The feast of West Ham’s all-English Cup Winners’ Cup glory of 1965 – and the famine that followed

The feast of West Ham’s all-English Cup Winners’ Cup glory of 1965 – and the famine that followed

For all their perceived glamour and heritage, West Ham remain in the shadow of their more illustrious London neighbours like Arsenal and Tottenham. However, occasional forays into Europe have often seen the club punch above its weight. In 1964, victory in the FA Cup final sealed qualification for the Cup Winners’ Cup.

The competition was first staged in 1960/61 and still in its infancy. Spurs won the trophy in 1963 with a handsome 5-1 win over holders Atlético Madrid. The Hammers had recently completed a successful pre-season tour of Africa and played in the International Soccer League so were no strangers to football overseas. However, this was different; it was the perfect opportunity to test themselves against quality opposition in a competitive environment. Unfettered by the bark and bite of league football, manager Ron Greenwood could now purify his vision of the game. 

West Ham would play La Gantoise of Belgium in the first round. Players and officials got a coach to Dover and then the Ostend ferry to play the part-timers in Ghent. A thousand travelling supporters enjoyed a plethora of pre-match entertainment, including marching bands and a personal appearance from cyclist Tommy Simpson.

The Belgians sat back in a defensive straightjacket as West Ham ran into a brick wall. Ronnie Boyce scored early in the second half to give the Hammers a valuable 1-0 lead going into the second leg. The return should have been a stroll but a stubbornly defensive mindset repeated a similar pattern. Remarkably, La Gantoise went into the lead when Martin Peters put through his own net. Centre-forward Johnny Byrne eased any lingering doubts with the equaliser two minutes from half time. Although a 1-1 draw was enough to see them through, the home fans expected a more decisive victory.

The highly accomplished Sparta Prague were drawn in the second round. West Ham would be without captain Bobby Moore; publicly recovering from a groin injury but privately battling testicular cancer. The first leg at Upton Park proved to be a battle of attrition with the Czechs man-marking to the point of extinction. The deadlock was finally broken on the hour as John Bond hit a 25-yard scorcher. With the Sparta defence duly unpicked, West Ham began to play their natural game, and a crisp passing move set up Alan Sealey who fired home after initially hitting the post. A two-goal lead was defendable but how would the Hammers cope in the steaming cauldron of Prague?

Sparta weren’t the only opponents in the return: a sympathetic Bulgarian referee and a partisan crowd were the 12th and 13th man. The runaway league leaders pummelled West Ham in the opening exchanges but the Londoners were resolute in defence and soon hit Sparta on the break. Johnny Sissons took a square ball from Byrne to put the Hammers 1-0 up. That goal should have put the tie to bed, however, the barrage continued as Sparta were awarded a dubious penalty, heroically saved by Jim Standen. Alas, he couldn’t prevent two goals which made for a nervous final quarter. Greenwood muttered about a late change of officials but West Ham were through 3-2 on aggregate.

The preference for a knock-out format meant the Cup Winners’ Cup didn’t resume until March 1965. The club enjoyed a degree of consistency, holding a top-six spot during the European break. Moore had returned from injury to face Lausanne of Switzerland, a team rippling with internationals and managed by the redoubtable Karl Rappan. The Swiss favoured a system of players switching positions according to the pattern of the game. It was an early inkling of what eventually became Total Football. Greenwood relished the opportunity to pit his wits against a kindred spirit. With the exception of Dutch striker Pierre Kerkoffs, West Ham effectively played the Swiss national team in the first leg.

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The Alpine climate obliged with a snow-free pitch as Brian Dear put the Hammers ahead in the 21st minute. An injury to right-half Eddie Bovington caused a reshuffle leading to Dear’s selection, and he would duly become a fixture for the remainder of the season. A dazzling solo effort from Byrne made it 2-0, but it was also the cue for a Swiss onslaught.  West Ham dropped back to defend their lead but game management deserted them as a sliced clearance dropped to Robert Hosp, and a door that might have been shut was now ajar. But the hard part was done – all they had to do was avoid defeat in the home leg.

The gloves came off as both sides went on the attack, West Ham hoping to kill the game and Lausanne looking for a goal to square the tie. Geoff Hurst, once a wing-half but now a blossoming striker hit the woodwork twice early on. But it was the visitors who struck first as Kerkoffs headed through a defence in sleep mode.

The following day, a Daily Mirror headline screamed Hammers’ 5 minutes of fear. It was indeed a fearful passage of time that proved pivotal to the game’s outcome. West Ham looked vulnerable with the tie poised at 2-2. Five nervous minutes ticked by; happily, the fear dissipated in the space of 60 magical seconds. Eli Tacchella put through his own net in the 42nd minute, while Dear scored after the keeper parried a Sealey shot. With a two-goal cushion restored, could they now rest easily?

The Swiss roared back in the 49th minute as Hertig capitalised on a defensive error. The pendulum briefly swung against West Ham as they absorbed intense pressure. Relief was at hand on the hour as a Martin Peters header made it 3-2. But Lausanne came back yet again as Eschmann squared the game with a memorable overhead kick. Dear, fast becoming the team’s lucky mascot, settled things in the final minute. It had been breathless, exhilarating entertainment – if only for the neutrals. West Ham were now in the semi-finals and only two games away from another Wembley date.  

