West Ham and European competition are about as well balanced as the consolidation of Norwich City and the Premier League.
David Moyes’ surprisingly successful campaign last season saw the Hammers automatically qualify for the group stage of a European competition for the first time since the dawn of the Premier League era, a period that saw their sporadic and largely pitiful attempts to bring glorious European nights to east London reflect their ever-fluctuating fortunes.
Four times they have tried in Europe since 1992, four times they have had varying degrees of failure – and each case has resulted in the same feeling of frustration for the fans. When they sing that their hopes “vanish and die” they are not kidding.
1999-2000 – Glory of Intertoto, ignominy of the UEFA Cup
Even a record fifth place was not enough to secure UEFA Cup football for Harry Redknapp’s side the previous season.
With just one automatic qualifying spot, West Ham faced three home and away matches in the less glamorous and now defunct Intertoto Cup to earn a spot in the UEFA Cup first round.
Four of the matches were played before the start of the new Premier League season, and after beating Finns FC Jokerit and Dutch SC Heerenveen, West Ham narrowly lost the first leg of the final 1-0 to Metz .
They managed to win the second leg convincingly 3-1 at Saint-Symphorien Stadium, a night Harry Redknapp has since described as his “finest night as West Ham manager”.
It is somewhat doubtful, however, that the Intertoto Trophy stands proudly in West Ham’s spacious trophy cabinet.
For Steve Lomas, a longtime servant of the club, the trophy presentation didn’t even extend to a winner’s medal.
“The trophy was so small. It’s the only trophy I’ve won in my career – that little egg-sized mug… I think John Moncur may have tossed it through the locker room, so into the trophy cabinet. of West Ham, there could be a gash in it ”, Lomas told Athletic in 2019.
Qualified for the first round of the UEFA Cup, they were drawn against NK Osijek of Croatia, where the war of independence had ended four years earlier.
“The place we stayed in was a hospital, which had been turned into a hotel, and Igor Stimac knew the guys who had defended the city. I remember him showing us where the city had been hit hard, ”Lomas recalls to The Athletic.
“There were a lot of people and then this guy opened the trunk of his car and there was an arsenal of weapons, from AK-47s to Uzis. I think 300 people defended the city during the civil war. I thought Belfast was bad until I saw this place.
Despite this shock, NK Osijek did a light job, beating the Croatian team 6-1 on aggregate. However, the Hammers bubble would burst alongside a country they would return to in the years to come.
A disappointing 2-0 defeat in Romania to Steaua Bucharest – thanks to two shocking examples from the East London School of Defending – was followed by a 0-0 draw at Upton Park which went scoreless despite both teams adorning each other’s goals with long-term efforts.
Thanks to a remarkable demonstration of agile guarding, West Ham’s European dreams came to an end in early November.
Harry Redknapp left the club at the end of the following season and, in true West Ham style, the club were relegated two years later.
2006-07 – A Sicilian Nightmare
Alan Pardew’s West Ham side managed to exceed expectations on their return to the Premier League, reaching UEFA Cup first round qualification following their run to the 2006 FA Cup final in Liverpool, and were drawn with Palermo, then Serie A team.
Anglo-Sicilian relations have not had the most pleasant start, as several West Ham fans have purchased several ill-advised custom T-shirts bearing the slogan “The Hammers vs The Mafia” outside Upton Park before the first leg.
Expectations were high after the club surprised the footballing world just weeks by announcing the signing of Argentina internationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Both players got their first starts as West Ham lost the first leg to a clinical penalty from Andrea Caracciolo at the stroke of half-time.
The return leg was simply a disaster of seismic proportions for the team and the club.
Before the match, large groups of West Ham fans engaged in battles with local fans and the police, which made the city’s Teatro Massimo district resemble a scene from Danny Dyer’s international football factories. .
West Ham supporters who had managed to avoid being arrested before the match then occupied a large corner of the Stadio Renzo Barbero and, accustomed to the usual ineptitude of their team in European Cup competition, would not have been shocked by the display that unfolded before their eyes.
Pardew went for a bold team selection with an attacking line including Marlon Harewood, Carlton Cole and Tevez, all of whom missed chances in a West Ham-dominated first half. The choice of the field was an acrobatic aerial kick from Harewood brilliantly saved by Palermo goalkeeper Alberto Fontana, 39, who showed the reflexes of a stopper half his age.
Yet before half-time West Ham had to pay for his lavishness when he conceded on a short free kick and their misery was compounded by scoring two second-half goals on the block. -attack while continuing the draw.
Their European dream was shattered again before it even started, and Alan Pardew was sacked 10 weeks later.
READ: Why Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano’s shady deals should be celebrated
2015-16 – “champions” of fair play
At the end of Sam Allardyce’s tenure at the club, West Ham boasted of the enviable honor of dominating the Fair Play League.
Entering the first qualifying round on July 2, West Ham passed the Andorran side Lusitanos without a hitch, despite an early red card for Diafra Sakho.
The second round was not that easy for a team in transition to a change in management style under Slaven Bilic. West Ham needed a penalty shootout to pass brave Maltese club Birkirkara FC after falling to ten after James Tomkins was sacked for a harmless scramble.
Romanians Astra Giurgiu, winners of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, were their opponents in the third round.
Bilic’s men watched cruise control for the first hour of the game until, almost fatally, they self-destruct when James Collins saw red for a second yellow.
West Ham’s “fair play” label had gone from a funny joke to an entirely ridiculous notion.
As might be expected, they conceded twice in the last twenty minutes – the second a desperate clearance from Angelo Ogbonna who looped his own goalkeeper – to put the Romanians back in control of the draw. who won the second leg 2-1 against a young Hammers team.
On that day in 2015, West Ham drew 2-2 with Romania’s Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League third qualifying round first leg at Upton Park with 33,858 participants.
Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate scored the goals for West Ham.
– VINNYWHUFC (@vinnywhufc) July 30, 2021
2016-17 – Oh no, not them yet
A memorable farewell at Boleyn Stadium resulted in a seventh place finish, securing a qualifying berth for the Europa League third round thanks to Manchester United’s victory in the FA Cup final.
And at the start of the new season, their fans were still raving about the scintillating football played by their Dimitri Payet-inspired team.
Making their debut at their new London stadium, expectations were higher than ever as they hosted Slovenian NK Domzale, who clinched a comfortable 3-0 victory, a week after a less convincing performance in the 2-1 loss to the ‘outside.
All eyes were wide open, ready to see who would stand between them and the seemingly elusive European group stages.
Enter a household name that still occupied the open space of many Hammers fans: Astra Giurgiu, the third-round opponent from last season.
This time, Bilic’s men first faced the move to southern Romania and came away with a 1-1 draw in a largely uneventful game.
The second leg was arguably the most difficult outing for Hammers fans; eliminated by a team which had won only one of its five domestic games that season, despite dominating the debates from the first minute and a lack of chances.
They fell behind at the stroke of half-time during a rare opposing counter-attack and despite seventeen attempts on goal – including two incredible point-blank saves by the Romanian stopper – they engulfed themselves full time, eliminated at the same stage, from the same team, the crowd not at all surprised but still bitterly disappointed.
David Moyes has to thank his lucky start that there are no qualifying games to go this season. He will also be happy to know that Astra Giurgiu is now playing in the Romanian second tier.
Through Hal walker
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