Former West Ham United winger Harry Hooper has passed away at the age of 87.
Harry Hooper was born in Pittington, County Durham, on 14th June 1933 – he played for local side Hylton Colliery before signing professional forms with West Ham when his father, Harry Hooper Senior, was appointed assistant trainer at the club. A fast, direct winger, he made his debut for the Second Division Hammers in a 4-2 win over Barnsley on 3rd February 1951 at Upton Park in front of 16,781. He scored his first goals for the club in an Essex Professional Cup Semi-Final replay win over Leyton Orient, his brace helping the Hammers to a 6-1 victory. Three league goals followed as Hooper made 14 appearances in 1950/51, playing alongside the likes of Ernie Gregory, Malcolm Allison and Frank O’Farrell as West Ham finished 13th in Division Two.
Hooper struggled for games in the following season, making just three appearances in 1951/52 before playing 12 matches in 1952/53, scoring four goals, including a double in a 4-1 win at Brentford on 21st March 1953. His exciting runs and dazzling wing play impressed manager Ted Fenton though, and Hooper secured a regular place in the side in the 1953/54 campaign. By now 20 years old, Hooper scored nine goals in 27 appearances as the Irons again finished mid-table, in 13th position; these nine goals included a brace in a 4-0 FA Cup third round win over Huddersfield at the Boleyn Ground. The Hammers moved up to an eighth-placed finish in 1954/55 though, with Hooper ending the season as second-top scorer (after John Dick) having bagged 13 goals in 43 matches.
Hooper’s burgeoning reputation as an outside-forward saw him become the first Hammer to be selected for the England Under-23 team; he scored twice in England’s 5-2 win over Italy at Stamford Bridge. His performance at age-group level earned him a place in the England B team and he was selected as a reserve for England’s 1954 World Cup squad. He would never win a full international cap though, with his competition on the wings coming from Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews.
Hooper’s best season at the club was also his last; he scored 16 goals in 37 matches from the wing but the Hammers finished 16th in the Second Division in 1955/56. By now joined in a team featuring John Bond, Ken Brown and fellow winger Malcolm Musgrove, Hooper’s goals included two doubles in a 6-1 win over Notts County on 3rd September 1955 and a 2-1 win against Fulham, again at home, two weeks later. He also scored his only hat-trick for the club in a 6-1 thrashing of Doncaster at Upton Park on 22nd October 1955. He scored his final goal in his last game for the club, a 3-2 home win over Bury on 19th March 1956.
Hooper fetched a record fee for a winger when he signed for Wolves for £25,000; such uproar at a sale had rarely been seen in east London since Syd Puddefoot had moved to Falkirk in 1922, with accusations of the club lacking ambition and being a feeder club for the big boys. Hooper later said he would have been happy to stay at the club; however the school in Castle Street wanted their land back, which was then serving as the main entrance to the Boleyn Ground on Green Street (on the site that later became covered by the ground’s main car park). The money received for Hooper paid for the land and the main entrance which stood at the ground from 1958.
After scoring 47 goals in 136 appearances for West Ham United, Hooper was Wolves’ top scorer in his first season at Molineux but began to struggle and was sold to Birmingham in December 1957. He helped the Blues to a runners-up spot in the Fairs Cup before returning to his native north-east with Sunderland. Hooper went on to play non-league football with Kettering Town, Dunstable Town and Heanor Town before retiring.
Hooper worked for an electronics firm in Bedford before moving to West Mersea in Essex and then to Hunstanton in Norfolk. He was present at the Boleyn Ground’s final match against Manchester United in May 2016.
Harry Hooper passed away on Wednesday 26th August at the age of 87 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I am sure all WHTID readers will join me in sending condolences and best wishes to Harry’s family and friends at this sad time.