West Ham’s mad UEFA Cup adventure with Playboy Bunnies, Uzis and JR from Dallas

As West Ham look to go the distance in the Europa Conference League this season, David Moyes might take inspiration from the last successful campaign the Hammers had overseas.

With Harry Redknapp at the helm, he managed to win them the Intertoto Cup in the 1999/00 season only to crash out of the UEFA Cup in the second round to tonight's opponents. However, it was a wild few months for West Ham that included shooting Uzis from a car boot, entertaining Playboy Bunnies and meeting one of TV's most famous faces.

In the first round, the Hammers faced Croatian side Osijek who they beat 6-1 on aggregate. But despite the goalfest, that was the least memorable part of the trip for some. Croatia had only gained independence in 1992 after the break-up of Yugoslavia and there were still wounds that needed healing in the war-torn region.

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Former West Ham star Steve Lomas told The Sun: “At the time we had Croatian international Igor Stimac and he brought out this guy that was the leader of around only 300 men who defended Osijek from an army.

“This guy opened up the boot of his car and the arsenal of weaponry was unbelievable. Any military would have been proud of it. A few of the boys were having a go on the guns.

“You couldn’t imagine that now, players firing Uzi’s from the back of a car. The stories he told us, wow. He had a massive scar. You knew he had been through it.

“That trip was good fun but a lot of things stick in your memory. We were in what was a war zone. It gave us perspective.”

But that was not where it ended as Steaua Bucharest awaited West Ham in the next round of the UEFA Cup. After arriving at their hotel in Romania, by happy coincidence there was a Playboy convention in town at the time – who posed for photos with the likes of Frank Lampard and Neil Ruddock.

Lomas added: “You should have seen Harry’s face. The lads were begging to stay. I am sure we drove him mad.”

There was more madness, though, when Lomas spotted JR Ewing from Dallas appeared at the Steaua stadium and walked out to a massive ovation from the home crowd. He said: “It was a crappy old night and this delegation of people came walking out. The whole crowd to a man stood up and cheered.

“There was this big puff of smoke around them and then I saw this big Stetson hat and I suddenly went, ‘That’s f***ing JR Ewing from Dallas! All the boys go, ‘F*** off, that ain’t Larry Hagman!’. I said, ‘I’m telling you, that’s him’.

“So, we ran up and sure enough it was Larry Hagman from Dallas. The Romanians were about ten years behind so the TV show was in its prime over there. Larry Hagman was their superstar and he was here to watch our game. It was bizarre.”

The Hammers would lose the first leg 2-0 in the country's capital and could not mount a comeback in the second leg after an inspired performance from Zoltan Ritli at Upton Park. It saw their European venture come to an end in November after reaching the second round but surely those memories will stay forever.

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