The Hammers drew Real Zaragoza of Spain – the one team they really wanted to avoid – a game ideally saved for the final. Zaragoza were holders of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and had scored 15 goals in the Cup Winners’ Cup so far. With the home leg first, a victory and clean sheet was high on their wish list.

Zaragoza got the best of the early exchanges, but it was West Ham who went ahead, a slick move finished by Dear with a smart far post header. The lead doubled when Byrne buried a sweet volley in the 24th minute. West Ham got men behind the ball but the tactic backfired as Brazilian Canário threw the visitors a lifeline. The press were unequivocal in their reaction: 2-1 would never be enough in the return.

With hideously bad timing, Byrne picked up a knee injury in the England-Scotland game and would take no further part in the campaign, wretched luck for a player who contributed so much to the club’s run in Europe. Sealey would replace Byrne for the second leg.

Zaragoza laid siege but West Ham’s defence, superbly marshalled by Moore, held firm. That was until halfway through the first half, when Lapetra levelled the tie. Salvation arrived in the second half, admittedly against the run of play. A simple three-man move was finished by Johnny Sissons calmly stroking the ball home. Zaragoza bleated about three penalties denied them by referee Leo Horn but it mattered not: West Ham had scraped a draw and were now in the final. 

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1860 Munich had defeated Porto, Legia Warsaw and Torino on the way to Wembley and would be formidable opponents, though the press were in a bullish mood prior to the game. The Evening News compared West Ham’s exploits to the Busby Babes of 1958. Indeed, writing in the final programme, Peter Lorenzo wondered if the Hammers might take over from Manchester United as champions next season.

Watching a playback of the game 54 years after the event is a chastening experience. The pace and creativity of both sides is extraordinary and, but for black and white coverage and logo-free shirts, this game could have been played today. It ebbed and flowed with both sides going close during an exciting first half.

The game continued in the same vein for the first 20 minutes of the second period, but then came the magic moment: Ronnie Boyce slipped a slide-rule pass through to Alan Sealey. The outside right connected perfectly from the tightest of angles as the dam was breached. Two minutes later, the elation of a second goal arrived. A free-kick was played to Moore who clipped the ball to the far post. It hit Peters and fell invitingly at the feet of Sealey, who scored West Ham’s second. The greatest night in the club’s history had been written with a characteristic flourish. For Greenwood, it was a vindication of the West Ham way. 

The 1965/66 season was full of promise for the Upton Park faithful, with an automatic place in the Cup Winners’ Cup and the holy trinity of Moore, Peters and Hurst to spearhead their challenge for more trophies. But as the season wore on, Peter Lorenzo’s bold assertion looked hopelessly optimistic. The Hammers hovered around 17th place for the first half of the campaign though they were going well in Europe. Following a first-round bye, they defeated a moderate Olympiacos side 6-2 on aggregate. The quarter-final pitted West Ham against East Germans FC Magdeburg. They edged through 2-1 on aggregate in a dour tie that offered nothing of the previous season’s drama.  

The Hammers drew Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final, a scarily good side which included Tilkowski, Emmerich and Held, all integral members of West Germany’s World Cup squad in 1966. The draw had set up the mouth-watering prospect of a West Ham-Liverpool final at Hampden Park. However, a League Cup run had stretched players to the limit. Although going ahead through Peters, West Ham lost the home leg 2-1 and had a mountain to climb in Dortmund.

When Emmerich scored in the first minute of the return, it was game and tie over. A 5-2 aggregate defeat was a bitter pill to swallow. Although rallying in the league to 12th place, they lost the League Cup final to West Brom. The mood worsened as Moore’s contract negotiations dragged on; he was stripped of the club captaincy and roundly booed by the fans. How quickly times change.

And so the great drought began. It would be ten years before West Ham qualified for Europe again. The intervening period was a litany of missed opportunities and wasted talent. The club regularly flirted with relegation and failed to build on the cup wins of 1964/65. They were seen as underachieving fancy Dans who rolled over too easily. For a team that boasted a World Cup-winning trio and an emerging Trevor Brooking, it was a poor return: one League Cup semi-final and a solitary top-six finish was as good as it got.

The seeds of optimism were sown when John Lyall took over as manager in 1974. A former player and coach, he was schooled under the guidance of Greenwood, who had now moved upstairs. An FA Cup win in 1975 paved the way into Europe once again. Fairytales were in short supply as West Ham defeated Second Division Fulham in the final.

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Fate naturally dictated that Bobby Moore would be facing his old teammates that day, but a new holy trinity had emerged Upton Park: Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard and Trevor Brooking were at the vanguard of a journeymen team of footballers. However, there was nothing of the Hurst vintage upfront. Alan Taylor, an unlikely two-goal specialist, had pace but seemed to lack presence. Keith Robson seemed more like the real deal – if only he could stay on the pitch. His temperament would often let him down but added some much-needed bite.

