By the time of West Ham United’s long awaited return to the top flight in 1958 as Champions of the old Second Division, the Man United that visited the Boleyn Ground in early September of that year were a drastically different club to that who last turned out at the Boleyn Ground two decades prior. In the dying days of the Second World War, Man United – bombed out of Old Trafford by the Germans and playing their home games at Man City’s Maine Road - appointed Matt Busby as manager and under his stewardship ended the trophy drought suffered by the red half of Manchester that lasted for nearly four decades by winning the FA Cup in 1948. Busby went also went on to win League titles in 1951/52, 1955/56 and 1956/57.
However disaster had struck the previous February with the Munich Air Disaster after their plane had refuelled in West Germany while the club were returning from a midweek European Cup fixture in Belgrade. Though after living in the shadow of the blue half of the City of Manchester during the inter-war years, the growing influence of television post-war culture started to give the club an influence far beyond their home city. It’s often thought that the national outflow of sympathy resulting from the Munich Air Crash created United’s non-Manchester fan base, however coverage of United’s European Cup fixtures on the fledgling ITV network in the mid-1950s actually pre-dated this, in particular a then record of six million viewers for a late afternoon/early evening Semi Final fixture with the dominant Real Madrid side containing Puskas and Di Stefano in 1957.
Much of Man United’s success during the mid to late fifties came from the development of players from the youth set up collectively known as the ‘Busby Babes’ (also winning the first five FA Youth Cups between 1953 and 1957). Similarly, West Ham’s rise back up to the top flight came through the growth in prominence of the ‘Academy of Football’ – Man United’s last of the five successive FA Youth Cup wins came from defeating West Ham 8-2 on aggregate. The Academy centred on regular meetings between West Ham players at Cassettari’s Café (which sat opposite the Boleyn Ground) to discuss tactics.
From the Man United eleven that played out their last league fixture before the Munich disaster seven months earlier against Arsenal at Highbury, only five players would remain to face West Ham at Upton Park. Making his debut for West Ham that day would be a seventeen year old Bobby Moore who famously would go on to be the first – and so far only – Englishman to captain a World Cup winning side. Mooro had been replacing his mentor Malcolm Allison who had been suffering from Tuberculosis which eventually put paid to his football playing career.
The Hammers had made a flying start to their return to top flight football, winning their opening three games – the last of which had been a 7-2 hammering of Aston Villa at the Boleyn Ground. Manchester United however stood on equal points with the Hammers and in second place. A 3-2 win for the Hammers took the East London side to the top of the League table. West Ham’s first journey to Old Trafford in over two decades came just nine days later. The Reds took their revenge with a 4-1 hammering which secured the points for Man United, with a hat-trick for Munich survivor Albert Scanlon. Man United finished runners up in their first full season after Munich. West Ham’s first season back in the top flight for over two decades saw them finish in sixth position.
The two sides would not meet again until nineteen months later, when Man United returned to the Boleyn Ground on Good Friday in April 1960. Man United stood in eighth position, while West Ham languished in thirteenth place. Footage of this match would be captured by ITN camera, which ended up in a 2-1 win for West Ham. The return fixture occurred three days later on Easter Monday. The two sides shared eight goals, as Man United ran out 5-3 winners with two goals apiece for Bobby Charlton and Alex Dawson.
At the end of the 1959/60 season, Man United finished the season in seventh position while West Ham finished fourteenth. Five months later, when Man United visited the Boleyn Ground for the 1960/61 season they had lost three of their first four games, while West Ham had won two and lost three of their first five games. West Ham ran out 2-1 winners. Nine days later was the return fixture back at Old Trafford, with Man United languishing in the bottom three, having won just one game from six. Man United finally got their season kick started with a 6-1 thrashing secured by goals from Albert Quixall, Albert Scanlon and two goals apiece for Dennis Viollet and Bobby Charlton.
