Rahul Sharma (Editor)

The Academy of Football

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
The Academy of Football

The Academy of Football, or just The Academy, is a nickname of the English football club West Ham United. The title pays homage to the success of the club in coaching talented young players. The title, originally attributed to the club by the press, has since been officially adopted by the club and is displayed in several prominent places around the stadium such as being printed beside the club crest on the artificial surface surrounding the pitch at Upton Park.


The original tribute intended to reference the entire culture of the club, in much the same way as the Liverpool "Boot Room". It was not solely reserved for the education of young players, but also for the development of a modern approach to football from the roots up, as inspired by the success of the Hungarian national team featuring Ferenc Puskás that had humiliated England 6–3, and the great Real Madrid side of the late 1950s that dominated the European Cup.


The term was first used in the early years of Ron Greenwood's reign as West Ham manager (1961–1974). Greenwood had inherited a young team of players from Ted Fenton and the club was noted for its reliance on home grown talent with Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, John Lyall, Ronnie Boyce, John Sissons, Alan Sealey and Harry Redknapp all in the first team or periphery. Further foundations had been laid with stalwart Ken Brown at the back, Malcolm Musgrove on the left wing (who was to leave in the second season), and the addition of John "Budgie" Byrne up front.

The true heritage of this side however owed its pedigree to the practices put in place by the previous manager.

Cassettari's Cafe

Fenton was praised as a forward thinking manager. He pushed for the establishment of "The Academy" that brought through a series of young players to augment a side that could not be improved with the limited finances available. Two of the signings he did manage to make were those of John Dick and Malcolm Allison. Other players of the day included John Bond, Dave Sexton, Jimmy Andrews and Frank O'Farrell (later swapped for Eddie Lewis) and Tommy Moroney all part of an original 'Cafe Cassettari' club started by Fenton as a result of the restrictive budget.

Cafe Cassettari sat opposite the Boleyn Ground, and Fenton organised a deal that saw meals and a warm welcome for the players of the club at a price the club could manage. It became a place for routine discussion of the team, and ideas and wisdom freely passed back and forth. The tradition of mentorship and lasted long into the 60's even after Fenton had moved on and saw future managers John Lyall and Harry Redknapp pass through.

Fenton introduced continental ideas to the team, revamping training methods and taking inspiration from higher ranked teams, and even inspiring some. Fenton had been impressed greatly by the all conquering Hungarians of the 50's led by Ferenc Puskás and the Casseteri program and development of the academy were at the core. Ernie Gregory said (of the 50's diet) "We'd usually eaten fish or chicken and toast before then, but Dr. Thomas advised us all to eat steak and rice two hours before kick-off. All the other clubs copied us after that". However, not all the changes were strictly down to Fenton, Musgrove attributed much of the training regime to Allison, going so far as to state that once the players were at the club (signed by Fenton) they were pretty much Allisons property. As well as being a student of the game himself, Fenton encouraged all players to take coaching badges and it's notable that many of his former players went on to coaching and managing roles after they retired. The Academy also involved, beyond the routine training and development of the youth and squad, actual tactical discussions between the players.

History – continued

At this time, three players who had come through the West Ham youth development system were seeing some success in the England squad; they were Bobby Moore who debuted in 1962, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.

In 1966, these players played a part in England’s victory in the World Cup.

Moore was the most well-known of the three. He captained the England squad and was later named by Pelé as the "greatest" of all the defenders he had played against.

In the World Cup final against West Germany in which England won 4–2, Hurst scored the only hat-trick ever scored at a World Cup final match, and Peters scored the other goal. This gave rise to the West Ham supporters' partly tongue-in-cheek terrace chant:

I remember Wembley,

When West Ham beat West Germany.
Peters one and Geoffrey three,

And Bobby got his OBE!

A bronze statue of these three players (and Everton defender Ray Wilson ) holding the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft was erected in 2003 at the junction of Barking Road and Green Street close to Upton Park.

During the next thirty years West Ham's youth academy produced many professional players. Notable Academy "graduates" during this time include Frank Lampard Sr. and (later Sir) Trevor Brooking, who both featured in the club's 1975 FA Cup win with a team composed solely of English players; no club since has repeated this accomplishment.

Paul Ince played his first game for West Ham in 1986, and went on to win more trophies than any other Academy "graduate", albeit with Manchester United.

In 1996, the reputation of the Academy began a fresh revival with the arrival of Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard Jnr. That year, the West Ham youth team reached the FA Youth Cup Final, losing to a Liverpool side inspired by Michael Owen. However, both Ferdinand and Lampard would see success in subsequent years.

