Malcolm Allison

Malcolm Allison

Malcolm Allison was born in Dartford on 5th September, 1927. He played football for Erith & Belvedere before signing for Charlton Athletic in 1945. He only played two first-team games for the club before Ted Fenton signed him for West Ham United for a fee of £7,000 in February 1951.

Allison made his debut as centre-half against Chesterfield on 7th March 1951. Other players in the team at the time included Frank O'Farrell, Dick Walker, Ken Tucker, Ernie Gregory, Derek Parker and Harry Hooper. He kept his place and played in the remaining nine games that season.

The following season Allison replaced Dick Walker as captain of West Ham United. The club 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.

Allison had a poor relationship with Ted Fenton. He later claimed that: "Ted Fenton would cheat you out of anything. We played an England amateur side. There were 22,000 at the match. The FA always gave you £5 to play against an FA team. We used to get £2 as a bonus. When we went to get our money we only got the fiver. They said it was £3 for playing and £2 bonus - they tried to do us out of two quid." Just before the next game against Nottingham Forest, Allison organized a strike. He told Fenton that the team refused to play unless he gave them the £2 that he owed them. Allison added: "He went upstairs, came straight back down and gave us the money."

Ken Tucker also complained about Fenton: "The Arsenal players told me that they had got ten guineas for a game with England Amateurs, that was the FA's rate for such matches. When West Ham played against them Ted only gave us £5. Apparently the cheque had gone to Ted and he paid us in cash."

These disputes clearly affected the attitudes of the players. In the 1955-56 season West Ham finished in 16th place. John Dick was in poor form that year and only scored 8 goals in 35 league appearances. Billy Dare was top scorer with 18 goals. To make matters worse, West Ham was knocked out of the FA Cup by Spurs.

Malcolm Allison took over more responsibility for tactics. Derek Parker argued: "We always thought Malcolm (Allison) influenced Ted (Fenton). He started changing styles... Malcolm was always one of the first in everything, in lots of respects. Ted was lucky to have people like that about."

As Ken Tucker, one of the senior players in the squad, pointed out: "Allison got the team organized. We used to stand over at Grange Farm and Fenton would ask Malcolm "What do we do now?" and Allison would step in and sort things out." Noel Cantwell added that "Malcolm (Allison) couldn't handle people. I was good with people. Malcolm got the other guys interested, pulled a group around him and he came back from Lilleshall with a lot of ideas."

The players were also very critical of club trainer, Billy Moore. The young John Bond was shocked by his approach to training: "There was only two or three footballs in the entire club. You got out for training about quarter past ten and ran round the pitch, ran a lap and walk a lap... You'd be doing this for about three-quarters-of-an-hour and then you's shout to Billy Moore to get the balls out. Billy would be standing at the entrance to the ground watching, with a fag in his mouth, that he never ever took out."

Ted Fenton eventually agreed that Malcolm Allison should take over the training sessions. "I took charge of the the coaching at West Ham. I built the attitude. We used to get together and I used to make them come back for training in the afternoons." John Lyall, one of the youngest players at the club at the time, was impressed by Allison. "Malcolm Allison was a strong man... He battled for what he wanted... He had an open mindedness to try things. He had the same enthusiasm as Johnny Bond and Noel Cantwell, they were people who were progressive about their football."

Malcolm Allison openly described Fenton as a "useless manager". Ernie Gregory disagreed claiming that he 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." Jimmy Andrews argued that "Fenton was on to one-touch football, that was unusual at the time." However, the general opinion was that it was Allison who had introduced these new tactics such as the overlapping full-backs and the one-touch football.

Allison later told Charles Korr (West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club): “They (the West Ham directors) were incompetent, neither had any idea of what a professional football club was... The directors had no sense of how to achieve anything or to be successful. The club was like the poor who always makes excuses for not improving their situation. It’s an excuse to call it (retaining managers) loyalty because it really means they’re afraid of outsiders. They’re people who live in an iron village all their lives and appoint their own people.”

Malcolm Musgrove later recalled: "Malcolm Allison was up-to-date with things that were going on in football, the technical side. I liked him because of his ability to get the best out of people, I didn't like him for what he could do to people he didn't like. Malcolm Allison was very helpful to me at West Ham.... Allison was a good skipper. He wanted to win, wanted to play football, and this was at the time when there weren't many passing sides about. Most teams used to get it, kick it to the other end and chase it, but we, through Malcolm's influence, always wanted to play from the back. We wanted to pass the ball around. He was a centre-half that didn't just belt it away, he got it down and passed it."