The two sides met for the opening fixture of the 1961/62 season at the Boleyn Ground, by which time West Ham had sacked manager Ted Fenton, who was replaced by future England boss Ron Greenwood. The two sides played out a 1-1 draw with Nobby Stiles on target for Man United and John Dick for West Ham. By the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford a week prior to Christmas 1961, Man United sat in twentieth position in the table by the mid-way point in the season, just two points off the relegation zone. West Ham in contrast had been in fifth place and five points off of Burnley at the top of the table. The Hammers took both points with a 2-1 win, with two goals for John Dick while David Herd had been on target for Man United.
The result pushed West Ham up to second in the table and within one point of league leaders Burnley who that day lost 0-2 to Arsenal at Turf Moor (though the Clarets had two games in hand). The 1961/62 League title instead went to Ipswich, while West Ham sunk to eighth, Man United meanwhile finished in fifteenth place. Man United’s poor form continued into 1962/63, with the Reds anchored to the foot of the old First Division by the time of West Ham’s visit at the end of October 1962. West Ham meanwhile sat in tenth place. Man United picked up only their fourth win of the season with a 3-1 win over the Hammers, with goals for Denis Law and two for Albert Quixall which lifted them from the bottom of the table.
By the time of Man United’s visit to the Boleyn Ground in mid-March 1963, the Reds were in fifteenth place. West Ham however sat in eleventh position. Man United’s misery continued after the Hammers ran out 3-1 winners with Ken Brown and Alan Sealey (uncle of future Man United and West Ham keeper Les) on target for the Hammers, as well as a Man United own goal. On target for Man United’s was former Arsenal striker David Herd. Man United’s poor form continued and their position in the top tier was only saved on the final Saturday of the season with a 3-1 home win over bottom side Leyton Orient, which actually consigned Man City to the drop instead. One week later, Man United won the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over fourth place Leicester City, which sparked an Old Trafford revival in the years ahead.
Such was the transformation that by the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford for the 1963/64 season at the end of October, Man United topped the first division after thirteen games. West Ham in contrast, having won just four games out of fourteen sat in fourteenth place. A goal for Martin Britt gave West Ham both points in a shock 1-0 win in front of an Old Trafford crowd of 42,120. As a result, Sheffield United overtook the Reds at the top of the table. By the time of the return fixture in March 1964, Man United slipped to sixth place and six points behind leaders Spurs. West Ham meanwhile sat in fourteenth.
Man United had an FA Cup Quarter Final Second replay with Sunderland forty eight hours later for the right to meet West Ham in the Semi Final the following Saturday and omitted all three of the holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton from the starting line-up. Despite this left the Boleyn Ground with a 2-0 win secured by goals from David Herd and David Sadler, which pushed Man United to within four points off the top of the table with a game in hand and hopes growing for a League and FA Cup double for Man United. Forty eight hours on, Man United went on to meet Sunderland at the neutral venue of Leeds Road in Huddersfield.
A Denis Law hat-trick inflicted a 5-1 thrashing on Sunderland, setting up the Semi Final meeting with the Hammers Hillsborough in Sheffield the following Saturday with Man United hoping to reach back to back FA Cup Finals. West Ham however would put paid to Man United’s double hopes and secure their first FA Cup Final appearance for forty one years with a 3-1 win on a quagmire of a Hillsborough pitch with goals for Geoff Hurst and two for Ronnie Boyce, while Denis Law would be on target for Man United. The Hammers would go on to meet Preston North End in the final and secure their first ever major trophy with a 3-2 win.
Man United however would finish the season as runners up in the old First Division, four points behind Champions Liverpool. For the second game into the 1964/65 season, Man United would visit the Boleyn Ground in Late August. A repeat score line of the semi-final four months prior would occur, as goals for Johnny Byrne, Geoff Hurst and John Sissons gave the Hammers a 3-1 win, while Denis Law would be on target for the Reds. The return fixture occurred a week later back at Old Trafford, this time the result would be 3-1 in Man United’s favour with goals for John Connelly, Denis Law and George Best.
