West Ham fan 'Knollsy' praised for protecting families from AZ Alkmaar fans
Hooligans push fence over, overwhelming security guards in numbers and heading straight for the friends and families of players
A West Ham supporter has been praised for helping defend families from a gang of AZ Alkmaar football hooligans.
Video posted online showed the man, who has been identified as a long-time fan of the club called 'Knollsy', stood at the top of steps inside the stadium keeping dozens of Alkmaar supporters at bay following their Europa Conference League semi-final clash on Thursday night.
His actions, along with those of a small number of other West Ham fans, have been widely praised amid reports they were preventing the gang reaching the family stand.
Freddie Bonfanti, who said he was there at the time of the incident, wrote on Twitter: "We were stormed by Az’s supporters.
"Knollsy has recently had a hip replacement and simply could not run. He’s also a proud man and he was genuinely concerned about the players’ partners and ex west ham players sitting all around us. He did what he had to do. I am proud to call him a mate and glad he stopped what could have been a much worse incident."
Bonfanti added: "A bit of context: we were sitting behind Thilo Kerher’s girlfriend. Knollsy was worried about her and walked to the top of the stairwell, fending off the storming Alkmaar fans. He’s a lovely bloke and did what he felt was right at the time. He stopped those fans."
Knollsy the legend. Stopped the home fans from getting to the players’ families. Give him a ticket for the final @WestHam @WestHamHelp @AwayDays_ #COYI pic.twitter.com/Rs8RhTvU1m
— freddie bonfanti (@freddiebonfa) May 18, 2023
A video posted by fansite West Ham Central praising Knollsy shows the confrontation between the two sets of fans take place amid a flurry of punches. Some West Ham fans have pointed out that the incident involving Knollsy took place further along the stadium.
West Ham fan "Knollsy" protecting the family stand and fending off AZ ultras
— West Ham Central (@WestHam_Central) May 19, 2023
It has also emerged that West Ham captain Declan Rice has previously sent a short video to Knollsy sending him "best wishes".
In 2021, when Knollsy was in a bad shape, @_DeclanRice left him this message. He always says it’s what made him recover. The man is West Ham through and through and would have done anything to protect our fans tonight. pic.twitter.com/wjP1kBrGmv
— freddie bonfanti (@freddiebonfa) May 19, 2023
Separate video taken at the scene shows the moment the Alkmaar fans appear to push through a metal fence to escalate the confrontation.
A group of men wearing hoods swarmed the West Ham supporters' stands, in an apparent attempt to attack the families of West Ham players.
Video shows the fans seemingly push the fence over and overwhelm security guards in numbers.
How is it possible seriously !!
They attacking us, family of players and supporters
The players come with us to protect
West ham - Alkmaar #COYI #AZAlkmaar pic.twitter.com/FzB1FmjSkV
— 𝐍𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 ⚡️ (@nathankerau) May 18, 2023
Some of the players also attempted to intervene as the rival fans rushed towards their families, with West Ham's Michail Antonio, Flynn Downes, Lucas Paqueta and Said Benrahma running towards the brawl.
West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola told The Daily Mail: "I had family watching the game. We were a bit worried about them, you know? Security is the most important thing in a stadium, especially in this kind of event and we were worried about our families.
"We were very worried about our families. It's just about security and it was a bit too open for the opposing fans. At the end, they managed to stop them."
Dutch police said arrests could follow as they analyse footage of the attack.
"Our aim was to disperse the crowd and restore order as quickly as possible, in which we succeeded," they said in a statement.
"Together with AZ, the municipality of Alkmaar and the public prosecution service we will evaluate last night's incidents, which we regret having happened.
"This kind of behaviour has no place in football."