UEFA final drawing thousands of West Ham and Fiorentina fans to Prague

Enlarged replica of the UEFA European Conference League Winners' Cup

Thousands of football fans are descending on Prague to witness the UEFA Europa Conference League final between West Ham and Fiorentina, scheduled to take place in the city’s Eden Arena on Wednesday evening. I discussed the significance of the match, one of the biggest football events to take place in Prague to date, with football expert Jiří Hošek:

Jiří Hošek | Photo: Alžběta Švarcová,  Czech Radio

“I think it is hugely significant both in the European and especially Czech context. The Europa Conference league is the smallest and we could say least important of the three European competitions, but I think it is getting more and more prestigious and having this final taking place in Prague is a significant success for Czech football.

“And of course with the English and Italian sides featuring in the final I think the event’s importance is big, especially for Czech fans. We have two Czech internationals playing for West Ham and one Czech international for Fiorentina, so from the Czech fans’ perspective it is absolutely massive.”

Tomáš Souček  (left) and Vladimír Coufal - Czech internationals playing for West Ham | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

What can we expect from a match like that taking place in the Czech capital? What measures will be taken to ensure security in the streets? How will this event impact the locals?

“Having read the details about the preparations I think both UEFA and the Czech Football Association as well as the Czech police have done a really good job in trying to prevent clashes from taking place.

“Of course you can never reduce the danger to absolute zero, but I think right from the beginning, the authorities want to make sure that both fans’ camps will not meet in person, having chosen different routes to downtown Prague and to the stadium.

“But I think the most important measure is that there is not going to be a fan zone for non-ticket holders close to the stadium, so non-ticket holders will be discouraged from getting close to the stadium. Actually, the authorities will organize quite a huge circle around the stadium letting in only ticket holders.”

We should probably also say there will be two separate fan zones set up in Prague.

“That is absolutely correct. Of course, we have a long history of clashes and violent conduct between Italian and English fans. Luckily, of course, the situation has improved since the 1980s and 1990s, but we must not underestimate it, not only before the game, but after.

“Of course, with alcohol consumption, things can turn really nasty even several hours after the game. But according to the information we have, the police presence will be huge so I think they will be able to contain this.”

How come the Czech football authorities succeeded in hosting this event given the fact that the stadium is so small?

Former Czech international and former Fiorentina player Tomáš Ujfaluši  (left) and the president of the Football Association of the Czech Republic  (FAČR) Petr Fousek with the trophy for the winner of the UEFA European Conference League | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

“I think it goes down to the very good position of the chairman of the Czech Football Association Petr Fousek within the European Football Union UEFA. It is a thank you to the Czech Football Association, I think, also for some changes that have occurred in Czech football.

“But also it’s worth mentioning that awarding the finals to Prague has actually come under severe criticism because of the capacity of the stadium.

“And there is a real disproportion if we take into consideration that last week’s Europa League final held in Budapest was held at a stadium with a capacity of 61,000 compared to the 18,000 in the Eden Arena, which is a massive difference.

“And we know from both camps that they could have sold something like 40,000 tickets to West Ham and Fiorentina fans and an additional almost 100,000 tickets to Czech fans, so the capacity is just not big enough.”

Finally, what is your prediction of the outcome of the UEFA Europe Conference League final? Who is considered the favourite?

“I think West Ham played 14 games in the Europa Conference league and they have won 13 and drew one, so their record this season in Europa Conference League is absolutely incredible, which is quite surprising, given that in the Premier League they were in the relegation battle right through to the end.

“So I think probably their hunger and desire could be slightly bigger, also given the fact that Czech fans will definitely cheer for West Ham. However, these finals can go down to overtime, maybe even penalties, so it’s really difficult to predict.”

Photo: jarmoluk,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License