Whilst there were tens of thousands of fans in Prague and lining the route of our victory parade, there were Hammers who watched on enviously and joyfully from around the world at the celebrations. With New Orleans being six hours behind Europe, Bradley Holland has been living on the edge during our European adventures as our games take place during his working day.
‘It has meant that I’m constantly hiding my phone while refreshing the app for live updates or with any luck, listening to the radio as I get blow-by-blow from friends in chat, ducking behind my desk,’ he explains. But for West Ham’s European Conference Final, I took the afternoon off. I told my boss – “Hey West Ham have a shot for the first trophy in 43 years”, and I made my way to the only football pub in New Orleans that shows soccer.
‘There were at least 30 fans, which is massive for a neutral pub, especially as we only carry around five on the weekend, with Arsenal supporters there to clap us on and even the bartender donning claret and blue. We had a contingent of six from London on holiday who had found us from my Twitter account.
‘We became friends fast and immediately drinks went all around, and over the nerve-wracking 90 minutes of Moyes-ball with only 25% possession, I must have had eight myself, which is a lot because in New Orleans they pour by eyesight and the limit per glass is double that of the UK. When the final whistle blew, we roared madly, chanted, and after putting shirts back on and picking up overturned chairs and glasses, went out on the town to celebrate with my new London friends.’
Meanwhile, a bit closer to home, Lucy Farrell admits feeling very nervous and excited waking up in her Ireland home on Wednesday morning.
‘It was the longest day ever waiting for 8pm, I think I checked my watch every 15 minutes all day. The day itself was pretty mundane, but I did manage to find a four pack of alcohol free Staropramen in my local shop, which helped me get into the Czech spirit a bit. Don’t get me wrong, my six month old daughter is lovely, but she doesn’t allow for much football watching and celebrating, so it was a quiet one for me.
‘I tried and failed to get her to sleep a little earlier than usual, so we watched the build up and most of the game while swaying and singing lullabies. With around 20 minutes left, she was asleep enough to put her into her cot, but cheering and shouting was still a no-no.
‘To be honest, when Bowen hit the back of the net, I worried he was offside. When it was confirmed to be a goal, I spent a lot of time putting my hand to my mouth and gasping in glee. Post-match, I cried quite a bit. I had to ring my Dad, but we didn’t have many words for each other, we were just elated.
‘I love that we won, it’s a highlight of a lifetime of supporting. But selfishly, I wish I could have been able to enjoy it more. Watching Sky Sports News cut to bits of the parade was surreal too. It still felt like something that other teams do. It was great to just see unrivaled joy from the players, staff and fans.’
And it wasn’t just overseas Hammers who watched the action in Prague and following day’s victory parade from home, but it didn’t mean they didn’t enjoy the victory any less.
Marcus Johns has followed West Ham home and away, and to a number of European away days so it felt somewhat weird for me not to be in Prague for the final. ‘I felt lonely too, as it seemed everyone else I knew was out there,’ he explains. ‘But my non attendance was not due to tickets or travel – I’d known as soon as the dates were announced I’d not be there, for the 7th June was also my son’s 5th birthday.
‘Given this, and how he was just starting to show a solid interest in football, the decision was made to ensure the future legacy of the club by creating our own memories of the final, so we settled down on the sofa, his late night pass in hand, and were joined by my father so three generations of fans could watch history being made together. His interest had become a crescendo following the semi final. The sight of Fornals celebrating in front of the sea of flags had prompted us to make our own for the final, and so wearing a commemorative t-shirt and draped in our new flag, we settled down.
‘The excitement of a long day got too much for him, and he fell asleep on me 10 mins before the end, but the commotion caused by Bowen’s last minute woke him up, which meant that I was able to embrace both my Father and son in a joyous moment that was almost as magical as what was happening on the pitch itself.
Meanwhile Meirion Williams is looking forward to joining the party in Dublin next year if Moyes Boys can make it through to the Europa League final. ‘In truth, I always thought I was good at forward planning, in fact I prided myself on this skill, but since retiring, it seems that it’s a skill I have now lost,’ he says.
‘How else can you explain scheduling two ticketed events either side of a European final? First up was my taking my wife to see Coldplay in Cardiff on the Tuesday and then the final covid-delayed event in my diary of Penn and Teller in Birmingham on the Thursday.
‘Both events either side of the final. Having plenty of priority points from my travels over the last two seasons, and in fact the last 20 plus seasons, my code duly arrived giving me the opportunity to purchase a ticket. To say I was tempted is an understatement but in the end a happy family took precedence over the Hammers and so I was resigned to watching from home.
‘But at least there would be several of my family with me, surely? Nope. I sat on my own resplendent in my West Ham shirt, large bottle of coke, I don’t drink, and a four pack of donuts by my side to watch my team. The team I have supported since a boy, the team I have been a season ticket holder at for 25 years, finally win a European honour.
‘Was I jealous of those in attendance? Of course I was. Do I wish I was in Prague? Of course. Did I buy the game programme. Yep, did I shout out loud when Herefordshire born and bred Jarrod Bowen scored? Yep I did. And did I go to the parade? Nope as I was in Birmingham, damn.
He added: ‘Ah well there’s always next year. Dublin here I come.’