Man United would win their first Post-Munich league title in 1964/65, while West Ham finished ninth. It would be another fifteen months before the two sides would meet again in December 1965, by which point Man United were in seventh place and six points behind Liverpool at the top with two games in hand. West Ham in contrast were two points off the relegation zone in nineteenth place. The two sides however played out a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. West Ham and Man United would meet again at the Boleyn Ground at the end of April 1966 by which point Man United’s title defence had been hanging by a thread, standing in fifth place and seven points off of league leaders Liverpool with three games in hand.
West Ham put paid to Man United’s title defence with a 3-2 win secured by goals from Johnny Byrne and two for Geoff Hurst, while on target for Man United would be John Aston and West Ham old boy Noel Cantwell. Meanwhile, two hundred miles north at Anfield, a 2-1 win for Liverpool meant that the title headed to Merseyside for the second time in three seasons. Less than three months later, England won the World Cup. The eleven that won the final against the West Germans in late July included goal scorers Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, as well as Captain Bobby Moore from West Ham, as well as Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton from Man United. The wider squad of twenty two also included John Connelly of Man United.
The first meeting between the two sides after the 1966 World Cup came on 1st April 1967 at Old Trafford. Man United topped the old First Division with a two point lead over Nottingham Forest in second place and had been unbeaten since a 1-2 defeat against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Boxing Day. Under a two points for a win system, Man United developed a formula of winning aat home and drawing away – with six straight victories at Old Trafford and seven straight draws on the road. Man United romped home with a 3-0 win with a goal each for Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best.
The return fixture back at the Boleyn Ground came around six weeks later on the penultimate Saturday of the season. Man United were three points clear of second place Nottingham Forest at the top of the table and standing on the verge of winning the back their title. Ahead of the game, with an eighteen day gap between fixtures the Hammers headed to the Houston Astrodome in Texas to participate in the world's football game to occur within a closed roof stadium with Real Madrid. The profile of ‘Soccer’ in the USA had heightened during the World Cup the previous year (the very first to be shown live across the world after the introduction of the Telstar satellite in 1962). The match, which the Hammers would lose 2-3 to Real Madrid, would also be transmitted live by two Mexican television channels.
Their visit across the pond however caused great disruption to the Hammers end of season run-in and by the time of Man United’s visit to Upton Park they had suffered five straight defeats. A growing band of Cockney Reds had swelled the gate to 38,424 – a post-war record for the Boleyn Ground. In the days prior to all-ticket being the norm, as well as securing your place on the terrace, the gates were locked an hour and a half prior to kick off. The game would also come to be noteworthy for events off the pitch. In the days prior to match day segregation and when the phrase ‘football hooligan’ had seemed as fresh a part of the national lexicon as ‘post-truth’ and 'fake news' seem today, there had also been disturbances on the tube prior to the game as well as inside the ground itself.
The Manchester Evening News would note that: ‘Upton Park was bedlam….all hell was breaking loose as United were being roared on by over 30,000 near hysterical supporters. The referee had ordered the ball boys to try and clear the goalmouth which was knee deep in toilet rolls and streamers. The St John ambulance men were streaming along the sides of the pitch, their stretchers laden with fans who had succumbed to hysteria’. Events were no less dramatic when play got under way on the pitch. Man United raced into a 4-0 lead within twenty minutes with goals from Bobby Charlton, George Best, Bill Foulkes and Paddy Crerand.
Matt Busby, in his half time talk told his players that ‘3-0's a bit dodgy. Keep it tight’. It turned out that so early on was Man United’s opener that Busby actually missed it. On being told that his side were actually four goals up, his response was ‘Och, go out and attack them, then!'. In the second half, West Ham pulled one back through a goal from John Charles – who, as the Canning Town born son of a merchant seaman from Grenada, would be the first player of Afro-Caribbean descent to turn out for the Hammers (in the sixties, Ron Greenwood’s West Ham were early pioneers in this field, despite the image portrayed by fictional Hammers fan Alf Garnett in the popular BBC sitcom of the time ‘Til Death Us Do Part’).
