By Sam Dean at AFAS Stadion
The families of the West Ham United players were among the travelling supporters who were attacked by AZ Alkmaar fans at the end of their European semi-final on Thursday night.
West Ham players attempted to join the fray after the final whistle, as the AZ supporters stormed the section of the ground in which the travelling friends and families were seated.
In frightening scenes after the match, which had been won by a stoppage-time strike by West Ham’s Pablo Fornals, terrified children were seen fleeing across the seats in an attempt to avoid the unfolding brawl.
A number of West Ham players, including Michail Antonio, Flynn Downes and Said Benrahma, tried to join the fray as stewards appeared powerless to stop the advancing AZ fans. A video later emerged appearing to show Declan Rice throwing an object into the crowd.
A West Ham supporter sitting in that section of the stadium told Telegraph Sport that black-shirted and hooded AZ supporters had charged towards the travelling fans at the final whistle of the match after smashing down a barrier.
He added that the assailants “did not get very far” before meeting fierce resistance, and said that the bigger concern was for young Dutch families who had been caught between the two groups.
David Moyes, the West Ham manager, had friends and family of his own in that section of the stadium.
“I cannot explain what happened or why,” said Moyes. “I can only tell you the players were involved because it was the family section and their friends and families were in it. That was probably the reason for the reaction. It certainly wasn’t West Ham fans looking for trouble.
“My family were there and I had friends in that section. You’re hoping they would try and get themselves away from it. I didn’t recognise it [at first] because I was too happy. Security wanted to take me inside, but I had to make sure my players weren’t involved.”
Club officials, sponsors and families are often seated in corporate areas behind the dugouts, within the home section, at matches in Uefa competition.
This led to problems in last week’s first leg at the London Stadium, when family members of the AZ players and coaches had to be moved at half-time after a clash with West Ham supporters. There is no suggestion that there was the same level of violence in London last week as there was on display in Alkmaar on Thursday night, however.
“I feel ashamed that it happened in our stadium,” said Pascal Jansen, the AZ manager. “It should not be happening. You have to stay in control of your emotions.
“A few players were worried because they had family members in the stand where it happened and I can imagine what it must have felt like.”
Former West Ham player and Telegraph Sport columnist Joe Cole, speaking on BT Sport, said after the match: “It’s absurd. Grown men attacking the West Ham fans. Players were trying to get involved to break it up. AZ Alkmaar fans throwing punches is ridiculous. There were families. Football is for everyone. It’s ridiculous in the modern game.
“We had the same incidents at Frankfurt last year. It gets a slap on the wrist. We get AZ Alkmaar fans turning up in balaclavas throwing punches. Football is for families. It should be inclusive for everybody. The men that do it and turn up are completely pathetic.
“UEFA have to nail down on this. For so long English football has been in the doldrums talking about hooliganism. We don’t see things like that in England. We have not for a long time inside a stadium. It is other countries in Europe, we get a bad reputation for it but all I saw there was absolutely pathetic.”
West Ham were determined not to allow the incident to overshadow their victory, as they can now prepare for a first European final in almost five decades.
“I’m thrilled,” said Moyes of the result. “It’s a huge achievement to get to any final, let alone a European final. It’s 47 years since we were last here. We were in a semi-final last year. The bit now is to go and win the final.
“We had an incredible 10 minutes [in the changing rooms]. My staff have done a brilliant job and have had to put up with me nagging and not having much time off but if you want to play in Europe and be successful, the game comes with that.”
Declan Rice, the West Ham captain, added: said: “For this club, this has been such a long time coming. We’re so, so happy. You can’t get too excited because there’s one more game to play, but we’re going to enjoy tonight.
“This is what we work for. This is the first time I’ve been able to enjoy a moment like this in a West Ham shirt. Hopefully we can go out with a bang and look back on a positive season.”
AZ Alkmaar 0 West Ham 1 (agg 1-3)
By Sam Dean at AFAS Stadion
The West Ham United substitutes were on the pitch, leaping in delight. The coaching staff were with them, too, jumping and screaming towards the Dutch sky. And then there was David Moyes, a smile on his face and his fists raised above his head, celebrating a great European night in this club’s history and a result that could prove to be one of their most important in the modern era.
