West Ham: A History of European Glory Nights

West Ham History Europe

The atmosphere for West Ham’s recent Europa League victory over Seville at The London Stadium was arguably the finest in the club’s six-year history at the much-maligned new complex. The East London crowd was at its raucous best, and for those of a certain vintage, it must have brought back memories of glorious European evenings at Upton Park and the days of Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds and friends.

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This season’s campaign is West Ham’s tenth playing in Europe if the 1999-2000 journeys into the Intertoto Cup followed by the subsequent UEFA Cup campaign are counted as separate entities and the second at the London Stadium following the 2016-17 Europa League defeat in the third qualifying round.

The 1960s

Perhaps not widely known, West Ham actually won a major European trophy before the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. This occurred way back in 1965 when the European Cup Winners’ Cup was secured at Wembley courtesy of a 2-0 victory over 1860 Munich in West Ham’s inaugural season in Europe.

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The previous season had seen West Ham secure their first-ever major honour when the FA Cup was won following a 3-2 Wembley victory over Second Division, Preston North End.

Led by the blonde Adonis, Bobby Moore, then West Ham embarked on a European run that saw them paired with La Gantoise of Belgium in the first round. The only goal of the first leg away from home was scored by Ronnie Boyce of West Ham and the subsequent 1-1 draw back at Upton Park saw the Hammers squeeze into round two at the first time of asking.

A second-round clash with Sparta Prague awaited, and this time West Ham prevailed by a 3-2 aggregate scoreline, with a 2-0 home victory being followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat in Prague. So, into the quarter-finals and the Swiss side, Lausanne. Here a titanic clash saw two closely-fought matches. The first leg in Switzerland resulted in a 2-1 East London victory, while the return leg ended 4-3 to West Ham and an overall 6-4 victory on aggregate for the Hammers.

The last four brought West Ham together with Zaragoza of Spain and in a hard-fought battle at Upton Park, two goals from Johnny Byrne and Brian Dear brought about a slight 2-1 advantage to take to Spain, where Johnny Sissons scored West Ham’s goal in the 1-1 draw that took them to Wembley.

A reported 100,000 spectators present for the final saw a cagey affair that was goalless at the break before coming to life in the space of two second-half minutes. First Alan Sealey struck in the 69th minute to put the Hammers ahead, and then just two minutes later the same player struck again to seal the win and the trophy in West Ham’s second successive triumph under the Twin Towers.

As cup holders, West Ham got to defend the European Cup Winner’s Cup the following season and set about trying to make it two in a row. After obtaining a bye in the first round, West Ham overcame Olympiacos of Greece by a 6-2 aggregate in the second round, and FC Magdeburg of East Germany by an overall score of 2-1 in the quarter-finals to join Liverpool, Celtic and Borussia Dortmund in the semis. 

Despite the strong British presence in the last four, it was the West German side that was to emerge victorious with the cup, defeating Liverpool 2-1 in the final after extra time. 

While Liverpool were squeezing past Celtic over two legs in one semi-final, Dortmund were quietly bringing West Ham’s reign as cup holders to an end with victories home and away to a total aggregate scoreline of 5-2.

The two seasons were a more than satisfactory introduction to European football for West Ham, however, and it was thought that the Hammers’ stylish football was well-suited for the European stage but it would actually be another ten years before qualification for Europe was secured again.

The 1970s and 1980s

In the 1974-75 season, West Ham found themselves back at Wembley for the FA Cup Final and, once again, facing Second Division opposition – this time in the shape of Fulham. 

A relatively straightforward 2-0 Wembley victory thus saw West Ham back in Europe for another crack at the European Cup Winners’ Cup. 

The 1975-76 season was one of contrasts for West Ham. Expected to build upon their FA Cup success of the previous season, the Hammers actually struggled in the league and were to finish just two places outside the relegation zone while the defence of the FA Cup lasted no further than the third round and a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Liverpool. In Europe, however, it was a different story as once more West Ham rose to the occasion and treated the Upton Park faithful to another stirring run.

First up was a 5-2 aggregate victory over Finnish side, Lahden Reipas. A not completely satisfactory 2-2 away draw was followed by a simple enough 3-0 victory in the home leg and safe passage to round two and a date with Ararat Erevan, then of the Soviet Union. This was when the tournament started to get serious with more than 66,000 spectators present for the first leg in Armenia.

A fractious tie ensued with West Ham taking the lead only to be pegged back by a controversial goal and having to settle for a 1-1 draw to take to East London. Another 30,000 were present for the return game and a cracking atmosphere ensued as West Ham took the game to their Eastern Block opponents. The Hammers rose to the occasion and goals from Paddon, Taylor and Robson secured a 3-1 victory and a place in the last eight.

Next up were the Dutch Cup holders, FC Den Haag, and a first-leg clash in Amsterdam ensued. West Ham were at times overrun by their Dutch counterparts and found themselves hanging on as they conceded four in a match that threatened to get away from them. Fortunately for the Hammers, a brace from forward Billy Jennings kept the scoreline to a just about acceptable 4-2 deficit, which whilst leaving a lot of work to be done, was still within the realms of retrievability.

