Stephen Gill the Apprentice ...
West Ham United’s renowned Academy of Football has nurtured the talents of scores of players over the decades. However the blueprint and foundations of the academy can be traced back to 1950 with the appointment of manager Ted Fenton and the publication “Youth Soccer with the Hammers”.
'theyflysohigh' caught up with Stephen Gill, one of West Ham’s former trainees from the late 1960s and early 1970s, to hear about life as an apprentice professional footballer under the guidance of Fenton's successor's Ron Greenwood and John Lyall.
After success in school boy football which culminated in an England Schools trial match, Stephen joined West Ham United as a trialist in the summer of 1967, progressed to signing as a professional and graduated to play for West Ham United Reserves.
Despite scoring goals for the South East Counties, Metropolitan and Reserve side to take him to the fringe of the first team squad, he was released by the club in 1971. A life changing moment for the youngster as he suddenly found himself in the situation of having to find a new job.
Stephen carved out a successful 40-year career with the Department for Works & Pensions (DWP) which is where he met his future wife. As for football, this remained his burning passion and he continued to enjoy a successful playing career in the non-league ranks with several Sussex based clubs.
Schoolboy Soccer with St. Lukes and Brighton Boys
Stephen Robert Gill was born January 2, 1952 in Lambeth, south London. His father Eric Gill was a professional footballer playing in goal for Charlton Athletic. At the end of the 1951-52 season the goalkeeper transferred to Brighton and Hove Albion. Stephen was only 6-months old when the family moved to Hove, not too far from Brighton's Goldstone Ground that summer .
Aged nine, the wannabe footballer (he didn't fancy following in his father's boots by playing between the sticks) started his soccer career playing outfield for his school side, St. Lukes. The third-year pupil was allowed to play a year higher than his age group and Stephen recalls his first-ever game was on the losing side in a 4-1 defeat by local rivals Balfour, however the youngsters goalpoaching instincts came to the fore as he bagged a debut goal for St. Lukes.
The 1961-62 campaign ends with the striker scoring 12 goals from 20 games. Balfour also put paid to his first-ever medal when St. Lukes were defeated 3-2 in the final of the Fitzgerald Cup.
The following season a positional change as he moved inside from his outside-left berth which elevated his goal ratio as he bagged 31 of the sides 70 goals that campaign. He was also selected for a place in the Brighton Boys side against South London Boys. Stephen confesses he didn’t play very well on his first appearance at the Goldstone Ground, but he was still picked.
Varndean FC (1963-64 to 1966-67)
The 1963-64 season kicked-off with Stephen playing for Varndean Under-12s. Throughout his playing career the youngster kept a meticulous account of the games he played in, as well as recording each match, he also kept note of the goals he scored and a brief summary of his season.
Below are a few pages from his time with Varndean, Brighton and Sussex Boys.
According to Gill's summary notes at the end of the 1966-67 campaign and his last with Varndean FC, "It was an average season for me", he goes on to write "during the season I was captain and played centre-forward. I made 10 appearances and scored 24 goals. I made my debut for the first XI (Varndean) this season against the Old Boys. I missed 7 games due to playing for Brighton Boys"
Stephen's notes also reveal he had a bad season playing for Brighton Boys, he writes "I missed plenty of games due to injury", "My position was never fixed for Brighton or Sussex, I was captain for Brighton during the first half of the season and scored 3 goals. Only one goal for Sussex"
The Hammers Come Calling
Young Gill may have thought he had a bad season by his standards, however, the 15-year-old was spotted by West Ham scout, Wilf Chitty whilst playing for Brighton in their 4th Round English Schools Trophy match at Canterbury on 3 December 1966. The youngster's disappointment with a 4-1 defeat for Brighton was soon forgotten when Chitty offered the striker a trial match with the Hammers.
December turned out to be a good month, he also learnt that he was selected for a series of England trials. In January 1967, he played in the winning South East England side against their South West opponents at Hounslow. In February he gained another representative honour as a member of the South team which beat the North 2-1 at Derby County's Baseball Ground. Stephen's parents were taken to the match by the Hammers' chief scout Wally St. Pier and Chitty who were monitoring the progress of the youngster.
