Two West Ham United fans became heroes on Thursday after their side defeated Dutch opponent AZ Alkmaar 1-0 (3-1 aggregate) in the Europa Conference League to advance to the final.
After the final whistle a group of AZ ultras came through one of the gates separating the traveling West Ham fans and the Dutch home supporters. Dressed in all black, the AZ fans were going after the family section of the West Ham players.
Enter local folk hero, ‘Knollsy.’ He and another West Ham fan took up positions at the top of a set of stairs the AZ fans were going up. With only those two between the ultras and families of the players they drew a line in the sand and tried to hold off the horde.
Knollsy fights AZ fans
2 West Ham fans managing to stop a mob of AZ Alkmaar fans from getting to the hospitality section where all the players families are seated pic.twitter.com/7nKjXUbEvC— Football Away Days (@AwayDays_) May 19, 2023
— freddie bonfanti (@freddiebonfa) May 18, 2023
The fight was bad enough that the West Ham players ran over and got involved.
Absolutely incredible scenes at full time, as AZ Alkmaar “fans” stormed the hospitality section where players’ friends and family were, with even players become involved in the brawls pic.twitter.com/uSpCPC66Ll— Andy Robinson (@AndyPlaytonic) May 18, 2023
AZ put out a statement apologizing for the incident which lasted about 10 minutes.
"While everyone hoped for a historic European match, it turned into a pitch-black evening due to the events occurring at the referee's final whistle," AZ said in a statement on Friday.
"It turned into a night to reflect on with shame. Not because of the football game played, but because of the behavior of some visitors. Unfortunately, we cannot use the word 'supporters' for these people.
"What happened is beyond all bounds. The club again sincerely apologizes to West Ham United and the thousands of well minded AZ supporters who have also been inconvenienced by the misconduct."
— AZ (@AZAlkmaar) May 19, 2023
Had it not been for Knollsy taking the attention away from the family and friends section the night could have been a lot uglier.
West Ham advance to their first European final since they were runners-up in the Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1976. The Hammers will play Italian outfit Fiorentina on Wednesday, June 7 at Eden Arena in Prague, Czechia.