West Ham legends Sir Trevor Brooking and Keith Robson relive Eintracht Frankfurt comeback: ‘The best game of my life’

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 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

There they both sat in the captain’s room at the London Stadium, their playing days long gone but eyes still bright as they tested their memory of a special night 46 years ago.

Sir Trevor Brooking, 73, a one-club legend and a sublime footballer of his time, and his former West Ham team-mate Keith Robson, 68, whose talent, as he would concede, was not always matched by his self-discipline.

The pair came together to reminisce about a rain-sodden night in 1976, when West Ham met Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup and to look ahead to Thursday’s match against the same German club, and at the identical stage, of the Europa League.

Those old enough — and lucky enough — to have crammed inside Upton Park before the gates were shut well before kick-off that night generally agree that the atmosphere at the old place was never bettered, and perhaps only equalled on the final game there almost six years ago.

Brooking, with two goals and at his balanced best in the cloying mud that night, scored twice, with Robson also scoring a spectacular effort, as West Ham pulled back from a 2-1 first-leg deficit to win 3-1 and go through on the away-goals rule to the final, where they lost 4-2 to Anderlecht.

Sir Trevor Brooking and Keith Robson were members of the West Ham team that reached the 1976 European Cup Winners' Cup final (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Sir Trevor Brooking and Keith Robson were members of the West Ham team that reached the 1976 European Cup Winners' Cup final (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Brooking went on to make 647 appearances for West Ham, finally retiring more than eight seasons later, while Robson moved on to Cardiff in 1977 and then to a number of clubs, including Team Hawaii, South China Athletic Association and, finally, Wroxham, in Norfolk, where he still lives.

So, what are the memories of that match in 1976?

“I do remember they were a really good side,” recalls Brooking. “We scored early in the away leg, when Graham Paddon scored a 30-yard screamer. They ended up winning 2-1, but there was enough in the game that I thought, with our little stadium and the noise the crowd generated in a night game, we would have a great chance.”

Robson says: “It had been raining all day before the second leg and the fans had been queueing up well before kick-off. They shut the gates two hours early and the atmosphere was incredible.”

Brooking adds: “The ‘Chicken Run’ (East Stand) was really close to the pitch. One step and you were having a chat with the front row, which wasn’t so good if you weren’t playing well. For the opposition that night, though, that would have been intimidating.”

As for the game itself, Robson recalls: “We had loads of chances but couldn’t score, but then, in the second half, Frank Lampard crossed the ball and, lo and behold, my favourite player turned up and headed it into the top corner. I thought, ‘That can’t be Trevor’.”

Brooking celebrates after scoring twice to down Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals (Getty Images)
Brooking celebrates after scoring twice to down Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals (Getty Images)

“A lot of people thought that about the 1980 FA Cup Final as well!” responds Brooking, with a smile. “I saved my headers for the key moments.”

Of his own goal, Robson says: “Trevor was fantastic that night and when he saw me, he hit a pass. The ball stuck in the mud and I over-ran it, but turned and then smashed it into the top corner.

“Now we’re 2-1 up. Then Tommy Taylor hit a ball up to Trevor, he just shuffled to send the defender the wrong way and then bent the ball around the goalkeeper. They pulled a goal back late on, but we saw out the game and were in the final.”

The rigours of European competition told on West Ham that season. In November, they had been on top of the old First Division, but finally finished fifth from bottom, having gone 16 games without a win.

“The travelling had an effect and when we went to Ararat Erevan, in Armenia, I caught a virus which stayed with me for two months,” explains Brooking, who has been vastly impressed by the club’s progress under David Moyes.

Brooking and Robson relive that memorable campaign with Ken Dyer for Standard Sport (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Brooking and Robson relive that memorable campaign with Ken Dyer for Standard Sport (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

“The best thing about David’s two years here has been the quality of football,” he says. “We pass the ball really well, but it’s almost mission impossible to think he can carry that on without strengthening the squad. A lot of them have played more than 40 games already — and that does take a toll. It would be wonderful if we won something, but David deserves the opportunity to buy some quality players.”

It may be approaching half a century since that memorable night but, for Robson, the emotion is still clearly there. “It was the best game of my life and the best goal I scored,” he says. “I’m still asked about it and I’ve got the goal on my phone.”

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