Around this period both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur offered Stephen trail games, which he accepted. Gill has recollections of sitting in Bill Nicholson’s (Spurs manager) and Bertie Mee’s (Arsenal manager) offices. However, he decided that the east London club had looked after him and his parents the best. The Gill family’s recollections of St. Pier at the crucial time in the young man’s career were that Wally was a “lovely man” and his influence persuaded Stephen to sign for the Hammers.
The Fledgling Apprentice
Having joined his new teammates at Chadwell Heath, the fledgling apprentice is ready to start his “probation”, he is kitted out, and a note made on his “Record Card” of height and weight which is checked at regular intervals. Along with the other new intakes they are ready to begin the carefully prepared Training and Coaching Curriculum.
A typical training day at Chadwell Heath would include morning sessions, mainly concerned with physical development and are carried out with the professionals. This helps the boys to get into the right atmosphere of the game and makes them realise they are part of the Club.
Afternoon sessions consist mainly of training in the “aspects and skills” of the game. Split into three groups which would include a mix of senior and youth players for third man running, fitness & practice moves, giving special attention to individual weaknesses.
The curriculum was carefully balanced so that each apprentice receives individual attention in all phases of his development.
Practice matches would typically be, Youth v. "A" team and Reserves v. First XI, and as the weekend approaches Friday's would normally consist of light training ahead of the Saturday fixtures.
Coming from schoolboy football Gill's level of fitness when he first arrived was behind the others and he worked hard with Bill Watson on extra fitness training. This included extra afternoon sessions to help improve speed with leg speed and sprinting drills.
The weekly training routine for the budding apprentice was not always glamorous. The young charges would help out kit man Albert Walker to place out the first team kit on match days. They were also expected to sweep out the changing rooms and terraces after a league game at the Boleyn Ground, clean the boots of senior players and even paint the stands.
On one memorable occasion, while waiting to clean out the Upton Park changing rooms after a Division One fixture, Stephen was amazed to see James Bond actor, Sean Connery, walk in as a guest of West Ham captain Bobby Moore.
1967-68 Hammers Debut
South East Counties League Division Two "Juniors"
Tottenham Hotspur 5 - 2 West Ham United
South East Counties League Division One "Colts"
Brighton & Hove Albion 2 - 6 West Ham United
His performances in those early games and his first goal for West Ham was enough to elevate him into the Colts side for the away fixture with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Hove Greyhound Stadium. The Hammers over came their south coast opponents by six goals to two. The line up on November 18, 1967 was Peter Grotier, Michael Westburgh, Alan Butcher, K. Childs, D. Vaughan, Peter Keary, Terry Stanley, Pat Holland, Keith Keary, David Bedford and Stephen Gill.
While it was Keith Keary who grabbed the headlines and the matchball after his hat-trick, Gill showed his promise by wading in with a double strike. A David Bedford penalty wrapped up the points for the Hammers.
Signs Apprentice Professional Forms
Seven months into his trial period, and having just turned 16-years-of-age Stephen signed his first apprentice professional contract with the east London club on February 16, 1968.
A day after puting pen to paper he was in the starting XI for the SECL Colts side that played Watford at their South Oxhey base. Stephen had displaced the injured and future Academy Director Tony Carr from the side. Hammers in-form Colts striker Keith Keary bagged another couple to add to his tally, with Gill also adding his name to the scoresheet along with David Bedford and Jim Mullin in the 5-2 victory.
Stephen’s summary notes on his first season reveal he was enjoying his best ever year of football.
His role throughout his first season was mainly as a striker but there were occasions when this was changed to a midfield or orthodox winger.
He started the season as an amateur with the Juniors and Colts, and used to travel up from his Brighton home on Friday evenings to stay with his Nan before playing on the Saturday.
The travelling came to a stop when he signed apprentice forms. Club policy, required players, to live within an hour of the training ground. In Stephen's case, that meant he had to move to London to fullfill his full-time job as a footballer.
