All photos Doug McKenzie

Lasting legacy for John Lyall

A host of West Ham United legends came together on Sunday 20 January to pay tribute to the late John Lyall whose influence they said "would live on forever at this football club".

Reading a bit like a who's who of the Hammers, many of the players who served under Lyall in his tenure as boss at the Boleyn Ground between 1974 and 1989 and during his time as manager at Ipswich Town (1990-94) were there to see a Heritage Foundation blue plaque unveiled outside the main entrance of the stadium.

The former manager's family were present alongside Sir Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Terry Venables, who would describe at length his "great friendship and respect" for Lyall, who died in April 2006 aged 66. Following the unveiling - which was led by a speech from Sir Trevor Brooking who spoke of a "modest man who was an unbelievable coach" - the gathered guests, which also included Heritage Foundation president Robin Gibb, enjoyed a lunch hosted by fellow musician Rick Wakeman.

It featured a number of stirring speeches by former players and associates, as well film footage of Lyall and the teams he built in the 1970s and 1980s which had everyone reaching back into the memory banks. Among the former players attending were Billy Bonds, Frank McAvennie, Ray Stewart, Alan Devonshire, Tony Cottee , Tony Gale, Phil Parkes, Frank Lampard Snr, David Cross and Alvin Martin. The late Ron Greenwood's widow, Lucy, was also present.

Sir Geoff, recalling how he first got to know Lyall as a player in the 1960s, told how the legendary Lyall became "like a mentor to him". He added: "He got to know this club inside out. After having to cut his playing days short because of a serious knee injury, he went on to work behind the scenes in the offices here at Upton Park and then back into coaching and eventually manager.

"John knew how everything worked here and that just added to the abilities he already had. He became a mentor to me and I took on a lot of what he said. I say to his family listening here today, he was a thoroughly decent man."

An auction of signed memorabilia was hosted by club legends Tony Gale and Tony Cottee. From that, 9,550 was raised which will go towards the Lawford Boys Football Club, where Lyall's grandchildren play. The club is trying to raise money and build a new training pitch. 

Amongst the items were 1966 World Cup framed photographs, autographed by Sir Geoff, Peters and the late Bobby Moore, a home shirt and football signed by Alan Curbishley and the current West Ham United first-team squad, a silver football boot in a glass case signed by Carlos Tevez and other sporting memorabilia including signed prints of former boxer John H Stracey, who also attended the lunch.

The plaque for Lyall is placed on the left-hand side of the main entrance to the Boleyn Ground in Green Street, where it is joined on the opposite side by plaques for Greenwood and Moore. It will act as a permanent memento of someone who helped the club to two FA Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1980 as well as the best-ever league finish in 1985/86. West Ham United Owner and Chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson said: "With the unveiling of the special plaque in his honour, we mark his lasting legacy. John Lyall will never be forgotten at West Ham United."

Summing up what was an emotional day for the family, including widow Yvonne and his grandchildren Scott, Charlie and Sam, Lyall's son Murray said: "Dad didn't like a fuss and would probably be squirming a bit at all of this attention on him, but also deep down, very proud as all of us are. It was emotional but a fantastic day."


Boleyn Ground, Green Street, Upton Park, London E13 9AZ 

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