Hammers Malcolm gave Billy the shakes

Former Recorder West Ham correspondent Trevor Smith gives his own first hand view on the legend that was Malcolm Allison.

MALCOLM ALLISON’S influence at West Ham was more reflected in the clubmates who subsequently went into management, rather than anything he did on the field at the time.

A thinker in an era when that was the last thing required of footballers, Allison was a scathing critic of a status quo, he openly ridiculed as festering the English game.

A couple of yarns I heard then illustrate this perfectly.

Derisive of manager Ted Fenton’s somewhat basic tactical talents, team skipper Allison overtly got Hammers using the then innovative 4-2-4 formation.


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They’d done so, with varying degrees of success, before manager Fenton indignantly demanded: “What’s all this 4-2-4 stuff I keep reading about in the papers that you’re playing?”

Another time, a flu-struck Ted’s orders for the next game were passed on by assistant Albert Walker, who was furious when Allison promptly dismissed them as useless, and began telling the team how they were going to play.

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Walker still simmered over it years later: “I told Allison when he was manager he could do what he liked, but until then just what he was told to do,” said the assistant.

To my cost, I was only ever on nodding terms with Allison. Not least because stocky West Ham striker Billy Dare, a good mate, once privately confessed how much he disliked playing with Allison.

“He has me like this all game,” said a rueful Dare, holding out trembling hands. And that from a gutsy little battler, widely hailed as having a heart as big as himself.

Yet Bobby Moore enthused about Allison’s help as a youngster.

“He really got you thinking. He’d say, ask yourself all the time what you’d do if the ball comes to you? And he’d tell you to try and keep a mental picture of where everyone was on the pitch. That was well before Ron Greenwood was telling us the same things,” said Moore.

It’s perhaps overlooked now that serious illness sadly curtailed Allison’s Upton Park days. TB cost him a lung and when he returned Ken Brown was cemented at number five.

Allison was tried at six. but it was clear he was not the same player.

He went non-league with Bath City, understandably allegedly bitter, but back at West Ham there are a few about who owe Malcolm Allison for those afternoons spent with him in that Barking Road cafe, all those years ago.

Allison died two weeks ago, aged 83.

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