Mark Noble

A message to the West Ham United family from Sporting Director Mark Noble…

On Wednesday night, West Ham United will play in a major European final.

Just saying those words feels so, so good.

Ever since that unforgettable night in Alkmaar a few weeks ago, there has been a fantastic sense of excitement and anticipation around the Club, as we prepare to face ACF Fiorentina in the UEFA Europa Conference League showpiece in Prague.

There will be just under 6,000 of the Claret and Blue army inside the Eden Aréna - a stadium we could have easily filled four or five times over - but every single Hammers fan around the world will be there in spirit.

And we all have our own personal stories - a collection of unique, individual journeys that have brought us to this point. Like many of you, mine has been long and eventful, with many ups and downs, a lot of changes and - as our song says - dreaming of fortunes that always seem to be hiding.

Exactly 20 years ago this month, I was taking my GCSE exams at school, knowing that just a few weeks later, I would be starting full-time as a Youth Academy scholar at Chadwell Heath, training and playing every day for the team I had supported since I was a little boy growing up in Canning Town.

West Ham had just been relegated, there was a lot of uncertainty around the Club, and I was just a cheeky 16-year-old kid, desperately trying to impress, dreaming of making it as a professional. Less than two years later, I was coming on as a substitute in the Championship Play-Off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and 12 months after that I was in a tracksuit on the bench at the same stadium as we lost a dramatic FA Cup final against Liverpool.

That day, we were trying to end a 26-year wait for a major trophy - and were seconds away from doing so until Steven Gerrard popped up with a goal from the gods to snatch glory away from us. Who would have thought it would take another 17 years before we next earned another opportunity to end that wait?

A few people have asked me if I feel a little twinge of bitterness or frustration that West Ham have reached a major European final the season after I retired.

The answer, though, is absolutely not.

Throughout my playing career - and particularly once I was appointed captain - all I ever wanted was for us to be successful, and for people around the club to have smiles on their faces. That has always come before any personal ambition.

So to see the boys reach this occasion makes me so, so happy. Because I know how much it means to them, and I know how much it means to all of you.

Finals, generally, are only enjoyable and memorable if you are on the winning side. And make no mistake - we are not in Prague just for the fun of it. We are going there to win. The players are determined, focused and have prepared fantastically well to be in the best possible condition and mindset going into the game. The spirit in the camp is magnificent, and all of the lads are so desperately determined to bring the trophy home to east London.

But sometimes it is important to take a step back and remember that it isn’t just about winning a football match.

Wednesday will mean many different things to all of us. For many it will be the first ever experience of a European final. For some of our older fans it will bring back memories of the glory of 1965 with Bobby Moore and co.

And, for a lot of people, it will be a chance to remember those who are no longer with us - the members of the West Ham family who never got to see this day…but would be so hugely proud that we are here.

Whatever tomorrow night means to you personally, and wherever in the world you are watching it from, we all have one thing in common: We are West Ham.To everyone travelling out to Prague, have fun, look after each other and stay safe. Enjoy yourselves, but also make sure we respect our Czech hosts…and remember that we are all there as ambassadors of West Ham United Football Club.

Tomorrow night is our opportunity to show the world what a unique and special club this is. Whatever happens on the pitch, let’s make sure we come back to London with pride. Pride in our performance, pride in our support, and pride in how we have all represented our Club.

We’ve all waited so long for this moment. Let’s savour every minute.

Come on you Irons