In the end they did not need the winning goal, scored by Pablo Fornals deep into stoppage time here in Alkmaar, but they certainly wanted it and they absolutely deserved it against an AZ Alkmaar side that could have played for three hours without cracking open the West Ham defence.
For the preceding 90 minutes, the Dutch side had repeatedly run into a wall of West Ham players, who were simply bigger, stronger and better organised than their more slight opponents.
Even before Fornals had provided the finishing touch on the night, scoring with a breakaway goal in stoppage time, West Ham had won this tie with their muscular superiority and defensive sturdiness. It was a performance that came straight from the David Moyes playbook, and one suspects that he enjoyed it as much as any of their more thrilling victories in the Europa Conference League this season.
“The win was more than just a win tonight,” said Moyes, whose side will contest their first European final in 47 years when they meet Fiorentina in Prague next month. “I knew we probably would not have a lot of possession but there are different ways to win a football match. We won it tonight and we kept a clean sheet. That was part of the job.”
Sometimes there is beauty in the boring and, for West Ham, this was one of those nights. With a 2-1 lead to build upon from the first leg, they came to Alkmaar with a plan to contain their opponents and, crucially, to keep their heads as they pursue a first major trophy since the FA Cup in 1980.
At this stage of last year’s Europa League, West Ham had lost their composure on their way to losing the tie. Eintracht Frankfurt were clever opponents but Moyes and his players fell into their traps too easily 12 months ago, with Aaron Cresswell sent off in the first half and his manager then following him later on, after he had furiously booted the ball at a ball-boy.
This time, with that experience still in their minds, West Ham took a different approach. “We don’t need to be daft,” Moyes said before the game, and the strategy was clear from within a few minutes of action: maintain the structure, close down the spaces, allow AZ to have the ball at the back.
The Dutch side are capable of producing pretty passing patterns but that did not particularly bother West Ham, who were happy to wait for their chances to snatch the ball back and then counter at pace. The first two chances of the game arrived in that manner, with Jarrod Bowen and Lucas Paqueta both going close from the edge of the box.
One of the early challenges for West Ham was the atmosphere in Alkmaar, where the stadium was packed and flares greeted the players before kick-off. AZ came into this game on a run of 25 home games unbeaten in European competition, and a quirk of the fixture was that Moyes, when in charge of Everton in 2007, had become the first manager to win a European game here in the Dutch club’s history (ending a run of 32 games without defeat).
By the end of the first half, though, it was hard to see how AZ might find a way through. Beyond a few moments of nerviness, West Ham seemed comfortable. Not least when Nayef Aguerd, their centre-back, dribbled out of defence and beyond three red shirts.
There was more spirit to AZ after the break. Sven Mijnans and Pantelis Hatzidiakos tested Alphonse Areola in the West Ham goal, before Thilo Kehrer almost prodded the ball in his own net by accident.
But even though the pressure built, it never seemed likely that West Ham would crumble. Their defence held firm, with Aguerd and Kurt Zouma staying strong, and their running never slowed. This was a game-plan well executed and, in the end, a job well done, especially when Fornals ran away from the opposing defence in the final minutes, picked his spot in the AZ net and delivered the crowning moment. It was a goal that triggered the celebrations, and then the chaos that followed.
AZ Alkmaar (4-2-3-1): Ryan 5; Sugawara 5, Beukema 6, Hatzidiakos 6, Kerkez 6 (M de Wit 85); Reijnders 6, Clasie 6; Van Brederode 5 (Lahdo 78), Mijnans 6 (D de Wit 70), Karlsson 5 (Meerdink 85); Pavlidis 5.
Subs: Verhulst (g), Deen (g), Mihailovic, Bazoer, Vanheusden, Buurmeester, Goes.
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Areola 7; Kehrer 7, Zouma 7, Aguerd 8, Cresswell 7; Soucek 6, Rice 7; Bowen 6, Paqueta 7 (Downes 90+5), Benrahma 5 (Fornals 74); Antonio 6 (Ings 85).
Subs: Fabianski (g), Anang (g), Johnson, Coufal, Lanzini, Cornet, Ogbonna, Palmieri, Mubama.
Booked: Soucek, Kehrer.
Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia).