Against Modern Football?

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1.FC Slovácko 4 v 2 Slovan Liberec (19.10.2013)

Sick of extortionate ticket prices, plastic stadium experiences more akin to a trip to the pantomime, ‘untouchable’ players seemingly removed from reality, and fans unable to hang a flag in a ground because it might be 30cm too big…need I go on?

The English Premier League has fast become a place where your hard earned pound doesn’t really stretch too far; a place that at times appears to have ripped the national game away from the heart of the working classes. To put this into context the cheapest ticket available in the general sale for West Ham v Aston Villa this weekend is £42.00, rising to £59.00 for a seat in the main stand. That’s for a category ‘C’ game!

“Sign of the times”, “best league in the world”, “market forces”, “money runs the game”…..Ok nothing new there you didn’t know already right, but what about the fan in all of this?

The EPL may well have sold itself to the devil, and as a fan you clearly have a choice whether to fall in line, but there are alternative places you can go for your footballing highs. Places where the people’s game – believe it or not – is still built around the people! You might just have to travel once in a while to experience it though, but by god is it refreshing to see when you get there.

One such place is the Czech Republic, and I hope this account offers some form of inspiration to spread your wings and sample the beautiful game abroad.

Before I tell you about that though, another one of the complexities of the modern game reared its ugly head and threw my travel plans into complete chaos!

10 days before I was due to travel for a trip that was initially planned around Rapid Vienna v Sturm Graz on the Saturday, and Slovan Bratislava v AS Trencin on the Sunday was thrown into complete disarray as the Austrian & Slovakian TV companies weaved their magic. Rapid’s game was moved to the Sunday night, and Slovan Bratislava’s game to Friday night – both of the revised kick off times now fell outside my travel times leaving me urgently needing a plan B!

After a quick scan of footiemap.com (to locate clubs in the area) and soccerway.com (to view fixture lists) a revised itinerary was prepared in the form of 1.FC Slovácko v Slovan Liberec in the Czech Gambrinus Liga on the Saturday evening; and FC Petrzalka 1898 v Piešťany in the Slovakian Tagon III Liga West on the Sunday morning. The chance to tick the ‘2 games in 2 countries in 2 days box’ proved too tempting to resist!

1.FC Slovácko are based in the Czech rural town of Uherské Hradiště, which is a small town in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. With a population of just 25,000, this picturesque town is also home to Czech top flight side 1.FC Slovácko who were lying in 11th place in the Gambrinus Liga at the time.

Founded in 1927, 1.FC Slovácko as they are now known were formed following a merger of two other clubs from the local area, SK Stare Mesto and FC Slovacka Slavia Uherské Hradiště. That’s more than a mouthful, and as I write this I’m more than grateful for their new name!

Uherské Hradiště is ‘reasonably’ accessible from Bratislava airport. Take the number 61 bus to Bratislava’s Hvlana Stanica rail station, the journey takes about 25 minutes, costs 0,90 euros, and drops you right outside the station entrance, where you are welcomed by all manner of tramps, drunks and generally rough looking characters (all harmless though I hasten to add!).

SLO15En route to the train station, the bus passes Slovan Bratislava’s Pasiensky Stadium, the huge ‘coca cola’ sponsored floodlights towering above neighbouring apartment blocks provided an unwelcome reminder as to the reason for my last minute detour to the Czech Republic. If you happen to be in town for a Slovan Bratislava game just alight at the stops ‘Sabinowska’ or ‘Bajkalska’ on bus route 61 and you will only be a few minutes walk from the Pasiensky.

The train journey to Uherské Hradiště cost 13,90 euros return – an absolute bargain – but isn’t that straight forward. It takes just under 2 and half hours, and involves a minimum of two changes along the way at Breclav and Stare Mesto respectively. Keeping your eye on the time as well as the station names is a must to effectively navigate your way there.

Unfortunately a 45 minute delay on the first train across the border to Břeclav ensured I missed the onward connection to Staré Město. With trains fairly infrequent in this part of the world, the next train would now get me there only 45 minutes before kick off. If the second connection was delayed I risked missing the game altogether! Surely I had been punished enough on this trip with the original 2 games I had intended to see being moved; a 3 hour detour into the rural Czech Republic for no game at all would have been difficult to stomach!

The train finally pulled into Uherské Hradiště 45 minutes before kickoff, and luckily for me the ‘Městský Fotbalový Stadion Miroslava Valenty’ is only a brisk 10 minute walk from the station – the unusual stadium floodlights helping to lead the way! (see above right).

The ‘Městský’ is a small compact all seater stadium with a capacity of 8,121. It is located within a sports complex and the main entrance for home fans is via the gate on the corner of ‘U Stadionu’ and ‘Stonky’ street. From here you can access Tribunes A, B and C. The ticket office is located next to the main entrance gates and for £4.90 you can get a seat on the half way line. Yes you read that right, £4.90!

