A night to remember - or a night to forget? [Part II]

This coming Wednesday evening, West Ham United will participate in the club's first European Final since losing 4-2 to crack Belgian outfit Anderlecht back in 1976 when they take on Serie A's Fiorentina.

Thousands of Hammers fans have already began making the journey to Prague, with up to 20,000 supporters expected to descend upon the Czechian capital between now and midweek for the match, which is being played at the Eden Arena.

Several members of the KUMB team - both current and former - will also be making the 800-mile pilgrimage East, so before those travelling packed their suitcases we asked them to offer their thoughts on what may lie ahead - along with their favoured starting XI and a score prediction...

Steve Barlow (Moderator, Writer)

Wednesday 7 June. A day of destiny. I've waxed lyrical here on Knees up Mother Brown about why I have a soft spot for our opponents. But any admiration will be cast well and truly aside.

My beloved West Ham in a major final for the first time since that fateful day in Cardiff in 2006. A game I'm still mentally and emotionally scarred by. It doesn't help that I'm unable to travel to the Czech Republic due to personal issues. So my state of total panic and extreme anxiety, duly triggered the moment the mercurial Pablo Fornals found the back of the net in Alkmaar will be, in full blown Defcon One in a hostelry in Dagenham.

I go in with dreams of an entertaining game, full of technical excellence, free flowing football and the likes of Paqueta and Rice edging La Viola with guile and intelligence.

Sadly, I think it will be a tenser and cagey affair, littered with the dark arts of football. Almost as much rides on the performance of the Spanish officials, as our team in combatting Fiorentina. Though they are more than capable in a footballing sense. The comments from coach Italiano means a strong grip on proceedings is required, as well as calm heads from us.

I don't think there will be any surprises in our starting XI, let alone in the tactical approach David Moyes will take. Sit back, soak and hit on the break. I'd like to see Pablo start in place of Benrahma, purely because of his all-round contribution, defensive as well as the line breaking passes. But it would be harsh. The only other real debate is on our full back. But Coufal and Cresswell should be the pair starting.

My prediction? I have a meltdown Monday. Will be shaking like a leaf until the final whistle Wednesday. And I'll be crying whatever the outcome.

Prediction: West Ham Utd 2-0 Fiorentina (Did I really say that?)

Chris Wilkerson (Moderator, Match Reporter)

As the young (handsome) moderator, I have no memories of success to look back on and draw strength from. I still turn the TV off if Gerrard's equaliser is shown. The play-off final was horrible, I remember my legs giving way as the final whistle blew.

So, you ask, am I looking forward to this final? You spend every game praying you'll make it through, and each round is tougher to watch than the last.

I chose to extend my trip home to stay and watch this with my Dad. What are these games if not memories we can cherish and/or recover from together? Enjoy the people you choose to watch this with, and the people you'll message before, after and probably throughout. I'll cry regardless.

Florentina look a good outfit (although they looked better with Nintendo and 7UP on their '90s shirts), and one who have made this their priority. They don't appear a side who'll look to attack us and then be frail at the back, neither do I expect them to crumble against any physicality. That said, if we win the battles, those duels, if Rice and Soucek can dominate in midfield, and Paqueta and Antonio win their one v ones, we can make them pay. They have dangerous players, but I'd rather our spine than theirs.

It will be close and painful to watch, whatever the score. I'd back their attack to have a little more unpredictability, in the right way. The temptation to play Fornals is there, especially as he's found form and is a more consistent option than Benrahma, but Said has shown his best in Europe and that bit of swagger can be vitally important.

Extra-time feels the painfully inevitable conclusion. I don't do positive, so I'll leave it at 1-1 into extra-time and you can choose for yourself whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. I'm already losing sleep.

Prediction: 1-1 after 90 minutes

Starting XI: Areola; Coufal, Cresswell, Zouma, Aguerd; Soucek, Rice, Paqueta; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma

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Last Caress (Moderator, Writer)

"So, it's over then. Can't believe I'll have to wait another four years."

"Well, the football season starts in a few weeks. You could support Arsenal, like me!"

"Hm. Nah, I think my dad wants me to support West Ham. He bought me a calendar. And a badge! But yeah, I might try to get into that..."

It's a 41 year-old conversation so I'm likely paraphrasing somewhat but, still, it's a conversation which took place nevertheless, between my best friend and I, both aged ten, sat on a garage rooftop in Rise Park, drinking beers from stubby bottles stolen from my friend's dad's shed (and secretly hating them), lamenting the end of my first true experience in watching the sport of football: The FIFA World Cup, 1982.

Not that any of our KUMB brethren will need reminding of this astonishing and really quite horrendous statistic, but this was of course two years AFTER what turned out to be West Ham United's last major tournament win.

Oh, I remember that mortifying Chas & Dave song from just prior to España '82 about Tottenham, Tottenham ("No one can stop them! We're gonna do it like we did, last, year!" ). And I vaguely recall their equally monstrous tune from the year previous, featuring some little fella promising to "...win de cup, for, Totting, ham!"

But the year prior to that? When something worth remembering actually happened? Nope, not a sausage.

So, with the last time West Ham won a trophy coming so long ago, there are many, many fans of this great club who have neither experience nor memory of any significant silverware in our trophy cabinets. And I'm a fifty year-old man who sits very much in that camp.

With nought to challenge the drought in all that time but a mindbending Cup Final defeat 17 years ago to "Stevie G" (the "G" stood for "Guntflap", I think; I've blocked much of it out), I'd kind-of reconciled myself with the very real possibility that I might never see my team win a trophy. I mean, how many more years do I have, realistically and with all being well? Twenty? Twenty-five?

