There was a life lesson to be learned in the week 24 to 30 April in Hammer’s History when in 1978 West Ham experienced what was, for me, a first relegation. All of my West Ham memories had been as a top flight club and as far as I was concerned that was how it was always going to be. There had been scares and scrapes in the past but we had always managed to slip clear in good time and this was a team that 2 years earlier had featured in a European final.
Before West Ham’s final game of the season in 1978 they sat 18th out of 22 clubs. A midweek win at Middlesbrough had briefly seen the Hammers rise to a season high 17th and escape was still possible on the final day even though rival teams still had more games to play. The opponents at Upton Park were Liverpool and the West Ham desperately needed to take something from the game. The first half was an evenly contested affair until shortly before the break a misplaced Pop Robson pass heralded an incisive Liverpool move that ended in a Terry McDermott goal. West Ham responded with spirit in the early stages of the second half but when David Fairclough outpaced Billy Bonds to make it 2-0 it was game over. A Wolves victory over Manchester United and a point for QPR on the same day effectively sealed the Hammer’s fate.
Relegation back then did not mean a change of manager or a file sale of players and John Lyall was able to rebuild around the talents of Brooking, Devonshire, Bonds, Martin, Lampard and Cross; the core of the team that would go on to win our last major trophy in 1980 and evolve into one that earned our highest ever league finish in 1986. It seems unthinkable now but during this week in 1986 West Ham played three home games in five days to record victories over Coventry (1-0; Cottee), Manchester City (1-0; Stewart) and Ipswich (2-1; Dickens, Stewart). By the end of the week West Ham sat in second place, four points behind Liverpool with a game in hand but just two to play.
The same eleven players featured in all three matches: Parkes, Stewart, Parris, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Ward, McAvennie, Dickens, Cottee, Orr. Goddard came on as a substitute to replace Orr in the Ipswich game.
Heading back to 1965 and possibly one of West Ham’s finest ever performances away to Real Zaragoza in the semi final second leg of the European Cup Winner’s Cup. Holding a slender 2-1 lead form the first leg, the Hammers were underdogs against the Spaniards who packed an array of attacking talent and would be fully expected to score. To make matters worse West Ham had lost playmaker Johnny Byrne to an injury sustained while playing for England three days earlier. Real Zaragoza dominated the early stages and took the lead after 23 minutes with the Hammers were in real danger of crashing out. However, a disciplined defensive performance, led by a supreme Bobby Moore, and tactical half-time changes allowed West Ham to claw their way back into the game and after 55 minutes Sissons got on the end of a Dear pass to equalise. The Hammers held on for a draw and booked their place in the Wembley final against TSV Munich 1860.
Standen, Kirkup, Burkett, Peters, Brown, Moore, Boyce, Sealey, Hurst, Dear, Sissons
One final match to mention is the game played on 30 April 1988 which was notable as the very last of the record breaking 799 appearances for West Ham by William Arthur Bonds.