TREVOR BROOKING turned right at the Boleyn pub in Green Street in his Ford Cortina – and then on to one of the best nights of his life.
The modest manner in which one of West Ham’s greatest players arrived at the old Upton Park ground to face Eintracht Frankfurt in 1976 speaks volumes about how football has changed.
On Thursday night, the club come full circle with a fixture against the same opposition at the same stage of European competition, albeit the new Europa League instead of the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Rest assured, 21st century West Ham will rock London’s stadium with up to 60,000 seats in some style.
The team are due to meet in the vast arena and then travel to a hotel for an afternoon off before an escorted air-conditioned coach guides them through huge crowds expected to build in east London a few hours before kick-off.
Brooking, 73, will be there. He returns from a brief spell in Portugal on Wednesday and would not miss such a massive evening for the side he has represented with distinction nearly 650 times.
On the night, the classy midfielder challenged a rain-battered 1970s pitch all day and scored twice as West Ham fought back from 2-1 in the first leg to beat the Germans 4-3 on aggregate.
Brooking said: “From an offensive player’s perspective, it was great. We were slipping and you could take the wrong foot.
“At that time, the pitches had nothing to do with what they are today. He just soaked up the rain.
“And with our fans on the old ground, it was so tight and the noise was deafening. The old Chicken Run was opposite when we came out of the tunnel. He was constantly rocking with the fans singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”.
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“On this side of the pitch, you could take two steps from the touchline and shake hands with the supporters. The noise was deafening.
“Any of the players that were there would consider it one of their best nights.
“The old ground was located deep in the East End. The traffic was never great. The roads weren’t built for massive crowds like this. People were walking down Green Street and blocking the traffic.
“At that time, we parked our cars on the ground an hour and a half before kick-off. It was two o’clock that night.
“In 1976 I was driving a Ford Cortina – a step up from my first car, a Ford Anglia.
“Getting there was a challenge for many of us, but it was worth it. After the game, I don’t even remember how I got home. The whole East End of London was rocking.
“Things were so different then that it’s hard to compare with now. But it’s also strange, isn’t it, that we drew them again in the semi-finals. I hope they continue to do better than us and win the final.
Brooking points out that in 1976 West Ham faced an additional challenge against Anderlecht in the final on their home ground – the ill-fated Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
A naturally gifted and tolerant player, Brooking oozed class even on the swampy pitches. His first goal was a wide post header and the second a labyrinthine run before deftly tossing the ball inside his left ankle before shooting low with his right.
He joked: “I used to score one header a season, believe it or not. You would have thought that with my size I would be good at it, but none of my managers trusted me to score even players who were good in the air.
“We actually had a bad run in the league that season as well. I think we finished 17th or 18th. But on a European night, it was always on, we got a good result.
An evening game with a full house was special
Mr Trevor Brooking
“Everyone involved looks back on that night with a special memory. Fortunately, I scored a few goals, but the whole team contributed. Being a small club, we haven’t had many finals.
“An evening game with a full house was special and we needed it because we had to come back from 2-1. It definitely lifted us up. Fans would tell me about it for years and years after.
“It wasn’t the best of tournaments for me. We faced a Finnish team. Then we went to Ararat Yerevan. It was in southern Russia but we had to go through Moscow and unfortunately I had a bug and didn’t play.
“I had it for seven weeks. It broke when I got back. The whole thing was horrible for travel, bugs, sickness.
“At the time of the semi-final, we were fighting against relegation. The tournament didn’t help us because a lot of us had problems because of what we had to deal with.
Modern players have access to hours of uploaded footage of upcoming opponents. Many Frankfurt players are familiar with West Ham as football fills our television screens 24/7 these days.
Brooking said: “We may have had some footage, but you’re talking about 1976. What was the cover?
“We may have known how they were playing, but that was about it. We just had to play to our strengths. Each game was played blind.
“We played to our strengths and one of them was our tight little pitch.
“The new stadium is different, but everyone who saw West Ham beat Sevilla said it was the best atmosphere they had there.”