Back in 1992 West Ham looked on enviously as Sheffield United kicked off against Manchester United on a sunny day on the 15th August to start what is now the richest league in the world. The Hammers had been relegated at the end of the previous season and now had to fight their way back onto the top table, in a similar situation to this season although the Free bet sites at the time would have not been so genorous about an immediate return as they have been this term.
But all was not lost! Whilst the new Premier League teams shared the wealth, West Ham had the reformed Anglo-Italian Cup to look forward to. The cup had been played previously some twenty years before (although in the 1980’s it was a competition for non league teams) but for some reason the FA felt that having the FA Cup, League Cup and 46 League fixtures wasn’t enough. In previous seasons there had been the Full Members Cup (aka Simod and the Zenith Data Systems cup) but the Premier League clubs had stated they had no interest in that, so it was consigned to the scrap heap, and thus it was decided the second tier clubs needed a new distraction. So someone, somewhere came up with the crazy idea of a revamped Anglo-Italian Cup.
The first round saw the 24 First Division teams divided into eight groups of three. Everyone played one game at home and one away. The attendances in some of these games were poor to say the least. West Ham kicked off their campaign with a home tie to Bristol Rovers in September 1992. With Spurs almost filling White Hart Lane against Sheffield United, and a full house at Loftus Road for the visit of the Gunners, just 4,809 turned up at Upton Park – a Post War record low attendance. The 2-2 draw, with two goals from Julian Dicks helped neither side. Rovers then beat Southend United 3-0 meaning West Ham had to go to Roots Hall to win by four clear goals. They didn’t although the 3-0 meant a frantic call to the FA to determine what happened next. Despite leaps and bounds in technology it was down to a good old fashion coin toss in the referee’s changing room. Alvin Martin called “Tails” and West Ham were through. West Ham would be playing in Europe for the first time in ten years.
The draw was made in early October although the format was, to say the least confusing. Each English team would play four Italian sides, but they would be competing in a league of four English teams. So West Ham’s results against Cremonese, Reggiana, Cosenza and Pisa would be pitted against Derby County’s, Tranmere Rovers and Bristol City’s against the same four Italians. That meant in theory West Ham could possibly win all four games yet still finish bottom of the group if the other English teams had better goal difference.
Game one for the Hammers was away to Cremonese in November. Situated on the left bank of the Po river in Lombardy, Cremona is a town of beauty. Unfortunately it was an x-rate performance that saw the Italians come out as 2-0 winners in front of a paltry 1,600 fans. Nearly 200 West Ham fans arrived 10 minutes after kick off, having made the 26 hour journey by coach and joined a further 500 already in the Stadio Giovanni Zini. The Italian’s seemed hell-bent on assaulting Julian Dicks at all costs although he remained calm under pressure. The two nil victory for the Italians was too surprising as they had come into the game undefeated in the league prior to the game.
Game two was a home tie with AC Regiana from Emilia-Romagna. With the rain pouring down in East London and with the club retaining ticket prices on the high side for such a “prestigious” European tie, only 6,700 came to Upton Park to see West Ham win two-nil thanks to a brace from Clive Allen. However, the game was best remembered for the sending off of Trevor Morley for an off the ball incident. It was interesting to note that the games played in England featured Italian officials who seemed to be more lenient to their fellow countrymen to say the least. On the flip side, English referees went to Italy to referee games there.
If West Ham felt that the Italians in Cremonese hadn’t been interested in the competition, then the trip two weeks later to Cosenza in the south of Italy proved it beyond doubt. Only 800 fans turned up for the game in the Stadio San Vito, of which 250 had made the ridiculous long journey to the game from London. Most arrived during the afternoon of the game to be met with a huge storm and the pitch flooded. English referee Michael Gilkes initially postponed the game but faced with the “larger than life” West Ham fans outside the ground, agreed to re-assess later in the evening, by which time the water had been cleared.
Nothing had changed on the pitch though in terms of discipline. A memo had apparently been sent to all clubs involved in the competition to warm them to behave but it obviously wasn’t translated into Italian as they tried, but failed to intimidate the likes of Martin “Mad dog” Allen, Julian “Terminator” Dicks and “Chicken” George Parris. Hardly men you would want to pick a fight with.
The game was decided by another Clive Allen effort, this time a spectacular effort from some distance. The win gave West Ham a chance at progressing to the semi-finals but they needed a win in the final game, at home to Pisa.
Again the Hammers fans were hardly inspired to come and watch with only 7,100 paying to watch the game (although this was double the average attendance for this round) which will again be remembered for the trouble on the pitch rather than the skill. The game was essentially a dead rubber, with Cremonese already assured a semi-final place from the Italian side, and Derby County’s superior goal difference meaning the Hammers needed to win by five or six. However, try telling that to the Italian’s who again tried to kick West Ham off the park. Matthew Rush, the young West Ham midfielder became the ninth English player to be sent off at this stage of the tournament, joining Pisa’s Giovani Fasce (also the ninth Italian) for an incident in the second half.
Brentford and Derby County competed for the English place in the final, battling out a 5-5 draw with the Rams going through on away goals. In Italy it also went to form, with Cremonese easily overcoming Bari to set up the final, played at Wembley Stadium. The stadium was barely a third full for the final in March, with only a dozen or so Italians bothering to attend to see their side win 3-1. The following season West Ham found themselves in the Premier League and their opportunity to conquer England lost for another few years.
The tournament ran for a few more years, giving clubs such as Luton Town, Southend United, Port Vale and Charlton Athletic a very rare chance to play in Europe. English clubs didn’t fare very well with only Notts County emerging as winners of the tournament in its four year re-birth. The last winners were Genoa, beating Port Value 5-2 in 1996 before the tournament was once again consigned to the great trophy room in the sky along with the likes of the Leyland DAF Trophy, The Screen Sports Super Cup and the Watney Trophy.
Postscript: After a plea on Twitter, Danny Last has vowed to never stop until he gets the tournament re-instated. As a Brighton & Hove Albion fan he quite fancies a trip to the likes of Vicenza and Verona. Stay tuned to see how he gets on.