The Hammers have not had a good record against Manchester City recently, an appalling record in fact. Since the start of the 2008/09 season, the two teams have met a total of 19 times, once in the F. A. Cup, twice in the Carling Cup and 16 times in the Premier League. City have won 13 of these matches, drawn three and lost three, and in doing so have notched up 46 goals to the Hammers’ 14.
But there was a time when matters were very much the other way around. In the five seasons after West Ham’s promotion to the First Division in 1958, the clubs met ten times, the Hammers winning six (with one draw and three defeats), scoring 31 to City’s 19. Those six victories included wins of 4-1, 5-1, 5-3, and two 6-1 triumphs, both of the latter coming, remarkably, in the same season.
Those five seasons were years of transition, Ted Fenton’s promotion-winning team of 1958 gradually evolving into Ron Greenwood’s Cup-winning teams of the mid-1960s.
A problem position for Ted Fenton was centre-forward. In the two seasons 1958/59 and 1959/60, in four matches against Manchester City, four different players wore the No.9 shirt, only two of whom were centre-forwards by trade. First up was Vic Keeble, whose arrival from Newcastle had sparked the Hammers’ promotion push in 1957/58. Keeble played in a 1-3 defeat at Maine Road, but missed ten of the last eleven games of the season through injury, including the return against Manchester City on 20th April, the last home match of the 1958/59 season.
Who was it who took over the centre-forward role in Keeble’s absence? Not who you might have expected. In his autobiography, Ted Fenton wrote that he expected versatility from his players; ‘a good footballer should be capable of playing in any position’. Two players who showed that capability were the full-backs, John Bond and Noel Cantwell and it was they who moved up front to take Keeble’s place, Bond wearing the No. 9 shirt on six occasions and Cantwell wearing it for the last two games of the season. One of these was the Manchester City game in which Cantwell scored one of the Hammer’s five goals.
By the time of the next visit from Manchester City, Keeble’s injury problems were such that they were soon to bring a premature close to his career. Once again Ted Fenton had to decide on a replacement. According to Fenton’s autobiography, the suggestion came from Hammers’ chairman, Reg Pratt, to ‘try Harry Obeney’, a reserve team player normally regarded as a wing-half but who had made a few first team appearances wearing No. 8. Obeney duly stepped into the No. 9 shirt and scored one of the goals in a 4-1 victory over City.
Harry Obeney scored 9 goals in 17 games as a centre-forward, spread over two seasons, but with the arrival on the scene, firstly of Dave Dunmore, and then Alan Sealey and Johnny Byrne, Obeney’s success was short-lived, unlike that of another former wing-half whose career was transformed totally by a similar switch to a forward role.
For the first match of the 1962/63 season, the right-half position was taken by Geoff Hurst, a player described by Ron Greenwood as ‘promising to become a strong, honest wing-half with no claim on history’. West Ham lost that opening game and Hurst was dropped, only to reappear a couple of weeks later wearing the No. 10 shirt, the shirt in which he certainly was to make history in a World Cup Final four years later.
After a hard-fought 1-0 win at home to Liverpool, Hurst’s second appearance at No 10 was in the 6-1 away win over Manchester City, a match notable for the bizarre sending-off of City’s goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, who, irritated by conceding what he beheld to be an offside goal, promptly lashed the ball into the back of the referee!
The return fixture came on the final day of the season, with City already doomed to relegation. The Hammers’ six goals came from Hurst (2), Sealey (2), Boyce and Brabrook, bringing City’s goals-against total to 102, whilst Geoff Hurst’s goals brought his total for the season to 13. By the time West Ham and City faced one another again, West Ham could boast three World Cup heroes in their side, who all played their parts in a 4-1 Hammers’ victory at Maine Road early in the 1966/67 season. Those were the days!