As an apprentice his remuneration was £8 per week (plus the club paid £4 for lodgings and provided 4 shilling vouchers (20 pence) for Cassettari’s Cafe.
Gill lived in lodgings in Henniker Gardens near to the Boleyn Ground where he was looked after by a landlady for the first 18 months.
He later moved on to share new lodgings for two years with another apprentice Bobby Sutton. (Stephen would later be Bobby’s best man at his wedding.)
Among the Apprentices ranks, there would always be two who were known as the “boss apprentices”. Their role was to help organise the group of apprentices. In Stephen's time the two who took on the "boss" role were goalkeeper Peter Grotier and unsurprisingly the great motivator Tony Carr.
A typical non-match day would entail meeting at the Boleyn Ground where the apprentices would board the club's transit van driven by youth team coach John Lyall to be taken over to the Chadwell Heath training ground. On arrival their routine, similar for a match day at Upton Park which included putting out the first team training kit and towels in the changing rooms.
After training sessions were over they were expected to tidy up the dressing rooms, collect the soiled training kit, shirt, shorts and towels ready to be washed back at the Boleyn Ground, and occasionally clean the professionals boots before piling back into the van for the return journey to Upton Park.
With their meal vouchers the youngsters would visit Cassettari’s Cafe for lunch, often joined by John Lyall and Ernie Gregory. On occasions John Bond and Ken Brown would pop in, both had left West Ham for Torquay United, but continued to train with the Hammers.
In the afternoon's the apprentices had free-time to themselves and would often visit the Boleyn Ground gym for a game of head tennis or even a visit to the local cinema.
Two London Youth F.A. Cup Semi-Finals
Crystal Palace and Millwall
In the latter part of his first campaign Stephen was chosen to play in league fixtures for both the South East Counties Juniors and Colts sides on alternate weekends as well as contesting both age-level semi-finals of the London Youth F.A. Junior and Senior Cup competitions which provided mixed fortunes for the youngster.
The Juniors had a convincing win against Crystal Palace at Upton Park on March 25, their 4-1 victory taking them into the final of the London Youth F.A. Junior Cup. An attendance of 1,300 witnessed the first goal a penalty converted by David Bedford, and the second netted by Gill to put the Hammers two up at the interval. Although Palace had worked hard to reduce the margin in the second 45-minutes, Bedford went on to complete his hat-trick with two second-half strikes.
The Junior team that evening : Grotier, McDowell, Knowles, Tully, Vaughan, Scales, Lay (Aylott), Holland, Bedford, Carr, Gill
The final would pitch the Hammers against the Pensioners of Chelsea who were the victors in the other semi-final. However, due to the heavy fixture congestion this 1967-68 final was deferred until the following season.
A week later the Senior side contested their semi-final tie against Millwall.
The cup-tie turned out to be a disappointing one for the Hammers, with home advantage and a 1,634 attendance our under-18's were well beaten by our south London rivals. The Lions Colts were notably stronger and were comfortably able to withstand the young Hammers' constant pressure in the second-half despite an assisted strong wind in the home sides favour.
The young Lions added another goal to their first half strike, and the 2-0 margin was a fair representation of the exchanges.
The Senior team that evening :
Busby, McDowell, Butcher, Cooper, Vaughan, Scales, Aylott, Charles C. (Hall), Bedford, Humphries, Gill
SECL Juniors : Runners-up
The Juniors finished their league campaign in second place with 18 points from 14 matches behind champions Tottenham Hotspur with 23 points.
Metropolitan League "A" Team
Cray Wanderers 3 - 1 West Ham United
One last surprise for the fledgling apprentice before his first season with the Hammers had ended. He was drafted into the Hammers "A" team for their Metropolitan League fixture against Cray Wanderers at Foots Cray.
A dream debut strike by Gill put the Hammers in front at half-time, but three goals in the second 45-minutes gave the Wanderers a 3-1 victory.