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The main entrance gates on ‘Stonky’ Street…

Passing through the gates you enter an area behind Tribuna B where you are greeted by a large bier-keller-esque bar area situated outside the stand and a small club shop located in a porta-cabin (see below):

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The 1.FC Slovácko ultras (or ‘Fanaticos’) are also housed in Tribuna B, and although small in number they provided a colourful and noisy backdrop to proceedings, and with a number of displays and choreo they provided momentary distractions to what turned out be a ridiculously entertaining game!

rybalka#Slovácko’s opponents Slovan Liberec were lying in 4th spot in the Gambrinus Liga, and with my limited knowledge of Czech football it was enough for me to allocate them as favourites for this clash! After 25 minutes the form guide appeared to ring true as Liberec dominated the early possession. Central midfielders Sergej Rybalka (right) and Isaac Sackey looked a class pairing, and were instrumental in Liberec’s early dominance. Twice in quick succession Slovácko’s right back Petr Reinberk neglected his defensive duties and gave Jiri Fleisman the freedom of the Městský. Exploiting the gaping space down the left side and creating two good early chances the home team were rather fortunate not to be 2 nil down in the opening 15 minutes.

The Slovácko goal continued to lead a charmed life, and in one nail biting 10 second spell Liberec’s Vladimir Coufal raced through and chipped the oncoming keeper only to see his effort rebound off the bar. A panicked defensive clearance fell straight to Liberec’s Vladimir Kalitvincev who then fired back in from 25 yards and rattled the post! At this stage of the game you would have given the home team more chance of winning the Euro Millions than collecting a much needed 3 points.

Liberec would rue further missed opportunities as their first half dominance started to subside after about 30 minutes. Slovácko capitalised on Liberec’s wasted chances, managed to start to create a few chances of their own, and on 34 minutes they took the lead against the run of play with a well placed header from Jiri Valenta.

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As much as Slovácko were overjoyed to get in at half time with a one nil lead, I was as equally happy to get to the bar and find that beer was only 85p a pint! And that came SLO9with free 1.FC Slovácko pint container too! After a long journey that pint went down like a dream! And if 85p a pint wasn’t good enough, there was also a team of Czech girls on hand providing a waitress service to fans in their seats whilst the game was going on! Pints of beer were being transported all over the stadium as the game was in progress – English league catering teams please take note!

If you were caught out enjoying a 2nd beer at half time you would have probably missed the explosive start to the 2nd half from Slovácko! Two goals scored in the 46th and 48th minutes by Libor Dosek and Milan Kerbr effectively put the game to bed, and if you were a Liberec fan you were probably wondering what you’re team had done to deserve this score line.

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Slovan Liberec fans wondering what’s just hit them as they go 3 down!…

Liberec’s misery was confounded in the 56th minute as they went 4 nil down to Libor Dosek’s second of the game. You could sense the disbelief from the home fans, but boy did the ‘Fanaticos’ enjoy it. A co-ordinated strip down of fans in Block 3 (ordered by the ultras ‘chant master’) for a spot of ‘Doing the Poznan’ in the freezing temperatures the peak of their excitement!

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Liberec did manage to restore some pride to proceedings though, and 2 goals from Martin Frydek on 61’ and 70’ made the final 20 minutes slightly more nerve wracking for Slovácko fans than it should have been. Despite an anxious finish to the game, Slovácko held on to seal a much needed win.

As the final whistle went there was a notably strong connection between the players and fans at Slovácko, not something that I’d really seen before on other football trips. Usually when the final whistle goes on a game in England for example, you might be lucky if a few of the players cast an eye towards the fans and applaud as they walk off down the tunnell Not here! As the final whistle went the whole team sat down in front of the Fanaticos to milk the applause. After taking the applause for a few minutes, they all stood up linked arms and bounced in unison with the ultras. Next up was a lap of the pitch where the players high fived every fan that had remained in the ground and had come down to the front of the stands. It was a nice touch and good to see players give their time to thank the fans for their support.

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Slovácko skipper Libor Dosek leads the ‘high fives’ routine…

My debut experience of football in the Czech Republic had certainly left me with a lasting impression. An affordable football experience;  £4.90 for a seat on the half way line, beers at 85p a pint, waitress service to your seat whilst the game is going on, a good atmosphere, open attacking football, 6 goals, and players that seemingly show respect and appreciation to the fans…what more could you ask for?

If you’re cut from the ‘Against Modern Football’ mould, then you could do worse than take in a trip to the Czech Republic.

A few quick words on Uherské Hradiště itself – it’s a very small, quaint town with a pedestrianised central zone situated around a picturesque town square. There is a splattering of restaurants and bars within the central area, but within 45 minutes of the end of the game the place resembled a ghost town. It was a Saturday night and the place stayed like that all evening! Food and beer were ridiculously cheap here though, and a large pizza and a pint meal in a restaurant set me back just short of 6 euros!

Although people were conspicuous by their absence on the Saturday night they were out in full force at the crack of dawn on the Sunday morning! Arriving at the station just before 7am for the train back to Bratislava there were literally hundreds of people milling around what appeared to be a ‘bird and seed market’! Perhaps Sunday morning is the new Saturday night here! It was all rather surreal!

All in all, Uherské Hradiště is a tricky place to get to. 3-4 train connections from Bratislava doesn’t make it easy, but the match day experience at 1.FC Slovácko had certainly more than made up for it, and if this Czech footballing experience was comparable to a first date, then it had done enough to warrant a 2nd look!

My brief 14 hour stay was over, and my journey would continue on back to Bratislava for a 10.30am kick off and a slice of Slovakian 3rd division football – providing the train connections fell into place.

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The sun set’s over the ‘Městský’…

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