The London Evening Standard 5-a-side tournament (organised by the Sports Council now called Sport England) was first introduced in 1954. And the last time in 1995. The competition, was usually played towards the end of the season (April, May). It featured the capitals league clubs. Roger Hillier says. ‘Initially the tournament ran for seven years before taking a six-year break from 1961 to 1966. Re-introduced in 1967. It then ran for 19 consecutive years before taking another short interlude this time from 1986 to 1992. In 1993 the tournament returned for a final three years before it discontinued after the 1995 event. In the latter years the competition was opened up to football league clubs outside London with Wycombe Wanderers the victors in the final year.’
Beginnings & Returns
At first the competition was held at Empress Hall, Earls Court. A year later it transferred to the Harringay Arena. In 1959 the event moved to Empire Pool Wembley (now Wembley Arena). Finding the same home as the national 5-a side competition which started in 1968 and finished in 1986.
Charlton won the inaugural tournament in 1954. Then followed this with a period of further 5-a-side success in the late sixties winning both the Daily Express national competition and the London Evening Standard in 1968. Keith Peacock contributed much to Charlton’s win that night with a goal in each of the rounds. Brian Kinsey the sides experienced full back said. ‘There were better teams than us out there, but we played it hard. We were prepared to run. If we gave a bad ball, we were always trying to retrieve it. We really worked for our win.’ Charlton kept the team spirit of club football then, by distributing their £300 prize money among ALL the professionals back at the Valley. A gesture copied by the Manchester City players after winning the National competition in 1969.
When the London tournament first returned in 1967, West Hams World cup heroes, Bobby Moore (1941-1993), Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters worked their magic again beating Arsenal 4-0 in the final in front of a packed 8,000-seater crowd. Hurst repeating his World cup performance by scoring another hat-trick in the final. However, the big boys didn’t always get it their way. Millwall seemed to enjoy this competition winning three times in six years in the later seventies and early eighties.
Match Programmes, Press Cuttings & Tickets
The tournament was covered by ITV (Thames Television) for their London region only. Showing the best of the action on ‘Midweek Sports Special’ in late evening. Then when the competition made its final return in the nineties Sky TV took over coverage. Bringing the event to a wider audience. Peter Brackley, commentator in the later years, remembered the competition as ‘fast flowing football.’ Which he much enjoyed with his young son, (now a TV sports producer), sitting alongside him.
There were plenty of top journalists covering both 5-a-side events (National & London). Some coming up with their own observations for success. Steve Curry of the Daily Express (1971) ‘I am always fascinated with the way the better players can make use of the wall surrounding the pitch. It can act as a sixth player. Players will flick the ball against the boards, chase past their opponent and take the re-bound.’ Bernard Joy of the Evening Standard (1969). ‘A skilful player who holds the ball like a Charlie Cooke of Chelsea and Spurs captain Danny Blanchflower of a few years ago, does not necessarily excel. Because he gives the opponents a chance to catch up on colleagues after they have made position.’
Peter Blackman of the Evening Standard (1985) said. ‘Another refreshing aspect of ‘Fives’ is that the marksmen who dominate the league game don’t necessarily find themselves on the score sheet on Wembley’s boards.’ He gave an example of the late John White of Spurs (sadly killed by lightening in 1964), who scored well in the early days of this competition. ‘His ploy was a late, undetected glide into the danger zone finishing with a deadly accurate shot.’
Video: 1993 Evening Standard London 5-a-Sides
Managing 5 A Side Teams
In the London competition more, managers of teams attended on the night as it was often nearer to their home grounds, with the National competition, sides had to sometimes travel a lot further. Due to these constraints a Head coach was sent to look after the team and make the important managerial decisions on the night.
Throughout the period London’s top footballers were on display often showing their silky skills on boards instead of grass much to the appreciation of packed houses. Paul Gascoigne, Clive Allen, Liam Brady, Alan Hudson, Peter Osgood (1947-2006), Rodney Marsh, a young Laurie Cunningham (1956-1989) for Orient, (who went on to play for Real Madrid) and Teddy Sheringham (a future treble winner with Man Utd) playing for Millwall.