The fans enjoyed the style of football introduced by Malcolm Allison. The football journalist, Bernard Joy, remarked: "West Ham's tradition of playing colourful football as a way of getting away from the drabness of life in the East End."

According to Mike Grice, Allison also influenced team selection: "Three team sheets would go up for match days. Malcolm (Allison) would look at them all, take them down and go and see Ted (Fenton). When they went up again they had invariably changed." Billy Landsdowne remarked: "Fenton would give us a chat and on the way out of the dressing-room Malcolm would say what to do."

Mick Newman added: "Malcolm Allison was a great influence on the club. He introduced all-day training, doing weights in the afternoons. That wasn't very popular with most players, who were used to having their afternoons off. But Malcolm Allison more or less ran the playing side of things. He led by the force of personality really."

Brian Belton summed up the situation in his book Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties (1999): "As such, what happened at the Boleyn Ground in the Fifties can be understood as a kind of revolution, a series of culture changing events, that included worker (player) control.... There was, as John Cartwright described it, a form of communism at the club. The players really ruled it. In short, the dictatorship of the football proletariat."

On 16th September, 1957, Malcolm Allison was taken ill after a game against Sheffield United. The young Bobby Moore later recalled: "I'd even seen him the day he got the news of his illness. I was a groundstaff boy and I'd gone to Upton Park to collect my wages. I saw Malcolm standing on his own on the balcony at the back of the stand. Tears in his eyes. Big Mal actually crying. He'd been coaching me and coaching me and coaching me but I still didn't feel I knew him well enough to go up and ask what was wrong. When I came out of the office I looked up again and Noel Cantwell was standing with his arm round Malcolm. He'd just been told he'd got T.B."

Allison was suffering from tuberculosis and he had to have a lung removed. Noel Cantwell became the new captain. That season West Ham United won the Second Division championship. The authors of The Essential History of West Ham United point out that Allison was the main reason the club had won promotion: "A footballing visionary who in six short years would revolutionise the club's archaic regime and transform training, coaching techniques and tactics to secure promotion to the first division in 1958".

Allison returned to the club and played several games for the reserves but with only one lung he struggled with his fitness. West Ham had an injury crisis for its home game against Manchester United on 8th September 1958. Malcolm Pyke, Bill Lansdowne and Andy Nelson were all injured. The manager, Ted Fenton asked Noel Cantwell who he should select for the game. Cantwell told Brian Belton, the author of Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties (1999): "The game against Manchester United was on a Monday night. Fenton called me into the office asking who should play left-half, Allison or Moore. He didn't really want the burden of the decision."

Cantwell added in another interview for the book, Moore than a Legend (1997): "Malcolm came out of hospital and trained while Bobby was cruising along in the reserves. Malcolm was ready for the United game but the vacancy was for a left-half. Malcolm was more of a stopper and it needed someone more mobile. When Ted asked me who to pick, it was a hard decision. The sorcerer or his apprentice?" Cantwell eventually selected Moore over Allison.

Bobby Moore later talked about this decision to Jeff Powell for this book, Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero (1997): "The Allison connection could only be dredged up from the bottom of a long, long glass. Even then, Moore probed gingerly at the memory". Eventually Moore told him: " After three or four matches they were top of the First Division, due to play Manchester United on the Monday night, and they had run out of left halves. Billy Lansdowne, Andy Nelson, all of them were unfit. It's got to be me or Malcolm. I'd been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I knew. For all the money in the world I wanted to play. For all the money in the world I wanted Malcolm to play because he'd worked like a bastard for this one game in the First Division."

Moore added: "It somehow had to be that when I walked into the dressing room and found out I was playing, Malcolm was the first person I saw. I was embarrassed to look at him. He said Well done. I hope you do well. I knew he meant it but I knew how he felt. For a moment I wanted to push the shirt at him and say Go on, Malcolm. It's yours. Have your game. I can't stop you. Go on, Malcolm. My time will come. But he walked out and I thought maybe my time wouldn't come again. Maybe this would be my only chance. I thought: you've got to be lucky to get the chance, and when the chance comes you've got to be good enough to take it. I went out and played the way Malcolm had always told me to play."

Allison was unable to achieve the form needed to play in the first team. He eventually left the club and played for Romford in the Southern League. Allison had scored 10 goals in 255 games for the club. John Cartwright claimed: "He should be revered. They should have a statue to him at West Ham... he laid the foundation for the success of the club - not by what he did on the field, but the knowledge he gave to other people." Later he became a coach at Cambridge University before taking up the appointment of manager at Bath City.