Two further goals for Denis Law however inflicted a 1-6 defeat on the Hammers and crowned Man United as Champions (though unbeknown at the time, their last title for the next twenty six years). There followed at full time a pitch invasion by Man United’s travelling support, who dug up lumps of the Boleyn Ground pitch for souvenirs before public address from Matt Busby. Disturbances between the fans apparently carried on post-match, however there was only one reported incident of a police arrest emanating from this match. Man United returned to Upton Park as defending Champions just four months on, in early September 1967.
This would be the first time this fixture would appear on the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. As seen from the ITN footage also, as with the previous May there would be further crowd trouble with this fixture also. Neither side enjoyed a good start to the 1967/68 season, with both West Ham and Man United winning just one of their first three games. Goals for David Sadler, Brian Kidd and Jimmy Ryan gave Man United a 3-1 win, while Martin Peters would be on target for the Hammers. The following January, West Ham would head to Old Trafford to meet Man United. The reigning Champions topped the old First Division with a three point cushion over Liverpool in second. West Ham meanwhile lay in fourteenth position.
Goals for Bobby Charlton, George Best and John Aston gave Man United a 3-1 win, while on target for the Hammers would be a nineteen year old Trevor Brooking during his first season in a West Ham shirt. The win would maintain a five point gap over their neighbours Man City; however the Blue half of Manchester would seal the title on the final day of the season. Man United though would finish the season as European Champions after a 4-1 win over Eusebio’s Benfica at Wembley in May 1968. The Hammers in contrast had to make do with a mid-table finish. The first meeting between the two sides after Man United became European Champions would be in September 1968.
Seven games into the 1968/69 season, Man United had won just three games. West Ham however sat in third place after enjoying a bright start with five wins out of seven. In the week prior to meeting Man United at Old Trafford, the Hammers had scored a total of nine goals with a 5-0 win over Burnley followed by a 4-0 victory against West Brom five days later. The two sides played out a 1-1 draw, with Denis Law on target for Man United and Geoff Hurst scoring for West Ham. By the end of the following March when Man United headed to the Boleyn Ground, the Reds still languished mid-table, while West Ham were enjoying a good run of form, having won four of their last five games and sitting in sixth place.
The two sides played out an unspectacular 0-0 draw in what turned out to be Man United’s last visit to Upton Park before Matt Busby would announce his intention to retire at the end of the season. Man United ended the season in eleventh, while West Ham would drop to eighth after failing to win any of their last five matches of the season. In the summer of 1969, Busby would be succeeded by Wilf McGuiness. West Ham’s first visit to Old Trafford in the post-Busby era came at the end of September. United had an underwhelming start to the season, failing to win any of their first six games though by the time of West Ham’s visit managed to pick up three wins. West Ham too had only won three of their first ten games.
In what was the very first Match of the Day game to be captured in technicolour, Man United managed to give their season a huge boost with a 5-2 victory over West Ham with two goals for George Best, as well as Bobby Charlton, Brian Kidd and Francis Burns also on the scoresheet. Geoff Hurst meanwhile would bag two for the Hammers.
By the time of the first meeting between the two sides of the 1970s the following January, Man United lay in tenth place while West Ham would be in sixteenth position after winning just eight games out of twenty eight. Neither side would give their season a boost after a 0-0 draw at the Boleyn Ground.
By the start of the 1970/71 season, both West Ham and Man United would fail to win their first three games. One week on from a 0-4 thrashing at Arsenal, Man United would host West Ham at Old Trafford. The two sides would play out a 1-1 draw, with John Fitzpatrick on target for Man United, while Geoff Hurst would score for the Hammers. By the following April when Man United came to Upton Park in the return fixture, Wilf McGuiness had been sacked after a poor first half of the season with Matt Busby coming out of retirement until the end of the season as Caretaker Manager to steady the ship. The Reds had climbed up to ninth, while West Ham were battling relegation though had built a four point cushion from the drop zone after beating reigning Champions Everton away the week before.
