Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bohemians Praha 1905 – FC Zbrojovka Brno (11-09-2016)

My last day in Prague I go to see the club that will forever be linked to probably the most legendary Czech player in history: Antonín Panenka of the famous Panenka penalty. It is also a club with one of the most remarkable logos, a kangaroo, the legacy of an Australian tour in 1927. Bohemians Praha 1905 is the 15th (!) name of the club. The latest renaming was a consequence of a split with FK Bohemians Praha in 2005, which led to an enormous legal mess – not uncommon in post-communist Europe. On the upside, it provided me with the opportunity for a new groundhop, as I had already seen FK Bohemians Praha in the 1990s.

I arrive at the legendary Ďolíček Stadium about half an hour before kick-off. The old stadium, opened in 1932, is situated in the Vršovice district – formerly working class and now increasingly hipster – and has its own tram stop (Bohemians). It is a scorching day in early September and the area around the stadium is buzzing. I get a ticket for the main stand (covered so I won’t melt in the sun) for CZK 230 (ca. $9).

Inside the stadium is a small courtyard that is packed with people who are lining up at the many drink and eat stands. The club has put a sprinkler in the middle to provide some much needed cooling for the fans, which is much appreciated.

The Ďolíček Stadium is old and small ground (capacity just 5,000), but it is full of atmosphere and history. It even has a small club museum and a wall of pictures of club heroes. Consequently, there is strong opposition among fans to the plans of the management to leave the ground and move to a new stadium further outside of the area.

The fans are a combination of mostly older, working class locals and hipsters and punks as well as some tourists. The stadium has only one main stand, which is almost sold out. The fanatic home fans stand behind the goal on a small stand.

The official attendance is 4,329, which seems a couple hundred too high, but the stadium is close to capacity. Only the opposite “stand” of the main stand is fairly empty, except for some 100 away fans, who made the roughly 200 km trip from Brno, the second biggest city in the country. Most of the fans are males, shirtless, and increasingly drunk.

Bohemians have their first shot at goal in the second minute; it goes well over. The next minute Brno has a good attack, which is saved by the goalie. The game flows pretty well, with both teams creating some half decent chances, forcing some decent saves by the goalies.

Overall the game is ok, not remarkable, but much better than the game I watched the evening before. The Brno goalie is quite poor on corners, often missing the ball. It is not punished though.

In the 23rd minute Bohemians have a great through ball but the goalie saves. The next minute Brno has a good counter but the final ball is weak. In the 25th minute there is a much deserved and needed water break – it must be some 30 C – and the next uncoordinated attack leads to a rebound from 18 meters, which is hidden from the goalie, and ends up in the low corner: 1-0!

In the 32nd minute the hosts have a corner, the header is saved by the goalie, but Bohemians score from a rebound from just 2 meters: 2-0. The crowd goes wild. Oddly enough, it doesn’t change the way Brno plays, devoid of any urgency, as if it is still 0-0.

In the first, and only minute of extra time in the first half Bohemians have a break, the Brno goalie comes out and slides the ball away, far from his goal. The ball end up with a defender, who shoots from roughly 40 meters, over the defenders and goalie, into the goal: 3-0! Half time.

Early in the second half the hosts have another good attack, but the ball is volleyed over the goal from 5 meter. Most attacks are pretty accidental. Brno continues to put in a pathetic performance, while Bohemians are lowering their pace in the scorching heat.

The game remain quite entertaining, with Brno at times creating some half chances, and Bohemians having more dangerous counter attacks, but it is clear to everyone that the winner is determined and nothing will fundamentally change. The final score is 3-0 and everyone leaves happily, looking for shade and refreshments.

Bohemians Praha 1905 is only the third team of the city, behind powerhouses Sparta and Slavia, but should be on the list of any groundhopper. While the crowd is getting a bit too hipster – reminded me a bit of St. Pauli – do go see them asap, before they leave Ďolíček and move to some soulless new stadium in a soulless suburb of Prague.

FC Slovan Liberec –FC Viktoria Plzeň (10-09-2016)

After seeing Slavoj Vyšehrad in the morning I meet up with my friend P. and his son T. and we drive the roughly 110 km north to Liberec, a town in North Bohemia, pretty close to the Polish border. We first go accidentally into the VIP entrance, which does give a beautiful look at the stadium below.

After a 20 minute walk around the stadium, we fall in with the pretty decent crowd, who are enjoying a later summer evening in September by eating and drinking in the many stands outside of the stadium.

The Stadion u Nisy is an old and small stadium with a capacity of just 9,900. We buy tickets for CZK 120 (ca $5) for one of the two stands on the long side of the pitch.

As we enter the stadium we face quite serious security. Just off our entrance the local tifosi are working on their big banners for the game. They have a nice little nook where they can drink and paint.

FC Slovan Liberece was founded in 1958. It was a small team in communist Czechoslovakia but has become one of the most successful teams in the post-communist Czech Republic. Today’s game is against Viktoria Plzen, another well-established team in the Czech First League (currently named liga). The official attendance is 5,600, which seems a bit (too) high. Some 150 fans have made the 210 km trip from Pilsen (Plzen), not that bad for the Czech Republic.

Before kick-off the group of tifosi that we saw earlier unveil a remarkable banner, or better book of banners. They have two banners for each of the last ten seasons and they display them as if it was a book. Very cool!

