West Ham rollercoaster ride ends on thrilling - and historic - high as long trophy drought ends

West Ham rollercoaster ride ends on thrilling - and historic - high as long trophy drought ends

As West Ham fans gathered yesterday afternoon in Prague's central square and the beers began (continued) to flow, most were probably oblivious to the medieval relic watching over them from high on the side of the Old Town Hall.

A shame, really, for had they glanced up at the Prague Orloj, one of the world's oldest astronomical clocks, it may have told them all they needed to know: that the stars had aligned and this, at last, was their time.

On a famous night here in the Czech capital, Hammers history was made, Jarrod Bowen's dramatic winner as the final seconds ticked away securing a 2-1 win over Fiorentina that shattered all manner of club hoodoos, ending droughts and waits that began in eras so fondly remembered, but on nights an increasingly precious few could genuinely claim to recall.

Not since Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and 1965 had West Ham won a European trophy. Not since Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds and 1980 — comfortably before any of this squad were born — had they lifted any silverware at all. For David Moyes, this was vindication, the culmination of a career-long struggle, of 25 years and more than a thousand games, of longevity without triumph, of several return trips between the nadir of reputational write-off and redemption, to this moment and a previously unscaled peak.

This season alone, Moyes had been on the brink of the sack more than once, the subject of noisy dissent mere months ago but now a West Ham legend, even if he is loath to be discussed as such, and the first British manager to win European silverware since Sir Alex Ferguson, the man he was once so ill-fated to succeed.

The promise of this night was at times this year all that kept West Ham's campaign afloat and Moyes in a job, but the hopes and hypotheticals turned out to be no match for reality as the storylines and tropes that had grown almost tired by repetition on this journey converged and came to life refreshed.

There was 87-year-old David Moyes Sr, a regular on these European trips, stood proudly with his son's first major medal hanging from his neck. "He's probably watched a lot of things over the years and not had that moment, so I hope he's enjoying it," Moyes Jr said.

There were Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal breaking off from the main celebration to drink in the acclaim of their de-facto private supporters' club, the Czech local lads having gobbled up half the players' ticket allocation between them.

Prize: Declan Rice and the Europa Conference League trophy (PA)
Prize: Declan Rice and the Europa Conference League trophy (PA)

There was Declan Rice, young nephew Jackson on his shoulders, hands on the trophy he so desperately craved as a parting gift to the club that made him a star, afforded the kind of send-off dreamed up for Mark Noble 12 months ago, one that never came to fruition.

And there was Bowen, emerging as a fitting hero, a symbol of West Ham's late-season revival through his own return to last year's form and an example, too, of the best of Moyes, the winger plucked from Championship Hull just a month after the Scot's return to east London and nurtured into, at his best, one of the Premier League's most incisive forwards.

"If there was anybody I thought was going to score, it would be Jarrod," Moyes added, of the last-gasp eternity as Bowen sprinted onto Lucas Paqueta's pass, an ugly game's most exquisite piece of craft.

"The minute he got through, I thought this is the moment, this is the one, Jarrod will do it."

Moyes was almost halfway across the pitch before the ball hit the net, arms spread wide in what will surely become the night's iconic image, wisely bailing out of a Jose Mourinho-style knee-slide on his way to emulating the Portuguese as the second man to lift a trophy ridiculed at its inception but that has now produced two captivating triumphant narratives in as many renewals.

Having waited 47 years for a showpiece like this, West Ham supporters came good on their promise to travel en masse. Claret and blue had seemed to dominate Fiorentina's famous purple hues across the city all day, but only inside the Eden Arena did the scale of the outnumbering become clear, the Italians raucous but not fully populating their end, while the vast majority of those in supposedly neutral territory showed up as anything but with the first of many Bubbles renditions.

For the first time, perhaps, on this run, the sense of occasion lived up to its historic significance, though the cultural relevance of the opening ceremony's Nirvana tribute guitarists remains, this morning, somewhat unclear.

For an hour, this was a fractious affair that made for tough but compulsory viewing, a game of few chances and countless stoppages, the longest of them coming when Fiorentina's captain Cristiano Biraghi was shamefully left bloodied by a hail of objects thrown by West Ham supporters as he tried to take a corner.

Around Biraghi revolved the contest's first pivotal in-game moment, the full-back's attempt to get an arm across the chest of Bowen instead punching the ball away. Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande missed it in real time, one of the less egregious errors in a poor display, but VAR intervened and Said Benrahma made no mistake under the most extreme pressure.

The response took just five minutes, Giacomo Bonaventura reacting to Nicolas Gonzalez's knockdown with a wonderfully smooth touch and finish past Alphonse Areola.

So now to stick or twist, for a group of West Ham players mostly entering unfamiliar territory, even with strange UEFA overlord Emerson in their ranks? In the match programme, Michail Antonio noted that his only previous trophy had been the Johnstone's Paint, which must have perplexed Italian readers. Bowen pointed out later that this was the first final of his career.

Thanks to his grand ending, for as long as he or any of them play, they will do well to recreate a night like this.