When West Ham entertain Leicester City on Friday evening, they will be renewing a rivalry that goes back a long way. Ninety-eight years, in fact, in which 128 matches have resulted in a quite evenly matched 51 wins for the Hammers and 47 wins for the Foxes.
Leicester were founded, as Leicester Fosse, in 1884 and gained admission to the Football League ten years later. It was not until West Ham’s entry into the Football League for the 1919/20 season that the two clubs’ rivalry commenced, but in the years since then they have played some quite significant roles in each other’s fortunes.
6-0 is a scoreline that thrills the supporters of the winning side and brings despair to those of the losers. 6-0 is either the result of a significant off-day for the loser’s defence, or an indication of a massive difference in the class, or form, of the two competing teams.
On a Thursday afternoon in February, 1923, West Ham and Leicester faced one another in a Second Division fixture at Filbert Street. On the previous Saturday, the teams had met at the Boleyn and fought out a 2-2 draw. Star left-winger Jimmy Ruffell had missed that game but was back in the Hammers’ team for the return, though there were still two notable absentees, namely Syd Bishop and George Kay, who were to be in the Hammers Cup Final team at Wembley in a few weeks’ time.
So, it was not a full-strength West Ham team that took the field on that Thursday afternoon, but it was strong enough for the Hammers to record a 6-0 win, with Moore (3), Richards, Ruffell and Tresadern the scorers, and that remains to this day as West Ham’s record away win.
The true significance of that score-line did not become apparent until the very end of the season. West Ham, having suffered disappointment in the first-ever Wembley Cup Final, then suffered another disappointment, losing 0-1 at home to Notts County in the last match of the season, thus missing out on the Second Division Championship. But promotion, as runners-up, came nevertheless, thanks to their superior goal average over the club destined to finish third. That club? Leicester City!
The ‘Athletic News’ reported that ‘West Ham’s goal average is 1.65 and Leicester City’s figures are 1.47, so that Leicester remain in the Second Division by an adverse balance of rather less than one-fifth of a goal!’ Put it another way, had West Ham’s win at Leicester back in February been only 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, then it would have been Leicester who would have been promoted on goal average.
Following relegation in 1932, the Hammers took a while to readjust, but by 1939 manager Charlie Paynter reckoned his patient team-rebuilding was about to bring some reward and two wins at the start of the 1939/40 season suggested he might be right. But Leicester were next up and they had their own ideas, winning 2-0 before a 13,000 Boleyn crowd. But, the very next day, war was declared, the football season was cancelled, and promotion and relegation became irrelevant.
25 years on, in 1964, West Ham and Leicester met in the Semi-Finals of the Football League Cup. The first leg was at Leicester and the home team won 4-3, Geoff Hurst (2) and Alan Sealey being the Hammers’ scorers. The second leg came at a busy time for West Ham who, having beaten Manchester United 3-1 in the F. A. Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough, had played out two draws in the League, 2-2 at Leicester and 1-1 at home to Arsenal. When they stepped out to face Leicester in the second leg of the League Cup Semi-Final, it was the Hammers’ fourth game in 10 days. Their confidence, and that of a 27,393 crowd, was high, but once again, Leicester had other ideas and, inspired by some brilliant goalkeeping by future World Cup hero Gordon Banks, it was Leicester who went on to the Final by winning 6-3 on aggregate.
Having put paid to the Hammers’ League Cup hopes (and also the distinct possibility of a Cup double), it was not long before Leicester put an end to a West Ham run of a different kind. In the 1966/67 season, the Hammers began with a goal-scoring spree which saw them amass 76 goals in 27 matches. The first team to hold them scoreless? Leicester City, with Gordon Banks playing his usual part in keeping them at bay.
Gordon Banks was soon to move on from Leicester (to Stoke, where he continued to perform his heroics against West Ham) and his place was taken by a young and highly promising Peter Shilton. Despite winning 125 England caps, Shilton did not always excel against the Hammers, and one West Ham player in particular. Step forward, Brian Dear. The scorer of five goals in 20 minutes against West Bromwich Albion, a member of the Cup-Winners’ Cup-winning side of 1965, Dear had a remarkable record against Leicester. West Ham played Leicester twice during the Christmas period in 1967, winning 4-2 at home and 4-2 away, Dear scoring three in the first match and twice more in the second. The following season it was 4-0 to the Hammers at the Boleyn (Dear scoring twice) and a 1-1 draw at Leicester, the Hammers’ goal coming from, you’ve guessed it, Brian Dear, bringing his total to 8 in 4 matches.
Towards the end of Leicester’s recent Premier League Championship season, one of their toughest games came against the Hammers. These are two teams who seem to manage to provide great entertainment when they come together, and Friday night’s game should be no different.