Ron was born on the 11th November 1921 in Lancashire and passed away at aged 84 on the 9th February 2006 after a long battle with Alzheimers. During his days at West Ham he lived in my old home town of Loughton in Brooklyn Avenue which is just off the High Road. On my recent visit back I took the attached photo of the tribute mounted at the front of his old home. Ron Greenwood was one of the best managers in our clubs history. His playing career saw him play for Bradford Park Avenue, Brentford (the team he supported as a boy), Chelsea and Fulham. Ron went on to manage West Ham from 1961 to 1974 and then the England National side from 1977 until 1982.
In the mid sixties Ron’s West Ham team won the FA Cup in 1964 and the ECWC Final the following year. The latter was probably the highlight of his career as he watched West Ham defeat 1860 Munich in a game that was lauded as one of the best games of football ever played at Wembley. Ron’s on field footballing approach was heavily influenced by the great Hungarian National team of the 1950’s. He would famously oversee the development of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters from the academy, right through to the International stage. When Ron turned Geoff Hurst from a midfielder to a striker, he told Geoff “not to worry, that he would take the blame, not Geoff, if the tactical move did not work”. It was also Ron Greenwood that transformed Trevor Brooking from an ordinary inside forward to a World class midfield player.
If Ron was one thing, he was a football purist. Despite taking over the reins at Upton Park over 60 years after the club was formed he was just the fourth manager in the clubs history. Only a few seasons into his managerial career at Upton Park, Ron was offered a huge sum for the times, 10,000 pounds to move away, but he was happy to stay at a club that believed in the same footballing traditions as himself. Ron was proud to say “we produce two players a year for the first team” (from the academy). He was also proud to oversee a side that played attacking football and that entertained the crowds. Whilst West Ham were never title contenders under Ron’s management, West Ham’s away games, more often than not, produced the biggest attendances of the season for the home teams. Old Trafford was always packed to its capacity of 63,000 for the visit of West Ham and it was a similar scenario of capacity crowds elsewhere. West Ham were the “entertainers” of the English game. Unfortunately, Ron’s style was also seen as a soft touch for the ever growing “professionalism” of other teams in the league. Whilst his knowledge of the game and purist style gained many admirers, some of his players in later years described him as not a people person. Aloof in many ways. But Geoff Hurst was more complimentary in his autobiography writing the following. “Much of what I learned from him (Ron) in those days is still relevant today. When I am watching games, situations arise on the pitch that often make me think of the things he used to tell us. For every tactical problem he had an answer. When I see a team with a problem I still think to myself Ron would solve it this way or that way. For instance, a team may be having difficulty in bypassing opposing defenders. Ron taught us to create what he called “two against one” situations all over the pitch. The object was to bypass defenders with a forward pass rather than a square one across the field. It was really the essence of West Ham’s one touch game and was dependent on the sharpness, vision and movement of our players. Too often today players accept second best with a square pass or high ball over the top of defenders simply because they have never been taught a passing strategy that carries them through the heart of the opposing team.”
Ron stood by his West Ham style and he always thought there was a magical missing link that would take the team to the heights of English football. He never found that “link” and his purist ideals also led to players being sent out to play with strict instructions that they were not to “hurt” opposition players. These ideals were forefront when he said the most disappointing thing that happened in the 1968/9 season was Harry Redknapp getting sent off at Leeds! There seemed to be a theme, especially from Northern teams back in those days, that they would openly applaud West Ham’s style by saying “they let you play”. It was really a backhanded compliment in many ways as their more unscrupulous tactics often won the day. Ron was a man of his word too. West Ham had struggled in the goal keeping position for some time and he had tried to sign Gordon Banks prior to the 1966 World Cup but was told he was not available. So Ron agreed a British record fee (for a goal keeper) for Bobby Ferguson from Kilmarnock but the transfer was delayed to allow the keeper to play for the Scottish side until they were knocked out of the European Fairs Cup. During the delay, Leicester, remembering West Ham’s interest in Banks, phoned Ron to advise they were willing to sell him to the Hammers if Ron still wanted him? The West Ham boss declined to sign arguably the best keeper in the World as he had given his word to take Ferguson, despite no paperwork having been signed. Banks then signed for Stoke and the rest is history.
In 1974, under growing fan frustrations due to lack of success, Ron “moved upstairs” and John Lyall took over as manager of West Ham. Three years later Ron took over the England job and qualified for the Euro’s and the World Cup in successive periods. England’s qualification for the 1982 World Cup Finals was the first in twelve years as it was with the Euro’s. In 1981 he was made a CBE for his services to football before being inducted into the FA Hall of Fame in 2002.
Ron Greenwood will always be remembered as a great West Ham manager, playing the game the traditional “West Ham Way”.