Phil Parkes pays tribute to the ‘greatest ever Hammer’

West Ham goalkeeping legend Ernie Gregory died at the age of 90 on Saturday and another Hammers legend remembers him fondly

West Ham lost a little piece of their history on Saturday with the death of probably their greatest ever servant.

Stratford-born Ernie Gregory who has died at the age of 90, was at Upton Park from 1936 when he joined the groundstaff, right up until his retirement 51 years later in 1987.

In between, the West Ham goalkeeper made over 400 appearances, before becoming reserve and then first team coach, specialising in the goalkeepers.

Ask Phil Parkes what he considers the impact that Ernie Gregory had on both him and on West Ham and there is no doubting exactly how he feels.

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“He was a legend, pure and simple,” said Parkes, who many consider to be a legend himself at Upton Park.

“I don’t think we will ever see his like again. He was a one-club man, a player, a coach, a manager and he has to be the greatest servant that West Ham ever had.”

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Praise indeed from West Ham’s most popular keeper, but as Parkes himself confesses, he would not have been anywhere near as successful if it hadn’t been for Gregory’s influence.

“When I first came to West Ham from QPR, there was talk about bringing Bob Wilson in as the goalkeeping coach, but the club said to me, give Ernie a chance, see how you get on with him and I am so glad that I did,” explained Parkes.

“When I arrived at Upton Park I was 30, so I knew how to keep goal, Ernie didn’t need to tell me how to be a keeper, but it was the mental side of the game that he knew so well and without him, my career would not have lasted anywhere near as long as it did.

“He was a goalkeeper himself and there wasn’t a situation that he hadn’t gone through or known about.

“Sometimes I would want to carry on training, but he would say ‘no, that’s it, if you want to stay we can have a walk round the pitch and talk’ and I think that was so important to me.”

Parkes remained firm friends with Gregory almost to the very end. He visited him at his house just after he had his recent stroke and it was with shock that he heard of his death at Saturday’s match against Nottingham Forest.

“Bobby Barnes came and told me what had happened. He had been involved with Ernie through the PFA getting his finances in order when he had to go into a home, but though it was sort of expected, it was still a great shock.

“It is a sad day for West Ham and for football. He was a great man and a great friend and nobody in football could ever emulate what Ernie did at West Ham.

“He was simply a legend.”

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