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?

“Big football” has to beware the slingshot of relegation

IT really is the wrong time for a team like Leeds United – indeed any team – to fall into a run of disastrous form, but after their second successive thumping at home, the club is rightfully fearing relegation. They’ve conceded 16 goals in four games and were beaten by Crystal Palace to the tune of 5-1 at Elland Road. Things couldn’t get much worse, but they did, losing 6-1 at home to Liverpool. Leeds have seven games remaining and three of them are against teams in a similar position.

In the past 30 years, there have been teams that win promotion only to struggle when they reach that level, teams that flirt with the drop but invariably pull clear, teams that like to think they can challenge for Europe, and the big six that jostle for position and try to claim a Champions League place. This season, three of the teams that can be considered pretty big are battling away to avoid being sucked into the relegation whirlpool: Everton, Leeds United and West Ham United. 

There’s not many people around who can remember the last time Everton went down (1951) even though they have pulled a rabbit out of the hat a couple of times to climb, Houdini-like, from the edge of the abyss. Nobody can seriously imagine Everton in the Championship, but not a lot needs to go wrong for them to fall into the bottom three.

Their current form is as bad as Chelsea’s, a club that must be grateful they accumulated some points before the wagon started to develop dodgy structural problems. If the season was to last another 20 games, Chelsea would surely find themselves in relegation trouble if their current form is an accurate barometer. As it is, their gang of coaches have, between them, cobbled together enough for them to sleep easier than the likes of Sean Dyche at Everton. They have won just twice in their last 10 games and only Southampton, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest have worse records in the same period. 

Forest, after improving in mid-season, have slumped and they haven’t won a single game in 10. Leicester City have won once but have earned one point in their last nine games. It is looking ominous for the 2015-16 Premier League champions. Southampton have lost their last three and haven’t won in six, their last victories against Leicester and fast-fading Chelsea.

West Ham United demonstrated their character in coming back from two-goal deficit against Premier leaders Arsenal, but they are an erratic side if ever there was one. The Hammers have lost one in five, but that was a 5-1 drubbing at home by Newcastle United. Their previous defeat was by 4-0 at Brighton. Although they have enjoyed a decent Conference League run that could still go further, West Ham would be pretty distraught if they lost their Premier status this season.

Of the bottom seven in the Premier, only two – West Ham United and Nottingham Forest – have not changed their managers. Everton discarded Frank Lampard in January and brought in Sean Dyche, Leeds United sacked Jesse Marsch and hired Javi Gracia, Leicester City replaced Brendan Rodgers with Dean Smith and Bournemouth decided Scott Parker wasn’t their man but Gary O’Neil was. As for Southampton, who currently must be favourites to go down, they’ve had three managers this season, Rubén Sellés is the man in the seat that is getting hotter by the week.

Going back to Leeds United, if they needed a reminder of the Premier League’s benefits, their recent financials provide the hard data. Their revenues were £ 189 million for 2021-22 of which £ 116 million was derived from broadcasting. This was their second season back in the top division, two years earlier, their income totalled £ 54 million of which £ 8.6 million came from TV. Relegation would be a big blow for a team that represents the fourth biggest city in the United Kingdom.

It is less likely these days that any elite club will be relegated, but surprises can happen. There was a time when giants did have the potential to be slain – Manchester United in 1974, Chelsea a year later, Tottenham in 1977, West Ham in 1978, Manchester City in 1983, to name but a few. If Leicester do finish in the bottom three, it will be just seven years after their historic league title win. This heroes to zeroes fall would not be the worst by any means. In 1938, Manchester City were relegated just 12 months after being champions, while Ipswich Town in 1964 were just two years on from their unexpected 1962 success. Everton in 1930 were also the top club two years before their demotion. More recently, the gap between Blackburn Rovers’ Premier League win in 1995 and their relegation in 1999 was four years. Derby County, champions in 1975, went down in 1980, while Aston Villa (1987) and Wolves (1965) both had a six-year period between triumph and disaster.

Teams that had a seven-year hitch after being league champions include Manchester United (1967-1974), Chelsea (1955-1962), Liverpool (1947-1954), West Bromwich Albion (1920-1927) and Sheffield Wednesday (1930-1937).

On the evidence of the recent results of Leeds United and Everton, if their form does not improve soon, they could easily become a casualty in the great Premier League survival stakes. It’s unthinkable for Everton, who have been ever-present in the Premier, but there has been a lot wrong with the club for quite some time and the blue loyalists are deeply frustrated. For someone, it is all going to end in tears.

Remaining fixtures

 EvertonLeeds UnitedWest Ham United
April 22Crystal Palace (A)Fulham (A) 
April 23  Bournemouth (A)
April 25 Leicester (H) 
April 26  Liverpool (H)
April 27Newcastle Utd (H)  
April 29  Crystal Palace (A)
April 30 Bournemouth (A) 
May 1Leicester City (A)  
May 3  Manchester C (A)
May 7 Manchester C (A)Manchester U (H)
May 8Brighton (A)  
May 13 Newcastle Utd (H)Brentford (A)
May 14Manchester C (H)  
May 20Wolves (A)West Ham (A)Leeds United (H)
May 28Bournemouth (H)Tottenham (H)Leicester C (A)