In the return leg back at Upton Park, West Ham raced into a three-goal halftime lead and a place in the last four seemed assured, but when Den Haag pulled one back on the hour, it was all backs to the wall. A rearguard action was required to keep the Dutch at bay as just one more goal would see them through. Try as they might though, Den Haag were unable to breach the West Ham defence again and at an aggregate score of 5-5, it was the Hammers that advanced on the away goals rule.

In the semi-finals, West Ham were paired with West Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, with the first leg taking place away from home. A tight affair ensued in West Germany with the home side prevailing by the odd goal in three after West Ham had taken the lead through Graham Paddon.

With the tie finely poised, a near 40,000 crowd packed into Upton Park for the second leg on what was arguably one of the greatest occasions in the old ground’s history. Roared on by partisan home support, Trevor Brooking put West Ham ahead on the night, and on the away goals rule overall, before Keith Robson scored an absolute cracker from 25 yards, and Brooking added a second to give the home side a bit of breathing space. A late goal from the West Germans set the nerves jangling once again, but the Hammers held out on an emotional night in East London to secure passage to their second European final.

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The 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final was held at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels where Anderlecht were waiting as West Ham’s opponents. An open game took place and despite taking a first-half lead and dominating large swathes of the game, defensive lapses were to cost West Ham dear in the end as they were defeated by a dispiriting 4-2 scoreline.

In 1978 West Ham were relegated and although it would take three seasons for the club to regain its top-flight status, the FA Cup was once again secured during this period. A 1-0 Wembley victory over fancied Arsenal gained West Ham entry to the European Cup Winners’ Cup once again for the 1980-81 season.

By a quirk of fate, the 1980 Spanish Cup Final had been an all-Real Madrid affair, with the senior team beating their reserve side, Castilla, in the final. It was a weird affair made possible by the fact that clubs’ second-string sides can play in the national Spanish league, albeit not in the same division as their senior teams. At the time, both senior and reserve teams could enter the Spanish Cup and so it came to pass that the two met in the final that Real Madrid – perhaps unsurprisingly – won 6-1. 

As Real Madrid also won the Spanish league and so qualified for the European Cup, their place in the European Cup Winner’s Cup was taken by Castilla, who West Ham were promptly drawn to play against in what must be one of the only occasions of an all-second division tie in one of Europe’s major knockout competitions.

The first leg was in Spain and resulted in a 3-1 victory for the home side, but the main talking point was the crowd trouble amongst the West Ham fans before, during and after the match. Such was the consternation of UEFA that the Hammers were ordered to play the return leg 300 kilometres from Upton Park. An appeal took place and it was ultimately decided that the game could go ahead on West Ham’s home pitch but would have to be played behind closed doors.

An identical 3-1 scoreline at 90 minutes meant extra time was necessary. Two further goals from the home side without reply finally saw West Ham through to the second round where Poli Timișoara of Romania awaited. 

If the first round had been on a knife-edge right up to the closing stages of the tie, the second was all over bar the shouting after the first leg. A dominant Hammers’ display secured a 4-0 victory at Upton Park and made the subsequent 1-0 defeat in the return academic in nature.

So, to the last eight and with West Ham charging ahead at the top of the Second Division and also into a Wembley League Cup Final showdown with Liverpool, the 1980-81 season was shaping up nicely for the Hammers. The side was drawn to play Dynamo Tbilisi of the old Soviet Union and who were at the time perhaps the strongest side in Europe.

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A bumper crowd of just under 35,000 was present at Upton Park for the first leg and they were witness to what many described as the greatest-ever performance seen at the old ground, as the Georgians were simply magnificent in a 4-1 victory. At the final whistle, the home crowd rose as one to applaud the victors off the pitch, such was their dominance. Once again the second leg consisted of little more than going through the motions but West Ham were at least able to retrieve some pride as a late Stuart Pearson strike proved to be the only goal of the game.

More Modern Times

Following the 1980-81 season, West Ham’s forays into Europe have been few and far between. A fifth-placed finish in 1999 saw West Ham qualify for Europe via the Intertoto Cup. Three rounds were safely manouvered in the summer months of July and August and so qualification for the UEFA Cup proper was secured. Unfortunately, West Ham contrived to get knocked out in the second round courtesy of a 2-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Steaua București. 

As beaten FA Cup finalists in 2006, West Ham qualified for the 2006-07 UEFA Cup but the campaign turned out to be an unmitigated disaster with crowd trouble in both legs of their 4-0 aggregate defeat to Palermo in the first round.

Prior to this season’s exploits, West Ham have had two fairly recent cracks at the Europa League. In 2015-16 the club qualified for the competition via the Fair Play League and exited in the third qualifying round to Romanian side, Astra Giurgiu, 4-3 on aggregate. A year later and a seventh-placed finish was enough for West Ham to find themselves back in the competition where they were once again unceremoniously eliminated by Astra Giurgiu, this time 2-1 on aggregate in a play-off round.

With David Moyes’ men seemingly flying on an upwards trajectory, and the London Stadium finally coming to life in terms of atmosphere, European nights like those experienced this season against Seville, and in years gone by at Upton Park, might just become the norm rather than the exception.