During the game the group will mainly sing against a smaller group of Slovan fans on the other side of the stadium. At times they will stop their inner-Slovan rivalry to silence the singing of the away supporters, who sing for most of the game too.

There are a few current Czech national team players on the pitch, although that doesn’t say too much, as the Czech national team has almost imploded as much as the Dutch national team. The only player I know is Milan Baroš, possibly one of the most successful Czech players of the last decades, having played for clubs like Liverpool, Lyon, and Galatasaray. I’ve always found him overrated, but now at the ripe age of 35, he is even lazier and slower than ever. In fact, even within a game defined by very poor passing and play, he stands out negatively.

It takes 12 minutes before we have the first shot of Slovan in the direction of the goal, which is slow and roughly 2 meters wide. Ten minutes later Plzeň gets a corner, which is headed out, and rebounded with a beautiful strike from 16 meters that goes into the top left corner with no one to stop him: 0-1. Stunning!

In the 22nd minute they get a free kick, which leads to a soft header at the goalkeeper. Slovan only excels in making extremely stupid fouls all over the pitch. There is roughly one foul a minute. I seldom have seen such bad football at the top level. In the second minute of extra time Slovak gets a hard ball into the penalty box, Baroš is fouled, but gets no penalty. Half time: 0-1.

In the second half Slovak puts a bit more pressure on Viktoria, but there are still many, many (dumb) fouls. In the 54th minute Baroš shoots a free kick just over the goal and almost 15 minutes later another Slovak free kick is headed “just” wide (by the horrifically low standards of this game).

Not that surprisingly, it is Viktoria that scores (again), in the 75th minute, although the way they do it is. After a long attack a hard pass is volleyed with the outside of foot, beautiful! 0-2. The home fans take it relatively easily. I start to think they might have seen worse, although I don’t dare to imagine what that would look like.

The next fifteen minutes the visitors create several more easy chances, but fail to score. As the game has moved into extra time, Slovan finally remembers that it is here to play football. A good through ball is met with a hard finish: 1-2. Too little, too late.

FC Slovan Liberec is an excellent example of a regional team in the top flight, small and cozy stadium with a decent and almost exclusively local crowd, which is involved but not too demanding. It is definitely worth a visit, although the quality of football could be amazingly low.

FK Slavoj Vyšehrad – FK Králův Dvůr (10-09-2016)

 I spent a lot of time in Prague between 1998 and 2002 and had seen most of the teams already, so I had to be more creative to maximize my weekend in the city this time. I found a game at 10.15 in the morning in Vyšehrad, a nice residential area in a hilly part of Prague, mostly known for its touristic attractions. 

The Stadion Slavoj Vyšehrad is a tiny ground tucked away in a nice residential area of low rises. It allegedly holds 2,500 people but doesn’t have any stands. I pay CZK 150 (ca. $6) to get in, which is actually quite pricey for the Czech Republic. Moreover, I don’t get a ticket. 

FK Slavoj Vyšehrad is one of the oldest teams in Prague, celebrating its centennial next year, but has always played at low levels. Today it plays in the Česká fotbalová liga (Bohemian Football League, ČFL), which is one of the two leagues of the third tier of the Czech Republic.

The opponent is FK Králův Dvůr, which comes from the tiny town of Králův Dvůr, which is roughly 35 km or half an hour drive from Prague. This notwithstanding, I can only find three away fans (which seem the wife and parents of one of the players) among the ca. 100 spectators – which are roughly 90 percent male.

The game is played on a small pitch of Astroturf, which makes control of the ball easier. The game starts hectic with attacks from both sides following each other. In the 8th minute the hosts get a corner, which is kicked to the second post where it hosts the body of a defender and goes in: 1-0.

In the 18th minute Slavoj has a good high through ball but a defender saves in a last ditch effort. Two minutes later a rebound is shot from 20 meters at the goalie. In the next minutes both sides have chances but the goalies do their jobs.

Slavoj is clearly the better team. Passing and control are quite good, which is undoubtedly helped by the Astroturf pitch. In the 34th minute the visitors have a great chance with a pass inside the box but the ball is slided from 3 meters at a defender. Five minutes later a Slavoj player takes a corner directly as a volley and although it goes wide and over, it is not bad.

In the 40th the hosts have a low hard shot, which is saved by the goalkeeper. The next attack leads to a good pass in that is scored from 5 meters at the second post: 2-0. This is also the half time score.

At half time I get a coffee at the Italian restaurant that is somehow connected to the stadium, after which I get a parek (sausage) at the grill in the nice café area. The whole atmosphere reminds me of going to see my own amateur team when I was young.

The second half started with a remarkable feat. In the 49th minute Slavoj gets a free kick, just outside of the penalty box, and the player puts it just over the wall and into the corner: 3-0. Beautiful even if he will never do this again in his life, not even in practice.

In the 53rd minute a slow and weird attack by the hosts rolls at the post before the goalie clears it with his legs. The pace drops now as both teams know the game is decided. In the 72nd minute a cleaver Slavoj pass leads to a high cross that is volleyed at the goalkeeper.

In the 80th minute the visitors finally have a decent shot from the penalty box but it is saved by the goalie. A minute later the hosts counter, the header is saved by the goalie, and the rebound is offside. Despite some half-chances on both sides, the final score is 3-0.

Prague has many bigger teams to visit, but if the weather is nice, try to work in Slavoj in the morning. It’s worth it.