Our Greatest Managers – Part 1 (1923-1961)

25 Jan, 2024
written by Nigel Kahn


Our Greatest Managers – Part 1 (1923-1961)

In West Ham United’s 123-year history, they have only had 17 full-time managers, from Syd King’s appointment in 1902 to David Moyes’s current times. That is a short list, and that shows that West Ham has generally been a club that gives managers time and shows loyalty to those in charge.

The Premier League era does muddy that water, though, as in 30 years since the re-branding of the top flight of English Football, Moyes is West Ham’s eleventh in that period, so with him currently in his 4th season in charge, he looks to have done well in lasting a lot longer than those he followed.

Ask who is the greatest West Ham manager, and the arguments will begin; mostly, it depends on your age. Under 20 and, Moyes is the most successful manager they have seen. The over-20s have Billic and Payet in the brief but memorable Farewell Boleyn season and people over 30 will look back fondly on the later years of Harry Redknapp, his three top 10 finishes in a row propelled by the talent of Di Canio.

My age bracket of the over 50s has John Lyall to worship, West Ham through and through, and they gave us the club’s only shot at winning the top flight. The Over 60s have the glory years under Ron Greenwood to go misty-eyed over, with his general on the pitch the greatest Englishman, Bobby Moore.

How do you judge the performance of each manager?

I decided to use each manager’s available statistics to compile a formula to judge every manager on their league and separately their cup form. Two of our seventeen managers, Charlie Paynter and Lou Macari, never managed a top-flight game, so I removed them from the league stats.

Also, Syd King, Ted Fenton, Lyall, Bonds, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce managed in the top two divisions, so I removed their second-tier stats from the comparison. Only top-flight games could be counted.

In West Ham’s 123 years, they have spent 66 of them in the top Division; these games, against the best teams in the country, are the ones I used to measure each manager.



To try to come up with a fair way of scoring, I decided that as we have 15 managers to score them in different factors, the manager having the best record in each factor would be given 15 points, which drops down until the man with the worst record receives just one.

First, I had to list every season in top-flight played under each manager and list every win, draw and defeat. How many goals were scored and conceded, and how many points were accumulated?

So far, West Ham has competed in 66 seasons of either the 1st Division, as it was before 1992 or the Premier League, as it is known now. 36 Seasons in the 1st Division, & currently in our 28th in the PL.

To try to even it up, I adjusted average points per season to match if they played a 38-game season, not 42 as was before the P.L. and one season of 40 games. From those figures, I determined each manager’s win, draw, and loss percentages, average goals scored and conceded per game, and average points per season.

If a manager were to come out with the highest percentages in every factor, he would score a maximum of 90 points. I used the same formula to measure every manager’s cup performance minus the average points column. That was replaced by awarding 5 points for reaching a semi-final, 10 points for getting to a final and 20 points for winning a competition.



SYD KING 1923-1932

Syd became the secretary/manager of West Ham United in 1902 at the age of 28; he had played for the Thames Ironworks in their last season of existence, and he then joined West Ham United, making his debut for the Hammers in October 1900. He managed 66 appearances for West Ham before retiring to concentrate on the manager’s role in 1903.

It would be 20 years before he got the Hammers into the top Division of the Football league, but prior to the outbreak of the great war, West Ham played Southern League football. It was only after the war had ended and football resumed that West Ham was invited to join the Football League set up in 1919.

So, in the same year, King took West Ham to the newly opened Wembley Stadium to contest the first F.A. Cup, and he also promoted the club to the top flight. Nine years of top-flight football followed before, in 1932, West Ham was relegated back into Division 2, where they would remain until well after the Second World War.

The club would first suspend King in late 1932, with his assistant Charlie Paynter taking over, before being dismissed in January 1933; he sadly then took his own life not long after.

West Ham played 378 games. In the nine years he managed in Division One, he won 136, drew 82, and lost 160. His team scored 645 times, at an average of 1.71 goals per game, though they conceded 713, 1.89 per game. His average league position was 15th out of 22 teams.


TED FENTON 1958-1961

in 1950, Ted followed Charlie Paynter, becoming the third manager in West Ham’s history. He had played under both of his predecessors. He is the father of the famed West Ham Academy, as it was brought to the fore under his managership, though some claim that much of that glory should be attributed to some of his playing staff, most notably Malcolm Allison.

Eight years into his reign, he would finally put the club back into the top flight of the football league, where they would remain for 20 years. Ted, though, would only manage for just under three of them. He was dismissed in March of 1961 in circumstances not really explained at the time.

In his 115 games, West Ham won 49, drew 14 and lost 50, scoring 226 games at an average of 1.97 per game while conceding 230 at an average of exactly 2 per game. In the three seasons he managed the club, the average league position was 12th.


Part two will look at our managers between 1961 and 2001.




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