In 1965 West Ham used home town advantage to win the European Cup Winners Cup at Wembley Stadium with a win over 1860 Munich. 11 years later the boot was firmly on the other foot as the Hammers travelled to the Heysel Stadium in Brussels to take on Anderlecht.
John Lyall’s side had reached their second European final by seeing off Lahden Reipas of Finland, Ararat Yerevan of the Soviet Union, FC Den Haag of Holland and Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals. Their Belgian opponents passage had been much tougher, scraping past Rapid Bucharest and FK Borac Banja of Yugoslavia before a quarter-final against Wrexham, a tie they won 2-1 over two legs. Their easiest passage was against East Germans BSG Sachsenring Zwickau in the semi finals to set up a mouthwatering clash.
The West Ham team was virtually the same as the one that had beaten Fulham in the 75 Cup Final to get them into the competition. Two goal hero Alan Taylor had dropped to the bench, Keith Robson coming into the side in his place and Kevin Lock had been replaced by Keith Coleman. Trevor Brooking remained as the creative force in the team,
Anderlecht featured two of the splendid Dutch side of 1974 in their line up, with Rob Rensenbrink and Arie Haan providing the attacking firepower. Future Hammers star, Francois Van Der Elst was in the Belgian sides midfield.
Once again the incomparable David Coleman was on commentary duty for the BBC with QPR boss Dave Sexton alongside him, fresh from almost guiding the Hoops to the First Division title, where they had just been pipped by Liverpool.
For the second season running, an exhibitionist French referee, this time Robert Wurtz was on duty in a European final, and Coleman was quick to remind the viewers of the “one or two controversial decisions by the French referee in the 1975 European Cup Final” a remark Leeds fans will have been quick to agree with.
The opening 10 minutes of the game were very quiet. West Ham enjoying the bulk of possession but no real opportunities. It was the Belgians who had the first opportunity, Rensenbrink galloping down the left to attack Frank Lampard before firing a low ball across the face of the goal which Mervyn Day and his defenders managed to scramble away.
Evenly matched in the opening stages in terms of football, sartorially the Hammers were streets ahead. Whilst they were bedecked in a brand new Admiral strip, the Belgians strip looked like it had been thrown together at the last minute, with shirts that were too tight and shorts that looked too short. With most players wearing the shirts outside the “mauve” shorts, they looked vaguely ridiculous.
The fashion stakes were only noticable because the football was so poor in the first quarter of the match. It was 25 minutes before West Ham threatened the Anderlecht goal, moving the ball down the right, the attack ending with Pat Holland blazing wildly over the bar.
That was enough to wake the travelling fans, and within minutes loud choruses of the club anthem, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles reverberated around the Heysel Stadium. That noise raised the spirits of the West Ham players and they began to take a grip of the game. Graham Paddon drove the ball into the area and it was flicked goalwards by Billy Jennings. Jan Ruiter in the Anderlecht goal watched the ball carefully before tipping the ball over the bar.
On 28 minutes the Hammers took the lead. Once again it was Paddon who provided the opportunity, his driven cross from the left hand side of the box was headed down by Billy Bonds into the path of Holland who had ghosted into the area to slide the ball home.
West Ham now had their tails up and looked the more likely to score again, Lampard hitting a low skidding effort which forced the keeper into getting down to make a save. The Hammers full back may not have got his name on the scoresheet, but he was about to play a key part in the match, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons
With just three minutes until the break, Lampard played a woeful back pass towards Mervyn Day, leaving the ball hopelessly short of its intended target. It was gobbled up by Rensenbrink who drove into the West Ham area. Despite the best efforts of Billy Bonds who had got back and forced the Dutchman back towards a crowd of West Ham players, Rensenbrink kept his composure to smash the ball into the net. Coleman, as usual summed up the moment perfectly: “Frank Lampard walks away as Anderlecht celebrate a truly gift goal” adding “he looked the lonliest man in the ground.”
West Ham boss John Lyall shuffled his pack at the break with the unfortunate Lampard replaced by Alan Taylor, the man whose goals had earned the Hammers entry to the competition. Whilst still adjusting to the change in personnel, Anderlecht took the lead. Rensenbrink started a breakaway attack, gliding through the West Ham midfield before producing a superb reverse ball which set Van Der Elst free. The Belgian international strode purposefully into the box before lifting the ball over Day with the outside of his boot to make it 2-1.
It would have been understandable if West Ham had folded, two goals in five minutes either side of the break having turned the game completely on its head, but to their credit, the Hammers dug in and went again. Taylor went close to equalising when he latched on to a Bonds knock down, striking the ball from an angle similar to that from which he had scored his second against Fulham in the Cup Final the previous year. However Jan Ruiter was a far different prospect to Peter Mellor and he blocked the shot. He confirmed this from the ensuing corner, denying Taylor again, this time superbly turning away a shot by Taylor which was heading for the top corner.
West Ham though were rewarded for their sustained pressure midway through the second half. Trevor Brooking was the architect, drilling in a cross from the left hand side which was cleverly glanced in by Keith Robson with a clever stooping header which went in off the far post. “It’s there, beautiful goal by Robson” exclaimed Coleman as the Hammers levelled things up.
The equaliser seemed to spark Anderlecht back to life, and they immediately stepped up a gear. Day in the West Ham goal produced a great save to keep the scores level, denying Vercauteren. However Day was helpless moments later when Anderlecht regained the lead from the penalty spot.
Once again Rensenbrink was West Ham’s torturer, again collecting the ball and driving into the West Ham area. Tommy Taylor slid in desperately to try to stop the Dutch master, but only succeeded in taking his legs away and giving Monsieur Wurtz a simple decision. Rensenbrink himself stepped up to take the spot kick and smashed the ball home to make it 3-2 with 17 minutes remaining.
The Hammers desperately threw themselves into attack, but left themselves vulnerable to the counter attack. Day denied Van Der Elst, standing up to palm away an effort following another sweeping move, but with just six minutes remaining the future Hammer sealed victory for the Belgians. Once again it was a breakaway attack with Rensenbrink providing the Belgian international with the opportunity, splitting the West Ham defence with a super through ball. Van Der Elst, having beaten the offside trap kept his cool to sidestep the backtracking McDowell before sitting Day on the floor to roll the ball into the net. “West Ham’s all out attempts to attack were caught out there” said Coleman.
Two minutes later the final whistle blew and Anderlecht had won the Cup Winners Cup, their first European trophy, and started a run of three consecutive finals. For West Ham, it remains their last European final (not withstanding the Intertoto Cup!). Two years later they would be relegated to the second division.