A tribute to a boyhood hero

We lost another one of Ron Greenwood’s 1960s generation at the weekend, 77-year-old midfielder Peter Bennett after a long battle with cancer.

The name may not mean much to our younger fans, he made just 47 first team appearances over the course of seven years and scored three goals, one albeit against Spurs.

But to us of a certain vintage, the memories of those golden years in the sixties come flooding back - and in particular, the 1963 FA Youth Cup winners, a team of outstanding talent. Those kids were coming through the Upton Park ranks just as Greenwood was constructing a first team that within a couple of years would win the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup.

Only John Sissons of that Youth Cup-winning team figured in those two wonderful cup victories for the first team, but in the end ten of that side would go on to make first team appearances; John Dryden being the unlucky one to miss out.

But Sissons apart, there was tremendous talent in that youth squad including Harry Redknapp, John Charles, Coin Mackleworth, Dennis Burnett, Bobby How and Martin Britt. Bennett was a key midfielder in that great young side.

I’d been fortunate to have seen the very formative years of Bennett and his team mate and friend, Sissons, way back in our school days. His loss now is just another very personal piece of our history that’s gone.

You see Bennett and Sissons were Middlesex Schools team mates and friends. Bennett went to Abbotsfield school in Hillingdon, a mile or so further down the old Uxbridge Road from my school, Mellow Lane, also the school of Sissons, a couple of years older than me.

Abbotsfield and Mellow Lane were fierce sporting rivals and it has to be said of the playing fields too. It’s fair to say school matches were keenly contested, I think that’s the expression.

In action vs West Bromwich Albion

Both boys played district and county level football and were spotted together by West Ham scout Charlie Faulkner. They both signed for West Ham in 1961. They went on together to play throughout that Youth Cup run, Sissons scoring eight goals and Bennett netting in the semi-final against Wolves.

But it was the two-legged final against Liverpool that has gone down in the history of our club. We were 3-1 down after the first leg at Anfield and were 5-2 down on aggregate at one stage in the second leg.

An amazing second half saw Martin Britt score four headers to win the trophy 6-5. Liverpool had Tommy Smith in their ranks who became Sissons‘ friend and room mate during the 'little' World Cup success that year.

Sissons went on to write his name in West Ham history while Bennett struggled to make the same impact. But he was competing against midfield talent like Ronnie Boyce, Eddie Bovington and Martin Peters.

Eventually he departed to Orient in 1970 as part of the deal that took Tommy Taylor to Upton Park, becoming O’s club captain. He was to spend the next seven years at Brisbane Road.

A short spell in the US playing for St. Louis followed, and included one memorable game when he robbed Franz Beckenbauer and smashed in a 20-yarder. Pele was playing in the match, too. An ankle injury in 1978 forced his retirement and he joined the Orient coaching staff.

Still, he knew he’d been part of something very special in those early years at West Ham. It’s a long while ago now, those school fields in Middlesex, but memories for me will always be there. RIP Peter Bennett.

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