A spritely Bobby Robson (1933-2009, England Manager 1982-1990) and Jimmy Hill (1928-2015), better remembered for his pioneering football punditry. Won the 1955 competition with Fulham. Johnny Haynes was the hero when they won it again in 1957. Putting in a superb performance scoring 10 of Fulham’s 18 goals on the night. Among other players on view that same evening was a skinny unknown Jimmy Greaves who was just sixteen. He delighted the crowd with his precocious control and footwork. A few months later young Greaves scored on his debut for Chelsea and so began an incredible career.
Comicus provides several footballers & commentators such as Chris Kamara, Glenn Hoddle, Sir Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking, Harry Redknapp, Alan Mullery, Lou Macari, Kevin Keegan, Sammy McIlroy, Teddy Sheringham, Garry Richardson, Jim Rosenthal among many others for speaking engagements who played in these competitions and recall their playing days not only indoors but out on the pitch.
Video: West Ham win 1984 Evening Standard 5 a Side
The talented maverick Stan Bowles (QPR) a great favourite with the fans recalled the competition in his autobiography as ‘popular with both players and fans …. although the players did everything they could to win, the competition was regarded as a bit of fun in contrast to the pressure-cooker atmosphere of league games’.
5 A Side Final (1976)
Stan recalled one year which seemed to sum up his life and career, when in 1976, QPR reached the final against second division Leyton Orient. Stan said ‘I had a good mate who was an Orient supporter – Jewish Dennis he was called … he’d backed them (Orient) to win the thing, £1,000 at 8-1. He said to me, ‘If I was to go hooky in the final he would see me right for a grand (£1,000). Well, I only stood to get £200 if we won the final, so was rather reluctant to turn him down.I scored a goal but we lost 5-1, Gerry Francis (QPR player & England captain at the time), said to me afterwards, ‘I don’t understand it Stan, you played brilliantly all night apart from the last game, I suppose you must have been tired’.
Bowles (who actually played for Orient & Brentford in this event in the later years of his career) did state ‘As far as league football was concerned I was never, ever approached to throw a game or even heard of anyone who had been. I would never consider taking a bung even if I had been approached. The five-a-side competition was a bit of friendly fun while the football league was all important.’ Well it certainly mattered to a lot of other players, particularly the smaller clubs who had the chance to pit their skills against the capitals best players, with Wycombe Wanderers managed by Martin O’Neil winning the last two years of the tournament (94 & 95).
Video: 1983 Evening Standard 5-a-Side Final: Millwall 3 Brentford 2
Successful Teams & Players
Terry Venables (1977 manager Crystal Palace) insisted on team organisation as the key to winning a ‘fives’ championships. Venables who won the London trophy as a player with QPR (1971) put forward a three-point plan for success, stating ‘First you must have a good goalkeeper, second you must be organised and third the defence must be right.’ It is interesting he pinpoints the goalkeeper as a key player considering those in that position have often found themselves the hero on the night in several ‘Fives’ competitions.
Goalkeeper John Jackson was a successful stalwart of these 5-a-side competitions winning the London event twice with different teams, Crystal Palace in 1969 and Leyton Orient in 1976. He was even part of the Orient team that won the Daily Express national competition in 1974.
Millwall put in some super performances. Displaying some exciting young players, winning the tournament three times. Being back to back winners in 1978 & 1979. Their last victory was in 1983 (video of final above) beating a third division Brentford side who were beaten semi-finalists the year before. This time going one stage further due to the excellent goalkeeping of Paddy Roche (former Manchester United keeper). Plus the subtle talent and experience of Stan Bowles.
Millwall’s hero on the night was a young seventeen-year-old Roger Wynter who not only ran rings around experienced pro’s but impressed the watching England manager Bobby Robson. Who excitingly asked ‘Is he English?’ Reporter Michael Hart commented. ‘Wynter had the pace and vision to take up good positions and the skill to beat defenders in one-against one situation.’ Bobby Robson voted Wynter ‘Player of the night.’ Further saying ‘What I liked about him was his patience, he was never hurried, took time and made sure with his shots.’
