By John Cartwright
‘Big Mal.’ dead! I knew he had been suffering from a debilitating illness for many years, but news of his death sent a feeling of sorrow through me, for I had known Malcolm since my earliest days at West Ham Utd. He was the club’s centre half and I had just started to visit the club for evening training. I was only 15 and had been ‘spotted’ by the club’s scout and asked to attend training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Upton Park ground. It was on the car park or in the ruins of the old Boleyn Castle which stood adjacent to the stadium that these evening sessions took place; quite different to today’s pristine facilities! There were many other clubs in the country and in the London area to which I and many of the other boys training at West Ham could have gone; so why West Ham? Well, the answer was Malcolm Allison.
Mal, had become one of the first Pro. players to qualify as a coach and he worked with us for several years improving our playing ability and game understanding. At the same time he was educating himself on coaching methods and was always bringing new ideas to the sessions. In those groups of youngsters were players with names that would become known around the whole football world; Bobby Moore – Geoff. Hurst – Martin Peters, as well as many who became successful pros. in the game.
I was in the first team dressing room when Mal. returned from the London Hospital; he had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Tears ran down his cheeks as fellow players attempted to console him. His playing days were over.
We were all upset, for our ‘motivator’ was not going to be around for some time whilst he underwent surgery and rehabilitation. Several of us visited him at the Sanatorium at Midhurst in Sussex after his operation and I will always remember him seated in an armchair wearing a bright red top, navy blue track bottoms and white trainers surrounded by nurses who, like us, had become willing ‘prisoners’ to his personality.
I could recall hundreds of stories from over the years about Malcolm. He was a rogue; but a likeable rogue. The Fedora encapsulated his character probably better than anything else, for it portrayed the ‘Cavalier’ bravado of his public life. However, what went unnoticed by Press and Public was that the Fedora was given to charity. That was Big Mal., flash but warm and generous.
If I’m lucky to find a way to the ‘stadium in the sky,’ I hope Malcolm’s there at the gate in track suit and with a new white ball under his arm to take me onto the blue field to practice together.