As far as Jarrod Bowen could remember, he had never played in a final before. He had certainly never come within reach of a professional title, either. It was some way to mark the biggest occasion of his professional life, then, as the West Ham United forward struck the last-minute winner to secure his club’s first major trophy in 43 years.
Ahead of Wednesday’s dramatic meeting with Fiorentina in Prague, so much of the talk had been about David Moyes, the manager who had never won a trophy, and Declan Rice, the captain who was playing his final game for his club. But the biggest moment of the night ultimately belonged to Bowen, who kept his head as the whole of east London held its breath.
It was a goal that will live forever in West Ham folklore. And for Moyes, there was no one he would rather have seen running towards goal in the final minute, with the Italian defence trailing in his wake and only the goalkeeper to beat.
“The minute Jarrod went through, I was edging down the touchline,” said Moyes. “If there was anybody I thought was going to score, it would be Jarrod. The minute he got through, I thought: ‘this is the moment. This is the one. Jarrod will do it.’”
Bowen has earned that faith after three-and-a-half years of hard running and powerful shooting in West Ham’s colours, following his move from Hull City in January 2020. And those who have watched him grow would say he deserves this triumph because of the long and unusual journey he has taken to reach this level of the game.
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Bowen, it should not be forgotten, was rejected by Cardiff City and Aston Villa as a teenager. Born in Leominster, he started his career at Hereford United. His rise is a tale of hard work and old-fashioned grit, of dodging elbows in the bruising world of non-league football and using his uncle’s potato field for training in the off-season.
“I’m a little boy from Leominster who never thought I would be here,” he said on Wednesday night. “I am going to celebrate with my old man and my brother. They were in tears. I actually haven’t cried yet, which is a surprise. But they were in tears. It just goes to show how much it means.”
There is a picture of Bowen as a boy — he thinks he is about 10 years old when it was taken — in the stands at Hereford, wearing glasses and looking about as far away from being an elite athlete as is possible to be. It has prompted comparisons with the ‘Milky Bar Kid’ and, Bowen says, is regularly mentioned by West Ham coach Billy McKinlay.
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“The word ‘blossomed’ comes to mind,” Bowen laughed on Wednesday night. “Billy loves that picture. He says he looks at it and smiles every day. But yeah, it is not a very good picture.
“My family were putting good luck messages on social media today, and pictures of where I’ve come from. Now, I can pinch myself and say, ‘Look how far you’ve come.’ I don’t want to sit here and big myself up. But I want to sit here and be proud of what I’ve done.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought, when I was a little boy, that I would have four caps for my country, that I would be playing in the Premier League week-in, week-out, and that I would have a European winner’s medal to my name.”
In the decades to come, Bowen will surely look back upon these last few weeks as one of the defining periods of his life. Less than a month has passed since he became a father of twins, and on Wednesday night his name reverberated around the continent.
History will remember his goal far more than his chant, of course, but “Bowen’s on fire” has been one of the soundtracks of West Ham’s European campaign this season. It features a reference to Dani Dyer, his celebrity girlfriend and the daughter of West Ham-supporting television personality Danny Dyer, and it has only added to Bowen’s soaring popularity in east London.
Bowen ends the campaign with 13 goals in 54 appearances for his club. His durability, especially for a fast-running forward, is remarkable: since the start of the 2020/21 season, he has missed only two Premier League games.
This season, he would admit, has not been his best. He scored six goals in the league, compared to 12 last year, and lost his place in the England squad. But none of that will matter now that he has a European medal hanging around his neck, and now that his status as a West Ham legend has been confirmed.