David Gold: From abject poverty to business success, West Ham ownership fulfilled a lifelong ambition

David Gold: From abject poverty to business success, West Ham ownership fulfilled a lifelong ambition

David Gold achieved most of his ambitions in a full and successful life, but one dream eluded him.

Brought up in abject poverty in a house almost opposite West Ham’s former stadium in Green Street, Gold, who has died aged 86, went on to forge a highly successful business career, along with his brother, Ralph.

His acquired wealth, from humble roots, also enabled him to join forces with David Sullivan to become owners of, first, Birmingham and then, in 2010, the club where, if things had turned out differently, he may have even become a star player himself.

In his autobiography Pure Gold, described as the ‘ultimate rags-to-riches tale’, he writes with deserved pride about his early football career, playing for London Boys, West Ham’s A team and then being offered apprentice professional forms by then Hammers’ manager Ted Fenton.

“My father, in his wisdom, refused to sign the forms,” wrote Gold. “He was the archetypal alpha male who had hardly ever been at home, trying to show he was the boss and enforcing his word as law.

West Ham co-owner David Gold has died aged 86 after a short illness (Getty Images)
West Ham co-owner David Gold has died aged 86 after a short illness (Getty Images)

“Maybe it was because, at that time, there was a maximum wage of £20 a week and no prospect, but I don’t think so. After all, what was the alternative? At the time I was an apprentice bricklayer who ran errands and earned less than £3 a week.”

The mean streets of east London during and after World War Two, had no room or time for self-pity, though. It was rough and tough, especially for someone like Gold, whose father was Jewish and growing up in an era and an area where anti-Semitism was rife.

Gold and his brother, though, displayed early signs of entrepreneurial talent by selling buttons and kids’ comics on a stall outside their house, prophetically numbered 442, on Green Street.

From those humble beginnings, Gold went on to become a highly successful businessman, first developing an adult magazine company with his brother and then later owning a corporate air service and becoming chairman of retail chain Ann Summers.

Gold spent 16 years at Birmingham before, in 2010, he and Sullivan became the owners of West Ham, while Karren Brady was appointed vice-chairman.

“I have to confess I was quite emotional,” wrote Gold. “It was the fulfilment of a lifetime ambition, although through the years, I had never really believed it would happen.

“Some people might say it was the fulfilment of a boyhood dream, though, in truth, because of the poverty I grew up with, I could never have had such a dream. My dream back then was to own a bicycle, not a football club.”

Gold admitted that that initially he had “felt a great unease” about the club moving in 2016 from its old home at Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium, but became convinced that “we had to grasp the nettle and make the courageous move if we were to ever challenge at the highest level”.

There were many other West Ham fans who shared that unease, and the growing discontent morphed into open revolt during a home match in March 2018.

The abuse, much of it personal, upset Gold greatly. “As a lifelong supporter of the club, I find it all very upsetting and I take it very personally,” he wrote.

Better times were around the corner, though, and Gold, despite failing health, will have thoroughly enjoyed memorable European nights at the London Stadium last season.

West Ham paid tribute to Gold before last night’s Premier League clash with Leeds (PA)
West Ham paid tribute to Gold before last night’s Premier League clash with Leeds (PA)

I saw him most recently at the opening of the Mark Noble Arena at Chadwell Heath last May. He was, as usual, dressed impeccably, with manners to match, and as former player Carlton Cole wrote in his tribute, he “always had time” for people.

He was an experienced pilot and also learned to fly helicopters in his late sixties, occasionally scattering tactics’ boards at the club’s training ground as he landed.

He built a golf course in the grounds of his Surrey home and revelled in opening it once a year to raise money for charity.

Gold’s family, partner Lesley, his two daughters and granddaughter Scarlett, were special to him and his 25.1 per cent stake in the club will likely pass to daughters Jacqueline and Vanessa, but could be sold on to Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky, who already owns 27 per cent.

“So many of the rich and famous have no time for others,” Gold wrote. “This must not happen to me, and that look in the mirror every morning is a ritual that reminds me of my family, my roots, my past, my motivation, my successes, my losses, my loved ones and my values.”