In 1964 he moved to Plymouth Argyle in the Second Division. He took the club from 20th to 15th place in the league. In 1965 Joe Mercer appointed him assistant manager at Manchester City. In their first season they won the Second Division championship. Two years later they won the First Division league title. The club won the FA Cup (1969), the League Cup (1970) and European Cup-Winners Cup (1971). The following year Allison took over from Mercer as manager of the club.

Gary James argues in Manchester City: The Complete Record (2006): "Allison arrived at Maine Road in July 1965 as assistant manager to Mercer, and by the time he left City had won almost every trophy possible. During those seven years Allison worked closely with the players and it's worth noting that this relationship fostered a great team spirit, which helped the Blues succeed. His influence was felt throughout the club and his approach was refreshing. His charisma and style brought excitement to sixties Manchester."

In March 1973 Allison was appointed manager of Crystal Palace. However, he was unable to save the club from being relegated to the Second Division. In the 1975-76 season Allison led the side to FA Cup victories over Leeds United, Chelsea and Sunderland. Unfortunately the club lost to Southampton in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

In 1981 Allison became manager of Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. In his first season the club won the league title. Allison has spent a lot of time coaching abroad. He has also managed Middlesbrough (1982-84) and Bristol Rovers (1992-93).

According to Brian Glanville: "He (Allison) had four children by Beth, and the marriage lasted 22 years. In 1979 he married Sally-Ann Highley from the Playboy Club, later describing it as "the mistake of my life". He proposed immediately after they had been in a car crash. From this union was born a daughter, Alexis. They split up officially in 1983. Next, for 17 years, came his long-term partner Lynn Salton, with whom he had a daughter, Gina, but by 2000 that relationship too was on the rocks, with Allison trying to smash down the door of her house."

In his final years Allison, suffered from dementia. Research carried out by D. R. Williams in 2002 concluded that repetitive mild head trauma over the course of an amateur and professional footballer's career may increase an individual's risk of developing this problem in later life.

Malcolm Allison died on 14th October 2010.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Malcolm Allison, Colours of my Life (1975)

I have already recalled the impression made on me by the Austrian footballers at the Prater stadium, the thrilling sense of purpose and knowledge displayed by their trainers. I had been excited by the variety of their routines and their emphasis on mastering ball control. The contrast at Charlton Athletic, a club which had become a power in the land with their move from the old Third Division South to the First Division, was appalling.

It was like getting into a time machine and finding yourself travelling in the wrong direction. What made things even more depressing was the fact that Charlton's trainer then was Jimmy Trotter, who also did the job for England. Trotter impressed me as a man-and as a physiotherapist. He was straight and honest and his treatment of injuries was swift and competent. But he betrayed a great ignorance of training methods. It seemed to me that he could never have given a moment's thought to the need for developing new ideas about the preparation of a professional footballer.

We were asked to jog aimlessly around the training ground. You could see boredom on every face. Training gear was ragged. It reflected the lack of thought behind our work. This may sound like the arrogance of a young man. But I felt this very strongly, and all my experience since then has confirmed my earlier viewpoint.

I used to argue with Trotter and senior players like Bert Johnson and George Smith, who went on to manage several League Clubs. I knew they had dismissed me as an upstart, a young know-all. I recall Trotter asking me sarcastically, and in front of a group of senior players, "Come on Allison, what have you got to tell us today? You always have something to say." There were titters. I was still 20 and yet to make the first team...

Of course, much of football is instinct and natural talent. But these are qualities which should be harnessed and disciplined. The problem, in fact, was quite basic. Trainers did not occupy their jobs because of some inherent flair or feeling for the task. They were ex-players tied to the game because it was the onl~ life they knew. It was a congenial, undemanding way to earn their living.

Always I had this feeling of disappointment about the people who were in charge of my career. No one seemed prepared to question what we were doing. In 1950 England was knocked out of the World Cup in Brazil by a team of amateurs representing the United States. But the shock waves from that result were easily absorbed by the dim, bland men whose voices were most powerful in English football. A pattern of play had been laid down by the great Herbert Chapman of Arsenal, and it had been untouched for nearly 20 years.

