For the first time in 58 years, West Ham United, from the East End of London, have tasted European glory.
Jarrod Bowen’s 90th minute winner secured the trophy for the Hammers in Prague – sending West Ham fans in the stadium, the city, back at home and all over the world into raptures.
Manager David Moyes traded his usual calm and composed manner for an outpouring of emotion. Limbs flying, bodies hurled together, grown men crying: the West Ham crowd were a wave of passion on one of the biggest nights in their history.
Why is it so special, for Moyes, the players, and the club? It’s been 58 years since this last happened, so let’s take a look at why it is so special.
It’s the 30th December, 2019. Moyes takes his seat, facing David Sullivan and the late David Gold for one last meal before being unveiled as the West Ham manager for the second time.
The Manuel Pellegrini era has come to the end, and the two David’s take a look at the menu: humble pie. They are about to go back to an ex, reaching out to the experienced Scotsman for him to manage their club, again.
The next day, Moyes takes his seat again, this time in the conference room. “Do you feel like you have unfinished business here?”
“I certainly do.”
His first game was against Bournemouth in an early relegation six-pointer. He’s promised a well-drilled side, with a healthy dose of resilience, competitiveness, and a winning mentality.
4-0 West Ham. Haller excelled, scoring a bicycle kick. Brazilian Felipe Anderson had his mojo back, getting on the scoresheet, and Mark Noble led by example, bagging twice as West Ham ran riot in their first game back under David Moyes management.
That day won a lot of fans over and signalled what was to come. Fast forward three-and-a-half years, and David Moyes is looking forward to the biggest game of his career in Prague.
There are so many reasons why that night in Prague will go down in history, not just because of the long wait fans endured, but because of the countless individual special memories created.
It starts with Twitter. David Gold, previous owner of the club he has been a lifelong fan of, tweeted this:
The Hammer’s co-owner David Sullivan was emotional after the game: “Sadly, there is one man of course who will not be there, someone who did so much to help deliver success to our club, and, in all the joy and excitement of this victory, the one thing I missed was being able to turn to him, see his smile, shake his hand. I know how proud he would’ve been too. This is for you DG – our dreams are beginning to come true.”
Just a couple of days over the 10-year anniversary of that tweet, West Ham United were crowned European champions. David Gold, I promise you, we didn’t go to bed.
So much has happened in those ten years. David Moyes was the manager of Manchester United when that tweet went out, about to embark on the toughest moments of his career.
"It’s only if you’re in the business that you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about," Moyes began, “There’s all the stuff we talk about with mental health nowadays, and I think we’re getting closer to understanding that, yet it’s still OK to discuss a football manager’s job on television or radio and people talk about it as if it’s a jokey matter.
"Did it have an effect? It did. But look, ultimately, I’ve got a strong family, a great wife behind me, and we got through it fine. Football is a game. Sometimes it will be bad, and you have to live with that, but you see what’s going on."
Moyes, after so-called ‘failures’ at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland, has re-ignited the spark in his relationship with football. He deserved Wednesday night more than anyone else.
Moyes has admitted to struggling mentally with the fans, the press, and the stress of the beautiful but testing game, but his wife Pamela and his family have helped him through the sleepless nights and setbacks.
“He will probably be at the pub!” Moyes joked, talking about his dad, aged 87, making the journey out to Prague to watch his son in his biggest night at as a coach.
“You can imagine, I’ve got a huge following from my family, it’s a big moment for me of course but I also hope it will be a great night for my family.
“I hope it will be something they can celebrate, my dad’s here tomorrow, hopefully I can give him something to remember as well.
“All of you that have children, to see your kids go on to be successful or do something which you can be proud of, for any father, it’s so important.”
The sacrifices that the 60-year-old has made, just in the current campaign, were debts owed to his family that were paid off on Wednesday.
“I missed my grandson’s birthday not so long ago; Pamela tried her best to lift my spirits.
“If you are going to be a football manager, your wife, family, kids have to understand exactly how it is going to be.
“It plays a big part in their life because they don’t want a miserable husband or dad coming home. They’ve seen quite a miserable husband or dad quite regularly, to be honest.
“The moments you get to celebrate and have your family, with everyone here, and to win in the last two minutes of the game. That doesn’t happen often. Sometimes it goes against you.
“I would have to say it’s the best moment of my career. This is a great feeling.”
Jarrod Bowen is the latest father of the group, with his partner Dani Dyer giving birth to twins just over two weeks ago – born into a family of true West Ham supporters.
“I thought I was going to cry, I’m just so happy,” said Bowen. “I dreamed of scoring, but to score the winner in the last minute… to do it in front of these fans… I can’t put it into words.”
90th minute winners are what dreams are made of, and it was Pablo Fornals, adored by East Londoners for his hard work, who had the limelight in similar fashion to Bowen in the semi-final against AZ Alkmaar.
He got married yesterday, to Tania, the mother of his child and someone who has been there with him every step of the way on his footballing journey, especially when moving to London.
Another duo who have found home in London are fellow Czech mates Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, who alongside co-owner Daniel Kretinsky – know Prague like the back of their hand.
The duo returned to Prague and conquered Europe in the capital of their home country, capping off a wonderful couple of seasons in claret and blue.
There are so many incredible stories in one dressing room, not to mention Aaron Cresswell’s tears at the final whistle, Kurt Zouma – who when signing said he wanting to change the club mentality to challenging for trophies and in Europe – and Declan Rice, who has just joined the West Ham hall of fame alongside Billy Bonds and Bobby Moore, the only players to captain West Ham to European glory.
The captain has given it his all in West Ham colours, and stayed despite rumours upon rumours, losing £10m in wages just this year by staying at the London Stadium for the current campaign. His loyalty over the last 3 years has been admirable, and if now is his time to move on, what a last dance it was.
The West Ham team has come together at just the right time, in the most wholesome of circumstances, and it was summed up by a trip to Portugal just days before the final.
With nine arrivals at the start of the year, Moyes would’ve been hoping for a holiday like this earlier on, but it seemed like he timed it perfectly.
Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma, Lucas Paqueta, Kurt Zouma, Thilo Kehrer, Nayef Aguerd and Emerson headed down to Quartiera water park, whilst Declan Rice, Aaron Cresswell, Flynn Downes and Danny Ings took a trip to the golf course.
Soucek and Coufal played paddle tennis against Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals, and Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd and Lucas Paqueta beat Thilo Kehrer, Maxwell Cornet and Said Benrahma in head tennis.
They bumped into fans too, with children singing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ on karaoke to the first team, with the special relationship between the players and the fans there for all to see.
“Airport this way, Prague that way!” is a quote you might’ve heard from a particular young fan, who was known for his humour before the final, but for wearing his heart on his sleeve in a wholesome video after he witnessed the final in Prague.
But not much else sums up West Ham, their fans and the love they have for the team more than ‘Knollsy’. Chris Knoll’s heroism earned him tickets to the final, after a group of AZ Alkmaar ultras attacked the West Ham family section where players families, wives and children were spectating.
It was ‘Knollsy’ who used himself as a barrier between the ultras and the vulnerable families before security eventually came to his aid.
West Ham are a family, summed up by the teams return to Stratford, where thousands turned up in their numbers to show support for this historic group of lads.
Declan Rice was told off not once, but twice, for swearing on the BBC live coverage, but he didn’t care: “To lift this trophy for this club hasn’t hit me yet. It’s so special. I’m lost for words.”
It’s been a crazy ride and an overwhelming 72 hours for a side who quite simply aren’t used to this. This team will go down in history and will be spoke about for years to come by West Ham fans.
“We know what we are, we know what we are, champions of Europe, we know what we are!”