Brady breaks silence on West Ham win

11 Jun, 2023
written by Sean Whetstone

West Ham Vice-Chairman Karren Brady has used her Sun newspaper column to talk about his European final experience.

She and his fellow directors flew on a private jet from Stansted on Wednesday afternoon, flying back again after the game.

WEST Ham United are European winners. And just saying those words feels incredible.

Wednesday night’s victory in the Europa Conference League final over ACF Fiorentina will live long in the memory of Hammers fans at home and abroad.

Wednesday began with nervous excitement and anticipation when the directors and I arrived at Stansted Airport at lunchtime.

It was fantastic to be able to share the moment with friends and colleagues, some of whom I have worked with for many years.

In some cases, decades.

I have worked alongside David Sullivan for more than 30 years, and he arrived looking extremely dapper in his claret and blue shirt and jacket, which he had been saving for a special occasion.

None could have been more momentous than this.

He was joined by his partner Ampika, armed with his favourite sweets to settle the nerves.

My husband Paul and our son Paolo were helping to calm my nerves, until Paolo joked that my jacket was in Fiorentina colours.

It was lilac, not purple, but I took it off just in case!

For so many years we have travelled more in hope than expectation, but something told us this was our time.

Work has been under way, step by step, day by day, for years to get us to a day like Wednesday, so when it came, we all wanted to savour it.

The Claret and Blue Army are the best in the world and we wanted to come home with the trophy for them, for manager David Moyes, for our hardworking, passionate and dedicated players and staff.

They all deserved it so much.

West Ham is a family, and that family has not been without its hard times.

But those hard times mean the good times are even more special when they come.

When we landed, I was inundated with messages of support from across the world of football.

There was not a colleague of mine in the Premier League who did not message me to wish us luck.

It was so heartwarming to receive this support and reminded me what a truly unifying game football is.

As I saw the fans in Moore 6 and Rice 41 shirts, it suddenly felt very real.

And as we approached Eden Arena, we stopped the car and jumped out for a photo, bursting with pride to see our crest up there under the words “European final”.

This was it, West Ham United were about to play in a European final.

The noise when our players emerged for their pre-match warm-up was deafening.

The atmosphere was building and I had goosebumps, you could just feel the energy.

When our supporters raised their flags and made the stands claret and blue, I was once again filled with pride.

The first half was cagey, as you would expect from a final.

The 15-minute break did nothing to ease anyone’s nerves, and the 45 minutes that followed were a rollercoaster of emotions for everyone.

Every single final has its hero and it would be Jarrod Bowen who would write his name into Hammers history for ever more by sliding home the winning goal.

Said Benrahma’s ice-cool penalty had given us a 1-0 lead just after the hour mark, with the crescendo of noise in the stadium reverberating back to East London.

Fiorentina, the in-form team in Italy over the past couple of months, responded five minutes later with a well-taken goal by Giacomo Bonaventura, and as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark we started to gear up for extra time.

When the ball broke to Lucas Paqueta in the middle of the park, you just knew our Brazilian magnifico would find the right pass.

He played a sublime ball to Jarrod, and when he broke through I just knew this was our chance and we had to take it.

He did just that, sliding the ball home to put us 2-1 up.

It was a completely surreal moment.

There was absolute elation on the pitch and in the stands.

We couldn’t quite take it in.

I turned to my colleague, who held my hand, with tears in her eyes and she said: “This is it, I really think we’re going to do it now.”

But with a long VAR check and five minutes on the clock, I didn’t dare believe it until that final whistle.

I squeezed her hand and said: “Let’s wait, we’re not there yet.”

Five minutes of added time somehow became eight minutes, but as the clock ticked down it was becoming more and more real and the tears were already beginning to fall.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the referee blew for full time.

We had done it. West Ham United . . .  European winners.

We were just jumping up and down and hugging, united in jubilation and what it meant to us all.

One of my colleagues turned to me and said: “Remember when you got the stadium and we stood in it empty and dreamed of filling it, keeping our best academy players, attracting international stars, hosting European nights and of a night like this?”

We both knew this was a special milestone moment in beginning to realise those dreams.

I loved every moment, we all did, but in all the elation there was also a moment of reflection for us all.

We lost our close friend and much-loved joint chairman David Gold at the start of the year, and then his beloved daughter Jacqueline, a remarkable woman, two months later.

Each and every one of us were thinking of them both at that moment.

I genuinely believe they were looking down on us on Wednesday night.

On the pitch, the immediate post-match celebrations were incredible to witness.

All the emotion of the season came pouring out of players and staff alike, as well as the fans in the stands.

Declan Rice sliding on his knees towards the corner flag; Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal draped in the Czech flag; Lucas Paqueta dancing the night away with his family; Mark Noble, Mr West Ham, in floods of tears; David Moyes jumping with delight, showing the world a side of him that we have all known and loved for some time.

The scenes will stay with me for ever.

It was one big party, and it was only just getting started.

Watching the team lift the trophy is one of those moments you take an image of in your mind to store for ever.

The celebrations continued long into the night.

Players, staff and their friends and family were partying until dawn, with DJ Tony Perry on the decks, and more renditions of Cotton Eye Joe, Sweet Caroline and West Ham Are Massive than you would think possible.

We, on the other hand, had to make straight for the plane to oversee plans for the long-awaited and so-very-deserved victory parade.

We had to make sure that the fans who had not made it to Prague would get to see the trophy with their own eyes.

I had said to Shirley, our flight attendant, to have the Champagne on ice, just in case, and that first sip tasted so wonderfully sweet.

It was the first drink I’d had all day.

Even David Sullivan, who hasn’t touched a drop in all the 35 years I’ve known him, as he hates the taste, had a sip, heavily egged on by the rest of us.

He was beaming from ear to ear, we all were — because we’d achieved a dream.

We turned down the lights and sang I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles until we landed back in Stansted at 3am.

A generation of Hammers had never seen their club win something.

Now, they have, and this group of players will be their heroes, carved into the history of this football club, West Ham United.

The team received a proper East End welcome.

The claret and blue flags, bunting and banners were already adorning the streets of East London, Essex and beyond from the start of the week.

Wednesday night’s party rolled into Thursday night’s parade, when our heroes returned to London, boarding an open-top bus for a two-hour trip they will never, ever forget.

Winning the Europa Conference League means so, so much to everyone connected with West Ham United.

This is a moment to cherish for all of our fans.

It is also a moment to build on. It’s the start of our next adventure in Europe and lays the foundation for another season of growth.”


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