West Ham players who tried to protect their families from AZ Alkmaar thugs could be banned by UEFA.
The Hammers booked their place in the Europa Conference League final on Thursday thanks to a late 1-0 win in the Netherlands. Pablo Fornals’ stoppage-time strike, which earned a 3-1 aggregate victory and sent them to next month’s final in Prague, prompted a gang of black-shirted, hooded AZ ultras to attempt to storm into the area reserved for friends and family behind the dugout.
Several players climbed over the advertising hoardings in a bid to stop the trouble. The thugs were also fought off by some West Ham fans, including 58-year-old father-of-four Chris Knoll, who has been branded a hero.
While they have been praised for their actions, it has emerged Declan Rice, Said Benrahma, Flynn Downes and Michail Antonio could face European bans, reports The Telegraph, unless they can convince a commission they were responding to exceptional circumstances.
UEFA has been largely silent since the incident, which suggests they could delay a final decision until after the final on June 7. While the governing body would not want any players banned from the final, it has been suggested they may feel obliged to follow standard process.
However, former West Ham player Joe Cole, who was at the game himself, said the players had no choice. Writing for The Telegraph, he said: “As for West Ham’s players, I hope that UEFA are not considering any charge in that respect. They did what they had to do.”
AZ, who will be charged over the behaviour of their supporters, have released a statement, which read: “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. It turned into a night to reflect on with shame.
Not because of the football game played, but because of the behaviour of some attending. Unfortunately, we cannot use the word ‘supporters’ for these people.
What happened is beyond all bounds. The club again sincerely apologises to West Ham and the thousands of well-minded AZ supporters who have also been inconvenienced by the misconduct.”