The Hammers European History

West Ham kick-off their sixth European campaign against Palermo tomorrow night.

Yet, incredibly, it is the first time that the Hammers have bid benvenuti to an Italian side in a competitive European encounter.

The eagerly anticipated match against the Sicilians, who finished eighth in Serie A last season, will be the Hammers' 35th first-class tie against continental opposition.

And if tomorrow evening's UEFA Cup first round, first-leg game proves anywhere near as eventful as some of those previous matches then, 42 years after the club's Belgian baptism, the East End is set to see an intriguing Italian job unfold.

The Hammers took their first competitive footsteps on foreign soil on 23 September 1964, when Ronnie Boyce gave Ron Greenwood's troops a 1-0 win over Association Athletique La Gantoise in Ghent.

And after returning from Belgium and drawing 1-1 in the second leg at Upton Park, their European Cup Winners Cup campaign just went from strength to strength as uncompromising Czech side, Sparta Prague (agg. 3-2) and Swiss hopefuls, Lausanne Sports (agg. 6-4) were rolled over.

The Spanish matadors of Real Zaragoza (agg. 3-2) then provided a sterner test in a tense two-legged semi-final, before Ron Greenwood's men enjoyed the greatest night in the club's history, when two-goal Alan Sealey indelibly stamped the name of West Ham United on the European map with an unforgettable 2-0 victory over TSV Munich 1860 at Wembley.

"Before the game, I told the players: 'Here's our chance to show the world what we can do.' And that's precisely what we did," recalled the Hammers' boss after seeing Bobby Moore climb those 39 steps up to the Royal Box to collect the European Cup Winners Cup, just 12 months after he had also lifted the FA Cup. "Three years of hard work and faith went into that win. The West Ham principles were justified and we proved that football at its best is a game of both beauty and intelligence."

Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters would, of course, again be negotiating that stairway just over a year later to claim the beautiful game's ultimate prize for their country but, before contemplating the 1966 World Cup campaign, there was also the small matter of defending the Cup Winners Cup for their club.

Certainly, things started well for the holders in 1965-66 with victory over Greek side Olympiakos (agg. 6-2) and the East Germans from FC Magdeburg (agg. 2-1), but in the semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, Peters' early Upton Park opener was heartbreakingly wiped out by two West German goals in a frenetic final five minutes.

Unbeaten at home, Borussia bagged a first-minute goal back in Dortmund, before marching on to beat the Hammers 3-1 (agg. 5-2) and then overcoming Liverpool in the final.

"We had gone down to a better side," conceded Greenwood. "There were no complaints."

Following their FA Cup final victory over Fulham in May 1975, West Ham United found themselves back in the European Cup Winners Cup, once more.

And, incredibly, they made it all the way to the final in a roller-coaster campaign that had left every East Ender on the edge of their seat.

Despite quickly finding themselves trailing to Reipas Lahden in Helsinki's Olympic Stadium, the relieved Londoners returned home with a 2-2 draw from the first round, first leg, before beating the Finnish part-timers 3-0 at Upton Park.

Following a gruelling trip behind the Iron Curtain to Armenia, the Hammers overcame Ararat Erevan (agg. 4-2) before somehow recovering from a 0-4 half-time deficit in The Hague to clog the Dutchmen of FC Den Haag on away goals (agg. 5-5).

Another memorable, Trevor Brooking-inspired, Upton Park night then saw John Lyall's side fight back from a 1-2 semi-final, first-leg defeat to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on aggregate (4-3), but they were destined to fall at the final fence as Belgian side Anderlecht lifted the trophy with a 4-2 victory in Brussels' ill-fated Heysel Stadium.

"We may have only been a little east London club but right from the 1960s, Ron Greenwood - and then John Lyall - had imposed a philosophy at West Ham that meant we could adapt to a European style and cope at a higher technical level," recalls Sir Trevor. "Although we didn't quite make the final step, we still came out of the competition with a lot of credit."

Thanks to Brooking's FA Cup-winning header against Arsenal, West Ham then found themselves back in the European Cup Winners Cup for the fourth time during the 1980-81 season.

Crowd trouble in Madrid during the Hammers' 1-3 defeat against Castilla meant that the second leg against the Spaniards had to be played behind closed doors at an eerie Upton Park, where just 262 observers saw West Ham romp to a 5-1 win, in a tie infamously dubbed the 'Ghost Match'.

But following a second round win over the Romanian battlers Politechnica Timisoara (agg. 4-1), the Hammers met their match against Dinamo Tbilisi, who had knocked the mighty Liverpool out of the European Cup the previous season.

The Georgian geniuses earned a standing ovation from a numbed, yet knowledgeable, Upton Park crowd as they romped to a 4-1 first-leg lead, before Stuart Pearson's winner went just a little way towards giving West Ham some consolation in the Russian return.

"At Upton Park, our crowd had given Tbilisi a standing ovation because they wanted to acknowledge a team of the highest quality. I told my players that they had been beaten by one of the best teams they would ever play against and if I had been on the terraces, I would have applauded, too," admitted Lyall after restoring some pride with that 1-0 victory on Soviet soil. "The return was played in wonderful spirit, exemplified by the spontaneous exchange of shirts between the players as they were clapped off the field by 80,000 fans in the magnificent Lenin Stadium."

With English clubs ironically banned from Europe at a time when the club's record-breaking, 1985-86, third-place finish would have propelled them into the UEFA Cup, they had to wait until 1992 for a further taster against continental opposition.

But having previously found themselves defeated by Italian cup winning counterparts, Fiorentina (agg. 0-2), in a two-legged encounter in 1975, this time around they failed to progress beyond the group stages, in an expanded and much-maligned Anglo-Italian Cup format that saw them take on Cremonese (0-2) and Cosenza (1-0) in Italy and Reggiana (2-0) and Pisa (0-0) at Upton Park.

That ill-tempered, early-90s tournament against a selection box of Serie B sides was well and truly panned by the critics, and the Hammers self-nominated entry into the equally minor 1999 Intertoto Cup was received with equal disdain.

But despite the mid-July start, manager Harry Redknapp knew that victory would guarantee a coveted UEFA Cup berth.

Two-legged wins over Finnish side FC Jokerit (agg. 2-1) and the Dutchmen of Heerenveen (agg. 2-0) set-up an Anglo-French final against FC Metz.

And after Louis Saha secured a 1-0 win at Upton Park, a surreal night in eastern France saw West Ham become one of three Intertoto Cup winners - alongside Juventus and Montpellier - thanks to their 3-1 victory as they progressed into the UEFA Cup.

A trip to war-torn Croatia followed in the first round proper, where NK Osijek (agg. 6-1) were duly despatched, before Steaua Bucharest's 2-0 win at the Ghencea Stadium gave the Romanians the upper hand ahead of the return leg.

And despite all their endeavours at Upton Park, Harry's Hammers were held to a frustrating goalless draw that sent them tumbling out of the tournament at the second hurdle.

"Europe's been good for the players," enthused Redknapp and, now as Palermo roll into town, let's just hope that Pards' latest crop of Euro-stars can send the Hammers on yet another memorable adventure.