Queens Park Rangers
QPR enjoyed this competition collecting the title a record five times. Winning the trophy three times in four years in the early seventies. There last win was in 1985 with an outstanding display by goalkeeper Peter Hucker who helped them beat Arsenal on penalties. Gary Chivers scored the winning penalty with Mike Fillery contributing five vital goals on the night for Rangers. The pair had secretly gone out together for a couple of pints in the afternoon, before making their way to Wembley. Chivers insisting they took the competition seriously. He confirmed ‘As soon as you cross that white line .. you want to win.’
However, the event was slightly marred by crowd trouble as reported in the Evening Standard. This normal family event turned slightly sour as Police were called in to stop some fans throwing beer cans. Managers Frank McClintock (Brentford) and Ray Harford (Fulham) having to take cover on more than one occasion. This typified the period of needless hooliganism, nowadays we are blessed this doesn’t enter our game as much.
Video: 1985 Evening Standard 5-a-Side. Queens Park Rangers
Winning Teams & Press Cuttings
In 1994 third division (now League 2) Wycombe Wanderers managed by Martin O’Neil made their debut in the tournament. They were at 40-1 outsiders to win the competition, after being drawn against Chelsea in the first round their goalkeeper Chuck Moussadik said ‘we reckoned we would be showered and changed by 8:30pm’. After a 0-0 draw instead of the usual penalties, an American system of a sudden death shoot out was employed to find the winner, where an outfield player having five seconds to run with the ball from the centre-spot and beat the goalkeeper.
Having won this exciting end game Wycombe went on to beat QPR and a strong West Ham side in the semis to set up a meeting with Wimbledon in the final. Along the way Moussadik was outstanding between the sticks earning him player of the tournament award, including a fabulous shoot out save in the final which won the competition for the Wycombe underdogs. He was instantly mobbed by his team-mates to complete a memorable night and a £10,000 winners’ cheque for the Club.
Martin O’Neil (Wycombe Manager)
Like a lot of managers sending teams to these five-a-side events, O’Neill was worried about injuries being reluctant to risk important players in the squad as they had an important Play off semi-final the next week (which they won and were promoted). But with their progress, the crowd getting behind them, he ‘thought I would try to put as good a five-a-side team out as I could’. It all worked out fine and even better the next and final year of the competition when they won it again. O’Neil saying ‘For some reason my lads have always loved five-a-side football’.
Video: Wycombe Wanderers celebration dinner & highlights of the 94 & 95 London five-a-side matches
Evening Standard London Five a Side Winners
- 1954 Charlton Athletic
- 1955 Fulham
- 1956 Tottenham Hotspur
- 1957 Fulham
- 1958 Leyton Orient
- 1959 Crystal Palace
- 1960 Tottenham Hotspur
- Competition not held
- 1967 West Ham
- 1968 Charlton Athletic
- 1969 Crystal Palace
- 1970 West Ham
- 1971 Queens Park Rangers
- 1972 Queens Park Rangers
- 1973 Chelsea
- 1974 Queens Park Rangers
- 1975 Charlton Athletic
- 1976 Leyton Orient
- 1977 Arsenal
- 1978 Millwall
- 1979 Millwall
- 1980 Queens Park Rangers
- 1981 Arsenal
- 1982 Fulham
- 1983 Millwall
- 1984 West Ham
- 1985 Queens Park Rangers
- Competition not held
- 1993 Watford
- 1994 Wycombe Wanderers
- 1995 Wycombe Wanderers
Non League 5-a-Side Competition
So popular was five-a-side at the time the smaller non-league clubs began to get in on the act. The Isthmian league starting its own competition for part-time teams in 1979. Once again it was held at the prestigious Wembley Arena. Included sides such as:
- Carshalton Athletic
- Croydon Town
- Dulwich Hamlet
- Harrow Borough
- Slough Town
- Sutton United
- Tooting & Mitcham
- Walthamstow Avenue
- Wycombe Wanderers
Some of these teams went on to gain professional league status. Unlike the event itself, which only lasted two years.
There are those who would like to see these competitions brought back. But with the modern financially driven game there is little chance and such tournaments remain in the fond memory of those that witnessed them.
A big thank you to those who contributed to some of the research Amy Smirk & Clare Kirley of the Evening Standard archives and blogger Roger Hillier. Also to footballer Gary Chivers for his interview.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.