The team at Foots Cray :
Stephen Death, John McDowell, Steven Knowles, Pat Holland, Stuart Morgan, Keith Miller, Stephen Lay, Jimmy Lindsay, David Bedford, Tony Carr, Stephen Gill
Eric Gill Testimonial
Stephen joined the first team squad for his father, Eric Gill’s, testimonial match. Gill senior was a goalkeeper who had played for a few professional clubs including Charlton Athletic and Brighton & Hove Albion. While at the Goldstone Ground he was a member of the Seagull’s Division Three promotion winning side of 1958.
Guildford City 1 - 4 West Ham United (HT 0-3)
Josephs Road : Monday May 13, 1968
The 16-year-old appeared as a second-half substitute in a strong Hammers side that included Martin Peters, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Trevor Brooking and Johnny Sissons. Stephen came on for Sissons and scored West Ham’s fourth goal in the 47th minute. After the game he asked his father if he had seen his goal, to which his father replied “I was too busy selling raffle tickets!”
West Ham United:
(Sissons, Peters, Dear, Gill)
Spratley, Burns, Anthony, Scott, Bishop, More, Burge, Davies, Vincent, Vafiadis, Hudson
Peter Grotier, Billy Bonds, Bobby Howe, Ron Boyce, Alan Stephenson, Martin Peters, Harry Redknapp, Jimmy Lindsay, Trevor Brooking, Brian Dear (Roger Cross), John Sissons (Stephen Gill).
West Ham players in foreground left to right:
Alan Stephenson, Harry Redknapp and Jimmy Lindsay
Switzerland Youth Tournaments 23 May to 3 June
At the end of the domestic season Stephen had played in 28 competitive games in his initial season and scored 18 goals in the process. He was selected to travel with the Under 20's on their end-of-season Youth tour to Switzerland playing in the Zurich Blue Stars and Martini Youth Tournaments. The youth squad also played three exhibition games on their tour to Zurich and Geneva. Although he was only selected to play in two matches the young striker had gained a wealth of experience.
Youth Team at Weinfleden 1968
Left to right: Stephen Lay, Peter Keary, Barry Simmons, Roger Cross, Stuart Morgan, Keith Miller, Stephen Gill,
Bob Glozier, Jeff Shaw, Peter Grotier, Trevor Brooking
1967-68 Match Stats and Goals Scored
Stephen kicked off the 1968-69 campaign playing in a striking role in the Metropolitan League fixture against Hatfield Town.
The "A" team had played well considering the Hammers fielded a very young side against their Hertfordshire opponents' reserve strength side who were more professional and came away from Stonecross Road with a creditable 2-2 draw.
Two Tony Carr goals had given the Hammers third team a 2-1 advantage until Hatfield's second equaliser came with a few minutes to go
West Ham United Youth XI
Back row: Stephen Gill, Terry Scales, Clyde Best, Peter Grotier, John McDowell, Stephen Aylott, Clive Charles
Front row: Pat Holland, Stephen Lay, Tony Carr, Carl Humphreys, Keith Pointer
Playing mainly as a striker for the "A" team and Colts sides, Gill scored 19 goals throughout the season. He even played in a full-back role against Tottenham Hotspur at their Cheshunt training ground. It was an experience he didn’t relish repeating as the London Youth Cup second round match ended in a 5-3 defeat. He much preferred his striking role.
In the home matchday programme against Tottenham Hotspur September 14, 1969 he was featured as the "Young Hammer"
London Youth Cup Winners 1967-68
Although it was now two weeks into the new campaign the deferred 1967-68 London Youth Cup Junior Final had to be settled. After defeating Crystal Palace 4-1 in the semi-final, the claret and blue Juniors met Chelsea in the two-legged final, the delay it seemed did not worry the Hammers as they ran out 3-1 winners on aggregate.
A penalty by David Bedford gave West Ham a first-half lead with Alan Cocks equalising for the Blues in the second period as the two sides battled out a 1-1 draw in the first-leg at Stamford Bridge on 4th September.
