Ernest (Ernie) Gregory was born in Stratford on 10th November 1921. Brian Glanville has pointed out: "Gregory was good with his fists as a boy; he would recount, with a mixture of pride and faint remorse, how his friends were constantly matching him against other street fighters, and how he would always win."
Charlie Paynter, the manager of West Ham United, first saw Gregory playing as the goalkeeper for West Ham Boys against Preston Boys at the final of the English Boys Trophy at Upton Park. According to The Daily Telegraph: "His career in football was sealed when West Ham’s manager, Charlie Paynter, saw him in goal for West Ham Boys against Preston in the final of the English Boys’ Trophy at Upton Park. Paynter went to the boy’s home, where Ernie’s mother told the manager that her son would soon be leaving school and would have to get a job - so he would not be playing much football in future. Paynter assured her that, as a member of West Ham’s ground staff, her son would be earning a wage. The Gregorys’ neighbours were delighted by the news and clubbed together to buy the boy a pair of shin pads."
Gregory signed for West Ham United in 1936. However, he continued to play for Leytonstone in the Isthmian League and helped his club win the league title in 1938 and 1939. During the Second World War Gregory served in the Royal Air Force. However, he still found time to play in 60 games for his club during the war.
He made his debut for West Ham United against Plymouth Argyle at Upton Park on 28th December 1946. The 17,000 crowd saw West Ham win the game 4-1. That season he played in nine games. At the time the West Ham squad included Charlie Bicknell, Norman Corbett, Ted Fenton, George Foreman, Archie Macaulay, Sam Small, and Dick Walker.
In the 1947-48 season Gregory played in all 42 league games. He got injured the following season but was ever present in the 1949-50 season. Charles Korr points out in his book, West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986): "He gave the impression of solid imperturbability, although anyone standing close enough to the West Ham goal might have heard some rather colurful language." Gregory was 6ft 2in and according to one journalist he " was ideally built for the physical challenges to which keepers were subjected in those days."
In August 1950 Ted Fenton took over from Charlie Paynter as manager of West Ham United. Gregory claimed Fenton was responsible for several innovations: "We were the first team to eat steak before meals... We were told to put a ball between two players and you take two players out. John Bond and Noel Cantwell were the first of the overlapping full-backs... We used to train at Forest Gate skating rink - it was narrow, so you could practise working in tight situations."
At the time West Ham was in the Second Division and in his first season at the club he finished in 13th place. He did however, make two very good buys in Frank O'Farrell from Cork United and Malcolm Allison from Charlton Athletic. They joined a team that included Gregory, Dick Walker, Ken Tucker, Derek Parker and Harry Hooper.
Ernie Gregory was injured at Queen's Park Rangers in the first game of the 1951-52 season. He then missed the next 14 games. After his return to the first-team his form was so good that in 1952 he won an England "B" cap against France.
West Ham United continued to struggle in the Second Division and despite bringing in players like Jimmy Andrews and Dave Sexton the club finished 12th (1951-52), 14th (1952-53) and 13th (1953-54). It was the goalscoring of John Dick that helped West Ham finish in 8th place in the 1954-55 season. Dick scored 26 goals in 39 appearances that season. Other young players such as Malcolm Musgrove, John Bond, Ken Brown, Noel Cantwell and Andy Malcolm had also been promoted into the first-team.
Jim O'Halloran tells an interesting story about Gregory and Ted Hufton: "When I was a kid in the fifties Ernie Gregory was my hero. I waited outside the stadium after a match to get Ernie's signature. He had an old man with him and he said "You don't want my autograph son, you want his." Who is he?" I asked. "Ted Hufton the greatest goalie ever" said Ernie. It meant nothing to me and I persisted after Ernie's signature but he refused. Having never seen Hufton, in my books Ernie was the bees knees."
Brian Glanville tells an interesting story concerning a conflict with Derek Dooley of Sheffield Wednesday: "In one game at Upton Park, the hulking, red-haired Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward Derek Dooley, by his own admission, surreptitiously held Gregory down with him on the ground, enabling another Wednesday forward to shoot into an empty goal. When it came to the return match at Hillsborough, Dooley left the field with a torn jersey and Gregory's stud marks on his chest."
West Ham United got off to poor start to the 1957-58 season. Ted Fenton decided he needed a new centre-forward. Vic Keeble was playing in the reserves at Newcastle United. Fenton, who had managed him at Colchester United, telephoned Keeble and said: "I'm coming up Saturday, I fancy you Vic, I could well put in a bid for you. I'll take a look at you, see how you do." Keeble scored two goals in the first 45 minutes and at half-time Fenton knocked on the window of the dressing-room and said: "Vic, don't play too well in the second-half, they won't let you go." After the game Fenton bought Keeble for £10,000.
Vic Keeble formed a great partnership with inside-left, John Dick. West Ham's full-back, John Bond, later pointed out: "We got something like nine points in 11 games in 1957-58, and then Ted Fenton bought Vic Keeble from Newcastle because he thought he could be good in the air, which he was. But what he didn't recognise was what a good target man Vic was. We could play balls from defence into Vic Keeble and he would hold them in to himself or knock them off. He brought Jackie Dick into the play a lot more... and made more use of the wingers in terms of crosses. And from there we lost three of the next 31 games."
