European glory - and the 'Two Bob' Cup

Alan Sealey, one of our all time great heroes, would have been 80 last week - the man whose two goals at Wembley won the European crown for West Ham on the greatest night in the club’s history, 57 years ago next month.

For those of us who were there, it seems like yesterday. Those two late goals that put paid to Munich 1860’s not inconsiderable challenge on a night when the estimation was of some 80,000 Hammers fans in a 100,000 crowd at the grand old stadium.

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Alan Sealey, hero of 1965

Sealey’s name came up in West Ham conversation last week, as the club prepared itself for what we all pray will be another night of European triumph at the London Stadium.

Sometimes you feel that Sealey, who tragically died of a heart attack in 1996 when he was just 53, does not always get the acclaim he deserves for scoring the goals that brought this club its greatest triumph.

Maybe his legacy competes with that of the Moore, Hurst and Peters vintage and of the glittering past of Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking - who won the FA Cup for us in 1980, Alan Taylor, the two goal hero of 1975 and the last-minute winner from Ronnie Boyce in 1964.

Sadly there have been times when discussing our history with younger fans, some don’t always put a face to a name regarding Sealey, shall we say. Now that doesn’t make them lesser fans, of course not. George Kay’s name doesn’t spring readily to my mind as the captain of our 1923 FA Cup final side.

But as the decades roll on, it’s the heroes of 1986 and 2006 that spring to mind first for our younger generation of fans. And why not? But Sealey won the European Cup Winners’ Cup for us - and don’t you ever forget it, as we all turn our attention to the Europa League semi-final with Eintracht Frankfurt.

It's strange, though, how bits of our history flood back into the memory. Sealey’s exploits last week, the return of Frankfurt for a European semi-final, 46 years after they were last in east London for a similar showdown.

Next week, when we return to Frankfurt for the second leg, it will be 57 years to the day that John Sissons goal in Spain carried us through to the ECWC final with a great performance to knock out Real Zaragoza in their own stadium. 1-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate.

I doubt many of you know much about that game. Me and my dad stood in our kitchen that night with ears glued to a crackly old wireless. It was a game that goes under the radar, but one that deserves a place in our history as one of our greatest away European performances.

West Ham had won the first leg 2-1 with an amazing Johnny Byrne volley from 30 yards after perfect control on that fulsome chest of his. Canorio’s second half strike that night made the second leg more than tricky.

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Johnny 'Budgie' Byrne

It was a war too; we conceded 19 fouls in the first half alone and the furious Spaniards claimed they were denied three penalties. Lapetra levelled the aggregate score before the break. It made Sissons' sensational goal that night worthy of recalling all these years later.

Let’s hope that performance is an omen for our trip to face Eintracht next week, when another Euro final place will be at stake.

This Thursday’s first leg will revive all those old memories of 1976, the 3-1 victory rated the greatest night ever at the old Upton Park. Graham Paddon’s vital goal in Germany meant we were only 2-1 down for the second clash and Brooking’s header early in the second half put us ahead on aggregate. Keith Robson’s stunner and a beauty from Brooking all but sealed it, but people who were there know that Beverungen’s late goal gave the stadium a painful final couple of minutes.

Is Thursday’s clash with Frankfurt going to be as memorable? We shall see. West Ham boss David Moyes prepared for the tie by making six changes for Sunday’s unfortunate trip to Chelsea and it’s what many fans have been asking for.

With the prospect of three European wins now ensuring a place in the Champions League, you can appreciate where Moyes’ priorities are now. All in all I felt that side did OK at Stamford Bridge. Mark Noble showed there was life still in the old dog yet and Ben Johnson showed he could step into central defence with a calm, efficient display.

Yet once again we had a mad last ten minutes: a red card, a penalty saved and then a goal conceded at the death. It’s something we do too much, throwing away good positions in the closing stages. I can recall losing at Manchester United to a dodgy, late VAR goal and Brentford won at our place late on.

But we can put aside the league for a while to dream of a final in Seville. And of course, European action brings back all the old memories.

West Ham have played eight European semi-final matches, two of which are hardly worthy of ther title, but the Intertoto Cup - or Inter 'Two Bob' Cup as it was nicknamed - have to be included, although not until I have recounted the real thing.

The 1965 semi-final with Zaragoza was pretty special to get us to the Wembley final, a game that should be renamed 'Sealey’s Final'. That side included four major changes from the FA Cup final the previous season with Joe Kirkup, Martin Peters, Brian Dear and Sealey in for John Bond, Eddie Bovington and Peter Brabrook. Brian Dear stepped in for the unfortunate Byrne, who was out injured.

Many felt that side was weakened by the loss of the brilliant Byrne but still West Ham produced a memorable performance. An omen perhaps for the current side that has been so cruelly hit by injuries to three centre-backs, Kurt Zouma, Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna.

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Lothar Emmerich

Our next semi-final was the following year as holders, when we went out 5-3 on aggregate to Borussia Dortmund who had a string of players who would be in the West Germany World Cup final squad later that year.

West Ham were up against it after the first leg, in which it looked like a Peters goal would win the match until the gifted Lothar Emmerich scored two late goals to silence Upton Park. It had not been a good build-up to the match with Bobby Moore stripped of the captaincy because of a row over a new contract and a rumoured move to Spurs. Byrne took over as skipper that night in a strange atmosphere of impending doom.

In the second leg Emmerich scored after 20 seconds, and the final 3-1 defeat was inevitable; Byrne netting for West Ham.

We had to wait until 1976 for those two clashes with Frankfurt in another ECWC semi-final and until 1999 for another ‘crack’ at Europe in the infamous Intertoto, a tournament invented by UEFA to replace pre-season friendlies and serve as a qualifying route for the UEFA Cup.

I have always struggled with the seriousness of a competition that in fact had three winners in differing groups - ourselves, Montpellier and Juventus. All three got a trophy and all three progressed into the UEFA Cup.

There we beat Croatian side Osijek 6-3 on aggregate before being knocked out by Steaua Bucharest, who won their home leg 2-0 and produced a grim defensive display in a 0-0 second leg.

And the Intertoto? Sorry, I almost forgot. A couple of semi-final games with Dutch side Heerenveen, both 1-0 win and both through goals from Frank Lampard Jnr. We could only muster 7,485 for the first match, which clearly failed to capture the interest of the West Ham fans.

There was more interest in the final, although we lost 1-0 at home to Metz to a Louis Saha goal, before a fine 3-1 win in France. Trevor Sinclair, Paolo Wanchope and Lampard scored, while the latter also missed a penalty.

So that’s today's trip down memory lane. Eight European semi-final matches and we’ve had to wait 23 years from the Intertoto to now. Let’s just hope that the luck that has deserted us lately in the Premier League returns in spades for the next two Euro semi-finals - and that someone remembers what Alan Sealey did to start it all off.

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