'East London was swaying' – West Ham legend Sir Trevor Brooking recalls famous 1976 European clash against Frankfurt

TREVOR BROOKING turned right at the Boleyn pub into Green Street in his Ford Cortina – and then onwards to one of the best nights of his life.

The modest way in which one of West Ham’s greatest players arrived at the old Upton Park ground to face Eintracht Frankfurt in 1976 says so much about how football has changed.


On Thursday night the club completes the circle with a date against the same opposition at the same stage of European competition albeit the new Europa League instead of the Cup Winners’ Cup.

Rest assured, 21st century West Ham will rock up to 60,000 capacity London Stadium in certain style.

The squad is to meet at the vast arena, then off to a hotel for an afternoon rest before an air-conditioned coach with escort will guide them through a huge crowd expected to mass in East London hours before kick-off.

Brooking, 73, will be there. He gets back from a brief holiday in Portugal on Wednesday and wouldn’t miss such a massive night for the team he represented with distinction almost 650 times.

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The night the classy midfielder defied a 1970s pitch pummelled by rain all day and scored twice as West Ham fought back from 2-1 down in the first leg to overcome the Germans 4-3 on aggregate.

Brooking said: “From an attacking player’s point of view it was great. We were skidding around and you could wrong foot people.

“In those days pitches were nothing like they are now. It just soaked up the rain.

“And with our fans at the old ground it was so tight and the noise was deafening. The old Chicken Run was opposite as we came out of the tunnel. It was swaying consistently with fans singing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’.

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“On that side of the ground you could take two steps from the touchline and shake hands with the supporters. The noise was deafening.

“Any of the players who were there would rate that as one of their top nights.

“The old ground was situated deep in the East End. Traffic flow was never great. The roads were not built for massive crowds like that one. People were walking down Green Street and blocking the traffic. It was chock-a-block.

“In those days we just parked our cars at the ground an hour and a half before kick-off. It was two hours that night.

“In ‘76 I was driving a Ford Cortina – a step up from my first car, a Ford Anglia.

“Getting there was a problem for a lot of us but worth it. After the game I don’t even remember how I got home. The whole East End of London was swaying.

“Things were so much different then, it is difficult to compare to now. But it’s also eerie isn’t it that we have drawn them again in a semi-final. I hope they go on to do better than us and win the final.”

Brooking points out that West Ham in 1976 faced an extra challenge against Anderlecht in the final at their own ground – the ill-fated Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

A naturally gifted and tolerant player, Brooking oozed class even on boggy pitches. His first goal was a far post header and the second a mazy run before deftly flicking the ball off the inside of his left ankle before shooting low with his right.

He joked: “I used to score one header a season believe it or not. You’d have thought with my height I’d be great at it but I wasn’t trusted by any of my managers to even mark players who were good in the air.

“We were actually having a bad run in the league that season as well. I think we finished 17th or 18th. But on a European night it was always on we would get a good result.

An evening game with a full house was special

“Anyone involved looks back on this night with a special memory. Luckily I got a couple of goals but the team all round contributed. Being a smaller club we didn’t get to many finals.

“An evening game with a full house was special and we needed it because we had to get back from 2-1 down. It definitely lifted us. Fans used to speak to me about that for years and years afterwards.

“It wasn’t the best of tournaments for me. We played a Finnish team. Then we went out to Ararat Yerevan. That was in Southern Russia but we had to go through Moscow and unfortunately I got a bug and I didn’t play.

“I had it for seven weeks. It flared up when I came back. The whole thing was horrendous for travelling, bugs, illness.

“By the time of the semi-final we were battling against relegation. The tournament didn’t help us because lots of us had problems because of what we had to face.”

Modern players are granted access to hours of downloaded footage of upcoming opponents. Many Frankfurt players will be familiar to West Ham’s as football fills our TV screens 24-7 these days.

Brooking said: “We might have had a bit of footage but you are talking 1976. What was the coverage?

“We might have known how they played but that was about it. We had to just play to our strengths. Every game was played blind.

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“We played to our strengths and one of those was our tight little ground.

“The new stadium is different but anyone who saw West Ham beat Seville says it was the best atmosphere they have had there.”

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