By John Cartwright

Big Mal.

                    ‘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.


  1. I think that Malcolm Allison’s death is a timley reminder of all the dedicated effort and time that thoughtful players and coaches put in during the immediate post-war years. Players like Allison knew how far football hadf fallen behind the continentals even before Hungary came to Wembley in 1953 and hammered England 6-3.I remember being at a coaching session given by Allison once and afterwards he recalled that as a young man when he played for Charlton Athletic he did his National Service in Austria.The football he saw there was different than anything he had seen before and when he went along to watch these teams train it was nothing like what they did at Charlton.People like Allison did all they could to bring new ideas into the English game and when he moved to West Ham United he was surrounded by like-minded people such as Dave Sexton,Noel Cantweell,John Bond,Frank O’Farrell,Ernie Gregory,Malcolm Musgrove and many others.The hours they put in coaching the schoolboys was because they loved the game and wanted to improve and develop the way in which it was played in this country.I’m sure that the money they were paid was next to nothing.West ham was always a forward- thinking club in this respect and Ron Greenwood got as many of the players as possible into schools in the afternoons after they had finished training to coach the kids.Many other clubs at the time followed this example but it does not seem to happen any more.In the early seventies I used to go along to a school in East London to watch West Ham players of the time like Alvin Martin,Mick McGiven,Tony Carr and Ronnie Boyce coaching kids and sometimes on the car park outside the Boleyn Ground.
    Nowadays we seem as if we always want to throw money at the problems.You can just imagine what would have happened if the situation of 1953,with Hungary coming to Wembley and taking apart England,happened today.Well, now we would offer an unbelievable salary to the Hungarian coach to take charge of England and the premiership clubs would get their cheque books out to sign up the Hungarian stars.That’s the difference.Back in 1953 people like Malcolm Allison had a hunger for knowledge and having aquired it they had the great desire to impart it to young players as a coach.

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