In 1999, the West Ham youth team won the FA Youth Cup, beating Coventry City 9–0 on aggregate. The team featured Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. Ferdinand and Carrick played against Lampard and Cole when Manchester United met Chelsea at the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final.

Recent Academy "graduates" include Glen Johnson, Billy Mehmet, Freddy Eastwood, Anton Ferdinand (younger brother of Rio), Elliott Ward, Mark Noble, Jack Collison and James Tomkins.

Since 1973 the Academy has been managed by Tony Carr, himself a "graduate" but whose career was cut short by injury.

Relationship with West Ham United

The Academy is an important part of the club's identity and a regular source of players for the first team. When the club was relegated from the FA Premier League in 2003 the sale of young Academy stars arguably saved the club from financial disaster. It has been argued that if West Ham had kept all of their Academy "graduates" since Rio Ferdinand, they would currently be among the very top English teams.

With their promotion via the Championship Play-Offs in 2005 West Ham have returned to England’s top league. Three Academy "graduates" had been key players in this achievement; Anton Ferdinand, Elliott Ward, and Mark Noble. In the 2007–08 season, manager Alan Curbishley handed three graduates, Jack Collison, James Tomkins and Freddie Sears, their debuts.

Gianfranco Zola, who previously worked with the Italy U-21's, stated his desire to continue the club's tradition of using homegrown talent. Noble, Tomkins and Collison all went on to play an important part as West Ham beat relegation to finish 9th in the 2008–09 season. Under him, Zavon Hines and Junior Stanislas have impressed after the August 2009 League Cup match against Millwall where they both scored in a 3–1 win.

West Ham as a "feeder club"

A case may be made that West Ham has been a feeder team in recent years, that is, a club that provides quality players to other clubs for profit. Though not a club, the England national team includes various academy apprentices or graduates, including Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe.

This reputation probably began with the sale of Rio Ferdinand to Leeds in 2000. Since then, West Ham have sold six Academy "graduates" for transfer fees totalling over £50 million (including £18 million for Ferdinand, who was later sold on to Manchester United for £30 million). This amount is much greater than the club's own spending on players (most of which was financed by the above income), and many of the players are currently finding success with financially stronger clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester United who are two of four (Arsenal, Man City) Premiership clubs capable of flexing financial muscle, competing on a different level to most other teams.


"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." – Ron Greenwood, West Ham manager 1961–1974.

"No way is it all down to me. 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." – Tony Carr, Director of Youth Development at West Ham 1973–2010, quoted in an interview published by the Daily Telegraph 14 June 2004.

"Why should we sell Rio Ferdinand? Are we a Premier League club or are we just a feeder club for bigger clubs? If we start selling players like Rio, where is the club going to go?" – Harry Redknapp, West Ham manager 1994–2001.

"The biggest single contributor to the current England national squad is not Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, but the West Ham Youth Academy." -- ITV Football article, 13 September 2004.

"This next batch of kids won’t go the same way as the last generation – provided we consolidate in the Premiership. We’ve another batch coming through – and it’s important we bring on young players." Terry Brown, West Ham United Chairman, quoted in an interview published by The Sun, June 2005.

International capped players

(All Senior Caps for England unless otherwise stated)

