England's cockney boys are driven to success by Carr
Ever since Ron Greenwood sent forth Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters from Upton Park to win the World Cup in 1966, few teams have done more than West Ham United in their country's service. A grateful Buckingham Palace has responded by making them the first club with two former players elevated to the rank of knight, Sir Geoff and Sir Trevor Brooking - in recognition, perhaps, that throughout the eras, West Ham have always played as though their famous claret-and-blue shirts were edged in ermine.
Of the current batch of England internationals, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson, and Michael Carrick all began their careers as schoolboys in London's East End, while Matthew Upson is a present day Hammer who played for Fabio Capello's team on Saturday and Richard Green was a squad member. Even David Beckham is recorded as having made a few appearances for the West Ham youth team before being snaffled away by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Aye, West Ham may never have won the English championship, but as a club they have acquired a reputation for doing things in a certain style while producing a constant supply of dazzling young players. According to Greenwood's philosophy: "The crowds at West Ham have never been rewarded by results but they keep turning up because of the good football they see. Other clubs will suffer from the old bugbear that results count more than anything. This has been the ruination of English soccer."
Tony Carr has never been knighted, but as the head of the West Ham Academy and youth team coach since 1973, few have done more for English football. "For a club like ours, I think we can feel rightly proud that we've produced so many England players over the years," says Carr. "It's fantastic that such a large number of the England squad have a West Ham connection but, to be honest, I can't remember Beckham ever being with us. I've heard the stories that he played once or twice but I was probably involved with another age group at the time.
"When I watched Rio, Frank, Joe and Michael all walk out of the ground to join their first England camps, I felt immensely proud. With Jermain and Glen it was slightly different because they'd moved on by the time they won their caps, so I had to congratulate them by phone. Everyone at the club knew they were all special young players, but we were obviously biased so it's nice when the England coach shares your opinion."
It was as an apprentice himself that Carr first entered Upton Park in 1966 to polish the boots of the three returning World Cup heroes. Alas, whatever the ingredients that make those such as Lampard so special were missing in Carr and, having failed to make the breakthrough, he departed for Barnet five years later before a serious leg-break ended his playing career. "I just didn't have what it takes to be a West Ham player. But I'd been a Hammers fan all my life - one of my earliest memories is gazing in wonderment at the glow of the floodlights from our council estate in Bow - so when John Lyall rang up to ask if I fancied doing a bit of coaching, it was lovely to be given the chance to come 'home'."
Although he is far too modest to admit it, as a polisher of youthful diamonds Carr may be the most influential coach in the land. "No way is it all down to me," he claims. "It's very difficult to say why we've been so successful in youth terms; I suppose it's down to a number of factors but, most importantly, our recruitment area of East London and Essex is really fertile. "Also, Upton Park was known as 'the academy of football' right back to the days of Bobby Moore (below) - and long before academies became commonplace - so youngsters know they'll be given an opportunity, no matter their age. The key is finding the talent - and we have an outstanding recruitment officer in Jimmy Hampson - then, having found them, nurturing them and giving them the chance when the time is right.
"You can get mugged with young players - some just don't develop for whatever reason - but you can usually tell when a lad has that something out of the ordinary. Tony Cottee and Jermain Defoe were scoring goals as 10-year-olds." A nation's thanks to West Ham United and the unheralded Tony Carr. @Email:email@example.com