John Charles pioneered the road which many have trodden as the e first black player to pull on the Hammers shirt.
A local boy, Johnny was brought up in Ordinance Road, Canning Town living not far from the Rathbone Market and just a stone’s throw from the building situated at 55 Barking Road where West Ham was formed in 1900.
He was the eighth of nine children born to his seaman father from Grenada and his mother who was from Silvertown. He attended what was Pretoria School now called Eastlea,the same place of learning where Frank Lampard senior was attending and Alan Sealey.
John was spotted by chief scout Wally St Pier and joined the Hammers ground staff captaining the youth team to triumph in the Youth Cup with a team that also included Harry Redknapp and John Sissons.
They defeated Liverpool, led by Tommy Smith, 6-5 on aggregate, losing 3-1 away in the first leg before triumphing 5-2 at home in the second leg at the Boleyn, thus winning the trophy for the first time in the club’s history. John thus became the first black player to lead any first class team to any trophy.
Just after the Youth Cup final he was given his debut by Ron Greenwood against Blackburn Rovers wearing Bobby Moore’s No 6 jersey while Moore was given the No 5 for that game.
Injury blighted his career and he retired aged only 26 in 1971 after 118 games for the Hammers. John then went into the fruit and veg business running stalls and even wholesaling but he suffered ill health and died aged 57 in 2002. His place in Hammers history is assured.
The picture comes from West Ham’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle played on the August 9, 1969. The Geordie in the foreground is none other than Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, soon to become a Hammers star and goal scoring legend.
Behind them is the packed North Bank with the distinctive letters located on the wall which were also also to be found on the South Bank.
The letters were matched to a top flight game in the programme and just after half time a member of the ground staff would put up the half-time score in the corresponding game to the letters in the programme.
Words and pictures from Nigel Kahn, lifelong fan and ClaretandHugh historian
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