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RIP Phil Woosnam: a unique player and teacher

Filed: Monday, 22nd July 2013
By: Paul Walker

Phil Woosnam passed away in the States this weekend at 80, a man who became a huge name in football after he left West Ham…but to those of a certain claret and blue vintage, he was a legend who had a massive impact on the transformation of our club in the 1960s.

Woosie was different. A skilled and cultured passing inside forward, he didn’t arrive at the Boleyn until he was 26, having been a physics teacher at Leyton County High School and a renowned amateur player.

The Irons bought him from Leyton Orient in 1958, where he had only just signed professional forms after playing for the Os as an amateur, something unheard of in modern day football.

Woosnam, born in Caersws, Montgomeryshire in 1932, he had played for Wales schools, youth and their amateur international side and studied at Bangor University, where he also had a spell with Wrexham and played one game in 1952 for Manchester City.

He joined the Royal Artillery and played alongside Manchester United greats Duncan Edwards and Eddie Coleman during his army soccer career.

But teaching was his career path, and he continued as an amateur with Sutton United and the famous Middlesex Wanderers before joining Orient. He won his first full Wales cap while still an amateur at Orient, before making 14 appearances for his country while at Upton Park.

In fact, Woosnam - a cousin of golfer Ian - only gave up his teaching profession when he joined Ted Fenton’s squad for a then club record of £30,000. He went straight from the classroom into our First Division team.

At the time, West Ham were still evolving into a top flight side after 26 years in the then Second Division. Champions the season before, Woosnam arrived and instantly gave West Ham a new dimension. Clever, inventive and with a football brain to go with his academic one.

It is hard to underestimate the influence Woosnam had on the young men around him who progressed soon into Ron Greenwood’s great side of '64, '65, and '66. Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Ronnie Boyce, Joe Kirkup and even John Lyall played alongside the Welshman.

When he arrived in '58, the players of the promotion side were, obviously, still around. John Dick, Vic Keeble, John Bond, Ken Brown, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Malcolm Musgrove, John Smith and the like were the stars.

Woosnam was a vital link between West Ham’s old and new generations. His intelligence and talent helped lay the foundations for what was to come. Although he strangely missed the key moment that established West Ham as a new force, leaving before the 1964 Cup Final triumph.

He was sold to Aston Villa for £27,000 in 1963, a move that surprised many. He had played 153 games for us and scored 29 goals.

The emergence of Boyce, and the signing of Johnny Byrne no doubt allowed Greenwood to sell Woosnam. The talk at the time was that the highly intelligent Woosnam was just a little too much of a barrack room lawyer for Greenwood’s taste. The young Welshman must have stuck out like a sore thumb in West Ham’s very East End working class dressing room, a graduate and a very clever man.

He would have no doubt, questioned things he did not agree with, and was a ready spokesman for the players.

But another reason was that he was a very ambitious man. The move to Villa saw him play another 111 first team games, picking up another two caps before making what was then a brave decision to take up a player-coach role in the States with Atlanta Chiefs, by which time he was 34, and ended his playing career there.

From then on, Woosnam became one of world soccer’s great administrators. He ran US soccer as their soccer league commissioner until 1982, helped in the formation of New York Cosmos, which brought the likes of Pele to the Big Apple. After leaving his role with the US league, he became an astute businessman.

He was the marketing controller of US Soccer and had a major part to play in getting the 1994 World Cup to the States. In 2003 the FA of Wales invited Woosnam to spend time with them when they played the USA in California.

In more recent years he suffered from prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s, and died on Friday night in Atlanta. He will long be remembered for his work promoting soccer in the States, but to West Ham fans from the 1960s, he was the beginning of a new generation at the Boleyn.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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