Fortunately, the Hungarians arrived from another planet in 1953. I went down to Wembley with Jimmy Andrews, later manager of Cardiff City. We got to the stadium early and watched the Hungarians working out on a patch of grass where they kept greyhounds. I noticed their light, modern gear and their streamlined boots and that registered with me vaguely. But Jimmy pointed out the `pot' bulging from the red shirt of no. 10, Ferenc Puskas. "God, we'll murder this lot," he said. You had to agree, even though there was a neatness and skill about their limbering. Then, out on the pitch just before the kick off, I saw the `fat guy' volleying shots into the arms of goalkeeper Grocis from 40 yards. I said to Jimmy, "They've got some skill, you know it could be interesting."

It was more than that. There was something so bright, so brilliant, in Hungary's 6-3 win that even the walls of complacency in English football began to crumble. There was no way that the revolution could come overnight. But what it did mean was that brave voices-like that of the most under-rated Walter Winterbottom whose thinking so far outstripped his actual performance as England manager - at least began to be heard.

(2) Malcolm Allison, Colours of my Life (1975)

When I was transferred from Charlton Athletic to West Ham I led myself to hope that the futility and the bitterness was over.

For a while I was happier, but it was merely the change of environment which had broken the monotony. Within six months I was more disillusioned than ever. Not only did West Ham know less about training than Charlton, a feat which I would have believed impossible, but they asked for less effort. The only difference in the training sessions were that West Ham's were shorter. The facilities were disgraceful. We used to train on a pockmarked, scruffy little track at the back of the ground. We used to have to run in and out of a copse of trees. It was impossible for the trainer to keep his eyes on all the players. If he was alert he might spot blue cigarette smoke filtering through the trees.

My relationship with the West Ham manager Ted Fenton was much closer than the one I had had with Jimmy Seed. But it was scarcely satisfactory. I did give him some problems, but they arose chiefly out of my frustration with the way the club was run. And eventually I began to run the team, with his tacit agreement. He could see that I was getting results. Player power is a phrase which has become fashionable in modern football. But it was being practiced in the West Ham dressing room 20 years ago. I began to draw up my own training schedules, and people like Phil Woosnam, Noel Cantwell, John Bond and Frank O'Farrell came in with me.

Looking back I'm amazed at how one-dimensional I was in those days. My dedication was absolute. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, and I never had sex within three days of a match. Incredible! I became the first player in England to wear short shorts. The reason was simple. I felt it was time for a change. The Continentals had brought in lighter gear and I got hold of some lightweight South American boots. Ted Fenton was invited to become Adidas'agent in Britain. He laughed at them: "England's footballers will never wear these slippers," he said. It was this fixed, stonewall attitude that made me very bitter...

The very fact that West Ham was a loosely organised club gave me my chance to make a mark. At that time I was going off to coaching courses at the Lilleshall centre. I met people like Winterbottom, Alan Brown, and Arthur Rowe. In their different ways they all impressed me. And in that atmosphere I sensed that I could make an impact. My knowledge was limited, my ideas half-formed, if that, but each time I returned to Upton Park with a new enthusiasm.

I was able to bring some variety to our training. And Fenton allowed me to get on with it. We had some good players, people like Vic Keeble, Johnnie Dick and Cantwell, and because we were all good friends we were able to talk and argue long into the night after visits to the Hackney dog track. In a cafe around the corner from Upton Park we used to fill the room with our theories and disputes. But the result was that we were a nicely developing team. We had opened our minds and declared ourselves willing to try new things and be prepared to make some mistakes on the way. In 1956 and 1957 we were emerging as certainties to eventually find our way to the First Division...

Fenton used to pay me £3 extra for training the schoolboys at night. It was then that I found I had a bit of a gift for spotting the boys most likely to make it as professionals. There is one classic example. One intake of youngsters at Upton Park included Bobby Moore - and a boy called Georgie Fenn. Bobby looked a useful prospect. Fenn was considered a certainty to make a really spectacular name for himself. All the big London clubs had gone for him, but he came from an East End family and he chose West Ham. Georgie had scored nine goals in one match for, England boys, and he was also an English schools sprint champion.

After a fortnight of training the boys Fenton called me into his office to ask my opinion of the intake. I said I liked this boy and that, and when I finished he said: "But what about Georgie Fenn?" I said that I didn't give him much of a chance. I didn't like his attitude, he wasn't interested enough. There didn't seem much of a commitment. Fenton threw up his arms and said: "But the kid has so much talent." I said it was a pity but I just couldn't see the Fenn boy making it. At the same time I said that Bobby Moore was going to be a very big player indeed. Everything about his approach was right. He was ready to listen. You could see that already he was seeking perfection.

