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Clyde Best MBE

Filed: Wednesday, 26th October 2016

By: James Corbett

In June 2016 readers from KUMB.com were asked to submit their questions to Clyde Best ahead of the publication of his new book. Here he answers the best of them...

Where did you live while playing for West Ham? How did the neighbours treat you?

At first I lived at 23 Ronald Avenue with the family of John and Clive Charles. Everybody was great on the street Ė at least with me. At times, being a footballer can make you seem a bit special so we didnít ever have any problems. They might do something to your car if you parked it on their street, but they wouldnít do anything to mine.

When I got married I moved to Pembroke Road, in Gants Hill Ė and that was nice! Nobody would touch your car there. But overall Iíd say that people from the East End of London are some of the warmest youíll ever meet Ė I call that my second home Ė and Iíll always be indebted to them.

How did you feel when you arrived at Heathrow and nobody from West Ham was there, so you had to take a tube to Upton Park?

I understood... because I got the days mixed up! So I suppose I should take some of the blame as well.

Do you realise the influence you had on so many young black men? And do you think your presence inspired more black players to come to West Ham?

I was always taught to think of those who come after you. I knew that I had a responsibility to behave myself and carry myself a certain way. And it gives me satisfaction when I hear so many people who say theyíre thankful for me. Nowadays, to see many players of colour playing, if I had something to do with it thatís tremendous.

I think my presence certainly helped (to convince black players to come to West Ham). It was the first club in England to have three black players concurrently. So that was an obvious attraction, compared with other clubs. We were pioneers.

What was it like playing under Ron Greenwood and John Lyall?

They were two very good coaches, who understood the game inside out, and they allowed us to play football. Thatís one thing about West Ham; we like to entertain the crowd, and they were two believers in that. They always preached it: We owed those fans; they paid their money to come and watch us. We were entertainers and we had to entertain them. I think the style they tried to implement was quite similar to what Slaven Bilic is doing now.

. . . And with some of the best players ever to wear the West Ham shirt?

Being in the company of some of the greatest players in the world, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, was unbelievable. For someone from my little country Ė 22 square miles Ė to come there and play on the same stage as those guys was mind-boggling.

With all the talent in that side, why werenít more trophies won?

I think itís a lot to do with the way West Ham wanted to play. We played open, attacking football and most teams in England werenít doing that. When you want to play one way and everybody else another, that makes it difficult for you. We had some damn good players, and it would have been nice to win a cup or two, but it just wasnít to be at that time. We probably would have been better off today than we were then because more teams are choosing to play that way with a lot of coaches coming from the continent.

You were only 25 when you left for Tampa Bay Rowdies. At that age you would have been at the peak of your career, do you have any regrets about leaving the English First Division?

I could have done more there, yes. But I wasnít interested in playing for another club in England. I was West Ham through and through. The club gave me my first opportunity and theyíre my team. I perhaps didnít stay as long as I would have liked to, but I saw it as an opportunity to go to America and help to develop their programme. If you look at the growth of Major League Soccer in recent years, a lot of those who left England for America when I did played a big part in that. Nowadays they have purpose-built football stadiums, but when I was there they were using baseball stadiums; thatís improvement.

How often do you visit West Ham?

I try to get back as often as I can. I wanted to come for the last game of the (2015/16) season but the flu interrupted me and I couldnít really travel. So I hope to come over this year; what with the book coming out and to see the new stadium. But I also get to see a lot of English football here in Bermuda; in fact, we probably get more than you do!

What is your view on the move to Stratford?

Of course, itís sad to leave Upton Park. The place had a real aura. I will always remember the closeness of the crowd. You could hear them shouting from the old chicken run; they would always let you know when you had a stinker! But weíve got to move with the times and I think itís a good thing, overall. Weíll get more people, more revenue, and weíll be able to attract better players. So hopefully, West Ham can finally challenge in the top four or five more often.

Do you have a favourite match for West Ham?

The first leg of the League Cup semi-final at Stoke (which was finally settled after 420 minutes). We beat them 2Ė1 and I scored a volley from Harryís cross. The next one was when we beat the great Leeds team (3Ė1) around Easter time (1974).

What was your best ever goal: away to Everton in 1972?

My best goal, or so John Lyall told me, was actually for the third team. I flicked the ball over the defenderís head with the back of my heel and I volleyed it in the goal (laughs). But the one against Everton will take some beating, thatís true. I ran the length of the field with the defender tagging on me, then when the goalkeeper came I sold him a dummy and clipped it over his head. What made it better was the crowd making monkey chants Ė being the only black player I knew they were for me Ė so to go and silence them was brilliant.

Who was the toughest defender you played against?

They were all tough in those days. Ron Harris, Norman Hunter . . . Big Jack (Charlton) would give you a boot now and again. But being a big person helped me tremendously. It didnít bother me playing against people like that.

Do you remember shoulder-charging Tommy Smith and knocking him flying?

Yes, I remember; he tried to hit me and ended up on his backside! I was still eighteen or nineteen then and probably shocked Tommy a bit because he was known as a hard fella, but I got to know Tommy him over the years because he came to Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Do you still keep in touch with your former team-mates? Who?

When I go back I always try and catch up with somebody. I usually see Frank (Lampard Snr), Iíve spoken to Pat Holland, Tony (Carr), I speak to Paul Heffer a lot. Last time was good because I got to see Boycey (Ronnie Boyce), who I hadnít seen for ages; Ken Brown, Peter Brabrook.

But thatís West Ham; itís a friendly club where everybody gets along from the tea lady to those in the boardroom. Thatís what Iíll always remember. The last people I saw from the old team were Harry (Redknapp) and Frank(Lampard) , I was trying to get Trevor (Brooking) here for a golf tournament but he couldnít do it. Iíll see if I can get him next year instead.

A lot of fans who come here will try and contact me and Iíll do my best to go and see them. Iíve just taken a guy on a tour today and he brought me a shirt from the final game of the season. I was glad to get that, Iím going to frame it and everything!

* You may purchase Clyde's new book, The Acid Test, from publishers deCoubertin Books. Price £20.