In the second leg at at Upton Park on October 28, the Juniors overcame their west London opponents to secure a 2-0 victory and lift the Cup. Stephen scored the first West Ham goal with Carl Humphreys adding a second in the home win.
Line-up for both legs:
Ron Bartlett, John McDowell, Alan Butcher, Peter Keary, Malcolm Pike, Terry Scales, Stephen Aylott, Clive Charles, Carl Humphreys, David Bedford, Stephen Gill.
John Ellis came on as a substitute for Peter Keary in the second-leg.
FA Youth Cup - 2nd Round
West Ham United 2 - 1 Fulham
Upton Park : December 2, 1968
Stephen, still only 16-years old represented West Ham in the season’s major youth competition, the FA Youth Cup for under-18s. He was in the side for the second round clash with Fulham Colts. The young Cottagers made us work hard after taking the lead before the interval.
The second half of the match turned into a real cut-and-thrust contest with Bedford and Humphreys scoring to send the Hammers' fans in the 1,425 attendance home happy.
Fortune deserted the Colts in the next round at Brisbane Road as they exited at the hands of Leyton Orient, losing the tie 4-2.
Contemporaries included future first teamers: Peter Grotier, John McDowell, Clive Charles, Pat Holland and Joe Durrell.
South East Counties League (Division One) Cup
The Colts got off to the perfect start in the SECL Cup competition by defeating Chelsea 3-2 in the first round at their Hendon training ground. A second round 2-1 win followed against Luton Town at Chadwell Heath. The semi-final tie with Orient at Upton Park was comfortably won 4-0 which set up an intriguing two-legged final against our south London fiercest rivals Millwall.
Stephen Gill was a member of the under-18s who put in a great performance to win by two clear goals in the April 2, first-leg at The Den. Top-of-the-table Millwall had only been defeated once this season in the First Division, and published comments leaving the impression that they considered themselves unbeatable on their own soil.
However, the Hammers proved otherwise, and goals from Clyde Best and Tony Carr settled the matter 2-0 in the Hammers' favour.
The second-leg at Upton Park on April 25, was a more even contest. A Clyde Best double and a Millwall own goal against two replies from the Lions settled the tie 3-2 and for West Ham to win the cup 5-2 on aggregate.
Peter Grotier, John McDowell, Clive Charles, Stephen Aylott, Terry Scales, Pat Holland, Carl Humphreys, Keith Pointer, Tony Carr, Clyde Best, Stephen Gill.
Peter Keary replaced Stephen Aylott in the Second-leg:
1968-69 Match Stats and Goals Scored
Youth Tour of Africa (Zambia and Malawi)
15-months into his apprenticeship, Stephen joined West Ham United’s Under-19 squad for a nine game itinerary in Zambia and Malawi. 50 years ago this would have been an adventurous trip, in a time when few ventured further south than the Med. Seven years earlier the senior squad had also ventured to Africa. Now it was the turn of the youth team players.
The visit to Africa started on April 25, 1969 the players and officials left London Airport en-route to the African subcontinent. The tour party comprised 16 players, Stephen Aylott, Dave Bedford, Phillip Bonetti, Tony Carr, Clive Charles, Joe Durrell, Malcolm Filby, Stephen Gill, Peter Grotier, Pat Holland, Carl Humphreys, Peter Keary, Steven Knowles, John McDowell, Keith Pointer and Terry Scales.
The officials in charge were John Lyall the team manager, plus Wally St. Pier, Bill Lansdowne and Albert Walker. As an aside, John Lyall and Bill Lansdowne had both been members of the Hammers’ tour back in the summer of 1962.
The flights out to Africa was an arduous but memorable experience for the young Hammers. The party flew to Rome to pick up connecting flights to Nairobi (Kenya) and on to Lusaka in Zambia.
And it wasn’t five star accommodation like today’s academy players would enjoy. The players stayed with white families and for one five day spell stayed in school dormitories.
The tour was made at the invitation of the Zambia and Malawi F.A.'s and part-sponsored by Rothmans, the tobacco company. In a less politically correct age Rothmans also presented the Peter Stuyvesant Trophy to the young Hammers for winning a three-game aggregate series against Zambia Schools.