And it's precisely because of the ceaseless ticking of that clock that I'm choosing to disagree with those who - with a degree of justification, it has to be said - consider this, the UEFA Europa Conference League, to be not really all that much of a step up from the long-defunct InterToto cup, which of course we won in 1999 and for which we qualified by... um, having the tidiest hairstyles? The shiniest booties? Something like that.

See, for all I know, this might be as good as it'll ever get again. Yes, yes, we can hope that victory in Prague over Fiorentina provides a springboard for greater prizes to come: A swift return to the Europa League; the experience gained in going all the way in a tournament, which might give us a better crack at more pots; or maybe those truly next-level players who'll propel us to the elite of English and even European football. I certainly hope for all of these things. What are we doing here after all, if we can't dream a little bit?

But there's also a good chance that, if West Ham win the UECL on Wednesday, that'll be the last thing I ever see us win. So, yeah, I'm treating this tournament with real and unvarnished reverence and respect . Given the dearth of success in Wonderful east London before or since, perhaps I should've done that in 1999 instead of rolling my eyes at the "bloody InterTwoBob Cup". Well, our chance at a rare glint of silver is back, like Halley's comet, and I reckon we should all be overchuffed at that. I know I am.

Well, I've wittered on enough. Still, I'd like to take a second to think about our manager. As he collected his third LMA Manager of the Year award in 2009, could any of us have predicted that David William Moyes would be the man leading us, over a decade later, to our first shot at a significant cup since 2006, having already provided many of us over the seasons previous with the most consistently successful period of football we'd ever seen? Can't say I ever saw Moyes as a West Ham guy at all, ever. I'm sure glad he never saw it that way, though.

Prediction: ACF Fiorentina 0-3 West Ham United

Starting XI: Areola; Kehrer, Cresswell, Zouma, Aguerd; Soucek, Rice, Paqueta; Bowen, Benrahma, Antonio

Chalks (Moderator, Writer)

Noel Gallagher released his new album yesterday. The last track is an acoustic version of Live Forever. It’s beautiful.

It was my best mate Murph's favourite ever track. Murph died seven years ago. The best day of his life was when Charlton beat Sunderland in the play-off final. The last 24 hours of listening to Live Forever and thinking of my old mate has utterly convinced me that Wednesday will be the best footballing day of my life.


Prediction: Fiorentina 0-2 West Ham Utd

Graeme Howlett (Moderator, Writer)

I still vaguely recall watching the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup Final, perched on the end of our sofa alongside my Grandmother, who I think was more concerned by my Grandfather's safety (being as he was one one of those who'd travelled to the Heysel Stadium) than the score. And if I'd have known it'd be another 47 years before we reached another one, I might've thought about choosing another team to support!

Joking aside,, that was the beginning of a golden period for West Ham under John Lyall which also saw the club win the FA Cup twice, reach the Final of the League Cup (taking Liverpool to a replay) and enjoy a brief sojourn in the UEFA Cup, while being relegated and promoted to and from the Second Division!

And who's to say that, one day, today's young fans won't look back at this current period with similar affection? Two top seven finishes in the increasingly uncompetitive Premier League, back-to-back European semi finals for the first time since 1965 and 52 matches won in the last two seasons. Yet the icing on the cake would undoubtedly be a win on Wednesday night.

It'll be tough; Fiorentina finished their Serie A campaign in eighth spot while reaching the final of the Copa Italia (in which they were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Inter). All of which means, like West Ham, a defeat in the Conference League Final would see them out of European competition next year.

However there's something about the way the stars are aligning here - Pablo hitting peak Fornals, an allmost fully-fit squad, Cresswell STILL not sent off - that make me feel this could finally be our year. Not to mention that our brightest star, Declan Rice, will almost certainly be playing his final game for the club - and he will want to leave in style.

So with all this in mind I'm going for a narrow win - but please West Ham, let's win it before we goes to penalties!

Prediction: West Ham Utd 3-2 Fiorentina (AET)

Starting XI: Areola; Coufal, Cresswell, Zouma, Aguerd; Rice, Soucek, Paqueta; Fornals, Bowen, Antonio

Paul Walker (Writer)

Big players should relish big games, and that's why West Ham's top boys can swing the Europa Conference League final our way. Declan Rice will want to go out on a high with a big, big display. Lucas Paqueta can produce a World Cup finals-level performance, and these two are the key for West Ham.

Many expect David Moyes to produce a classic counter-attacking performance and it has worked before for us in Europe. Fiorentina are not as good a side as Lyon and last season in the Europa Cup we produced arguably our best display of the season winning 3-0 in France in that style.

Our side has virtually picked itself of late, but I expect Pablo Fornals to start on the left of midfield ahead of Said Benrahma. Pablo gives us concentration and control out of possession and two goals in his last three games suggests he's in form at the right time.

Thilo Kehrer played well in the semi-final against Alkmaar, but Vladimir Coufal looks to have reclaimed the right-back berth - but can never be sure about that decision. As on the other flank where Emerson has all the big game experience, but Aaron Cresswell's crosses and set pieces are a major part of Moyes' tactics.

Considering this will be our 57th game of the season, West Ham have virtually a fully fit squad for Prague and ten days uninterrupted preparation - Fiorentina played in Sassuolo on Friday. Moyes has lost only four of 26 European games in the last two seasons, and nobody wants this game to be another.

Prediction: West Ham Utd 2-1 Fiorentina (No point in not being positive now.)

Starting XI: Areola; Coufal, Cresswell, Zouma, Aguerd; Rice, Soucek, Paqueta; Bowen, Antonio, Fornals

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