‘I tried to keep the guys in because we don’t need that’: West Ham matchwinner Pablo Fornals reveals he tried to prevent team-mates clashing with AZ Alkmaar fans in the stands
- West Ham beat AZ Alkmaar 1-0 thanks to a late Pablo Fornals strike in Holland
- The Hammers will play Fiorentina in the UEFA Conference League final
- Players jumped into the crowd to protect their fans after a brawl in the stands
Pablo Fornals was the first West Ham player to clamber on to the advertising hoardings in Alkmaar.
It was his goal, deep into stoppage in Holland, that cemented West Ham’s place in a first European final for nearly half a century.
It was his goal that emptied the away bench and sparked delirium among the 975 supporters crammed into the away end.
It was only a few minutes after he had climbed towards the crowd – to savour his crowning moment – that chaos engulfed this Europa Conference League semi-final.
Soon Fornals’ team-mates were hopping into the stands to defend their families from vicious attack.
Pablo Fornals scored a dramatic late winner to fire West Ham into a European final
Fornals mounted the advertising boards after his added time finish secured a Hammers victory
The victory was marred by shocking scenes as AZ Alkmaar fans attacked the West Ham area
Somehow, West Ham’s matchwinner managed to miss both the chaos and the celebrations that resumed in the dressing room once order had been restored.
‘When the referee whistled for the end I just threw myself into the floor and started crying like a kid – I don’t know why but I seem to cry a lot this season!’ Fornals said afterwards.
‘I didn’t have any (family) to watch in that area. After that I went inside, I tried to keep the guys in because we don’t need that. Obviously, I was really concerned about how the family of my team-mates and the West Ham family are… we can’t do anything else but try to help the police to realise who did it and pray for the family of my people being healthy.’
By the time David Moyes and his players reconvened behind closed doors, Fornals had another pressing engagement.
‘I haven’t been in the dressing room yet because I got picked for doping,’ he said.
‘From the doping area I could hear the guys shouting and they’re really happy. That made me a bit sad because I would like to be in there as well!’
But nothing could sour his moment or this night. It has been a difficult year for Moyes, for West Ham and for Fornals.
The 27-year-old, who first arrived from Villarreal four years ago, has started just four matches over the past two months.
He has been pushed towards the shadows – behind Said Benrahma in the pecking order, a forgotten man almost.
Even in Alkmaar, where West Ham showed immense grit and guts to defend a 2-1 aggregate lead, Fornals was given only 15 minutes from the bench.
Supporters attacked relatives of West Ham United players at the end of the game
The scrap threatened to turn particularly nasty as fans fended off the hooded thugs
But with his nutmeg and driving run and low finish, the Spaniard ensured one thing: ‘His name is going to be written in West Ham history forever,’ said captain Declan Rice.
‘He’s not played as much as he wanted to this year but every time he has come on he has given everything for the badge, for the shirt.’
Moyes also paid tribute to Fornals’ attitude and admitted: ‘I think if there was any player I wanted to score today, it would have been Pablo.’
It was the Spaniard’s sixth goal of the season and only his second since November 9.
‘This season has been a challenge for everyone, mentally,’ Fornals said. ‘Everyone is waiting for their moment… the manager is picking the players he thinks are in the best moment or the best shape or better for the team in any game. The rest of us are just waiting for our moment.’
He added: ‘The players who are playing more regularly are doing really well and they’ve settled into a recognisable XI. The people who are behind, like us, are trying to get our minutes and I’m really happy to help the team with goals, or good minutes, to defend as we did.’
The 27-year-old was similarly overcome when he netted in victory over Bournemouth a few weeks ago.
‘It’s just been difficult and in difficult moments, any good news is even bigger,’ he said.
‘This moment for me and my family after this season is unbelievable. I’m having a lot of feelings inside myself and when I score or have moments like that, when I’m with my son receiving a hug or a kiss from him I realise how happy I am and how proud to be here right now.’
The Spaniard has been pushed to the shadows at the London Stadium, behind Said Benrahma (right) in the pecking order
Fornals (left) says he did try to prevent his team-mates from getting involved in the melee
And yet Fornals hopes the best moment of his West Ham career might still lie around the corner: in Prague, next month, when Moyes’ side will aim to win West Ham’s first major trophy since 1980
‘It’s going to be the first final I’ve played for a club so it’s massive for me, massive for the lads, massive for the club,’ Fornals said.
‘Thank you for the people who came here, they’re massive everywhere they go!’ he added, borrowing the supporters’ soundtrack to this European adventure.
‘We know already they’ll be in Prague as well because that’s what West Ham supporters do, they’re always behind us…. just to have the chance to play the final is very good but after this complicated season, if we can bring the cup to east London it will be even better. That’s what we’re going to try to do.’
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