When we get behind closed doors this is what West Ham will be like
PUBLISHED: 11:30 24 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:57 24 March 2020
We look back on a momentous European night at Upton Park in front of just 262 people
With football out of the question for weeks and even months to come, talk has suggested a number of options to complete the season.
One is to play games behind closed doors, which brought back memories of West Ham’s European Cup Winners’ Cup run in 1980-81.
The Hammers were drawn against Real Madrid’s second team in the opening round with the first leg played at the famous Bernabeu.
And as striker David Cross recalls that is where it all went wrong.
“It was the first time me and a few of the lads had played in Europe and we didn’t know what to expect,” he remembered.
“Alvin (Martin) and Trevor (Brooking) had played abroad for England, but for us it was different.
“I remember training at the Bernabeu the night before the game and the first thing I noticed was the grass, the ball didn’t run like it does on English pitches and you had to get used to that.”
The match itself was a big wake-up call for Cross and his team-mates.
He added: “What I remember about the game in Spain was the man-narking. I’d never had that before, but wherever I went and even when I wasn’t looking for the ball, this player was on my shoulder watching everything I did.”
It didn’t stop ‘Crossy’ nodding West Ham in front, but a talented, young Castilla side hit back to win 3-1 on the night.
The real troubles came off the pitch as club and Newham Recorder photographer Steve Bacon recalls.
“We could see the trouble developing during the game, especially after we went behind,” said Bacon, who covered the club for over 30 years.
“The West Ham fans were urinating from the top of the stand down on to the Spanish fans.
“Then we were told by Eddie Chapman some time after the match that someone had died outside the ground and everyone was quiet among the players.”
Bacon remembered more trouble when the players touched down back in England and Billy Bonds was interviewed by the National newspapers, adding: “He called the fans ‘animals’ which didn’t go down well at the time. It was not a good situation.”
A fan had been run over by a bus outside the ground after the game and the Hammers knew that a punishment was inevitable.
“We thought we were going to be chucked out of the competition,” said Cross. “Then we thought it may be played at Roker Park or even in Paris, so to play on our own ground, even though it was behind closed doors was a good thing for us.”
Bacon recalls the build-up to the second leg. “When it was decided it would be behind closed doors, I had all sorts of fans phoning and coming up to me and asking if I could get them into the match,” he laughed.
“They would say ‘can I carry your photographer’s bag?’ and things like that. “I parked at the school next to the ground and there were loads of people milling around even though they couldn’t get in. I was one of the privileged ones in a crowd of 262.”
So what was it like in Upton Park on this historic night?
“Once inside, the atmosphere was eerie in there and I will always remember two things,” said Bacon.
“One was John Lyall’s assistant Eddie Baily who was not the mildest of men. You could hear him effing and blinding at the top of his voice for most of the match.
“The other one was in the press box. Because of the silence on the stands, you could hear the radio commentary by Bryon Butler for what I think at the time would have been Radio 2.
“It was one of the strangest experiences I ever had at football.”
The game itself turned into an historic one for Cross.
“We had played 11 v 11 matches before in training, but this was completely different,” he said.
“The whole thing was eerie and the acoustics meant you could hear your own voice echoing around the stadium.
“We managed to get an early goal through Geoff Pike and went 3-0 up, but they scored a cracker from a free kick which levelled things and took it to extra time.”
Cross then grabbed two in the extra period to help West Ham to a 5-1 win and at the same time become the only Hammer to score a hat-trick in a European tie, a record that stands to this day. He added: “I scored a hat-trick and I don’t think it mattered to me that there were no fans there to see it.
“I always thought of myself as an old-fashioned centre forward, but I was effective at West Ham because of players like Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire.
“I sometimes got assists with my knockdowns, like the one for Frank Lampard in the FA Cup semi-final, but I was all about scoring goals and that was the be-all and end-all for me.
“I would get in the box and do everything lawful and sometimes not lawful to get the ball in the net and that was what I was about,” said Cross, nicknamed ‘Psycho’ for the way he played.
“I scored a hat-trick in Europe and I got four at Tottenham, but I never realised and probably still don’t just how important that was to the West Ham fans. But they still like to talk about it all these years later and still mention it on the anniversary of the games.”
So what about games in the future being behind closed doors?
“The thing about football is you need people to come and watch,” insisted Cross.
“We are the entertainment for them and with no fans it just doesn’t work.
“Maybe we could play these remaining nine games that way to get the season done, but it is not ideal and it is not a solution.”
With some tongue in cheek, Bacon added: “It is not ideal, but it may be the only way to get things done. I’m in favour of cancelling the season, like Karren Brady, but I don’t suppose they will allow that to happen!
“I just think it is going to take a long time to get back to normal and football is not important at the moment.”
Maybe he is right, but there is certainly one night in 1980 that West Ham fans will never forget, even if they were never there.
And David Cross will certainly never forget it.