The nine game tour lasted for 18 days, so that was a game every other day. The days included training before breakfast, the matches and sight-seeing visits to the Kariba Dam, Chobi Game Reserve, the Zambezi River, a sugar estate, a copper mine and Victoria Falls. Stephen recalls the very hot temperatures and despite the heat, the players did not take in liquid during games.
For Stephen the tour was a personal success as he ended up as West Ham’s top goal scorer with nine of the squad’s 24 goals. Second top scorer was Carl Humphreys on three.
Youth Tour Itinerary
Stephen started the 1969-70 campaign on the treatment table which meant he missed the opening two South East Counties Senior fixtures against Watford (4-2) at Chadwell Heath and Reading (5-0) at Elm Park.
Fighting fit he scored on his return to the side in the 2-2 home draw with Charlton Athletic, Ken Wallace was also on the scoresheet.
West Ham United Youth Squad
Back row: John McDowell, John Watson, Stephen Aylott, Kevin Lock, Peter Keary,
Terry Scales, Ken Wallace, Stephen Gill
Front row: Joe Durrell, Paul Gregory, Clive Charles, Dave Bedford, Ray Fulton, Alan Taylor
Cup Hat-trick Against Reading
One of the highlights of Stephen’s time with West Ham was the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup First round tie against Reading Youth at Upton Park October 20, 1969. The Hammers dominated the cup tie to win 4-0. For Stephen a memorable evening as he notched his first hat-trick in claret and blue.
The preceding season Stephen was part of the "A" team which progressed all the way to the 1968-69 Metropolitan League Pro Cup Final. The cup final path victories included: first round Wellingborough Town 1-0 at their Dog and Duck ground, second round Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Cheshunt and semi-final Romford 2-1 after extra-time.
Metropolitan League Pro Cup Winners
Deferred 1968-69 Final
The third-string did well to beat their more senior opponents Romford Reserves at Brooklands. The Hammers' overcame the conditions to play some good football and led at half-time after Clyde Best converted a 25-yard free-kick. The home side equalised ten minutes from normal time, but our "A" side came back to go ahead once more in the first period of extra time, Tony Carr being our scorer. The score remained at 2-1, the Hammers thereby qualifying to meet Bletchley in the two-legged Final which due to fixture congestion was deferred until September and November 1969.
A Peter Keary goal in the first-leg gave the Hammers a 1-0 lead going into the second-leg at Upton Park on 3rd November.
Grotier, Charles, Knowles, Aylott, Keary, Scales, Humphreys, Pointer, Carr, Holland, Lay
With a goal advantage from the final's first leg, the claret and blue "A" team scored twice in the first 20 minutes and virtually assured themselves of the trophy. Another before the interval increased Bletchley's troubles, and although the Tangerines fought hard, we added another three minutes from time to win the tie 4-0 and the final 5-0 on aggregate.
Grotier, Watson, Knowles, Aylott, Keary, Scales, Humphreys, Holland, Carr, Durrell, Gill
Goalscorers: Stephen Gill (2), Carl Humphreys, Steven Knowles [pen].
Football Combination Debut
Three months short of his 18th birthday Stephen was selected by manager Ernie Gregory to make his reserve team debut in the Football Combination fixture against Gillingham Reserves at Upton Park on Saturday October 11, 1969.
For a striker it was a frustrating afternoon in his debut game which didn't quite go to plan. He failed to get his name on the scoresheet as half-a-dozen strikes hit the back of the Gillingham net.
For the record, Peter Bennett and Carl Humphreys grabbed a brace each with Tony Carr and Roger Cross adding one a piece.
18th Birthday Present
On the occasion of his 18th birthday, January 2, 1970. Stephen signed his first full Professional contract for West Ham United. To celebrate his 18th and signing his six-month professional contract, he made a major purchase. He bought his first car, a Ford Anglia.
The club had always encouraged the youngsters to take driving lessons. And the local driving school on Green Street was a popular choice with the apprentices. The proprietor was a Hammers fan and offered 25% discounted rates to the players of 15 shillings (75p) instead of the usual £1.00 per lesson.