Down the years George Fenn has written to me twice, once saying that he was planning to make a come-back. But - he never played seriously after drifting away from West Ham. It was a tragedy, as sad in its way as the early retirement of that other Georgie, Best. Fenn could have been just as big as Best. He had sensational speed, all sorts of trickery, and a tremendous shot. But however hard you tried with him you. had a sense that it was all futile. Something inside him sent out the strong message: "I don't really want to know." Deep down, perhaps it was the drudgery of training and the battle for constant fitness that put him off.

Certainly the life of a professional footballer is incredibly monotonous in its repetition. Yet when I look back I can only remember my love for the endless circle of training, playing, getting treatment, and then training again.

(3) Malcolm Allison, Colours of my Life (1975)

When I was transferred from Charlton Athletic to West Ham I led myself to hope that the futility and the bitterness was over.

For a while I was happier, but it was merely the change of environment which had broken the monotony. Within six months I was more disillusioned than ever. Not only did West Ham know less about training than Charlton, a feat which I would have believed impossible, but they asked for less effort. The only difference in the training sessions were that West Ham's were shorter. The facilities were disgraceful. We used to train on a pockmarked, scruffy little track at the back of the ground. We used to have to run in and out of a copse of trees. It was impossible for the trainer to keep his eyes on all the players. If he was alert he might spot blue cigarette smoke filtering through the trees.

My relationship with the West Ham manager Ted Fenton was much closer than the one I had had with Jimmy Seed. But it was scarcely satisfactory. I did give him some problems, but they arose chiefly out of my frustration with the way the club was run. And eventually I began to run the team, with his tacit agreement. He could see that I was getting results. Player power is a phrase which has become fashionable in modern football. But it was being practiced in the West Ham dressing room 20 years ago. I began to draw up my own training schedules, and people like Phil Woosnam, Noel Cantwell, John Bond and Frank O'Farrell came in with me.

Looking back I'm amazed at how one-dimensional I was in those days. My dedication was absolute. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, and I never had sex within three days of a match. Incredible! I became the first player in England to wear short shorts. The reason was simple. I felt it was time for a change.

(4) Malcolm Allison, Colours of my Life (1975)

In 1958 we were moving smoothly towards promotion to the First Division and I was playing at my peak. The "player power" revolution I had put so much of my time into was an established fact-and manager Ted Fenton was not complaining. We had got ourselves into a winning run, we had begun to assume that victory was our right-and that is the most vital strength a football team can possess.

It was in a night match, at Sheffield United, that I suddenly realised I could no longer run. A Sheffield United player showed me the ball and then took it past me. I pumped my arms and struck out my legs, but there was no response. He just sailed away. It was an eerie experience. I managed not to panic. Substitutes were not allowed in those days and I eased myself through the game, conserving every possible scrap of energy.

I was able to disguise the situation. I had this feeling that it might just go away. But I was desperately worried. After the team returned to the hotel, I walked the streets of Sheffield in a daze. It was as though my life might just have ended. My room-mate Noel Cantwell was awakened by my heavy coughing in the small hours. With the coughing, which went on until morning, it was clear that something had gone wrong. And it was not as though I hadn't had warning. The previous Friday we had trained at Upton Park before leaving for a game in Bristol and I had found myself puffing and leg-weary. But the game had not brought a crisis. I told myself that I had run through the problem.

In fact I should never have played at either Bristol or Sheffield. I had had two bouts of Asian flu in three weeks. But stupidly I had pressed on. The team were playing well. I did not want to lose my place.

Cantwell went to see the manager in the morning after the Sheffield game and within days I was in The London Hospital, listening to a specialist saying, as though to someone else: "Mr. Allison, I think you have to forget about playing football. You have TB quite severely. We will have to remove one lung."

I didn't feel despair. I simply didn't accept what he was saying. In that way I suppose I stepped outside of reality. It was only down the months that the bitterness grew. West Ham were going through to the championship and when I should have been collecting my first medal in football I was instead inhabiting a vast, grey void. Repeatedly I was advised to think in terms of a future which didn't include playing football. I tried to do this, but I found it impossible. I kept returning to the statement: "I can do it again. I have to." I couldn't get rid of the taste of bitterness when I left hospital. I went to West Ham's championship banquet at the Cafe Royal, and walked out when I learned that I was not to receive a championship medal. I had played six League games before my illness and the other players who had played the same number of games received medals.

This probably seems petty. Medals, in fact, do not mean that much to me. What got into me was the fact that West Ham were not prepared to recognise what I had done for the Club. But that, I'm afraid, is a familiar pattern in football. When I became ill, and the club had won promotion, Ted Fenton didn't want me around the place. Perhaps he saw me as a threat.