The Hammers picked up a vital two points with a 2-1 win secured by goals from Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson and Geoff Hurst again on target against the Reds. Man United’s goal meanwhile came from George Best. After Burnley were thrashed 0-4 away to title Challenging Leeds United, this win had increased the Hammers’ cushion to six points. By the end of the month, West Ham secured their place in the top tier by finishing twentieth. By the end of Busby’s Caretaker reign Man United finished eighth, though failing to qualify for Europe. Over the summer of 1971, Man United appointed former Hammer Frank O’Farrell as boss after he successfully promoted Leicester City as Champions of the old Second Division.
O’Farrell got off to a good start with just one defeat in his first eight games by the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford at the end of September. West Ham too were in good form after winning three of their last four games. A goal for Bobby Charlton and a George Best hat-trick fired Man United to a 4-2 win, with Trevor Brooking and Bermudan international Clyde Best on target for the Hammers.
By the end of the calendar year, Man United topped the Old First Division table with a three point cushion over neighbours Man City having only lost two games all season. West Ham in contrast stood mid-table, having won just one out of the last nine games. Goals for Clyde Best, Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson and Geoff Hurst gave the Hammers a 3-0 win. That defeat would be the first of seven straight losses for Man United, which saw the Reds drop to ninth place by the start of March and ten points behind neighbours City at the top of the table. By the season’s close, Man United finish once again in eighth position, while West Ham would be in fourteenth place.
Their poor form would continue into the 1972/73 season after failing to win their first six games. West Ham were also in the midst of a poor run of form, losing their last three games. Man United’s visit to Upton Park in September 1972 would be covered by LWT’s ‘The Big Match’ and as commentator Brian Moore would explain, both sides would be wearing a black arm band in honour of Prince William. This of course is not the heir to the throne and current F.A. President who would be born a decade later, but Prince William of Gloucester, the Cousin of Queen Elizabeth II - who four days earlier had died in a plane crash. The match would end in a 2-2 draw, neither side however would glean much from the result. On target for Man United would be George Best and Ian Storey-Moore, while both Hammers goal would come from Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson.
By Christmas, Man United were anchored to the foot of the table after sacking Frank O’Farrell following a 0-5 loss away to Crystal Palace. By the time of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford, in charge at Old Trafford was former Chelsea and Scotland manager Tommy Docherty. Making his debut for Man United was Lou Macari whom Docherty had signed from Celtic, who scored on his debut. Also on target for Man United would be Bobby Charlton. However goals for Clyde Best and Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson earned West Ham a 2-2 draw.
Man United managed to pull themselves to safety after finishing eighteenth, while West Ham enjoyed a sixth place finish to the 1972/73 season. Ahead of West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford in Mid-September 1973, Man United sat in twentieth position having lost four of their first six games. West Ham however with three draws and three defeats were without a win and were second from bottom of the table. Goals for Ian Storey-Moore and two for Brian Kidd gave Man United a 3-1 win, while Billy Bonds had been on target for the Hammers. The return fixture back at Upton Park came in early January 1974 and both sides remained in exactly the same positions with Man United standing just one point ahead of West Ham.
On New Years’ Day of 1974, George Best – dealing with a growing alcohol problem - played his final game for Man United in a 0-3 away defeat at QPR. Three days later, Best failed to turn up to training and was dropped for United’s third round Cup tie with Plymouth Argyle the following Saturday. Best therefore went AWOL from Old Trafford and a week later in his absence, goals for Billy Bonds and Pat Holland gave the Hammers a 2-1 win over Man United, while another Northern Ireland international - Sammy McIlroy - would be on target for the Reds. The result lifted the Hammers above Man United in the table and out of the relegation zone. Twelve days on from this result, George Best would announce his exit from Old Trafford and his premature retirement from top level football.
