Wednesday, October 19

Simply the Best

Hammers in the Heart reviews Clyde Best's new autobiography The Acid Test…

The title The Acid Test refers to an anonymous letter Clyde Best received threatening to throw acid in his eyes when he ran out on to the Upton Park pitch. As one of the first black players in British football, Best suffered terrible racist abuse in the 1970s. He recalls that northern grounds such as Leeds and Everton were often the worst, but rather than react, he would try to respond with his feet or head. Best recalls scoring a brilliant winner at Goodison Park after an afternoon of monkey noises and abuse.

Clyde’s father was a big influence on his outlook: “He said I owed it to everyone to make a go of my career, that what I was doing would serve as a barometer for generations to come.”

Best also has a lot of affection for manager Ron Greenwood, who told him: “The football doesn’t care what colour you are.” He was supported on the pitch by the likes of Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds, Geoff Hurst and Harry Redknapp.

It’s a different footballing world Best describes, where as a teenager he flies in from Bermuda on a Sunday and makes his way to the Boleyn Ground, not realising it will be shut. He’s directed to Jessie Charles, the mother of another black Hammer, Clive Charles, and ends up lodging with her in Plaistow.

Best recalls the long train journeys from Euston to the north where players and fans mingled. His first car was a Morris Minor (bought from Harry Redknapp’s brother-in-law) and after reserve games all the team would stop for fish and chips. When West Ham visit Bermuda on a summer tour he invites them to his family house, where they want roast beef rather than any local cuisine. Even when he marries Best only makes it to Ilford, rather than the mansions of today’s players.

With his heavyweight build Clyde looked about 25 when he broke into the West Ham side in 1969; but actually he was only 18. Reading The Acid Test makes you realise just what potential he had. In the 1971-72 season he formed a great partnership with Geoff Hurst, scoring 17 league goals and 23 goals in all competitions. He played in the epic League Cup semi-final against Stoke that went to four games and has never forgotten beating the Manchester United side of Law, Best and Charlton.

Had Hurst not been sold to Stoke the following season Best might have really developed as a club legend, but without Hurst’s experience he struggled, although he returned to find to net 12 times in the 1973-74 season (including a couple of memorable goals in a 4-3 win over Everton that this fan remembers watching from the North Bank).

When Alan Taylor, Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Bobby Gould arrived in the 1974-75 season, Best, still only in his mid-20s, found opportunities limited and was heartbroken not to make the bench for the 1975 FA Cup Final.

Such was his affection for West Ham, he refused to sign for anther English team and left for the North American Soccer League in the United States with Tampa Bay Rowdies, where black players were much more readily accepted. He had scored a very respectable 47 goals in 186 league appearances for West Ham. A year later Best had a frustrating season at Dutch side Feyenoord before returning to the NASL where he played with many of the greats of the 1970s.

After retirement he set up a dry-cleaning business, had three years with the Bermuda FA and was awarded the MBE. Clyde comes across as a humble, grounded character in this book, with a real affection for his time in the East End. Some said he was too gentle as a centre forward, but he writes, “being remembered as big, strong and gentle? That’s OK by me.”

The current generation of black players should all be grateful for what Best went through. As Clyde’s father told him: “If I could make it better for black people coming in to the game that was success enough in itself. I honestly believe I was chosen to play football.”

The Acid Test by Clyde Best, is published by deCourbertin, price £12.99,

1 comment:

Master Steve said...