Turning up at a packed house at the Boleyn for a European match under floodlights tonight will for a certain generation mean that some of their best ever memories of watching West Ham will come flooding back. It certainly will be for me.
Watching the Hammers beat Fulham to win the FA Cup in 1975 was wonderful but the following season’s campaign in the now defunct European Cup winners Cup was magical.
The Hammers negotiated the first two rounds against Lahden Reipas of Finland then Arrarat Erevean then of Soviet Union now Armenia fairly comfortably but there was a special tingle in the air about the return home legs.
This European thing had a different edge , a different feel and it seemed to suit the West Ham way down to the ground but by half time of the quarter final against Den Haag in Holland all seemed lost.
Courtesy of some unbelievable refereeing decisions ( those were the days when there was a real schism between our own and continental refs not to mention the language barrier) The Hammers were 4-0 down.
In those days such games were not shown live but I recall listening to the voice of a Radio Two commentator coming across our Roberts radio in the kitchen …I think it was either the late Peter Jones or late Peter Lorenzo …solemnly recalling how the first half debacle had unfolded. They didn’t pick up the game until the second half.
I was gutted. There seemed no way back. And it all felt so far away. So distant. There were of course a significant contingent of Hammers fans out there. But we didn’t travel away then. Dad couldn’t afford it. And certainly not abroad in midweek. There was no Easy Jet or Euro star back then.
And in the days long before internet and wallpaper sports TV channels the radio and the daily papers were our eyes and ears. But at 4-0 down I felt like turning the radio off and going to bed.
I stuck with it though. And so did the team. Billy Jennings scored twice. It ended 4-2 and as a consequence of the away goals rule the dynamics of the tie changed. The momentum was with West Ham and they finished off the job with a 3-1 win, amid a fantastic atmosphere ,making it 5-5 but those two Jennings goals set up what ranks as my all time favourite game at Upton Park.
The Hammers were pitted against Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi final .Graham Paddon gave West Ham a shock lead in Germany with a stunning long range left strike. But Frankfurt displayed their class to win 2-1.
So the stage was set for the second leg at the Boleyn with all the score line equations worked out in our heads.
There were parts of the pitch heavy in mud. The Germans came intent on blowing West Ham out of the water by grabbing an early away goal.
West Ham clung then as the crowd got ever louder so did The Hammers in the second half.
Trevor Brooking, in what was perhaps his finest all around game for the Irons put them ahead with a quite brilliant corkscrew header. Then he played a superb pass forward which Keith Robson seemed to have over run only for him to retrieve and curl what in the flesh seemed like a 35 yarder. You Tube footage …and it’s a must watch…confirms it was about 22 yards. But who cares ?! Then Brooking glided through the mud to make it 3-0.
The place was absolutely rocking. The stands shook as fans jumped and swayed.
But all the time Frankfurt had been knocking at the door and there had been some stoic defending to keep them at bay. Then they scored. Another would see them through on away goals.
It was so tense so dramatic . I doubt “I’m for ever blowing bubbles” has been sung louder, with more raw emotion, more passion than it was over periods of that stunning second half especially in the agonising final few minutes.
Eventually the final whistle blew. Drifting out of the ground it felt as West Ham were on top of the world and the fans were the best in the world having done their bit to sing the team home.
Dad -long gone ( ill be thinking of him tonight) and I watched the final at telly at home. It was the first time I had ever seen West Ham live on the box having been at Wembley the previous summer. So that was another treat European football had brought.
I recall the oldaamn being very annoyed that the club had gone “ all pansy “ with what as he described the new “cowboy kit” after a commercial deal had been struck with Admiral.
On their home Heysel ground Anderlecht prevailed in a flowing match 4-2. It was deflating but as they say its not so much the arriving at the final destination but it’s the getting there.
And what a special European journey that 1975-76 season had been.
Those of an even older generation …not least Claret and Hugh’s very own Hugh Southon…. will cite the 1964-65 season as even better. And course in that campaign West Ham went the whole distance beating Munich 1860 2-0 in what many say was one of the best games to be played at Wembley until then and lifted the trophy.
For many Hammers fans of that generation is ranks as their best ever game.
I’m too young to have remembered that but it was part of the folklore that made that adventure in the Seventies seem so important and special to us teenagers of that area.
Perhaps that is why it is an extraordinary sell out for this Europa League qualifier against Andorra minnows Lusitens. European football does not happen often at West Ham, but it feels part of the DNA, and when it does come along there is a special buzz at the Bolyen.
And what a way to bid farewell to the stadium in the coming season it would be then ,to have a few more of those spine-tingling Euro nights , that for many defined West Ham’s best teams of the Sixties and Seventies.