West Ham’s forgotten 1975 meetings with Fiorentina

WEST HAM UNITED recently won through to their first European final since 1976 and have the chance to pick up their first piece of silverware since 1980’s FA Cup triumph against Arsenal at Wembley. Their opponents, Fiorentina, will be looking for their first major prize since 2001. Both clubs have won in Europe before, Fiorentina in 1961 when they lifted the now defunct Cup-Winners’ Cup, West Ham four years later in the same competition.

In 1975, the two clubs met in a two-legged challenge between the domestic cup winners of England and Italy. Like other footballing goodwill ventures between the two countries, this was the brainchild of Gigi Peronace, the smiling Italian wheeler-dealer who brokered the big cross-border transfers involving Denis Law, Jimmy Greaves, John Charles and Joe Baker as Italian football developed a taste for British players.

The move to create a credible tournament involving clubs from England and Italy began with the creation of the Anglo-Italian League Cup, which was more or less invented to reward Swindon Town, the 1969 Football League Cup winners, with European football after being barred from entering the Fairs Cup due to their third tier status. Swindon then went on to win the inaugural Anglo-Italian Cup in 1970, a summer competition that saw them beat Napoli 3-0 in a game that was abandoned due to crowd problems. Blackpool and Newcastle United won the 1971 and 1973 editions with Fiorentina finishing runners-up in the latter.

As for the Anglo-Italian League Cup, this was played in 1970 and 1971 with Bologna and Tottenham emerging as winners, but it was put into cold storage in 1972, 1973 and 1974. In 1975, it was rekindled but with the FA Cup and Coppa Italia winners contesting the two-legged match. In 1974-75, West Ham United won the FA Cup for the second time in their history, beating Fulham 2-0 –  Bobby Moore et al – in the final. In Italy, Fiorentina won the Coppa Italia, overcoming AC Milan 3-2. Both the Hammers and I Viola (the violets) would play in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, so there was every chance they could come up against each other in the serious stuff.

Nevertheless, the two games with Fiorentina would give West Ham valuable experience that could be drawn on in their Cup-Winners’ Cup campaign. Winning the FA Cup gave West Ham added impetus for the 1975-76 season and they started enthusiastically well, playing some adventurous football and going unbeaten in their first nine games. In the first few months of the league programme, they beat fading London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, drew with title contenders Queens Park Rangers and won 2-1 at Upton Park against Tommy Docherty’s resurgent Manchester United.

Fiorentina had a young player who would later become part of Italy’s World Cup winning side of 1982, Giancarlo Antognoni, an elegant midfielder who had a touch of “fantasy” about the way he performed. The 21 year-old had already been capped by Italy and would go on to play 73 times for the Azzurri. 

The first leg of the challenge was on September 3, 1975 in the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence. The Italian league season had not started yet, but West Ham were unbeaten and second in the table after drawing 1-1 at QPR. A healthy 30,000 crowd turned up to see the game and witness a 19th minute error by West Ham’s keeper, Mervyn Day. The youngster let a tame shot by Vincenzo Guerini pass through his hands to give Fiorentina a 19th minute lead. It was the only goal of the game and the home fans were not convinced by their team’s performance. Day, meanwhile, admitted to his error, which had come shortly after two blunders in games against Burnley and QPR. “If I am going to make mistakes, it is better they come this early in the season rather than later,” he said. West Ham manager John Lyall, was philosophical about the defeat: “We did what you must never do against an Italian side – let them score first.” He added that Fiorentina had been very frustrating to play against. How many managers in the late 1960s and early 1970s complained about the negativity of Italian football?

By the time the second leg arrived in December, the situation had changed for West Ham. Their league form had started to deteriorate but they had won through to the last eight of the Cup-Winners’ Cup after beating Reipas Lahti of Finland and the Armenian side Ararat Yerevan of the USSR (second leg pictured). Their quarter-final would be against Den Haag of the Netherlands. Fiorentina had lost half of their eight Serie A games but went into the second leg following a 2-0 victory over Roma. They were still two places off the bottom and not playing especially well. Their European run was over after losing on penalties to East Germany’s Sachsenring Zwickau in the seconds round.

The game didn’t capture the imagination of the east London public and the crowd was a disappointing 14,699 at Upton Park. But among the spectators was new England manager Don Revie who was watching the Italians with one eye on the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

West Ham huffed and puffed and worked themselves into the ground, but Fiorentina demonstrated great economy of effort and allowed the ball to do their work for them. Once again, they scored in the 19th minute, a left foot shot by Walter Speggiorin. Although Trevor Brooking performed well in midfield and matched the Italian cup holders, many of his team-mates struggled and the best player on the pitch was clearly Antognoni.

The press concluded that West Ham’s hopes of winning the Cup-Winners’ Cup could depend on the lessons learned from Fiorentina. In the second half of the league season, they declined terribly and ended in 18th place, just six points off of relegation, but they pulled off two exciting comebacks in Europe, overcoming Den Haag and Eintracht Frankfurt, to reach the final. They were eventually beaten by Anderlecht in Brussels by 4-2.

