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?

Hungary: Fradi make it five in a row

HUNGARIAN football continues to be dominated by Ferencváros; the famous green and white shirts clinched the title on May 8 after their nearest rivals, Kecskemét, slipped-up against struggling Honved. The top two actually met after Fradi had already been named champions and Kecskemét won 2-0, but it was too late to change anything. Hungary’s most decorated team had been top since the first league tables were compiled in 2022-23.

Although Ferencváros show no sign of loosening their grip on Magyar football, the league’s crowds are at their highest level since 2011-12. The average in 2022-23 for the top division is 3,360 with Ferencváros drawing over 10,000 at their home games. The other teams in Budapest, Ujpest, Honved and Vasas, cannot attract those sort of attendances, and with Fradi earning money from a decent European campaign, the financial differential between them and their rivals is difficult to close. 

In the transfer market, for example, they have spent almost € 5 million this season, more than the rest of the top division combined. In the winter transfer window, they signed Myenty Abena from Slovan Bratislava and Iwusu Kwabena from Qarabag and sold Aissa Laiudouni to Union Berlin.

Fradi hired Stanislav Cherchesov, the former Russia manager, in 2021 and his record has been impressive: two league titles and a Hungarian Cup win in 2022, as well as a run to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League after topping a group that included Monaco, Real Betis and Trabzonspor. They were beaten by Bayer Leverkusen in the knockout phase.

Cherchesov, perhaps unsurprisingly, signed a petition of protest against the exclusion of Russian football teams due to the Ukrainian war. He took over from Peter Stoger, who had been in the job only a short time after the departure of former Tottenham and Ukraine striker Sergei Rebrov.

Cherchesov, who coached Russia in the 2018 World Cup, is something of a disciplinarian and has a very physical approach. It’s a slightly bizarre situation because Hungary has strong links with Ukraine and since the start of the war, Fradi have provided training opportunities for Ukrainian refugee children. They are not the only club to try and help victims of Russia’s aggression – Kisvarda, from a town of 15,000 in north east Hungary and 20 minutes from the Ukrainian border, provided financial support to footballers in Ukraine who were going without wages.

While Ferencvaros retained their NB I (Namzeti Bajnokság I) title, they missed out on the Magyar Kupa, getting knocked out in the round of 32 by third-tier club Iváncsa. The cup final involved NB II side Budafok and Zalaegerszegi, with the latter winning 2-0 thanks to two goals in the last three minutes of extra time.

As for Fradi, they have benefitted from the goals of Moroccan strike Ryan Mmaee and the Mali winger Adama Traoré, but the leading scorer in the league is Barnabás Varga of Paks, who has 26 NB I goals, which is double the total of the second highest marksman, Honved’s Nenad Lukić. Mmaee (25), is being eyed by Premier League Leeds United.

At the other end of the table, Vasas have been relegated to NB II and Honved, the club of Ferenc Puskás, are not yet out of trouble, while in the second division, MTK from the capital have won promotion, along with Diósgyóri VTK. There are two rounds remaining in NB I, Honved have to play almost safe Mezõkövesd and Puskás Akadémia, while Fehérvár, the other threatened club, play host to Zalaegerszegi and travel to Vasas. It will go to the final game on May 27.