The Hammers won their first piece of silverware since 1980’s FA Cup, and a first European trophy since 1965, on a historic and emotional night in Prague.
Yes, it may be only Europe’s third-tier competition, the one treated as an unwanted distraction by Tottenham, among others, in its inaugural form last season. But this is West Ham. The West Ham who routinely see relegation as an occupational hazard. The West Ham who made a song and dance of leaving their old stadium and an almighty hash of moving into the new one. The West Ham who had to go begging to their former manager to save them from the drop, 18 months after they got rid of him when he had done just that.
Just nine weeks ago that same manager watched as the away fans unfurled a “Moyes Out” banner during a scratchy 1-0 win over Fulham, which likely saved his job. Now David Moyes has written his name in West Ham folklore, joining Ron Greenwood and John Lyall as trophy-winning Hammers managers. A place in next season’s Europa League means the club has qualified for Europe three campaigns in a row, for the first time.
And what a way to sign off for Declan Rice, destined to leave this summer but with the legacy of becoming only the third captain, along with Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, to lift silverware in the club’s 128-year history.
The Hammers have given their fans, 5,000 of whom were – officially at least – in attendance and the 20,000 or so who just wanted to be in Prague for their first European final in 47 years, the ride of their lives.
A campaign that began in August – three prime ministers ago – and has taken in trips to Denmark (twice), Belgium, Romania, Cyprus, Belgium again, and the Netherlands, finally culminated in a glory night in the Czech capital.
West Ham’s supporters occupied at least two-thirds of the Eden Arena and could have sold out the 20,000-seater stadium three times over, so it was a shame to see hundreds of empty seats in the Fiorentina end.
Their travelling support has been almost exclusively good-natured throughout the campaign, so it was also a shame to see West Ham fans throwing missiles onto the pitch at Fiorentina players.
They were mainly plastic pint cups, but just before half-time at least one more sinister object left Fiorentina captain Cristiano Biraghi with a nasty cut on the back of his head, forcing referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande to briefly halt play while a message over the PA system implored the fans to stop throwing missiles. A Uefa inquest will surely follow.
At the next Fiorentina corner, Christian Kouame’s header came back off a post and Luka Jovic prodded in the rebound, but to West Ham’s – and particularly goalkeeper Alphonse Areola’s – relief he was flagged offside.
The Hammers occasionally threatened on the counterattack in a predictably cagey first half, but Michail Antonio’s low shot was saved by Pietro Terracciano and an effort from Rice from Vladimir Coufal’s half-cleared throw bounced wide.
Del Cerro Grande had frustrated West Ham with some strange decisions, but not even the eccentric Spanish referee could turn down their appeals for a penalty on the hour after checking the pitchside monitor.
The ball clearly hit Biraghi’s hand after Bowen controlled it with his chest, and Said Benrahma tucked the spot-kick high into the net in front of the Hammers’ faithful.
But Fiorentina equalised just four minutes later when Nicolas Gonzalez won a header and the ball fell for Giacomo Bonaventura to control and fire between Rice and Nayef Aguerd into the far corner.
They almost immediately took the lead but Rolando Mandragora steered his shot wide from in front of goal.
But West Ham regained their composure and Tomas Soucek, back at the home ground of his former club Slavia Prague, was twice denied by Terracciano.
Then came the big moment. Lucas Paqueta’s through-ball finally caught out Fiorentina’s high line and there was Bowen, scampering clear and slotting past Terracciano.
Cue bedlam on the pitch, on the touchline and in the stands. The wait was over and West Ham could finally celebrate some silverware.
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