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West Ham centre forward who helped Hammers to top of the table for the one and only time

PUBLISHED: 11:30 28 March 2019

Harry Obeney v Wolves

Harry Obeney v Wolves

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Obeney tells the story of his time at Briggs Sports, West Ham and Romford

Harry Obeney nowHarry Obeney now

Former West Ham United star Harry Obeney has a claim to fame that hardly any other Hammers can boast about.

The 81-year-old, who spent his childhood at Hunters Hall Primary and Eastbrook School in Dagenham, remembers it well even though it happened back in November 1959.

“We played Arsenal at Highbury and beat them 3-1,” he said.

“I got one of the goals with John Dick and Malcolm Musgrove, but the big thing about it was that it put us top of Division One.

Harry Obeney in his playing daysHarry Obeney in his playing days

“I am pretty sure that is the only time it happened before or since, though it didn’t last long.”

Think of West Ham in the late 1950s and you think of Ken Brown, John Bond as well as the emergence of players like Bobby Moore, and Geoff Hurst.

But Obeney was among them and the local boy ended up playing 27 games between 1959 and 1961, scoring 12 goals along the way.

“I went from Havering Old Boys in the Hornchurch Sunday League to play for Briggs Sports, who were a big team at the time,” he explained.

Newspaper cutting for Harry ObeneyNewspaper cutting for Harry Obeney

“They asked me to play for them and a job came with it, so I was keen to join. They played at Victoria Road where Dagenham & Redbridge play now and then at Rush Green.

“The previous year when they had Les Allen, they played in front of over 50,000 at St James’ Park in the semi-final of the Amateur Cup against Bishop Auckland.

“I didn’t quite achieve that, but we did win the Spartan League and the London Senior Cup.”

Life changed dramatically for Harry one morning in 1956 and he said: “I was sitting at home having breakfast with my mum when there was a knock on the door. I went to open it and there was Ted Fenton, the West Ham manager.

“He came in and said he wanted me to sign and I remember he also gave my mum a crate of Guinness.

“About half an hour later there was another knock and it was Ted’s brother Benny Fenton. He was at QPR at the time and he wanted me to sign for them, but I decided to go with West Ham.”

Once at the club, it became apparent that Fenton wanted Harry to replace Vic Keeble in the team and he set about converting him from a wing half to a centre-forward. “Ted could see something in me, he was like that as a manager,” said Harry.

His signing coincided with his National Service where he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, but apart from his basic training, he was able to go home every weekend to play for West Ham’s A team or reserve team, where he came across the likes of Moore, Martin Peters and Hurst.

So what did he think of them?

“We had a discussion about Bobby and I tended to agree with everyone else, that he was a bit slow and couldn’t hold on to the ball,” admitted Harry.

“But he would know instinctively what to do, his anticipation was superb and he didn’t have to beat the big centre forwards in the air, he was just so intelligent.

“Martin Peters was a great footballer, he was so adaptable, he could play absolutely anywhere.

“Geoff always looked like he was going to make it. He was originally a wing-half, who turned into a centre forward with a shot like a mule. We saw that with the fourth goal in the World Cup Final!”

Harry also played with Johnny Byrne for England under-18s while he finally broke into the West Ham first team in 1959.

“I played against Wolves who had the likes of Billy Wright and Bill Slater in their team, while I remember a day against Everton where I scored a couple. I still have the newspaper cutting with the headline ‘Everton can’t cope with Obeney’, that is very precious me.”

When Ron Greenwood took over from Fenton, he approached Harry and posed him a simple question.

“He asked me what position I thought I should play in. I didn’t like to be big-headed and so I said wing half instead of centre forward,” said Harry.

“But we had the likes of Martin Peters, Eddie Bovington, Ronnie Boyce and some others coming through, so I guess I was wrong.

“I was sold to Millwall for £3,500 which was quite a lot of money in those days to go down into Division Four.”

He proved to be a prize asset to the Lions, helping them to the Division Four title and being selected for the fourth division team of the year.

“I was on £40 a week at Millwall and then went to Dover where I was on £20 a week, but also had a job at a Welding Supplies Company. I scored 36 goals for them in one season.”

He was then approached by Harry Clarke the manager of Romford and a new successful period in his career began, where he played over 400 games.

“I loved it there,” he said. “I loved the training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We played at Brooklands in those days, which I think is a housing estate now, but they were good times.

A short spell at Aveley as well as an unsuccessful spell as their manager proved the end of his football career and after splitting up with first wife Marlene with whom he had two daughters, he moved down to Poole in Dorset.

There he met second wife Jean and now has two step grandchildren nearby.

So what does he think of West Ham today?

He hesistates slightly. “I think the stadium is very concrete,” he says. “It is like a second Wembley.

“As for the team, I think unless they get a huge investment they will never be a side in the top six, I just can’t see it happening, but that’s West Ham isn’t it.”

It certainly is and Harry was certainly a part of the team that began to emerge as a huge force in English football.

“I was invited back to Eastbrook School for their 60th anniversary and I was speaking to the sports master and I asked him if I was the only professional footballer who went there,” said Harry.

“He shook his head and pointed at a plaque which read ‘Tony Adams’, that burst my bubble!”

Time for another plaque at Eastbrook perhaps, because Harry Obeney was a local boy made good.

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