By the final Saturday of the 1973/74 season, West Ham stood two points above the relegation zone after failing to win their last three games. The previous Saturday, West Ham lost 1-2 to Man City at Maine Road meaning that the Hammers required a draw from their last match to ensure their safety. Man United meanwhile, after a period of seven games without defeat which pulled them off of the bottom of the table and in with a shout to escape relegation, suffered a 0-1 defeat away to Everton. Man United therefore needed a win at home to Man City for survival in the top flight, as well as other results going their way.
Both Southampton and Birmingham immediately above them had won their respective fixtures. Meanwhile over at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham would face second place Liverpool one week ahead of their FA Cup Final appearance and would lead 2-1 until the last minute when a late equaliser from Kevin Keegan meant a 2-2 draw, but ensured safety for West Ham in the top tier. This fixture would be the final game for Ron Greenwood and Bill Shankly who retired from football management over the summer (though Greenwood would return three years on as England boss after Don Revie’s surprise resignation due to a big money offer to take over as boss of the UAE).
Over at Old Trafford that same afternoon, Man United’s fate was sealed when a back-heel from Old Trafford old boy Denis Law gave Man City a 1-0 victory and consigned Man United to second tier football for the first time in thirty six years. Man United came back up after one season as Second tier champions in 1974/75. Their first visit to the Boleyn Ground on returning to the top flight came in late October 1975, with John Lyall now appointed manager of West Ham. In the run up to this fixture, such was the growth in crowd disturbances at football games that tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror began to run their own ‘thugs’ league table in terms of arrests and disturbances. Supposedly, this was to shame such clubs into cleaning up their act, though often had the opposite effect with the hooligan element of each of the top clubs vying for supremacy.
This would be one such table which Man United had little trouble topping in the 1970s, with West Ham often giving them a run for their money. On the pitch however, Man United had topped the table ahead of this fixture having lost only two of their first thirteen games. West Ham, with a game in hand, stood only two points behind in third place. Crowd disturbances at Upton Park led to a nineteen minute delay to proceedings. When play resumed, West Ham took the lead when Alan Taylor got on the end of a long punt down field from Mervyn Day in the West Ham goal. In the event, West Ham ran out 2-1 winners with Bobby Gould also on target for the Hammers, while future West Ham manager Lou Macari would score for Man United.
By the end of February 1976, when West Ham travelled to Old Trafford for the return fixture, Man United would be one point behind League leaders Liverpool in third, while West Ham would be off the pace in eighth position. A 4-0 hammering of West Ham secured by goals from future Hammer Stuart Pearson, Alex Forsyth, Lou Macari and David McCreery kept Man United in the hunt for the title. Man United would also be in the running for the FA Cup with hopes of becoming only the third side during the twentieth century to win the elusive double. Back to back defeats to Stoke and Leicester put paid to Man United’s title challenge, as well as losing the 1976 FA Cup Final to second tier Southampton meant that Man United ended 1975/76 trophy-less. West Ham meanwhile sunk to eighteenth position after winning just one game after Christmas.
By late November 1976, when West Ham headed to Old Trafford to meet Man United, they were anchored to the foot of the old First Division after winning just two of their fifteen games played and losing five of their last six games – their only win being a 5-3 home win over Spurs who were just one place above them in the table. Man United however had failed to win all of their previous six games and had fallen from topping the table at the start of October to languishing in thirteenth place. West Ham gave their season a boost with a 2-0 win to further Man United’s misery with goals from Trevor Brooking and Billy Jennings. When Man United came to the Boleyn ground later that season it would be just five days ahead of the 1977 FA Cup Final where Man United were to meet treble chasing Liverpool at Wembley.