There was to be no recognition of my contribution off the field. I was reminded of this situation when Queen's Park Rangers sold Terry Venables to my club Crystal Palace last season. In football it was common knowledge that Venables had wielded vast influence amongst the players, that his contribution to the success of the team rivalled that of manager Gordon Jago. Yet Venables found himself sold without consultation. To me that was a depressingly familiar situation.

I did make a come-back attempt with West Ham. I suppose I knew that it was doomed, but I felt I owed it to myself to make the effort. I cannot say that I received much encouragement from West Ham officials, with whom I had several rows. But I'm prepared to accept that I cannot have been the easiest man in the world to deal with at that time.

I was playing quite well in the reserves, feeling my way gradually. Then, quite suddenly, it seemed that the door had swung open again. West Ham were due to meet Manchester United in a League game and we had had a few injuries. Endlessly I worked out the possible permutations that Fenton could make to his team. He decided that the choice for the number six shirt lay between Bobby Moore and me. That was ironic enough. Bobby, who remains a warm personal friend, had always tagged on to my heels. He was always asking me questions and I was glad to talk to this boy who deserved to make himself a great career. "But not yet, Bobby, not yet," I said to myself. The greatest irony of all was that Fenton called Noel Cantwell into his office and asked him, "Who should I play Allison, or Moore?" Noel had always been my right hand man at West Ham. We were the closest friends, our thoughts about the game and our attitude to life coincided at so many points. He said to Fenton: "I think you should play the kid."

That was the finish of Malcolm Allison, footballer.

For months afterwards I said to myself, "If only I could have played against United." I had worked it all out. I would have been marking Ernie Taylor, and though I wasn't really fit I could have got away with it. I was going to let him play in his own half. As it happened West Ham were well on top, and that would have suited me. I would have been able to play some nice long balls, to cruise through the game. It was a long time afterwards that I told Noel Cantwell how much his decision had hurt me.

My career with West Ham ran quickly to a close after Cantwell's honest-and in the circumstances of our close friendship, brave decision. Bobby Moore was on his way and, in a different sense, so was I. I've often wondered what the effect of a late run in First Division football would have had on me. I imagine it may have untangled some of that confusion I felt when illness cut me down. It might have taken some of the intensity out of me. As it was I sensed that my presence was not exactly welcomed by the West Ham management. But, by the standards of those times, the club did treat me well financially. They organised a testimonial match and from that I received £3,000.

(5) Bobby Moore was interviewed by Jeff Powell, for his book, Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero (1993)

The Allison connection could only be dredged up from the bottom of a long, long glass. Even then, Moore probed gingerly at the memory:

Malcolm had been battling for months to recover from tuberculosis. I'd even seen him the day he got the news of his illness. I was a groundstaff boy and I'd gone to Upton Park to collect my wages. I saw Malcolm standing on his own on the balcony at the back of the stand. Tears in his eyes. Big Mal actually crying. He'd been coaching me and coaching me and coaching me but I still didn't feel I knew him well enough to go up and ask what was wrong.

When I came out of the office I looked up again and Noel Cantwell was standing with his arm round Malcolm. He'd just been told he'd got T.B.

It wasn't like Malcolm to give up. By the start of that 1958 season we were battling away together in the reserves, Malcolm proving he could still play, me proving I might be able to play one day.

West Ham had just come up. They went to Portsmouth and won. They beat Wolves at home in their second game. After three or four matches they were top of the First Division, due to play Manchester United on the Monday night, and they had run out of left halves. Billy Lansdowne, Andy Nelson, all of them were unfit. It's got to be me or Malcolm.

I'd been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I knew. For all the money in the world I wanted to play. For all the money in the world I wanted Malcolm to play because he'd worked like a bastard for this one game in the First Division.

It would have meant the world to him. Just one more game, just one minute in that game. I knew that on the day Malcolm with all his experience would probably do a better job than me. But maybe I'm one for the future.

It somehow had to be that when I walked into the dressing room and found out I was playing, Malcolm was the first person I saw. I was embarrassed to look at him. He said "Well done. I hope you do well." I knew he meant it but I knew how he felt. For a moment I wanted to push the shirt at him and say "Go on, Malcolm. It's yours. Have your game. I can't stop you. Go on, Malcolm. My time will come."

But he walked out and I thought maybe my time wouldn't come again. Maybe this would be my only chance. I thought: you've got to be lucky to get the chance, and when the chance comes you've got to be good enough to take it.

