West Ham’s forays into European competitions have come about following winning the FA Cup in 1964, 1975 and 1980, the European Cup Winners Cup in 1965, and a fifth-place finish in the Premiership (as it was then called) in 1998-99. The now defunct European Cup Winners Cup was a fantastic competition for us in the seasons following those cup wins, winning the trophy in 1965, being the losing semi-finalists in 1966 (qualifying as the winners in the previous season), being losing finalists in 1976, and losing quarter finalists in 1981 when we were a second-tier side. We even won the Inter-Toto Cup in 1999 following our fifth-place finish in the 1998-99 Premiership season which gave us qualification into the UEFA Cup in 1999-2000 where we were eliminated in the second round by Steaua Bucharest of Romania. The Europa League has been great this season too. We do have a fantastic record in Europe – it’s a shame we haven’t been there more often!
One of my favourite West Ham memories was as an eleven-year-old at Wembley high up on the terrace behind the goal where Alan Sealey scored his two goals in the memorable 2-0 win over TSV Munich 1860 in May 1965, our first and so far only major European trophy (disregarding Inter-Toto which doesn’t really count). Incidentally the second leg of the semi-final that season was played on April 28th when we held Real Zaragoza of Spain to a 1-1 draw after a 2-1 win in the home leg.
We gained automatic entry into the competition the following season as winners and faced two German sides in the campaign. Germany was divided in two in those days and we met FC Magdeburg of East Germany in the Quarter Final winning the home leg 1-0 and then drawing 1-1 away to progress into the semi-final. There we met Borussia Dortmund of the West who were too strong beating us 2-1 at Upton Park and then 3-1 in Dortmund.
But my favourite ever West Ham game in the last 63 years was against Thursday’s opponents Eintracht Frankfurt. It was the second leg of the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final on 14th April 1976 where we overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first game with a 3-1 victory thanks to goals from Keith Robson and two from Sir Trev. I watched the game from the North Bank in pouring rain in an electric atmosphere with just under 40,000 inside the Boleyn Ground.
Where are our German opponents of the past now? Magdeburg are currently at the top (and destined to become champions of Bundesliga 3 (the third tier in Germany) whilst Munich 1860 are fourth in that same division. Borussia Dortmund are currently second to Bayern in the Bundesliga but Glasgow Rangers knocked them out of the Europa League competition 6-4 in the round of 16 before beating Braga in the Quarter Final to face RB Leipzig (who are currently fourth in the Bundesliga) in the Semi-Final. The winners of that will of course face either ourselves or Eintracht Frankfurt in the Final.
Frankfurt, despite their excellent win over Barcelona in the last round, are languishing in mid-table (9th) in the German league and should hold no fears for a West Ham side at our strongest and best. Frankfurt have saved their best performances for European games, similar to Lyons who were similarly placed in the French league when we met them in the Quarter Final (and perhaps similar to ourselves too).
Just like the Lyons tie, but the other way round to our meeting in 1976, we face the first leg at home. It would be useful to take a lead into the second leg but not absolutely crucial as we found out against Lyons. Wouldn’t it be great to repeat the 1976 score (3-1) from the home leg, especially with the removal of the away goals rule which I believe should have been scrapped years ago.
The European adventure (whatever happens now) has been great this season, and it would be excellent if we can go all the way to the Final and win the competition to qualify for the Champions League next season. Surely that would be a big help in recruitment in the summer for next season? The spirit within the squad continues to be high. Can we do it? I think we can. What are the chances?