These are momentous days in the young life of Jarrod Bowen. Barely two weeks have passed since he became a father of twins, and now he is just 90 minutes away from European glory with West Ham United. Defining moments, on and off the pitch, and a cocktail of emotions — delight, nervousness, excitement, fatigue — that must be unlike anything he has ever experienced before.
“The best feeling,” Bowen says of the birth of his daughters, Summer and Star. And this week’s Europa Conference League final against Fiorentina? “The pinnacle for the players and probably the biggest game of my career. It is a massive moment.”
For many football supporters, especially those who follow England’s biggest clubs, it has been hard to gauge the significance of the Europa Conference League since it was launched in 2021. This, after all, is Uefa’s third competition, behind the Champions League and the Europa League.
For West Ham, though, their upcoming final in Prague could hardly be more important. Not since 1976 has this club played in a European final, and not since 1965 have they won a continental trophy. As Bowen says, victory would ensure that the current squad “goes down in history” in east London.
This European campaign has already delivered plenty of notable nights for West Ham’s players and supporters, who have travelled to Viborg, Larnaca and seemingly everywhere in between on a journey that began in mid-August. The semi-final against AZ Alkmaar, especially, will live long in the memories of those who were there — for good reasons and bad.
When Pablo Fornals struck West Ham’s late winner in the Netherlands, Bowen was one of the first to join the celebrations in front of the away supporters at the AFAS Stadion. But delight quickly turned to horror as David Moyes and his players realised that, behind the dugout, their friends and families were being attacked by hooded AZ ultras.
“My grandad is 70 years old and he was in the middle of the Alkmaar fans,” Bowen says. “It was a disgrace. Us lads were angry. We are role models and we have to keep a calm head, but when it is your family there getting attacked, people have to see it in a different light. That is your family, your blood.
“When you see people with bike chains and hitting them with it, it was not nice. I was looking for my family and then you hope security does the best they can. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that in football, that number of fans going over there and wanting to cause violence.
“Luckily, in the end, I didn’t hear that anyone was seriously injured and that is the main thing. Not just our families, but other West Ham fans there too. They don’t want to go to a game and get punched by 50 people. Luckily in the end everyone came out unscathed and we still enjoyed the moment.”
Footage from the dressing room in Alkmaar, in the minutes after the violence in the stands had subsided, showed the players and staff dancing and singing in celebration of their victory. Among the chants of choice was “Bowen’s on fire”, which features a reference to celebrity West Ham fan Danny Dyer, the father of Bowen’s partner Dani.
Bowen said earlier this season that Dyer, an actor and presenter, is on his case “every week” about bringing a trophy to the club. But he is not expected to be in attendance in Prague — “I think he’s working,” says Bowen — and neither will Bowen’s mother, who works as a teaching assistant at a school in Hereford.
“Sometimes watching it from home is a better way,” says Bowen, who will have his brother and father in the stands. “It can be a bit more daunting for them when they come and it is such a big occasion.”
Clearly, the events of Alkmaar remain fresh in the mind. “You look at it with a different perspective,” says the 26-year-old. “You never know what is going to happen and what protection you will get. I could be playing another game where my mum comes over and she is in the middle of that.”
On a personal level, Wednesday’s final represents a chance for Bowen to end a frustrating campaign on a high. He scored six Premier League goals this season, down from 12 last year, and lost his place in the England squad after making four appearances in the summer of 2022.
In recent weeks he has looked sharper, though, and he scored against Leeds with an excellent finish last month. As with other members of West Ham’s attack, including Fornals and Lucas Paqueta, he appears to be hitting form at the right time.
For Moyes and his players, the challenge in recent days has been finding a balance between relaxation and preparation. It has been a long wait for this final and they filled some of the time by flying to Portugal for a three-day training camp (which also featured a trip to the local water park).
“It is good to get away from the training ground,” says Bowen. “There were lots of jokes, lots of laughing. The lads are relaxed. We feel good. We all want it, but it is important to not get too psyched up. You have to find the balance of not getting too psyched up and not caring enough. It is a massive occasion for everyone associated with the club.”