Stephen has fond memories of driving Bobby Sutton who he shared digs with, and team mate Ken Wallace to the Chadwell Heath training ground and also ferrying both players to matches.
He loved that car!
Metropolitan League Cup Final
The 1969-70 season ended on a low for Stephen, having missed out on a place in the starting XI through injury in the Metropolitan League Cup first and second round games against Stevenage Athletic (2-1) and Bletchley (2-0). He was recalled for the semi-final away clash with Wellingborough Town, a Clive Charles penalty and one from Ken Wallace settled the tie 2-0. The Hammers lost the final on the last day of the season to Braintree & Crittall Athletic at their Cressing Road ground 1-0.
1969-70 Match Stats and Goals Scored
End of Season Youth Tour of Switzerland and Italy
The end of season tour of Switzerland commenced with a partial success but ended in overall disappointment as far as results were concerned. An opportunity to repeat the previous season’s trophy success in the Martini Whitsun Tournament in Geneva was snatched from our grasp, losing the final on penalties.
After dispatching Grasshoppers 4-0 in the first group match, followed by a 0-0 draw with Hungarian side MTK Budapest the Hammers youth side qualified for the final with a 2-0 victory over Standard Liege of Belgium in the last group stage match.
The Final against CD Sabadell of Spain turned out a complete anti-climax, and the closing stages were difficult to follow due to the pitch being " invaded" by fans watching the penalty shoot-out to decide the final. The Spaniards picked up the winners' trophy after winning 8-7 on penalties.
In the Italian “Umberrto Caligaris Tournament the youngsters were knocked out in the group stage after losing 1-0 to Dinamo Zagreb, and beating AS Casale (Italy) 4-0
West Ham United Youth Squad
Back row: Peter Grotier, David Llewelyn, Stephen Gill, Pat Holland, Terry Scales, Stephen Death, Clive Charles, Bobby Sutton
Front row: John McDowell, Peter Keary, Keith Pointer, Stephen Aylott, Johnny Ayris, Joe Durrell
My Last Year at West Ham
Gill’s last year at West Ham started with a goal rush as he netted five in four of his first six fixtures. The Metropolitan League campaign kicked-off on August 15, 1970 with an "Autumn Shield" fixture at Bletchley and four days later he was in the team for a reserve team fixture at Dean Court against Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic which ended 2-1 in the Hammers favour.
In addition to his goal on the opening day of the season in the 2-2 draw at the Manor Ground he netted against Hatfield Town and Epping Town, and scored a brace of penalties in the return Autumn Shield fixture with Bletchley (3-2) at Chadwell Heath.
International Youth Trial Match
14 December 1970
In December West Ham United were asked by the Football Association to host an England Youth XI trial match at the Boleyn Ground and to field a Hammers' Under-19 XI as the opposition.
Back in December 1970 Britain was subject to industrial action and power cuts which resulted in the government introducing energy saving measures. This included a ban on the use of floodlights. As the international youth trial was originally scheduled for an evening kick-off this was bought forward a day with an early afternoon start.
Not surprisingly the attendance was just a few hundred. But this didn’t deter West Ham’s under-19s as they clocked a useful 3-2 victory with goals from Ade Coker and a brace from Joe Durrell. England’s replies came from Ray Clarke (Tottenham Hotspur) and Trevor Francis (Birmingham City).
Among the line-ups that afternoon were John McDowell, Clive Charles, Joe Durrell, Kevin Lock, John Ayris and Pat Holland for the Hammers; the national side included Peter Eastoe (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Paul Bradshaw (Burnley) with Alan Dugdale (Coventry City) and Stephen Grapes (Norwich City) among the subs
First Reserve Team Goal
March each season is always a nervy one for players coming towards the end of their contact as this is the time when players are informed if they are to be retained or released. Whether a first-teamer or not it’s an unsettling time and more so back in the early 1970s when players were paid less. For Gill his three-year Boleyn Ground apprenticeship was drawing to a close.
