Back in 1975, we faced West Ham in our very first match of the 1975/76 campaign. This was the first leg of a tie which would decide the winners of the fourth edition of the Anglo-Italian League Cup.
The first three finals had been played between the winners of the English League Cup and the Coppa Italia, with Swindon Town, Bologna, and Tottenham Hotspur taking the title. After a gap of three years, this 1975 edition would see the FA Cup winners take on the Coppa Italia holders.
West Ham had defeated Fulham at Wembley Stadium in May to win their second FA Cup, while Fiorentina had claimed their fourth Coppa Italia by beating Milan at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in June. While the rest of the Italian clubs began the 1975/76 season with cup games in August, as holders, Fiorentina would not enter the competition until the second phase in May of the following year.
Serie A that season wouldn’t begin until October, and their European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign would kick off on September 17th, so until the game with West Ham, Fiorentina had yet to play a competitive match.
West Ham on the other hand, had already made a bright start to their league campaign, unbeaten in the opening five games and sat just one point behind leaders Manchester United.
They had kicked off their season before that in the traditional season curtain raiser, the Charity Shield at Wembley. There, they had lost 2-0 to the league champions Derby County. The Italian equivalent, the Supercoppa, didn’t begin life until 1988.
The first leg of the Anglo-Italian League Cup Final was fixed for Florence on Wednesday September 3rd. It was the first chance for the home fans to welcome new manager Carlo Mazzone to the club. Until now, Mazzone had been manager of Ascoli, where he had finished his playing career, and had taken the club from Serie C to Serie A.
With most of the locals now returning after the traditional August summer holiday period, there was a crowd of 30,000 at the Stadio Comunale that night. For those who weren’t at the ground, the only way to follow the action was by the national radio, and even then, only the second half of the game would be broadcast.
John Lyall and Ron Greenwood chose a strong starting eleven for the game with Fiorentina. They made just one change from the team which had drawn at QPR the previous Saturday, with Billy Jennings dropping to the bench and Billy Bonds returning to the side after injury.
It was a team which also included the likes of Trevor Brooking, a Hammers legend who would later have a stand at their stadium named after him, Frank Lampard, goalkeeper Mervyn Day, and Alan Taylor, the man who scored both goals in the final when they recently lifted the FA Cup.
Mazzone’s side included goalkeeper Franco Superchi, first choice in the Fiorentina squad which had won our second Scudetto in 1969. A 21-year-old Giancarlo Antognoni, already an Italian international and future Fiorentina captain and legend was in the team alongside the then captain Claudio Merlo, another member of the Scudetto winning side.
Another young midfielder in the team was Domenico Caso, while up front Mazzone went with Walter Speggiorin.
The rain stopped in time for the evening kick-off, and among the crowd were Italian national coach Fulvio Bernardini, Milan manager Gustavo Giagnoni, Juventus president Giampiero Boniperti, and Gaetano Anzalone, the Roma president.
Mazzone was welcomed onto the pitch by loud applause from the home fans, and while West Ham were obviously in better condition at this stage, Mazzone’s side were able to keep the English team under control.
The opening period saw Fiorentina win three quick corners, and with less than 20 minutes on the clock, it was the home side which broke the deadlock. It was the young midfielder Vincenzo Guerini who fired home from distance, a shot which West Ham’s keeper Day probably should have saved.
Guerini had scored his first goal for Fiorentina in that Coppa Italia win over Milan, and little did he know, that this goal against West Ham would turn out to be his last.
Seven minutes later Fiorentina were appealing for a penalty when Gianfranco Casarsa appeared to be shoved to the ground by Tommy Taylor. The Spanish referee Pablo Sánchez Ibáñez, much to the dismay of Mazzone, waved play on.
The tempo dropped after the break, and while the Hammers kept control of possession, they rarely threatened to level the game. That didn’t change even when Fiorentina were forced into a goalkeeping change. Superchi took a knock in a clash with Brooking and was replaced by Massimo Mattolini.
The visitors also made one change, with Jennings coming on for Pat Holland, but there was no change in the score. Fiorentina won that first leg 1-0 but would have a long wait for the return game in London.
It was originally scheduled for November 26th, but it would be even later when the game finally went ahead. West Ham had drawn their League Cup fourth round tie with Spurs and the replay was pencilled in for November 24th. The clash with Fiorentina was postponed until December 10th.
At this stage, Fiorentina were already out of Europe, losing to East German side Sachsenring Zwickau in a penalty shoot-out. West Ham were still in the Cup Winners’ Cup and were into the quarter-final stage after winning their tie with Armenia’s Ararat Yerevan. While the Hammers had lost their most recent league game, the 1-0 defeat at Norwich was now their fourth league loss of the season, they were still flying high in the table.
