By Tony Hanna
One of the finest matches ever played at Upton Park was the 2nd leg of the European Cup Winners Cup semi final in 1976. The opposition was Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt and the Hammers trailed 2-1 from the first leg. The score line had set it up for one of those fabulous, noisy and stirring European nights at Upton Park that sadly we have all seen too little of in recent history. Our FA Cup final win against Fulham the season before had entitled us to be England’s representative for the 1975/6 tournament, which then was only second to the European Cup as the continents biggest club football prize. In the first leg on German soil, Graham Paddon had scored early on to give us great hope of following in the footsteps of our 1965 team that had won the trophy at Wembley. However, two German goals to Neuberger and Kraus had given Frankfurt the advantage heading back to Upton Park.
And so it was set up. Nearly 40,000 West Ham fans crammed into the Boleyn as torrential rain poured down on a miserable East End evening. This was a night that West Ham would have an unimaginable advantage. One that took the Germans by surprise and frightened the hell out of them. The minute they came out of the tunnel for the start of the match they were met with a deafening barrage of sound as the Upton Park faithful lifted the roof. Billy Bonds was waiting in that tunnel and looked over at the captain of the German team and commented later; “he took one look at how close the fans were to the players, heard the roar of the crowd and I saw him go white. I knew then we were going to win.”
However, the Hammers we all know and love never do anything the easy way. A disallowed Keith Robson goal and a couple of close efforts were all there was to show as the teams went off at half time. The first half had been played at a fantastic pace but it was now down to 45 minutes of football to see who would reach the final. Now Trevor Brooking only scores in special matches with his head and he duly obliged just four minutes after the restart. With the match tied at 2-2, the Germans knew that Paddons away goal would put the Hammers through unless things changed. They threw everything bar the kitchen sink at goalkeeper Mervyn Day and when they did beat him the upright and a Robson goal line clearance were keeping them at bay.
Then midway through the second half Brooking split the Frankfurt defence to put Robson through on goal. Robbo looked to lose his chance down to a poor first touch but the groans of the crowd turned to hysteria when he corrected himself to curl a superb shot into the net. It was Brookings turn again with ten minutes left as he put West Ham 3-0 in front for a 4-2 aggregate lead. The crowd were pumping now but as previously stated – we never do things the easy way. A late Beverungen goal for the Germans gave them hope with just minutes to go. Another goal for them would now put the away goal advantage in their favour. But it was not to be – the Hammers held out and were in the final after one of the greatest Upton Park games in memory.