I went out and played the way Malcolm had always told me to play. Afterwards I looked for him back in the dressing room. Couldn't find him.

(6) David Tossell, Big Mal: The High Life and Hard Times of Malcolm Allison (2006)

It was still only late August, the opening weeks of the 2006-07 season, but the familiar pattern had been re-established already. Even on their own ground, little consideration had been given to the likelihood of Manchester City achieving victory against a multinational, multi-talented Arsenal team whose ambitions of winning another Premiership title contrasted starkly to the home club's more modest aspirations for the coming campaign. A penalty scored by City's Joey Barton appeared merely to be delaying the inevitable. For most fans in the City of Manchester Stadium, games between these sides had usually conformed to this recognisable blueprint.

Spotting a recognisable face in the crowd, the Sky Sports cameras homed in. Here was a man whose influence almost 40 years earlier had made things very different. A man whose vision, planning, motivational powers and, often, sheer force of personality had made Manchester City the team against whom the likes of Arsenal measured themselves. The graphics operators hurriedly got to work. Up went the caption, "Malcolm Allison, former Manchester City coach". Commentators were sufficiently distracted from the latest piece of Thierry Henry trickery to purr at the memory of Allison's achievements at the club: four major triumphs in a three-year span, including a complete set of domestic trophies and a European success.

Young viewers knowing only of life in the glossily packaged days of endless live televised football - even those who had flown in the face of the modern trend by following City instead of rivals United - blinked unknowingly at their screens. Those a little older might at least have been somewhat familiar with the name, perhaps heard some of the outrageous stories with which it had become associated. Anyone who had been watching football when Allison was in his glorious, exaggerated prime in the 1960s through to the19'80s, was shocked by what they saw, even those who had heard the stories of his mental deterioration. The imposing physical figure was still evident under his grey jacket, even if it was hunched forward in his seat, but the eyes that used to sparkle with a potent mix of charm, wit and cunning seemed glazed and distant. The expression behind which a thousand schemes used to play, whether planning the next big game or deciding where to dine with his latest female companion, appeared bereft of any indication that he was aware of his surroundings.

On one hand, it was painful to see how one of the most expansive minds and sharpest personalities in football's recent history had been diminished by the illness of dementia, into whose grip he had been slipping more completely over the previous five years. At the same time it was a chance to turn to younger companions and say, "See that guy there? Well, let me tell you..."

Preparation of this book was already well under way at the time of Allison's televised visit to the club where he had written himself into football's lore. Those interviewed in the aftermath shared those mixed feelings: sorrow at Allison's plight; pride that their careers, and lives, had been touched by him; and gratitude that, at least fleetingly, he had emerged from a regimented existence in his council-run nursing home and was back in the public eye, being acknowledged for something more than the fedora hat and fat cigar that had become the enduring image of the man they called Big Mal.

The ravages of his illness were something that Malcolm was powerless to prevent, although reports have suggested that his excessive alcoholic intake over the years contributed to the onset of his Alzheimer's-type affliction. His achievements in the game should, however, have afforded him the ability to live out his years in a little more physical comfort than has been the case. Scarcely any personal possessions survived the excesses of a man who placed no import on the accumulation of long-term wealth. Instead, his idea of being rich in his final days, he used to tell friends, was to be able to sit in a rocking chair with a big smile on his face, remembering - without regret - all the good times: the on-field success, the cigars, the best wines and all the beautiful women he had bedded. The cruel irony is that not only did the money all go, but many of those precious memories were eventually taken from him as well.

(7) Jon Henderson, The Observer (January, 2000)

Perhaps London-boy Allison's most surprising feat, given his sybaritic past, is ending up happily married and living in Yarm in Cleveland, close to the parents of his third wife Lynn, who is 27 years his junior, on a neat, unpretentious housing estate. Money-wise, he is not the man he once was. His pension and Lynn's wages as a teacher keep them going. But his contentment is palpable and if the years have inevitably done some damage to his craggy good looks, they have left his twinkle-eyed wit and wisdom untouched. He limps a little from an arthritic ankle, but otherwise is fit. "I went for a test 18 months ago," he says. "The doctor told me: 'You've got better lungs than anyone.'"

Having part of his left lung removed in 1958 as a result of TB was what ended Allison's career as a central defender after he had played three First Division matches for Charlton and 255 League and Cup games for West Ham after signing for them in 1951. "I couldn't understand it," he says. "I was a good trainer. I never drank, I never smoked.