The past two seasons have seen West Ham come up against old rivals Anderlecht and Eintracht Frankfurt and now they face Fiorentina in Prague. It has been a long time, but surely, the Hammers owe the Italians one?

Napoli are champions after 33 years, but for some the wait goes on and on

FOR such a big and important club, Napoli’s list of major honours is very modest; their latest Serie A title was only their third and their first since 1990 and the days of Diego Maradona. But they are not the only sizeable football entity that has had a modest roll call of achievement over the years. Manchester City and Chelsea’s trophy cabinet was quite underwhelming until they came into money and those clubs that dominated pre-WW2 football, such as Sunderland and Newcastle United, have not brought out the silver polish in decades. In the age of industry, English football had its heartland, and it was in the north and the midlands. In the modern age, those that win have extraordinary financial resources, giving them a competitive edge that dwarfs the advantages of the so-called rich clubs of the past.

It is likely that many of the English football champions of ancient sporting history will never be the top dogs again. There’s only been 24 different champions and some, like Preston North End (1890), Portsmouth (1950), Ipswich Town (1962), Burnley (1960), Sunderland (1936) and Derby County (1975), may forever be in the shadows. It would take a miracle for them to become contenders once more. But miracles do happen, even if they happen be wrapped up in a substantial ownership package. Nobody would have predicted that Leicester City would be Premier League champions, but they did it, and then won the FA Cup five years later.

Newcastle United are the latest club to take the money of the Middle East and this, effectively, elevates them to “big six” status. In fact, they could even displace one of the existing half dozen that have conveniently been bracketed as the crème de la crème of English football. Newcastle United’s glory days were long ago and the club is approaching the centenary of their last league title victory, in 1926-27. They are edging closer to becoming a trophy-hunting team and if anyone other than Manchester City and co. is going to surprise us, then Newcastle will probably be that club. There is arguably not a person alive who remembers 1927’s success and there cannot be too many who even recall their last trophy, the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup in 1969. 

Some clubs have been waiting for another title for well over 100 years: Preston North End last won the big prize in 1890 (133 years ago), while Sheffield United have been waiting 125 years. West Bromwich Albion were last champions in 1920. 

The longest wait between actual championships won is 81 years, the period between Blackburn Rovers 194 triumph and the Jack Walker-inspired victory in 1995. Aston Villa, the team of the late Victorian and Edwardian years, had a 71-year gap filled when they won the title in 1981. And Chelsea, for all their Abramovich-era success, ended 50 years of frustration when they won their second championship in 2005. Manchester City, in 2012, closed a 44-year chasm. 

Of the 2022-23 Premier League, 13 clubs have been English champions. The seven of the other 11 can be found in the Championship and four in League One. A total of 68 clubs have never won the title. It may seem a small number of clubs in the Premier but compared to many European countries, it almost smacks of democracy. 

In Spain, there have only been nine champions in 91 seasons, but 61 of those have been won by Real Madrid (35) and Barcelona (26). Some clubs have punched below their weight, such as Sevilla, who have a solitary La Liga victory to their name, in 1946, so they have been waiting almost 80 years for their second championship. Real Betis, their neighbours, have been waiting almost 90 years, while Athletic Bilbao will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their last title in 2023-24. Only seven clubs in the current La Liga line-up have been champions.

In Germany, seven of the current 18 top flight teams have won the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich have secured 32 of the 59 championships. Schalke 04 are the most notable team not to have won the Bundesliga, but they did lift the old championship in 1958, some 65 years ago.

Similar to Bayern in Germany and Spain’s Real-Barca duopoly, Italian football has been bossed by a small group, namely the northern sides of Juventus, AC Milan and Inter. This trio has won 74 of 129 titles, with Juve leading the way with 36. Genoa, widely acknowledged as the first club in Italy, were last champions 99 years ago, while Torino have not been at the summit since 1976. Roma and Lazio, the capital city clubs, have won just five scudettos between them.

France has arguably been the most open of league championships over the years, but Paris Saint-Germain are currently standing astride Ligue 1. PSG and Saint-Étienne have won 10 titles in the professional era, but the latter has not hit the top since 1981. Clubs like Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon have all had their moments of superiority, but since PSG became the property of Qatar Sports Investments, it has been difficult for any club to consistently keep pace with the Parisians.

By the end of 2022-23, the Premier League will have been won by either Arsenal or Manchester City. For Arsenal, if they emerge triumphant, it will end a 19-year barren spell in the league, the longest period without the holy grail since they started winning leagues in 1931. For City, it will complete a hat-trick of league successes, something Arsenal achieved in the 1930s.

When did you last see a title?

  First titleLast titleYears since last title (to 2023)
1Preston North End18891890133
4Aston Villa1894198142
5Sheffield United18981898125
7Sheffield Wednesday1904193093
8Newcastle United1905192796
9Manchester United1908201310
10Blackburn Rovers1914199581
11West Bromwich Albion19201920103
13Huddersfield Town1924192697
15Manchester City193720221+
17Tottenham Hotspur1951196162
18Wolverhampton Wanderers1954195964
20Ipswich Town1962196261
21Leeds United1969199231
22Derby County1972197548
23Nottingham Forest1978197845
24Leicester City201620167

+ Possible champions 2022-23