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Wils 12:11 Wed Apr 27
The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog

Semi-final heroes of 1976 recall how they beat German team who now block club's path to Europa League final 46 years on

Sam Dean
27 April 2022 • 7:00am

The memories of the match itself have faded over 46 years, the games now merging into one in the minds of the boys of 1976, but the occasion is one that will never be forgotten. The relentless rain, the squelching mud, the roaring crowd — it is all there still, scorched into the brains of those who took part in perhaps the best ever night at Upton Park.

“For us it was the greatest,” says Pat Holland of West Ham United’s last European semi-final, against Eintracht Frankfurt in a different era and a different footballing world. “I can’t remember another night like that.”

It is a remarkable quirk of fate that, after all these years, West Ham will this week meet the same German opponents in their first European semi-final since that heady evening in east London. The class of 2022 is a long way removed from the team of 1976 but on Thursday night the two generations will be joined by a single thread, the past folding into the present.

“When the draw came through, we were gobsmacked at the weirdness of it,” says Meryvn Day, the goalkeeper in the side which triumphed against Frankfurt almost half a century ago. “We have got a connection with it.”

Holland, Day and Keith Robson — three key members of that team — were all at the club’s training ground this week. Primarily to reminisce, but also to meet David Moyes ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final.

Together, the three former players watched back the footage of their famous 3-1 victory (overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit) and then settled down for a conversation afterwards. Before long the old jokes were being cracked again, the banter flowing as it did when they were team-mates, as they recalled one of the great evenings in West Ham’s history.

The highlights of the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, available online, make for essential viewing. The dreadful conditions had turned the Upton Park turf into little more than a bog, but West Ham were still able to produce three goals of the highest class. Sir Trevor Brooking scored twice, while Robson lashed home the other with a searing strike from range.

“When you look back at it, the quality of some of the play, on that pitch, was exceptional,” says Day. “The one and two-touch passing, the movement off the ball. To do that on a pitch like that was fantastic. All the goals we scored were top quality. Robbo’s was the best, though, I have to say.”

For Robson himself, the emotions of the night have obscured the memories of his strike, which crashed into the top corner from 25 yards. “You try to remember all of the things that happened,” he says with a smile. “But you can’t. It just took over you, that night.”

There is no doubt in any of their minds that the ferocity of the home crowd played a significant role in the victory. The official attendance stands at 39,202, although it seems to be an accepted fact that thousands more had smuggled themselves into the ground.

“It was a real hostile and horrible night, tipping down with rain,” says Day. “There was a lake in front of the penalty spot. It was a pitch you would see over in Hackney Marshes. That was the difference. It all conspired to give us an advantage and the crowd were massive for us.”

The “Chicken Run” at Upton Park was at its most intimidating, the supporters just inches away from the action. “You looked around at your opponents in the tunnel and they were frightened,” says Robson. “You would go over to the Chicken Run to take a throw-in and suddenly the crowd would have the ball. The Germans were not used to that.”

The move from Upton Park to the London Stadium has drained some of the storied West Ham atmosphere in recent years, although this season’s European campaign has produced nights of genuine volume and intensity. The potential of the new stadium is unquestionable, and there have been times in recent months when it seems as if an old beast might have awoken in Stratford.

“The game against Sevilla [in the round of 16] was incredible,” says Robson. “I had hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Unbelievable. That was like Upton Park. You could see we wanted a goal and when we got it, you would not have believed it. People in the boxes were jumping up and down, jumping across the chairs.”

Neither Day, Robson nor Holland have their memorabilia on display at home. Day reckons it is all at “the back of the wardrobe” somewhere, while Robson jokes he has more pictures of his Labrador than of his footballing career. Holland has kept the shirts and the medal from the subsequent final, he says, but they are all “out of the way”.

'If you lose a final it drifts away'
Perhaps that would be different if they had gone on to win the final, against Anderlecht in Brussels. The 4-2 defeat does not erase the glory of the Frankfurt tie, but it does create a lingering sense of disappointment. The challenge for Declan Rice and the rest of the current team is therefore to go one step further than the heroes of 1976.

“When you win in the final it stays with the club,” says Holland. “If you lose, it drifts away. With the Anderlecht game there is a lot of disappointment. I remember on the bus, coming back, it was very hollow.

“When we got to the ground before the match we were mobbed, but when we came back there was no one to meet us. Touch wood the current team gets to the final, and they have to win it.”

Even if they do not lift the trophy, though, there are still memories to be made and tales to be told. Who knows, if the story of 2022 is good enough, it might even be revisited in 46 years. Surely there can be no better motivation than that?

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Wils 4:20 Thu Apr 28
Re: The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
Being only two my own memories are a bit vague.

But recapping the night on YouTube one can only hope we have half the game the crowd were treated to back then:


wd40 1:45 Thu Apr 28
Re: The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
Long time ago but can still recall Robsons goal one of them rare goals you get when a half a second delayed happens then all went mental.
Sure the foundations of the ground moved.

Aalborg Hammer 1:38 Thu Apr 28
Re: The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
We managed to leave work in Basingstoke early and drove over in my old mini van..it was a last minute decision to go.We got there 15 minutes after kick off and tried every gate to get in..eventually we got into the South Bank.The bloke on the gate wasn't going to let us in until my mate (from Cardiff) said "C'mon,we've driven all the way from Swansea !!"
What a night !

GreenStreetPlayer 10:47 Thu Apr 28
Re: The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
With some improvisation expecting swaying tonight.
Let’s bring back the old times.

South Bank Exile 10:45 Wed Apr 27
Re: The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
Nice post Wils.

What a night that was in '76. Incredible performance and an incredible atmosphere. The place was really rocking, and considering the condition of the pitch, it still amazes me to this day that such a great game of football could be produced.

I remember two German birds dressed in white sitting in the upper tier of the East Stand and during half time being serenaded by what seemed like the entire North Bank. Hopefully they didn't understand English as the repertoire was bluer than blue.

Happy days!

WHU(Exeter) 1:49 Wed Apr 27
Re: The famous night a 'Chicken Run'-inspired West Ham sunk Frankfurt in Upton Park bog
Good read that, cheers.

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