runners-Up

On Wednesday April 3, 1957 Cantwell was a member of the West Ham 'fives' team which narrowly lost the final to Fulham 3-2. Noel was the Hammers’ top goal scorer of the evening with four out of the team’s six goals.

The other four members of the claret and blue quintet were Ernie Gregory, John Smith, Malcolm Allison and Billy Dare.

1957 5-A-side

1957-58 - Division Two Champions  

After a 26 year wait the Hammers finally secured a return to Division One. Ted Fenton’s squad clinched the championship in their final game, as Noel captained the side to a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park. With the usual captain, Malcolm Allison, out through ill-health Noel took over the captaincy from the fourth league game this season.

In another long sequence of scoring in consecutive games, this time 30, Noel contributed a couple taking his personal season’s tally to four. His third of the season was his first from the penalty spot as he netted against Huddersfield Town in a 5-2 win at Upton Park in November 1957.

Despite this being a busy promotion chasing season, the Hammers including Noel still had time for two Upton Park friendlies against international club opponents.  

The first was Dick Walker’s testimonial against Sparta Rotterdam (5-0) on October 18 and the second against the Polish side LKS Lodz (4-1) a month later.

Stratford Express 01

The Hammers arrive back at St Pancras Station as Champions       Skipper Cantwell held aloft by Malcolm Pyke and John Bond

Second Division medal

Representative Honour with London FA

Nou Camp May 1, 1958

Six days after becoming Division Two champions, Noel Cantwell, Ken Brown and ex Hammer George Wright (Leyton Orient) and Hammer to be Jimmy Bloomfield (Arsenal) joined the London FA XI for the Inter Cities Fairs Cup final 2nd leg against Barcelona.  In terms of crowd attendance this match played at the Nou Camp would have been one of the biggest in their careers as it attracted 70,000.  Unfortunately, Barcelona won the leg 6-0.

Noel Cantwell receiving a welcome cup of tea from John Smith in the bath after a match at Upton Park

Cantwell Bathtime


6th in Division One to Equal West Ham’s Highest Ever League Position

In their first season back in Division One the Hammers’ good league form followed the previous season’s superb finish of only three defeats in their last 18 league matches. After beating Manchester United 3-2 in the September 1958 fixture the team briefly topped Division One. Cantwell was ever present in the 42 league games as he led the side to finish 6th.

CANTWELL Noel International

Essex Professional Cup Winners

59_09_21 WHU v. Leyton Orient Essex Final

A notable end to the season was victory in the final of the EPC, which was held over to September 1959.

The following strong XI overcame Leyton Orient 4-1 at Upton Park. Noel Dwyer, Joe Kirkup, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Geoff Hurst, Derek Woodley, Phil Woosnam, Ron Brett, John Dick and Malcolm Musgrove. Cantwell’s goal in this final was his one and only for the Hammers in a cup tie. Brett, Dick and an own goal contributed the other three.  


As the Football League Cup was soon to commence in 1960-61, the EPC was consigned to history with the 1958-59 EPC final the last ever match of this regional cup.  

Cantwell in the Forward Line

In the end of season friendlies manager Ted Fenton experimented with some significant team changes. He tried the partnership of Joe Kirkup and John Bond at full back with Noel Cantwell moving up into the forward line.

On the Hammers’ post season European tour of Germany and Holland, Noel filled an inside or centre forward role with success. A goal in his first game against Rot Weiss (2-3) on May 2 and a double against Fortuna (3-2), the Dutch side, three days later justified Fenton’s experiment. In the third game on May 7 against Borussia Dortmund Cantwell drew a blank in the 3-1 defeat.  


For the pre-season friendlies at the end of July and beginning of August 1959 against Spartak Moscow (1-5) and Bratislava Red Star (2-3) Cantwell moved back to his more familiar full back spot.  


Run of Consecutive League Appearances Stretches to Two Years

As Noel appeared in the season’s first 27 league games it bought his consecutive league appearance run to an impressive 76. This run started in March 1958 and stretched to February 1960. A couple of Noel’s games in 1959-60 were as replacement for Vic Keeble in the forward line. Though Noel was unable to add to his goal tally.  