  • Bobby Moore captained West Ham to victories in the 1964 FA Cup and the 1965 European Cup Winners Cup, then captained England to victory in the 1966 World Cup and to the quarter finals in the 1970 World Cup. He was a key player in both the England and West Ham squads until the early 1970s. The southern stand at Upton Park is named the Bobby Moore stand. Moore was named by Pelé as the "greatest" of all the defenders he had played against.
  • Career: 1958–73 Caps: 108
  • Sir Geoff Hurst remains the only player to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, helping England to victory in this competition in 1966. He was decorated with the MBE in 1977 and knighted in 1998. He played 499 times for West Ham and scored 252 goals for his club.
  • Career: 1960–72 Caps: 49
  • Martin Peters scored in the 1966 World Cup final and was a regular player for West Ham throughout the 1960s. In 1970 his transfer to Tottenham set a new record at the time of £200,000. With this club he won the League Cup twice and the UEFA Cup once. He played 882 games in his career, scoring 220 goals – a remarkable achievement for a midfielder.
  • Career: 1962–70 Caps: 67 (includes 34 caps while with Tottenham Hotspur)
  • Frank Lampard Sr. won the FA Cup twice with West Ham, in 1975 and 1980, and played 660 times for the club.
  • Career: 1967–85 Caps: 2
  • Harry Redknapp, former coach of Tottenham Hotspur, began his playing career at West Ham and went on to make 175 appearances for the first team, playing alongside Bobby Moore. As West Ham manager from 1997–2001, he is widely credited for bringing through one of the finest generation of youth players since the days of Bobby Moore. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick all got their first team debuts under him.
  • Sir Trevor Brooking made 636 appearances for West Ham between 1967 and 1984. He won the FA Cup with the club in 1975 and 1980, scoring the only goal in the 1980 final against Arsenal. In December 2003, Brooking joined the Football Association as Director of Football Development. He was knighted for his services to sport in 2004.
  • Career: 1967–84 Caps: 47
  • Alan Curbishley joined West Ham as an apprentice and made his first team debut eight months shy of his eighteenth birthday. He left for Birmingham City after only two seasons due to a torrid relationship with manager John Lyall. In December 2006, he returned as the new West Ham manager after Alan Pardew was sacked but resigned in September 2008 as he was unhappy with the administration's transfer policies.
  • Alan Devonshire made 358 appearances for West Ham in his career, winning the FA Cup with the club in 1980.
  • Career: 1976–90 Caps: 8
  • Alvin Martin played 586 times for West Ham and was granted two testimonials by the club – a very rare honour. He won the FA Cup with the club in 1980.
  • Career: 1978–96 Caps: 17
  • Tony Cottee scored 118 goals in 256 appearances for West Ham, was named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1986 and was transferred to Everton two years later for a then-record £2.2 million. Later, he won the League Cup with Leicester City. In his entire club career he played for eight clubs (including West Ham in two separate spells), playing 736 games and scoring 307 goals.
  • Career: 1983–88, 1994–96 Caps: 7 (3 while with West Ham United)
  • Paul Ince played 72 matches with West Ham before an acrimonious transfer to Manchester United in 1989 for £1 million. Here he became known as "The Guvnor" due to his powerful and dominating presence in midfield. He found great success with the club, winning the Premier League twice, the FA Cup twice, the Charity Shield three times, and the Cup Winners' Cup, the League Cup, and the European Super Cup once each. He was a very important player for Manchester United, and made 278 appearances, scoring 28 goals in total, for this club. During this time he became captain of the England squad. After leaving Manchester United he went on to a successful career with Internazionale, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
  • Career: 1986– 2007 Caps: 53 (None with West Ham United)
  • Rio Ferdinand signed as a 14-year-old by West Ham, completing a 2-year YTS contract before signing, professionally, aged 17 in 1996 He gained his first international cap in 1998, and in 2000 became the most expensive defender in England following his £18 million transfer to Leeds. He became captain of the club in 2001 and in 2002 was transferred to Manchester United for £30 million. This transfer made him the most expensive British footballer in history, and the most expensive defender in the world.
  • Career: 1996–2015 Caps: 81 (29 caps while with West Ham United)
  • Frank Lampard Jr. gained his full England debut in 1999, and was transferred to Chelsea in acrimonious circumstances in 2001, for a fee of £11.5 million. He was voted Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year for 2004/2005, and is currently first choice central midfielder for Chelsea and England.
  • Career: 1995– Caps: 90 (2 caps while with West Ham United)
  • Joe Cole was widely hailed as having potential to be among England's greatest footballing talents while with West Ham, but did not see the success with club or country that many expected due to injuries. He was transferred to Chelsea for approximately £7 million in 2003. Despite almost being loaned to Spartak Moscow, he fought for a place at his new club and has since become a regular player for Chelsea and England. He moved to Liverpool on a free transfer, before spending a season on loan to Lille. In 2013 Joe Cole rejoined West Ham United and made his second debut against Manchester United where he set up two goals to draw the game.
  • Career: 1998– Caps: 56 (10 caps while with West Ham United)
  • Michael Carrick signed as a youth team player by West Ham in 1998 before making his senior debut in 1999. He had 5 seasons with West Ham before being transferred to Tottenham and became a regular player in that side also, before a big-money move to Manchester United in July 2006 where he has established himself as a regular.
  • Career: 1998– Caps: 22 (2 caps while with West Ham United)
  • Jermain Defoe started his career with Charlton Athletic. He did not make any appearances for Charlton and was signed as a youth team player by West Ham in July 1999 at age 16. Here he was considered an excellent young talent and a natural goalscorer. In 2003, he was transferred to Tottenham for £7 million. He is a regular for his club and in the England squad.
  • Career: 2000– Caps: 46 (None with West Ham United)
  • Glen Johnson was sold to Chelsea for £6 million after only 17 West Ham first team appearances. He was first called up for the England squad in November 2003. He never established himself as first choice Right back at Chelsea and was subsequently sold to Portsmouth. At Portsmouth he received regular first team football and established himself as England's current right back of choice. He is now at Liverpool FC.
  • Career: 2002– Caps: 35 (None with West Ham United)

