Being in Prague for West Ham’s Conference League final was a dream come true for Liv Elliott, Nina Button and Holly Worthington. Along with editor David Blackmore and Jack Hobbs, the trio made the journey to the Czech Republic in the hope of seeing their beloved West Ham win their first major trophy since 1980 and our second European title in our history.
Liv’s route to Prague saw her travel from Stansted to Eindhoven to Prague and the route back was Prague to Milan to Stansted with only a couple hours layover in between flights. ‘Myself, my brother and my Dad hate booking things before we know for definite that we are going there,’ she explains. ‘So when it came to booking Prague before we even qualified for the final, it was terrifying.
‘We all came to the conclusion we would rather lose £160 than pay quadruple that price and we were pretty happy with our deal. I hated Monday and Tuesday morning so much not because I was nervous but because everyone was out in Prague loving life. I kept on counting down the hours until I was there.
‘We flew out on the Tuesday lunchtime and landed in Prague at 9pm but we didn’t care, we had arrived in Prague and what a beautiful place filled with such kind people.
‘Just being in Prague was a dream come true after the heartbreak of last year but the nerves I didn’t have on Monday and Tuesday hit me before bed real bad and I couldn’t get to sleep for a few hours. I woke up on Wednesday singing bubbles and pulled on my claret and blue top ready to hit the streets of Prague.
‘We headed to the square to meet up with our friends and of course the whole West Ham family. It was incredible to see so many claret and blue friends who had made the journey. I was lucky enough to get my ticket on points and trust me travelling to Leeds midweek and staying overnight was so worth it for that moment.
‘My dad came and stood with me to watch our final chapter of the European tour. The tears of joy, relief, happiness and every emotion I had in me was let out that evening when Sir Jarrod Bowen put that ball in the back of the net in the 90th minute. I lost my Dad in the limbs but could see the tears streaming down his face when we were reunited.
‘My brother was in the neutral end of the stadium and managed to get to us after the win and to give my best friend the biggest hug of a lifetime is something I will cherish forever. We have always gone to West Ham as a trio and that night made me realise how grateful I am to have such a strong connection with my Dad and brother.’
Nina was also at the stadium in Prague with her dad, who had introduced her to West Ham 15 years ago.
‘We got to the stadium stupidly early, but I’m so glad we did,’ she says. ‘The energy inside the Eden Arena was buzzing. It was clear to see early on that there were going to be many more West Ham fans in the ground than Fiorentina fans. Our allocation was nowhere near the number of fans who had managed to find a way to be there.
‘The players came out on the pitch around two hours before kick-off and soaked up the atmosphere. The crowd were reeling through our song list, everyone from Lucas Paqueta to Carlton Cole were getting serenaded by the West Ham faithful. My dad was nervous this energy would get the players too pumped up for the game, which I think it did in the first half.
‘The closest atmosphere I can compare the first goal to is when Winston Reid scored the winner at the final game at the Boleyn Ground. The volume at which the crowd erupted was incredible, that’s the moment I let myself think, we could do this.
‘The juxtaposition to 10 minutes later when they had equalised was crazy. Yet, I thought, if we get one chance falling to the right person, we’ll do this. I agreed with Moyes’s sentiment after the game that if it was going to be anyone, it would be Jarrod Bowen. That man is clinical, and that’s exactly what we needed.
‘The beautiful pass from Paqueta, the perfectly-timed run and quick shot from Bowen, could only have been executed by two men on that pitch. I don’t think it really sank in until a few hours later that we were champions. Grown men were crying around me, singing in unison with more emotion than a Broadway performance.
‘Seeing our players sprint over to us, the elation on all of their faces and watching Declan Rice lift the trophy, was incredible.’
And whilst Liv and Nina were celebrating with their families, Holly was partying with more than 20,000 West Ham fans who have packed their fan park. ‘I have never experienced anything as brilliant as my week in Prague, nor do I think I ever will,’ she says. ‘From start to finish, the trip was incredible. Beginning with meeting countless West Ham fans at Birmingham airport, the queue for the plane included plenty of West Ham songs.
‘When we arrived in Prague, I was baffled. The whole of Prague appeared to have been taken over by West Ham fans. You only had to visit the Old Town Square to see the number of fans who’d travelled and when I had the pleasure of speaking with some of them, it quickly became obvious that 99% of them had travelled with no tickets.
‘Not to mention the fact that people had travelled from all over the world, via train, plane and automobile just to soak in every moment. The game itself is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The atmosphere in the fan zone got better and better as the day went on and I can only describe it as some kind of West Ham festival.
‘Chesney Hawkes blasting out “West Ham Are Massive”, everybody wearing West Ham shirts and of course, the muddy puddles you’d expect at any festival, it was definitely one of those moments where you look around and have to pinch yourself. We had made it to the final of the Conference League. The game itself was the most emotional 90 minutes. The fan zone erupted when Benrahma’s penalty hit the back of the net, before fear set in when Fiorentina equalised.
‘The moment that Bowen put that ball away in the 90th minute sent everybody’s beers flying and before I knew it I was hugging absolute strangers and leaping around. The full time whistle blew and I have no shame in admitting I bawled my eyes out, along with most of the crowd. To have achieved this level of success and to have been with so many other fans to celebrate was the most surreal, yet incredible experience.
‘The party didn’t stop there, as we all headed to the Square to continue the celebrations. Even three days after the final, you could still hear West Ham songs echoing around Prague. Moments like this don’t come around often as we all know and I honestly believe this is the start of something very special.’
As for Jack, he now feels like life as a West Ham has peaked, which aged 21, he admits isn’t great.
‘The fact that I can say I was in Prague to experience our historic victory alongside thousands of Hammers, is still surreal and incredibly special to me. I’ve always wanted to visit Prague so the final being held there was quite ideal in many ways, and it didn’t disappoint.
‘The city was beautiful, the weather was mostly stunning but most importantly there was cheap beer. The excitement was tangible on the day of the final, we all gathered in our masses of claret and blue at the Old Town square, some of us more hungover than others, in the hours leading to kickoff before heading to the fanzone.
‘The ground was a quagmire but that didn’t stop us in the slightest. The only issue was that my white t-shirt was the sorry victim of a rogue football that got punted 30ft into the air, only to land right next to me in a muddy puddle. The scenes when we scored both goals were ridiculous. It was raining beer, flares were going off and ‘Bowen’s on fire’ could probably have been heard across the border in Germany.
‘It was utter carnage when that full-time whistle went, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. I had to fly back at 7am the next morning so as you can probably guess, I didn’t sleep a wink, but it was so worth it. The Europa League final will be held in Dublin this season, so same again next year?’