The three goals he did net this season were all from the penalty spot to take his total number of spot kick conversions to four in competitive games for the Hammers.  His last spot kick turned out to be the last in a claret and blue shirt and appropriately it was against his future club, Manchester United.  Though the Red Devils won the April 1960 Old Trafford fixture 5-3.


Just as Noel had the distinction of appearing in the last ever Essex Professional Cup fixture, he had the same honour in the Southern Floodlight Cup.

The Hammers reached the final of this cup for the second time but were unable to match their success in the tournament’s inaugural season (1955-56).

Cantwell played in four of West Ham’s SFC campaign including the 2-1 final defeat to Coventry City on Wednesday April 27, 1960 at Highfield Road in front of 16,921.  


West Ham’s final XI was:

Brian Rhodes, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Mike Grice, John Cartwright, Dave Dunmore, Andy Smillie and Malcolm Musgrove.


As an aside, three of the XI, Bond, Cantwell and Malcolm, had also played in West Ham’s first ever Southern Floodlight Cup fixture four seasons earlier.


April was a busy month as in addition to seven Division One matches, the first team played two SFC ties and a friendly against the Brazilians, Fluminense. Needless to say Cantwell scored in the narrow 5-4 win in the friendly on Monday April 25, 1960.  

Southern Floodlight Cup Final Defeat to Coventry City

Coventry City v. WHU SFC Final Blackpool (A) 59-60

1958-59 Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

1959-60 Blackpool at Upton Park

Noel Cantwell's 11th - 13th International cap (1958-59)


Record Transfer to Manchester United

Cantwell’s ninth season as a Hammer proved to be his last when in November 1960 he transferred to Manchester United for £29,500 a record transfer fee for a full back. He wore the number three shirt in the season’s first 10 league games with his last league appearance away to Everton on September 24, 1960. The side lost 4-1 though it was a memorable day for debutant Mike Beesley who netted West Ham’s solitary goal.


The side at Goodison Park was:

Peter Shearing, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Derek Woodley, Phil Woosnam, Dave Dunmore, Mick Beesley, Malcolm Musgrove.


The November transfer to Manchester United surprised many as a couple of weeks prior to the transfer Noel had no expectation of leaving the club. But after losing his first team place through injury he was unable to regain his place due to the good form of John Lyall his left back replacement, Noel understood why Fenton could not drop Lyall as he had been in a similar position earlier in his career as understudy to Harry Kinsell. Dropped and coupled with the West Ham directors imposing a £1 fine for breach of discipline in failing to report back from Ireland after an international fixture against Norway at the appointed time, perhaps the time was right for a move away from the Boleyn Ground.

In late October Matt Busby approached West Ham about the possibility of signing Cantwell and the Hammers agreed to release him. Busby saw a key role for the big defender in his rebuilding of the Manchester United team after the 1958 Munich air disaster.

Last Claret & Blue Game in Metropolitan League  November 3, 1960

After his September appearance against Everton Noel donned the claret and blue shirt on three more occasions. These were the London FA Challenge Cup replay tie at home to Crystal Palace (6-2) on October 17, a Football Combination match against Arsenal Reserves (5-2) on Saturday October 29 and his final appearance in a Metropolitan League game for the ‘A’ team at Imber Court against the Metropolitan Police (8-1) two days before Guy Fawkes Night.  

It must have been a strange experience for Noel playing in this ‘A’ team fixture as days earlier he had gained his 17th international cap when he captained Eire in their 3-1 victory over Norway at Dalymount Park, Dublin.  

60_11_03 Metropolittan Police v. WHU Metro

Manchester United 1960-1967

Cantwell made his Manchester United debut in the November 26, 1960 Division One game against Cardiff City and over seven seasons he clocked 123 league games scoring six goals.  He also played in several cup ties including in the European Cup. His time at Old Trafford will be remembered by most when he had the honour of leading Manchester United in their 1963 FA Cup triumph over Leicester City at Wembley.  