    Recent "Graduates"

  • Mark Noble made his debut in January 2005 when West Ham were still in the Championship. His emergence was instrumental in the club's promotion to the Premier League. After two loan spells in 2006, he has established himself in central midfield has never looked back. In 2009 he captained the England U-21 team to a runner-up spot at the 2009 UEFA Under-21 Championship. He was named club captain at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and shortly afterwards made his 300th appearance in the Claret and Blue. In view of his outstanding contribution to the club over a decade of service he was awarded a testimonial during the clubs last season at the Boleyn Ground.
  • Career: 2004– Caps: 0
  • Anton Ferdinand is the younger brother of former graduate Rio Ferdinand and is a quick and reliable young defender who is calm on the ball. Many consider his partnership with Elliot Ward (see below) to have played an important part in West Ham's promotion in 2005. He was sold to Sunderland for £8M in the summer of 2008. He made 85 appearances for the Black Cats before moving again to QPR, then Turkey and is now at Reading.
  • Career: 2004– Caps: 0
  • Elliott Ward's central defence partnership with Anton Ferdinand (see above) has shown that both players have a great deal of potential. Ward failed to break into the team on a regular basis in the 2005–2006 season and enjoyed a productive loan spell at Plymouth Argyle, leading to Tony Pulis attempting to make his short term stay permanent. Ward was transferred to Coventry City for the fee of £1 Million at the end of the 2005–2006 season. He made over 100 appearances for Coventry, 50 for Norwich and 25 for Bournemouth but is currently plying his trade at Blackburn.
  • Career: 2004– Caps: 0
  • Freddie Sears, another local-born graduate, made his first team debut on 15 March 2008. After coming on as a second-half substitute, he was only on the pitch for a little over 5 minutes before he scored his first goal in a 2–1 win over Blackburn Rovers. He struggled to establish himself in the first team however and was frequently loaned before being sold to League 1 Colcester in 2012. He distinguished himself at that level and after a couple of seasons earned up a division with Ipswich. In recent seasons he has begun to re-establish the reputation he had as prolific goalscorer when he was in the academy side.
  • Career: 2008– Caps: 0
  • James Tomkins made his first appearance for the 1st team on 22 March 2008. A defender, he made his debut in a 1–1 draw, away, against Everton. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, having now made over 200 appearances for the club. He was picked to represent the UK at the Olympics in London 2012 and represented England at all age group levels including 10 caps at under-21 level.
  • Career: 2008– Caps: 0
  • Jack Collison joined the academy as a sixteen-year-old in 2005 when Cambridge United's academy closed. He made his first team debut on 1 January 2008, for the injured Fredrik Ljungberg away at Arsenal. Widely regarded as one of the most talented youth products since Joe Cole and Michael Carrick, he went on to establish himself as first choice under Gianfranco Zola, on his preferred left wing. After making his Wales U-21 debut in November 2007, he went on to establish himself in the starting line-up and made his senior debut for Wales in May 2008. Unfortunately over the next few years, he struggled to retain his place in the squad under subsequent managers due to frequent long term knee injuries. Seemingly unable to recover the club eventually released Jack in the summer of 2014, having made over a hundred appearances for the club. He remains a firm fan favorite, however, and the whole West Ham family wish him well in his new role as a player coach at Peterborough.
  • Career: 2008–2016 Caps: 15 (For Wales)
  • Junior Stanislas is another youngster who was promoted to the first team for the 2008–09 season. Over the next four seasons he managed over forty appearances, scoring a number of vital goals but in the end was forced to leave in the Summer of 2011 in search of more first team football. He made nearly 100 appearances for Burnley under Eddie Howe before leaving to follow Eddie to Bournemouth in 2014 with whom he returned to the Premier League.
  • Career: 2009– Caps: 0
  • Sebastian Lletget
  • Career: 2010- Caps:0 (For USA)
  • Dan Potts The son of fan favourite former player Steve Potts showed a lot of promise in the handful of appearances he made but found that chances were limited under Allerdyce. Ultimately he was forced to leave the club in search of regular football and joined Luton Town in the summer of 2015.
  • Career: 2012- Caps:0
  • Jordan Spence Another promising young full back who found chances to be limited at West Ham, Spence made a handful of appearances over a number of seasons before finally joining the MK Dons on a permanent basis in 2014, having been there twice on loan previously.
  • Career: 2011- Caps:0
  • Robert Hall Another casualty of the Allerdyce era, center forward Hall chalked up less than ten first team appearances, before dropping down a league to ply his trade with Bolton.
  • Career: 2011- Caps:0
  • Elliott Lee
  • Career: 2012- Caps:0
  • George Moncur, son of popular ex-player John Moncur never made a first team appearance for West Ham despite his huge potential. Forced to look elsewhere he moved to Colchester United in 2014 where he established himself as local hero, in no small part due to scoring the goal which saved them from relegation at the end of his first season. He is now currently considered one of the most exciting young players in League One.
  • Career: 2012- Caps:0