Man United had risen back up to a respectable fifth in the table, while the Hammers were only kept out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The only player rested ahead of the final for Man United was goalkeeper Alex Stepney, with Paddy Roche selected instead. Peter Batt, reporting on the game for the London Evening Standard noted that: ‘United were supposed to come to town with half a team of reserves, oozing benevolence and running miles away from tackles that could put any one of them out of the Cup Final. In short, they were supposed to give the Hammers the kiss of life, or so the cynics thought. In the event, they played with such flair and competed with such fervour that only the stark intensity of West Ham’s survival instincts saved them…If Saturday’s Cup Final is half as entertaining as this match was then it will be the best of the decade’.
Just twenty five seconds into the game, Man United took the lead with a goal from Gordon Hill. West Ham however secured their place in the top flight with a 4-2 victory secured by goals from Frank Lampard Senior, Geoff Pike and two for Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson. Man United boss Tommy Docherty was to report maverick referee Clive Thomas to the Football League for swearing at Man United’s Brian Greenhoff. The Doc stated that: ‘after the fourth goal, Brian pointed out that the linesman’s flag was up and the referee told him to f*** off’. Man United pulled one back from Stuart Pearson – who was to turn goal hero the following Saturday after United beat Liverpool to seal the FA Cup and their first trophy of the Post-Busby era, their last being the European Cup nine years earlier.
Despite sealing their first trophy in nine years, over the summer of 1977 Man United sacked boss Tommy Docherty after an extra-marital affair with the physio’s wife was revealed. Man United – now under the management of former Chelsea and QPR boss Dave Sexton - returned to Upton Park at the end of the calendar year, just two weeks before Christmas 1977. After winning their first trophy of the 1970s, the Reds sat a disappointing twelfth. West Ham however were unable to improve on their disappointing form from the previous season, sitting third from bottom. The Hammers however managed to bag a vital two points with a 2-1 win secured by goals from Trevor Brooking and Derek Hales, while Chris McGrath would be on target for Man United.
By the time of the return fixture at Old Trafford in April 1978, with three games of the season left to go, Man United were unable to climb any high than eleventh in the table having won only fourteen of the thirty nine games played so far. West Ham had risen to seventeenth, but were hovering just one point above the relegation zone having played more games than the three other sides battling the drop – Chelsea, Wolves and QPR (while both Newcastle and Leicester were already down). After a Bobby Ferguson penalty save and a goal-less first half, a young Alvin Martin conceded a penalty, which Ashley Grimes converted. Two further goals for Stuart Pearson and Sammy McIlroy meant a comprehensive 0-3 loss for the Hammers.
Going into the final Saturday of the season one week later, West Ham stood in eighteenth place - above QPR on goal difference only and just a two point cushion separated them from Wolves in twentieth position. QPR had one game in hand over the Hammers, while Wolves had two extra games to play. Wolves hosted Man United at Molineux, while West Ham faced a Liverpool side at the Boleyn Ground who, though having lost the title race to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, were desperate not to finish below neighbours Everton for the first time in eight years. QPR meanwhile had a home fixture with Leeds United.
The Hammers crashed to a 0-2 defeat at the Boleyn Ground, while QPR held Leeds United to a 0-0 draw. The result which sunk the Hammers however was Man United’s 1-2 away defeat to Wolves which lifted the Black Country side above West Ham in the table by +1 on goal difference (which replaced goal average to separate sides on equal points just two years prior). With West Ham’s fixtures completed, their main hope was for Wolves to lose both games by a margin which would take their goal difference figure beneath that of Wolves. A 3-1 home win over Aston Villa for Wolves three days later sealed the Hammers’ fate, making their drop to the old Second Division - after twenty years in the top flight - a certainty.
For the Hammers, there would follow a three year absence from top flight football and the biggest gap in fixtures between the two sides for two decades. As will be shown in Part Three, fixtures between these two sides would resume on West Ham’s return to the top flight in 1982, as the Hammers would remain in the top tier throughout the 1980s.
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(Part One can be found here)