Hampered by injury Noel still managed to make a few league appearances in the seasons the Red Devils became Division One champions in 1964-65 and 1966-67. Noel Cantwell's last appearance for Manchester United was against Southampton at the Dell on 19 November 1966 in a 2-1 win.  

CANTWELL - MOORE Eire v. England 1964

The signing of Noel Cantwell from West Ham United in November 1960 was one of the club's more positive and successful moves."


"Noel was a big handsome man, a natural sportsman..."


"... my appreciation of Noel Cantwell was much more straightforward. I liked him as a man and, if there was such a thing, I thought he was a United type. I also admired him as a player ... sometimes the quality of his playing ability was overlooked, but he was a defender of considerable class, strong on the left side and with a very nice touch. When he led us out for the 1963 cup final, I thought, 'This is good - we have a real captain.'

Captains Booby Moore and Noel Cantwell

lead the teams out at Dalymount Park, Dublin

Quote Quote

Strange But True

By strange co-incidence Cantwell’s last goals for his two football league clubs were scored against the other side and on both occasions Noel finished on the losing side!  

For the Hammers his final claret and blue goal came in the 5-3 defeat at Old Trafford April 18, 1960. While his last goal for Manchester United was against West Ham six years later on April 30, 1966 in a 3-2 defeat at Upton Park.

Tributes Roy Walker David Mangnall United We Stand Book Cover

Did you know?

Noel Cantwell was best man at Bobby and Tina Moore’s wedding in 1962

International Career with Eire

Noel Cantwell made his debut for the Republic of Ireland on October 28, 1953 against Luxembourg at Dalymount Park. Cantwell was just 21 years of age as Ireland ran out 4-0 winners in a 1954 World Cup qualifier.

Eire did not qualify for that World Cup but Cantwell did have the pleasure of scoring his first international goal against the reigning World Cup winners as Eire beat West Germany 3-0 at Dalymount Park on November 25, 1956. Man of the match Noel Cantwell scored Eire's first goal from the penalty spot 17 minutes into the second half.

Cantwell captained Eire on a number of occasions and he scored 14 goals (5 penalties) in 36 appearances. Seventeen of these international caps were won whilst with West Ham.  

In the 1964 international between Eire and England at Dalymount Park, Noel’s opposing captain was none other than West Ham's Bobby Moore.

Noel Cantwell played his last match for Eire on February 22, 1967 against Turkey in a 1968 European Championship qualifier in Ankara.

Cantwell also scored his last goal for the Republic of Ireland in the same match. It was an 89th minute consolation as the Turks were already 2-0 up at the time. Nevertheless, Noel Cantwell's last action in his Irish international career was to score a goal for his country.

Cricket for Ireland

There are few sportsmen who can claim to have played football and cricket for their country, and Noel Cantwell is one of them. As a cricketer he played for Cork Bohemians Cricket Club and Ireland as a left-handed batsman and a right-arm medium bowler. He played five times for Ireland making his debut in what was his sole first-class match versus Scotland at Edinburgh in 1956, scoring 31 and 17.  Other appearances for Ireland were against several touring sides, including the MCC, the West Indies and the New Zealanders. His last match for Ireland was against Lancashire in July 1959.

Coaching & Management


The team which faced the police included Beesley the debutant from the Everton league match and several players who progressed to first team debuts:

Peter Reader, Harry Cripps, Noel Cantwell, Martin Peters, Dave Bickles, John Charles, Jim Barrett, Archie Robertson, Norman Bleanch, Mike Beesley and Tony Scott.

CANTWELL Noel 2 Bathtime

Bathtime : John Bond and Noel Cantwell

abc004 - Noel Cantwell abc010 Noel Cantwell Crossed Hammer

Not surprisingly Noel was highly thought of and respected at Old Trafford.  Bobby Charlton, in his autobiography, is quoted as saying the following about his Manchester United colleague:

Cantwell Red Devil 02 Cantwell Red Devil 01

Noel Cantwell, referee Ken Aston and Colin Appleton

Cantwell Red Devil 03

1963 F.A. Cup Final

Manchester United v. Leicester City

CANTWELL Noel Obituary