    Other players

    These players either trained at the Academy but never played for West Ham first team or trained at multiple clubs in their youth.

  • Sol Campbell made his debut at Tottenham Hotspur in 1992, and became a regular England player in the late 1990s. In 2001, when his contract ran out, he joined Arsenal. Campbell was a regular player for club and country, and has won the Premier League twice and the FA Cup three times while with Arsenal. He was named in the official Euro 2004 All-Star squad by the UEFA technical group.
  • Career: 1992– Caps: 73
  • John Terry was schooled by both West Ham's and Chelsea's youth teams at different times. His debut for Chelsea was in 1998 and became captain of the side in the 2003/2004 season. The following season he helped Chelsea set a new record, the side having conceded only 14 goals in the entire league season. He was also voted PFA Players' Player of the Year in 2005.
  • Career: 1998– Caps: 72
  • John Lyall
  • Kieran Richardson started with the West Ham youth academy but was picked up by Manchester United's youth academy as a teenager. He is now at Fulham.
  • Career: 2002– Caps: 8
  • Freddy Eastwood was previously a trainee at Southend United but moved to the West Ham Academy at age 15. He was unable to break into the first team and was released by then-manager Glenn Roeder. After starting out at non-League side Grays Athletic, he eventually worked his way up the league and is now at Championship side Coventry City. He is now a Wales international, qualifying through his grandmother.
  • Career: 2003– Caps: 11 (For Wales)
  • Jlloyd Samuel
  • Fitz Hall
  • Billy Mehmet was signed at the age of 8 years old and remained at the club until he was 19 years of age. He then transferred to Dunfermline Athletic in the SPL, before moving onto St Mirren. During his time at West Ham, Mehmet was given his debut by Harry Redknapp at the age of 16 during a testimonial game. Mehmet was seen as the academies next promising graduate and was rewarded by being handed the captaincy of the reserve and youth team. Mehmet was released by the club at 19 years old by the then manager Glenn Roeder after the club was relegated. Before Roeder took over Mehmet was told by representatives of the club including the Head of Youth Tony Carr and Redknapp that he was to be offered a new professional deal at the club, but when Roeder took over he had other plans. Shortly after Roader was replaced by Alan Pardew who decided to give the youngsters a break. Mehmet was approached to play for Turkey at the age of 16 but declined as he was training at England's Bisham Abbey at the time. Mehmet went on to represent Ireland at u21 level. Mehmet was signed by Turkish Super Lig side Gençlerbirliği in 2011. Mehmet also played for Samsunspor in Turkey before moving onto the Hyundai A-League with Perth Glory. He was signed by Thai Premier League side Bangkok Glass FC in January 2013. Mehmet was due to sign with Sheffield United but the manager who was offered the job turned it down and the deal fell through. Mehmet was also offered deals to take him back to the SPL but decided to sign with Dempo SC in the I-League where he has attracted interest from other Asian Leagues including the J-League and the Malaysian Premier League.
  • Jimmy Bullard
  • Mitchell Cole
  • Notable graduates (1973–2014)

    The West Ham youth system has produced many notable players from the likes of World Cup winners Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst to 2008 Champions League winners Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick to players-turned-managers Harry Redknapp and Alan Curbishley. This is a list of players who have gone to their professional career, playing for West Ham or other clubs.

    Current first team

    Mark Noble – England U17/U19/U21 international
    Reece Oxford - England U16/U17 international


    The Academy of Football Wikipedia