Ever the professional the news of his impending release didn't dampen his enthusiasm for the game he loved. Between March 6th and May 7th he represented either the Reserve side or Metropolitan team 15 times, that's a game every four days. The first of these was a Metropolitan League Professional Cup semi-final 3-0 reverse at the hands of Chelmsford City Reserves at New Writtle Street. The Hammers had a reprieve to reach the final when the Essex club were disqualified due to fielding an ineligible player.
A Game Every Four Days – March – April 1970
Stephen's first-half strike in the Combination win against Norwich City Reserves at Upton Park on March 27, 1971 not only won the 2 points for the Hammers but it was his first-ever goal for the Reserve side.
The Metropolitan League Pro Cup final first-leg against Bedford Town Reserves at The Eyrie ended in a 2-1 defeat, Joe Durrell scoring for the Hammers.
With time now running out on his Hammers tenure the goals began to flow, three Reserve team appearances in an eight day spell for the second-string brought two more goals. The Hammers fought an evenly-matched goalless first-half against Birmingham City at St. Andrews. The second period restart brought an instant reward when Bobby Howe went upfield to put us ahead. The pressure on the home defence continued, and further goals by Joe Durrell and Stephen Gill made the Hammers convincing victors by a 3-0 margin.
Against Southampton at Upton Park, two goals from Ade Coker and one from Clyde Best brought a 3-0 lead, the Saints grabbed two goals to narrow our winning margin.
Eight days after his goal in the Midlands Stephen lined up in the home game against Plymouth Argyle. The Hammers were in arrears at half-time by a solitary goal. Continuous second-half pressure by the claret and blue side brought its reward; Clyde Best scored with a great solo effort, beating the opposing full-back and goalkeeper before slotting home; then Stephen Gill ran forward to collect a chipped ball into the penalty area, before placing it past the advancing 'keeper for a 2-1 winner.
The second-leg of the Pro Cup final against Bedford Town Reserves took place at Upton Park on April 28. For the second successive year he lost out on a Metro winners medal, his lone strike was not enough as the Hammers lost the tie 2-1 and 4-2 on aggregate.
Last game for West Ham United
Stephen donned the claret and blue shirt for the last time in the final Football Combination fixture of the campaign against Arsenal at Upton Park on May 7, 1971
Understandably this was a sad day for Stephen, but in true sportsman like fashion and with the score all level, he pops up and signs off his Hammers’ career with the winner before heading for pastures new.
Line-up against Arsenal:
Peter Grotier (Chris Kinnear), Peter Keary, Terry Scales, Jimmy Lindsay, Stephen Aylott, John Charles, Stephen Gill, Pat Holland, Clyde Best, Trevor Brooking, David Llewelyn
1970-71 Match Stats and Goals Scored
Post West Ham United
In the summer of 1971 after leaving the Hammers he returned to his parents’ home in Brighton. Stephen signed on at the local Department of Social Security and played for their local 5-a-side team. This led to employment at the local Job Centre where he progressed to become Contract Manager. While there he met his wife, Debby.
On the football front he signed for Hastings United in 1971, staying with the Southern League side until 1979. He later moved to three other Sussex clubs: Bognor FC (1979-1980), Worthing FC (1980-1983), Whitehawk FC (1983-1984) before returning to Worthing for a second spell (1984-85).
After studying the goal scoring career of apprentice Stephen Gill, his impressive strike rate and how close he came to making a football league debut for the Hammers, you are left wondering how he would have fared at the club today. A rare home grown talent who developed at the hands of Greenwood and Lyall.
The Guardian newspaper compiled a damming article on West Ham United’s strike force or rather lack of it. At the time of this article, and in the first seven years David Sullivan and David Gold have been in charge, the club has purchased 32 strikers who between them scored a paltry 128 goals in 643 games. It is probably best if the analysis in this catalogue of incompetence is not studied too hard as it will drive any hardened claret and blue supporter to tears.
In Stephen Gill’s case...... he must be left wishing he had been born forty years later.