The 1973/74 season was to bridge the gap between two great eras in the club’s history. A sixth place finish the previous season was something of an oasis. It was otherwise business as usual where the Hammers’ league form was concerned.
Hereford were drawn at home in the third round of the FA Cup. The visitors held the lead until Pat Holland spared our blushes two minutes from time. Although going into the lead West Ham meekly surrendered the replay 2-1. West Ham were rooted to the bottom of the table as the 1974/75 season entered its second month.
Ron Greenwood later moved into the boardroom and John Lyall was installed as team manager. His maiden season was one to remember and featured the classic peaks and troughs every Irons fan will recognise. A remarkable run of one defeat in 17 games had steered the Hammers to sixth place when the FA Cup started in January.
Southampton was defeated 2-1 in a tricky third round draw at The Dell. But we landed at home in the next round against third division Swindon Town. A nervous 1-1 draw rekindled memories of Hereford and Mansfield in previous Cup campaigns. Happily, another 2-1 victory was ground out with goals from Trevor Brooking and Pat Holland.
A London derby pitted the Hammers against QPR in the fifth round. A healthy crowd of 39,193 saw a thriller as the Hammers won 2-1. This set up a mouth-watering London derby as West Ham were drawn against Arsenal in the quarter finals.
West Ham took the field in an all-white strip at Highbury. Torrential rain had created a mud bath and before long we were playing in all brown. Alan Taylor was starting only his second game for the Hammers but scored both goals in a memorable 2-0 victory. The semi-final against Ipswich Town was goalless at Villa Park; but it was Taylor once again who scored both goals in a 2-1 victory in the replay.
The Cup run took its toll as the Hammers drifted down to 13th place. Our opponents in the final almost inevitably was Fulham with Bobby Moore in his final Wembley appearance.
Mid-table teams from the First and Second Division produced what many felt was a low-key Cup Final. Admittedly, two nervous sides displayed little of note in the early stages. The game was finely balanced and remained goalless at half time. As the game ticked over the hour, West Ham began to show their class in midfield.
Pat Holland fed Billy Jennings who whipped a vicious shot that Fulham goalie Peter Mellor could only parry. The ball spilled into the path of Alan Taylor who drilled a hard, low shot through Mellor’s legs. Mellor later fumbled a Graham Paddon shot and Taylor was on hand again with a simple tap-in.
The euphoria quickly died down in 1975/76 as the Hammers embarked on a brilliant run to the European Cup Winners Cup Final. Although our early league form was promising, it soon gave way to the campaign in Europe. Similarly our interest in the FA Cup ended in the third round when Liverpool won 2-0 at Upton Park.
The next three seasons in the FA Cup were instantly forgettable as West Ham progressed no further the fourth round. In 1979 the Hammers fell victim to another giant killing as they lost 2-1 to fourth division Newport County. It seemed inconceivable that West Ham could be in the second division with a team that included Phil Parkes, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard, Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire and David Cross.
Nevertheless, 1979/80 only produced a disappointing 7th place finish. Compensation arrived in the FA Cup as an inspired run took shape. A replay was required in the third round against West Brom but won the return 2-1 (again!). Orient were our opponents in the fourth round; and just nicked the game 3-2 with a brace from right back Ray Stewart.
A home draw against Swansea in the fifth round was heading for a replay until two goals in the last eight minutes sent West Ham into the quarter finals. Upton Park was the venue for a tense sixth round tie against Aston Villa. It was nip and tuck until the last minute when West Ham was awarded a penalty. The ice cool Ray Stewart stepped up and coolly converted as the Boleyn faithful went into rapture.
The semi-final against Everton was packed with incident but the teams could not be separated as the game ended 1-1. The replay at Elland Road was evenly matched as the game went into extra time. Alan Devonshire’s goal was soon cancelled out by Bob Latchford’s equaliser. But Frank Lampard entered club folklore as he rose to head the winner in the dying minutes. His reaction was unforgettable as he danced around the corner flag in celebration.
Arsenal were hot favourites to win the final but the Hammers were unfazed as the Gunners were encouraged to attack. A break after 13 minutes is burned into the memory of every fan old enough to remember it. Devonshire centred to Cross whose shot rebounded to Stuart Pearson; he struck hard and low as Trevor Brooking stooped to head the ball home. It was allegedly the only header of his career but was enough to lift the FA Cup for a third time.
In 1980/81 there was an epic third round tie with Wrexham that took 334 minutes to resolve. The Hammers were eventually defeated 1-0 in the second replay. The next two seasons saw defeat in fourth and third round respectively but at least top flight status had been regained.