West Ham out to create history for ‘new Hammers’ with famous comeback to reach Europa League final

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

It is usually around this point in a European run that a tiring team in a position of some peril turns to past glories and glorious comebacks in search of a touch of inspiration.

Liverpool fans might talk of summoning the spirit of Istanbul; Manchester United of Barcelona in 1999; Chelsea that of Munich a decade ago.

For those of a West Ham persuasion long enough in the tooth, perhaps there will be a temptation to draw hope from the tie against Eintracht Frankfurt in 1976; the slightly freakish coincidence of facing the same opposition in two consecutive major European semi-finals 46 years apart only amplified after last week’s first leg finished 2-1 to the German side, just as it had almost half-a-century ago.

Should fate continue to follow the same, long-untouched path — Trevor Brooking and Co triumphed 3-1 in the second leg to reach a Cup Winners’ Cup Final they lost to Anderlecht — then a narrative of “meant-to-be” and destiny may well prevail.

But for now, for at least two generations of the supporters who have travelled here to Germany, and certainly for this group of players as they prepare to walk out at Deutsche Bank Park tonight, it will not mean much.

“I only saw it myself online,” Jarrod Bowen said on Wednesday, when asked about the first edition of this drawn-out duology. “I wasn’t sure of the year. We haven’t spoken about it.”

On this European run, this crop of players have made their own history, and the spirit they must summon is not that of ancient folklore but of London and Lyon only weeks ago.

The 2-0 home win that overturned a first-leg deficit against this competition’s masters, Sevilla, provided easily the greatest night in the short and tumultuous London Stadium era; the scintillating display in France a month later offering the most emphatic confirmation that this is a stage upon which this team are worthy of their place.

Not long ago, their journey was still being dressed up as a continental jolly that both they and their supporters were simply happy to still be on this side of Christmas. Now it is one which has heralded the birth of what David Moyes yesterday dubbed a “new West Ham”, fresh legends created and cemented at the vanguard of a dawning era for the club.

“I want people to see a new young team,” Moyes said. “In the past, there were greats like Sir Trevor, who all the older generation talk about, and I’m really hoping that this new young generation of supporters, in a bigger stadium, with more people coming, will be talking about the likes of Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen. They’re the future for West Ham.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

And amid all the talk of history, it cannot be underestimated just how big tonight might prove for this club’s future.

Moyes has big plans for the summer, telling Standard Sport earlier this season about a potential “changing of the guard”, the need for “new players” and a “stronger squad” despite — or rather, because of — the success of the past two years.

The Scot is under no illusions as to how crucial the promise of European football will be in building both the depth and quality of squad he wants. If he is to achieve his aim of giving West Ham a permanent presence at this level then, given the way their Premier League form has tailed off, as far as next season is concerned, winning this competition looks like his best shot.

But reaching the final and then, potentially, lifting the trophy would carry significance for Moyes beyond Champions League qualification and silverware on his CV, accelerating his vision for a club and a group of players he believes still have so much more to offer.

“It would be huge,” he added. “The climb over the two years has probably been faster and sometimes you have to come down a little bit to go again. Hopefully, we continue to build.”

The biggest thing this run has done for his players, Moyes believes, is prompt a shift in mentality.

If they are racking their brains for inspiration ahead of tonight, they need only look at what they have already achieved.

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