At almost the halfway point of the season, it was very tight at the top of the First Division. QPR and Derby were leading, but West Ham were part of a chasing pack of four which also included Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds Utd. They were just one point behind the leading pair, but the Hammers did have a game in hand.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, had made a poor start to their league campaign. It was still early days in Serie A, but Fiorentina’s 2-0 win over Roma three days before the game in London was only their second league victory which left them level on points with Verona who were in the relegation zone.
Mazzone and his squad left for London the following day, with the manager saying he would rest some players as he looked ahead to the league game with Como the following Sunday.
For the game at Upton Park, Mattolini took Superchi’s place between the posts, Giovanni Bertini, Paolo Rosi, and Carlo Bresciani also dropped out with Alessio Tendi, Mauro Della Martira and Speggiorin coming into the side.
West Ham also made some changes from their most recent game at Norwich, with Billy Jennings and Johnny Ayris selected ahead of Keith Coleman and Keith Robson. It’s fair to say that the Italian press took little notice of Fiorentina’s trip to London.
The game was played on the same day as the third round second leg ties in the UEFA Cup, where Milan progressed, and Roma were knocked out by Club Brugge.
An English club was also involved in the competition that night. Liverpool won their home tie with Polish side Śląsk Wrocław to advance to the quarterfinals, and would go on to win the UEFA Cup, beating Club Brugge in the final. While most eyes were watching the more glamorous ties in Europe that night, West Ham and Fiorentina were focussed on the job in hand.
It didn’t quite capture the attention of the home fans either, with less than fifteen thousand turning out to watch their side attempt to overcome the first leg defeat. In attendance, were both the England manager Don Revie and Italy’s Bernardini, who would face each other the following year in World Cup qualification, where Brooking and Antognoni would also meet again.
One notable absence from Mazzone’s side was the man who had scored the only goal in the first leg in Florence. Sadly, Vincenzo Guerini’s playing career was already over at the age of 22. Just two weeks earlier he had been involved in a car accident, along with his Fiorentina teammate Domenico Caso. They had both been selected for the Italian Under 23 side due to face the Netherlands in a friendly at Ascoli.
The game was called off due to snow, and Guerini decided to head back to Florence in his new Porsche, with Caso alongside him. When the car hit the guard-rail at speed close to Florence, Guerini was thrown from the vehicle suffering serious injuries.
Caso remained trapped in the car. One of the first on the scene was another Fiorentina player Giancarlo Casarsa, also returning from the same cancelled game in his own car. While Caso would return to the pitch a few weeks later, Guerini would never play again.
Just as in Florence, the only goal of the game in London came in the 19th minute. Again, it was Fiorentina who scored, Speggiorin’s left-footed shot beating Mervyn Day. West Ham did their best to get back into the tie, but Fiorentina, marshalled by Antognoni, held on. A 2-0 aggregate win and the Anglo-Italian League Cup was won by Fiorentina.
Fiorentina’s league form improved enough to see them finish in 9th place, though they were just four points above the relegation zone when the season ended. West Ham, meanwhile, went into a disastrous decline after Christmas. It was a little like this season, relegation threatened in the league while flying high in Europe.
In their 21 league games after Christmas back in 1975/76, the Hammers won just one and suffered 14 defeats. Only their excellent first half of the season saved them, as they finished in 18th place out of 22 teams.
In Europe, however, the reached the final of the Cup Winner’s Cup. Having knocked out Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final, they would face Anderlecht in the final. The decider was played in Anderlecht’s home city of Brussels, at the Heysel Stadium.
The Hammers took the lead, but the Belgian side came back to go 2-1 in front just after the break. Trevor Brooking then levelled the game, but a penalty gave Anderlecht the advantage again and they scored a late goal to make it 4-2 in the end.
Like Fiorentina, West Ham are chasing a long-awaited return to European success. Both clubs have won one major European trophy to date, with both of these coming in the Cup Winner’s Cup, and both coming back in the Sixties.
Fiorentina won the first ever running of the competition, winning both legs against Glasgow Rangers in the 1960/61 final. A year later, Fiorentina again reached the final, this time losing out to Atletico Madrid after a replay.
Three years later, it was West Ham’s turn to compete in the final. The 1965 decider was played at Wembley Stadium where West Ham’s 2-0 win over 1860 Munich saw them lift the Cup Winners’ Cup.
This would be the only taste of European glory for both clubs (we won’t include West Ham’s Intertoto win in 1999, or for that matter Fiorentina’s Mitropa and Grasshoppers Cup triumphs) and we’ve both had a long wait for a trophy win of any kind. Fiorentina last lifted a trophy in 2001 when we won our sixth Coppa Italia. West Ham need to look back to 1980 when they won the FA Cup for the third time.
Now, just one of these clubs will put that wait behind them in Prague tonight.