Pablo Fornals was the first West Ham player to climb onto Alkmaar billboards.
It was his goal, deep in the Netherlands stoppage, that cemented West Ham’s place in a first European final in nearly half a century.
It was his goal that emptied the outside bench and sparked delirium among the 975 supporters crammed into the away camp.
It was only minutes after climbing up to the crowd – to savor his moment of glory – that chaos engulfed this Europa Conference League semi-final.
Soon Fornals’ teammates were jumping into the stands to defend their families from the vicious attacks.
Pablo Fornals scored a dramatic late goal to fire West Ham into the European final
The win was spoiled by shocking scenes as AZ Alkmaar fans attacked the West Ham region
Somehow, the West Ham match-winner managed to miss both the chaos and the celebrations that resumed in the dressing room once order was restored.
“When the referee signaled the end, I threw myself on the ground and started crying like a kid. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m crying a lot this season!” Fornals said afterwards.
“I had no (family) to look out for in that area. After that I went inside, tried to hold on to the guys because we didn’t need them. Obviously I was really concerned about how my team-mates’ family and the West Ham family are… there’s nothing we can do but try to help the police figure out who did it and to pray for the health of my people’s families.
By the time David Moyes and his players gathered behind closed doors, Fornals had another pressing commitment.
“I haven’t been in the locker room yet because I was singled out for doping,” he said.
“From the doping area I heard the guys screaming and they’re really happy. It saddened me a little because I would like to be there too!
But nothing could spoil his moment or that night. It has been a difficult year for Moyes, for West Ham and for Fornals.
Fans attacked relatives of West Ham United players late in the game
The scrap threatened to get particularly nasty as fans fended off the hooded thugs
The 27-year-old, who first arrived from Villarreal four years ago, has started just four games in the past two months.
He was pushed into the shadows – behind Said Benrahma in the pecking order, an almost forgotten man.
Even in Alkmaar, where West Ham showed immense grit and courage to defend a 2-1 aggregate lead, Fornals had just 15 minutes from the bench.
But with his nutmeg, drive and weak finishing, the Spaniard assured one thing: “His name is going to be written in West Ham history forever,” said captain Declan Rice.
“He didn’t play as much as he wanted to this year, but every time he came he gave his all for the badge, for the shirt.”
Moyes also paid tribute to Fornals’ attitude and admitted: “I think if there was one player I wanted to score today it would be 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,” said Fornals. “Everyone is biding their time… the manager chooses the players he thinks are at the best time or in the best shape or best for the team in any game. The rest of us are just biding our time.
He added: “The players who play more regularly are doing very well and they’ve settled into a recognizable XI. The people behind it, like us, are trying to get our minutes and I’m really happy to help the team with goals, or good minutes, to defend like we did.
The 27-year-old was also defeated when he claimed victory over Bournemouth a few weeks ago.
“It’s just been tough and in tough times any good news is even greater,” he said.
“This moment for me and my family after this season is amazing. I have a lot of feelings inside of me and when I score or have moments like that, when I’m with my son who gets a hug or a kiss from him, I realize how happy I am and how proud I am to be here right now.’
And yet, Fornals will be hoping the best moment of his West Ham career is not far away: in Prague next month, when Moyes’ side will be aiming to lift West Ham’s first major trophy since 1980.
Fornals (left) says he tried to prevent his teammates from getting involved in the scrum
“It will be the first final I’ve played for a club, so it’s huge for me, huge for the guys, huge for the club,” Fornals said.
“Thank you for the people who came here, there are many everywhere they go!” he added, borrowing the soundtrack of the supporters from this European adventure.
“We already know they’ll be in Prague as well because that’s what West Ham fans do, they’re always behind us…. just having the chance to play in the final is great but after this difficult season, if we manage to bring the cup back to east London, it will be even better, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.