‘Our European adventure papered over serious cracks in the league’

We deep dive into the club’s fortunes during John Lyall’s tenure continuing with the 75-76 campaign

General view at the West Ham United v Manchester City EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th September, 2023.

After winning the FA Cup in May hopes were high that the team might push on and make an impression in the league. Former Tottenham legend Bill Nicholson was recruited by Ron Greenwood in an advisory capacity but there were no new playing staff, which in hindsight may have been a mistake given that with the Cup Winners’ Cup to squeeze into an already tight schedule, we would play 35 matches between August and December alone.

The first was the Charity Shield against Derby County at Wembley, a routine 2-0 defeat but nothing to be overly concerned about. The real business began at Stoke, with Bonds missing having career-saving groin surgery. A 2-1 win was followed by a magnificent performance at Anfield where two goals from Alan Taylor put us nine minutes from victory, settling for a 2-2 draw.

The first home game of the season saw us show resilience of their own as they were twice behind to Burnley but came back to win 3-2. Tottenham were also beaten on the Bank Holiday Monday making it seven points from a possible eight and put us top of the table.

A creditable 1-1 draw at QPR who would go on to push Liverpool all the way, then a trip to play Fiorentina in the Anglo-Italian cup, a match between the cup-winners of both countries. It was a game, and a trip John Lyall could have done without, but it did give Bonds some minutes in his recovery from surgery. The tie was lost 2-0 on aggregate.

Back in the League the unbeaten start continued with a 1-0 win over Manchester City at Upton Park before Bristol City proved awkward League Cup opposition with 10-men. Paddon’s missed penalty meant a replay at Ashton Gate. The Cup Winners Cup campaign started in Finland with a 2-2 draw against Lahden Reipas in Helsinki.

The League run continued with wins over Sheffield United, Wolves, Newcastle and Manchester United. We beat Bristol City to progress in the League Cup. All going very smoothly and even a home defeat to Everton, the first of the season, and defeats at Middlesbrough and Burnley cannot knock Lyall’s Hammers out of their stride.

After beating Darlington in the League Cup, we drew 0-0 at White Hart Lane but lost the replay at home 2-0. It’s the start and a wobble that will not correct itself – then Soviet side, now Armenian, Ararat Erevan are beaten on aggregate 4-2. The away leg is a 1-1 draw after Mervyn Day has the ball nodded out of his hand at a goal kick. But we safely moved into the last eight.

After beating Stoke at Upton Park on 20 December 1975, we sat in sixth place in the first division, two points off the lead with a game in hand. It was all set up to be a great 1976. But the expression ‘down with the Christmas decorations’ was not levelled at us without reason.

The second half of the League season, 21 matches, yielded just one win and five draws. That one win, against QPR at Upton Park would ultimately cost them the League title as they lost out to Liverpool by a point in April. Even as FA Cup holders, there was no comfort in that competition, losing in the third round at home to Liverpool. There was only the Cup Winners Cup left.

But that didn’t look good either as in the first leg of the quarter final in The Hague, we found ourselves 4-0 down after an hour of the game against Den Haag. With John Lyall, stuck in his hotel bed with tonsillitis, we needed the European know-how of Ron Greenwood, who, knowing the importance of away goals threw caution to the wind and went for all out attack for the last 15 minutes. Billy Jennings scored two vital goals to keep us in the tie at 4-2.

In the return leg. An amazing strike from Frank Lampard, and two more from Bonds and Alan Taylor gave us a 3-1 win and with the tie level at 5-5, we progressed on away goals. In the semi-final, we faced Eintracht Frankfurt, playing the first leg away and going ahead through Graham Paddon before the Germans scored twice to win the game 2-1.

At the final whistle, our players celebrated, confident that with the vital away goal and under the lights at Upton Park, they would prevail. And they did. In a memorable game on a mud bath of a pitch, we won 3-1 thanks to two from Trevor Brooking and an absolute world-class strike from Keith Robson.

The final at Heysel Stadium in Brussels was against Anderlecht. It was the 60th game of a draining season. It showed.

Although we went 1-0 up through Pat Holland and equalised at 2-2 through Keith Robson, Anderlecht with their mercurial forwards Robbie Rensenbrink and Francois Van Der Elst prevailed 4-2. The European adventure had papered over some serious cracks in our league form though. There would have to be a dramatic improvement in 1976-77.

My YouTube series ‘The John Lyall Years’ follows the fortunes of the club during John Lyall’s tenure, merging match footage with interviews, newspaper cuttings, news items, music, TV, and cinema from the time. It is a must for anyone who remembers those heady days, or those who are curious to learn. 1975-76 is covered in Episodes 6-9 – see @westhamhistory

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