Harry Hooper was the son of Harry Hooper senior, a Sheffield United and Hartlepool player, who also coached at West Ham and managed Halifax before retiring in 1962. Harry’s father appears to have been instrumental in him signing for West Ham in 1950 despite the fact 17-year-old Hooper was signed to Sunderland on an amateur basis. He had come up through Southwick St Hilda’s and Hylton Colliery Juniors, but Sunderland with Bill Murray at the helm were signing lots of star players and youth was not really getting a chance.
The young right winger was quickly progressed into the Hammers first team and made his 2nd division debut against Barnsley aged 17 years and 7 months. He became a very popular member of the West Ham team scoring 39 goals in 119 appearances between 1950 – 56. It was during this period he was selected for the England Under 23 team and played two games, scoring two goals, becoming the first West Ham player to gain and U23 cap.
He also won six England B caps scoring two goals. He was selected for the England squad to contest the 1954 World cup in Switzerland, though never gained a full England cap. With Tom Finney and Stanley Mathews vying for the right wing position at the time, Harry was philosophical in recalling this period of his career.
Wolves paid a record £25,000 fee for him in 1956 where he was top scorer in his only full season with 19 goals. A disciplinary issue on a pre-season tour to South Africa saw him fall foul of manager Stan Cullis who never picked him for the first eleven again, and in 1957 he was transferred to near neighbours Birmingham City for £20,000.
It’s probably a little-known fact that Birmingham during Hooper’s time at the Blues (1957 – 60)), became the first English team to contest a European final. They played against Barcelona in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final in 1960 and were beaten over two legs, with Hooper scoring the consolation goal in the Nou Camp in a 4-1 defeat. He scored 34 goals in 105 appearances before being transferred to Sunderland in 1960.
Manager Alan Brown clearly saw Hooper as an essential part of his push for promotion, as he persuaded the board to part with £18,000 for the twenty-seven-year-old. Despite his experience, Hooper had plenty of competition for the right-wing berth. Eire international Ambrose Fogarty had often utilised in that position and a young up and coming winger and another local lad Jimmy Davison would press Hooper for his place.
Hooper became an integral part of the 60/61 team that put Arsenal and Liverpool out of the FA Cup before taking eventual league and cup winners Spurs to a replay, the Roker Park tie drawing a 61,000 + crowd. The tilt at promotion did somewhat peter out after the exit from the cup as Sunderland finished 6th. Hooper made 31 appearances in all competitions this season scoring seven goals.
The following season 61/62 would see a heart-breaking near-miss for promotion as Orient pipped the Lads by a point in the final week of the season. The arrival of Brian Clough that campaign saw him score 31 goals in all competitions, Hooper would have had a part in many of these as his accuracy of cross and directness opened up defences for one of the most prolific goal scorers to ever play for Sunderland. Hooper weighed in with eleven goals over his 41 appearances in all competitions that season.
Season 62/63 started with such great hopes that promotion could be achieved with a squad that included Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Hurley, McNab, Anderson, Clough, Herd, McPheat and Hooper. Manager Brown had also bolstered his forward options with the purchase of Johnny Crossan and George Mulhall. Injuries took their toll as Hooper experienced his first sustained period of injury enforced absence. McPheat, Fogarty and Irwin were all side-lined for lengthy spells and then crucially Clough was injured on boxing day and did not play again that season. Despite heroics from young replacement forward Nic Sharkey who scored 11 goals in 17 appearances, Sunderland would once again finish third, on the same points as Chelsea but losing out on goal difference.
This would prove to be thirty-year-old Hooper’s last season with Sunderland. Niggling injuries and lack of any kind of run of games saw him make only seven appearances scoring one goal, the winner against Portsmouth at Roker Park in front of 35,00+ fans. He played his last game for Sunderland on April 27th1963 in a 1-1 draw with Huddersfield at Roker Park in front of 37,098 fans.
He was a very highly regarded member of the team, appreciated by fans and fellow players. He allegedly used to tell Charlie Hurley that his well-placed corners would arrive at his (Hurley's) head with the lace facing outward so as not to injure or cause misdirection upon impact.
His 80 appearances and 19 goals, as well as his assists, are fondly remembered by supporters of that generation.
In the summer of 1963 Hooper signed for non-league Kettering Town where he played for two seasons scoring 17 goals in 68 games till 1965. He went on to play for Dunstable Town and Heanor Town before retiring from playing in 1968.
In 2016 Harry Hooper attended the last match at the Boleyn ground accompanied by his Grandson before West Ham moved to their new ground the London Stadium. This seemed fitting, given that his sale to Wolves in 1956, although incensing the Hammers support, funded the purchase of land and the Entrance Building that stood till the Boleyn was vacated!
In 2011 Harry Hooper was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and on 26th August 2020 he passed away in a Norfolk care home.
Almost the last word goes to his wife Meg who shortly after his death said:
We were married for sixty-five years which does not happen to too many couples and he loved football to the end. It was something he could watch and enjoy at a time when he could not understand a lot of what was going on.
Happy birthday Harry Hooper - fondly remembered.