"Then one day I was due to play in an evening match at Upton Park, I was walking down some stairs and collapsed. Then we went to Sheffield United to play an afternoon match and stayed overnight. Noel Cantwell, who shared a room with me, said to the manager the next day, 'I don't know what's wrong with Malcolm. He was coughing all night.' They sent me to the hospital and the doctor said: 'What else can you do?' I said: 'Not a lot.' And he said: 'Well, you're not going to play football any more'."

In fact, Allison could do something else, he could coach and train players. He had always been interested in this side of the game, sometimes to his detriment. He tells a wonderful story about when he was still a young reserve at Charlton, whose first team were full of internationals and had just won the FA Cup. He became disillusioned with Jimmy Trotter's training methods, which consisted mainly of running round the track, and up and down the terracing.

"We were all standing there after one of these sessions," he recalls, "and I said: 'Mr Trotter, the training's effing rubbish.' And all these players turned round: 'Who is this young upstart, like?' I said: 'All we do is run around the track, up and down the terracing and play 11-a-side. We don't do anything.'

"Next morning I had to go to see Jimmy Seed, the manager, and he said: 'Malcolm, you insulted Mr Trotter yesterday.' I said: 'No I didn't, I just told him the training was rubbish.' He said: 'You can't say that to Mr Trotter, and, anyway, I'm going to transfer you to West Ham United.' So I said: 'Can I shake your hand, Mr Seed? I want to thank you for teaching me the art of communication, because you've just spoken to me for the third time in seven years.'"

It was England's defeat by Hungary in 1953 that first really alerted Allison to the possibilities of coaching. "I went to the game with a player called Jimmy Andrews, a Scottish boy. As we were walking into the ground, the Hungarian team were warming up and Jimmy said to me: 'We'll murder these, Mal.' I said: 'Why's that, Jim?' He said, 'Look at that No10 over there, he's about a stone overweight'." The No10 was the legendary Ferenc Puskas. "He did have a little tummy on him," concedes Allison, who watched Puskas score twice in the Hungarians' famous 6-3 win.

"What was absolutely amazing to me," says Allison, "was how the Hungarians, by changing positions, made such a difference. Herbert Chapman's W-M formation (the full-backs and half-backs arranged in a W and the five forwards in an M) lasted for more than 25 years. Everyone copied this formation, so when the Hungarians changed their tactics and played with a deep centre-forward, they destroyed England. OK, they might have had some great players, but they weren't that much better than us, not 6-3 and 7-1 (Hungary's margin of victory a year later in Budapest) better."

Allison believes the match had not only a profound effect on him, but also on Alf Ramsey, to the extent that it laid the foundation for English football's finest hour. "Ramsey was at right-back [at Wembley] and nearly all their goals came down that side," says Allison. "He couldn't handle the winger, who was too quick for him. So when Ramsey became England manager, he adopted the two deep wingers to protect the full-backs so they couldn't get chased like he had been. He developed this 4-4-2 formation, which won the 1966 World Cup. It got me thinking, too, that it was more about formations, about the way you played, than about great players."

(8) The Daily Telegraph (15th October, 2000)

His sacking by the Portuguese club – for once a surprise – ushered in an even more frenetically peripatetic existence. Two unsuccessful years at Middlesbrough came to an end when he suggested that the club be wound up.

There followed stints coaching in Turkey and Kuwait and back in Portugal before his final appointment: a year as manager of Bristol Rovers from 1992. He then found occasional work as a scout for Arsenal, and as a pundit on local radio (until he was fired for swearing on air).

Anxiety and depression ensued. Allison had saved little, and lost much of what he did have in the collapse of BCCI. In his late sixties he established a stable life with a young primary schoolteacher, Lynn Salton, with whom he had a daughter; but when this relationship came to an end in 2000, he was arrested after trying to batter his way into the house. Soon afterwards, he was put in hospital after admitting that he was an alcoholic.

(9) Brian Glanville, The Guardian (15th October, 2000)

He had four children by Beth, and the marriage lasted 22 years. In 1979 he married Sally-Ann Highley from the Playboy Club, later describing it as "the mistake of my life". He proposed immediately after they had been in a car crash. From this union was born a daughter, Alexis. They split up officially in 1983. Next, for 17 years, came his long-term partner Lynn Salton, with whom he had a daughter, Gina, but by 2000 that relationship too was on the rocks, with Allison trying to smash down the door of her house. Alcoholism and depression took their toll, to the point where he observed: "I don't remember the days any more."