5 May 1976
European Cup Winners' Cup final
Heysel Stadium, Brussels
Anderlecht 4-2 West Ham United
John Lyall's troops were confident that they could emulate the 1964/65 European Cup Winners' Cup triumph even though they were heading to the Heysel Stadium to play Anderlecht in their home city
On the home front, they had won just one of their final 21 league matches between Boxing Day and the end of the season. That slump in domestic form had had no effect upon a European charge that had seen them send Reipas Lahden (Finland), Ararat Erevan (Georgia), Den Haag (Netherlands) and Eintracht Frankfurt (West Germany) all packing, while the Belgians had disposed of Rapid Bucharest (Romania), Borac Banja Luka (Yugoslavia), Wrexham (Wales) and Sachsenring Zwickau (East Germany) on the way to their capital city.
No club had scored on Belgian soil in the previous rounds but Pat Holland's 28th-minute opener certainly put the Englishmen in the driving seat. "I just hadn't been able to get into the game up but then I gambled that I would get on to a Billy Bonds' flick-on and, Bob's your uncle, I caught the ball perfectly with my rarely used left foot and put us ahead!" recalled the Hammers' goalscorer. "And for the rest of the first half, Anderlecht seemed to be running out of ideas."
But, after Trevor Brooking's shot thudded back off the bar, Peter Ressel intercepted from the injured Frank Lampard and invited Robbie Rensenbrink to level on the stroke of half-time, before future Hammer Francois Van Der Elst then made it advantage Anderlecht just after the break. "The final was very frustrating because we had been playing well," said Sir Trevor who struggled through the game with a dead leg. "Then poor Frank caught his studs in the turf and injured himself trying pass the ball back to Mervyn Day and they got an equaliser."
On 69 minutes, Keith Robson met Brooking's low cross with a stooping header to claw it back to 2-2 but all hopes of a West Ham United recovery were scuppered by Rensenbrink who dusted himself down to fire home from the penalty spot after he tumbled under Holland's challenge. "No, it wasn't a penalty because I got the ball before he went down," insisted Holland, who then saw Van Der Elst race clear of a pushed up United defence to seal a 4-2 win. "Robbie just got up and didn't even appeal but somehow the referee still gave it."
At the final whistle, the equally distraught Robson had to be dissuaded from giving away his runners-up medal. "I may have scored in the final but that defeat destroyed me," he winced. "After beating Eintracht, we were probably a bit too confident. We had done so much to get to there but we made too many mistakes and, in the end, we just gave it away."
Despite the defeat, West Ham United still returned back across the English Channel far from disgraced having reminded the rest of Europe - a decade on - that they could still play a fiercely entraining brand of football. "We may have only been a little east London club but right from the 1960s, Ron Greenwood - and then John Lyall - imposed a philosophy at West Ham that meant we could adapt to a European style and cope at a higher technical level," concluded Sir Trevor. "In one-off games we usually had enough possession and flair to beat teams and the 1975/76 tournament proved a good test for us. Although we didn't quite make the final step, we still came out of the competition with a lot of credit."
West Ham United: Day, Coleman, Bonds, Taylor T, Lampard (Taylor A), McDowell, Brooking, Paddon, Holland, Jennings, Robson.