In the first round, Finnish Cup holders Lahden Reipas were beaten 5-2 on aggregate as five different scorers provided a reassurance that goals might come from all areas of the pitch. A 2,700-mile journey to the Armenian capital Yerevan awaited West Ham in the next round. A crowd of 66,000 witnessed a highly satisfactory 1-1 draw before the Boleyn faithful were treated to a comfortable home win.

Controversial officials plagued West Ham in the third round against Den Haag. In the away leg, the Hammers found themselves 4-0 down at half time, on the wrong end of two dubious penalty decisions. The referee, Rudi Glockner, even refused to restart the game until Kevin Lock pulled his socks up, though a double strike from Billy Jennings gave the Hammers hope for the second leg.

The spirit of ’65 awoke as West Ham stormed into a three-goal lead by half time at Upton Park. Shoemaker scored on the hour to make them sweat but they squeezed through on the away goals rule. Yet again, West Ham faced German opponents in the semi-final.

Eintracht Frankfurt came into the tie having won every home and away game thus far. They boasted World Cup stars Bernd Holzenbein and Jurgen Grabowski but were a mixed bag, with goalkeeper Peter Kunter a part-time dentist. The Hammers got off to a flier in the away leg as Graham Paddon struck a 30-yarder in the ninth minute. Frankfurt later edged to a 2-1 win but West Ham took home a priceless away goal.

A rain-sodden Upton Park greeted the visitors in April 1976. It was nip and tuck as both sides went close but remained in deadlock at half time. Four minutes after the restart, Brooking ghosted in with the header no one seems to remember. One-nil would have been enough to take the Hammers through on away goals, but then a sumptuous pass from Brooking found Keith Robson, who initially miscontrolled but then buried a looping, rising shot. A wonderful individual display from Brooking was capped by a third goal.

A nervous finale was guaranteed as Frankfurt pulled a goal back through Beverungen in the 87th minute. Various body parts were put on the line as West Ham set out to survive the onslaught; Lampard caught the ball between his knees on the goal line and the Upon Park mud pools played their part. But the final whistle blew and West Ham were through to their second Cup Winners’ Cup final.

Anderlecht were one of Europe’s finest teams, boasting the brilliant Rob Rensenbrink, Arie Haan and Francois Van der Elst. Furthermore, they were playing the final at Heysel Stadium in Brussels – their own back yard. West Ham were at full strength as their classic Admiral chevron kit was unveiled.

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A claret and blue army of 10,000 had travelled to cheer them on, and hope turned to ecstasy when Pat Holland slipped behind the full-backs to put the Hammers ahead. Then disaster struck as Lampard misjudged a back pass and tore a stomach muscle in the process. A rapid exchange of passes and Anderlecht were on equal terms. The incident forced Lampard’s substitution, which altered the gameplan.

Rensenbrink was in majestic form and made Van der Elst’s goal early in the second half. Brooking turned provider again as a curling cross found the head of Robson. It was a short-lived reprieve as Rensenbrink and Van der Elst combined to defeat West Ham 4-2.  It had been a classic final in much the same vein as 1965, but without the happy ending.

West Ham’s exploits in Europe since then have been sick in comparison. Qualification for the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1980/81 was marred by ugly violence in the first round against Castilla. A 3-1 defeat was rendered meaningless by the death of a West Ham fan. The club was ordered to play the home leg behind closed doors as a David Cross hat-trick secured a 6-4 aggregate victory. Romanian cup holders Poli Timișoara were defeated in the second round, which set up a meeting with Dinamo Tbilisi in the quarter-final. The Hammers were swept away by a much better side, the would-be champions.

A resurgent West Ham, managed by Harry Redknapp, finished fifth in the Premiership in 1998/99. The fruits of the youth programme were plundered as Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard nailed down regular places, while they could also call on the mercurial talents of Paolo Di Canio and pace of Trevor Sinclair.

The vagaries of UEFA qualification meant they competed in the Intertoto Cup, the Cinderella of European competition. Ploughing through the also-rans of Europe, West Ham faced Metz of France in the final. A 3-2 victory put a minor trophy in the cabinet and secured a spot in the UEFA Cup. NK Osijek of Croatia were comfortably beaten 6-1 on aggregate, but the Hammers were found out by Steaua Bucharest in the next round.

As beaten FA Cup finalists in 2006, West Ham again qualified for the UEFA Cup and drew Palermo in the first round. Mischievous fans sported West Ham vs Mafia t-shirts, but it was the Hammers who took the hit, losing 4-0 on aggregate.

Their most recent appearance in Europe was in the qualifying rounds of the blandly renamed Europa League. In 2015/16, they qualified as Fair Play champions; a seventh-place finish sufficient for a spot the following season. They coughed and spluttered through the early rounds and were duly knocked out by Astra Giurgiu in both seasons. It was an inglorious exit, losing to a Romanian mid-table side.

It seems unlikely – at least today – that West Ham will ever recapture the joy of that night at Wembley in 1965, a legend that grows with every passing year, and a feat that will never be equalled at a broader level: the only team to win a European trophy with an all-English line-up. It’s an achievement that ranks with Celtic’s Lisbon Lions of 1967. A bold claim that’s not entirely misplaced.

By Brian Penn @pennster65

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