Ron Greenwood built exciting team with some ordinary players

icon cups19 May ~ There was a time when you could simply apply for Wembley tickets once they became available. I saw several European finals there: Milan v Benfica in 1963, Manchester United v Benfica in 1968 and Ajax v Panathinaikos in 1971. But the best of them all was West Ham v TSV 1860 Munich in the Cup-Winners Cup final on May 19, 1965. 

West Ham’s opponents were a very good side: their city’s only representatives in the Bundesliga that year, they finished fourth with their captain, Rudolf Brunnenmeier, being the league’s leading scorer with 24 goals. They went on to be German champions the following season while their newly promoted neighbours Bayern won the Cup. The Hammers finished ninth in Division One. Guided since 1961 by the idealistic Ron Greenwood, they delighted crowds with their often scintillating football, the antithesis of the thuggery practised by some of their rivals. They took risks. Sometimes they were breathtaking, at others they fell flat on their faces. And they had too many ordinary players to be realistic contenders for the title.

If the league was beyond them, cups were a different matter. In their first foray into Europe they beat La Gantoise, Sparta Prague, Lausanne and Zaragoza on the way to the Wembley final. Apart from the fact that someone had to lose, everything about that cool May evening was perfect. The behaviour of both sets of fans was exemplary throughout, and I think that a bond was formed between the two clubs that has lasted to this day. I still remember that as we walked along Wembley Way after the game, we cheered when the coaches carrying the Munich fans passed, and despite their disappointment they cheered back.

They knew, we all knew, that they had witnessed something very special that would not have been possible without their team’s contribution. West Ham players were disappointed by their performance when they beat Preston 3-2 in the 1964 FA Cup final. Now they made up for it with a display that saw everything that Greenwood had been working on for four years come together. For 70 minutes the football flowed from end to end with barely a pause. West Ham were the better side, but Jim Standen in goal had to be alert on more than one occasion. Meanwhile his opposite number, the eccentric Yugoslav Petar Radenkovic, was living up to his reputation. He once ran 20 yards outside his penalty area to stop Geoff Hurst, a rare event for a goalkeeper back then.

So it is sad to have to say that he should perhaps take some of the blame for Alan Sealey’s two goals. First he was beaten at his near post by what was admittedly a fierce shot, though it all began with one of his colleagues carelessly gifting the ball to Ronnie Boyce. And then, two minutes later, he and his defence should have done more to clear a Bobby Moore free-kick as it bobbed about in the six-yard area. Instead Sealey pounced to make the game virtually safe with 20 minutes to go.

The World Soccer editor Eric Batty, a passionate disciple of the "Greenwood way", commented that this game was a wonderful epilogue to the season after the dross of the Liverpool v Leeds FA Cup final. Hurst wrote, simply and movingly, that when the players arrived back at Upton Park to collect their cars, they felt a quiet sense of satisfaction that they had been part of something very special. The genius of Greenwood lay in the fact that he could get a team with a number of ordinary players to take part in such a classic game.

It was a privilege to be present at this match, won by an all-English team, most of them Londoners. If Desert Island Discs castaways were allowed to take one football match, this would be mine. Richard Mason

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