As Vic Keeble himself explained: "I partnered John Dick and we clicked instantly, scoring 40 goals between us. I was really enjoying my football and grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against West Ham, two in 6-1 wins over Lincoln and Bristol Rovers, and further braces in a 6-2 victory over Swansea and 8-0 thumping of Rotherham United." John Cartwright commented: "Keeble and Dick were telepathic."
By the end of the season Vic Keeble had scored 23 goals in 32 league and cup games. Keeble's brilliant play was one of the main factors in West Ham United winning the Second Division title that year. They had been promoted to the First Division after a period of 26 years in the second tier. Malcolm Pyke, a West Ham teammate, commented: "Jack Dick was a great goalscorer, but when Vic Keeble came he turned us around - it was his goals that got us up." The defence had also played well and Gregory appeared in 37 league games.
West Ham United finished in 6th place in their first season back in the top division. Gregory was dropped after a 3-0 defeat against Birmingham City on 28th February, 1959. Now aged 38 he was coming up to retirement. The last of his 406 games was against Leeds United on 5th September 1959.
Gregory remained on the staff as the reserve team coach. He later was appointed as first-team coach with special responsibility for goalkeeping. Phil Parkes was one of those who worked with Gregory: “When I arrived at Upton Park I was 30, so I knew how to keep goal, Ernie didn’t need to tell me how to be a keeper, but it was the mental side of the game that he knew so well and without him, my career would not have lasted anywhere near as long as it did. He was a goalkeeper himself and there wasn’t a situation that he hadn’t gone through or known about. Sometimes I would want to carry on training, but he would say ‘no, that’s it, if you want to stay we can have a walk round the pitch and talk’ and I think that was so important to me.” Gregory left West Ham United in May 1987 after spending over 50 years with the club.
Ernie Gregory died in a Basildon nursing home on 21st January 2012.
I am now 71 and my dad started taking me to watch the Hammers in about 1947/48. I lived in Forest Gate and from 48 onwards was a pupil at Plaistow Grammar School.
It was at about that time, during the summer holidays, that I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a group of 5 or 6 men in the garden next door. They were digging out a second world war air raid shelter, dug deep below the surface. When I took a closer look I suddenly began to recognise some of the men as regular first team players from WHU. I rushed down into the garden, jumped up on a box and had a close up view. The group included Dickie Walker, the then captain, Ernie Gregory, our long serving goalie and Ernie Devlin, who played as a full back. I can no longer remember who the others were, but they were all very friendly and enjoyed chatting with this very young supporter. This was an era when players wages were very low and almost non existent during the summer months, so they had to take on labouring work to keep the wolf from the door. How times have changed!
Born in Stratford, east London, Gregory was good with his fists as a boy; he would recount, with a mixture of pride and faint remorse, how his friends were constantly matching him against other street fighters, and how he would always win. He joined the Hammers straight from school in 1936, after playing for West Ham Boys, and then had a short attachment to the prominent east London amateur club Leytonstone. He returned to West Ham before the outbreak of the second world war, during which he served with the Essex Regiment and the RAF.
After the agile, much smaller keeper Harry Medhurst left West Ham for Chelsea in 1946, Gregory became the club's first-choice keeper. He made his league debut for the Hammers at the end of that year, in a 4-1 victory against Plymouth Argyle. The club remained in the second division for the next dozen years, during which time the rugged Gregory held his own. In one game at Upton Park, the hulking, red-haired Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward Derek Dooley, by his own admission, surreptitiously held Gregory down with him on the ground, enabling another Wednesday forward to shoot into an empty goal. When it came to the return match at Hillsborough, Dooley left the field with a torn jersey and Gregory's stud marks on his chest.
A Cockney born and bred, Gregory was a tall, rugged figure well capable of withstanding the robust challenges to which goalkeepers were subjected in the days before the laws of the game became more discriminating.
In his book West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986), Charles Korr remarks: “[Gregory] gave the impression of solid imperturbability, although anyone standing close enough to the West Ham goal might have heard some rather colourful language.”
Ernest Gregory was born on November 10 1921 in Stratford, east London, and as boy earned a reputation among his peers as a formidable streetfighter. His career in football was sealed when West Ham’s manager, Charlie Paynter, saw him in goal for West Ham Boys against Preston in the final of the English Boys’ Trophy at Upton Park.
Paynter went to the boy’s home, where Ernie’s mother told the manager that her son would soon be leaving school and would have to get a job - so he would not be playing much football in future. Paynter assured her that, as a member of West Ham’s ground staff, her son would be earning a wage. The Gregorys’ neighbours were delighted by the news and clubbed together to buy the boy a pair of shin pads.
Having joined West Ham in 1936, Gregory was briefly loaned to the east London amateur club Leytonstone, helping them to win the Isthmian League title in 1938. Although he served with the RAF during the Second World War, Gregory was still able to turn out for some 60 games for West Ham between 1939 and 1945.