I walk towards the stadium and know I’m getting closer as the Bohemians shirts grow in number. I’m getting really close when I see the cops grow in number – two of them on giant horses, accompanied by a giant pile of horseshit on the sidewalk. I guess the horses are a bit too excited about the game. Unless it’s a comment on the futility of football?
Bohemians Prague, my spunky little neighbourhood team, is about to play the giants of Sparta Prague. I know Sparta are stronger, but I haven’t been following the league closely enough to have a feeling for if Bohemians have a proper chance here. But where do you buy tickets? It had been a rush decision – but it’s a city derby, is it perhaps sold out? I walk all around the stadium in search of a ticket stand, the walls are painted green, Bohemians colours, and I see right away this is a more run-down establishment then the mighty Sparta over at Letna. Then I finally find a tiny hut signed “Press” – that’s me, but I don’t have any documents about it. So, I ask the girls there if it’s sold out – and indeed it is. But I remember seeing two lads selling tickets outside the other entrance. Not the most trustworthy tickets – but I decide to give it a go if they aren’t overpriced.
And I find the lads again – and the tickets are dirt cheap and look legit, not just to me but also to the usher that lets me in. The tickets are for standing and the game is about to start, I just about manage to see the first kick.
And if there are some readers not too well versed in Czech football, a very brief summary: Sparta Prague are the giants and Slavia Prag are the little giant, their main adversaries. Dukla Prague used to be giants when the communists loved them, but now that old communist love is only enough for bottom place. Teams from other cities like Banik Ostrava and Slovan Liberec have had their golden periods (meaning: stealing the odd title away from Sparta) – and recently Viktoria Plzeň from the famed brewing city has dominated, with five titles in eight years, much to the annoyance of Sparta and Slavia. On the other hand the second city of the republic always struggles to put together a decent team. Zbrojovka Brno are anything but Moravia’s finest, just relegated and that’s usually their plight. But I did find out they have a podcast in English that I sort of want to listen to but fear that would be a step too far into football nerddom.
And then there are my little two neighbourhood teams. Around the turn of the century I lived in Žižkov, when Viktoria Žižkov had their golden age, winning the cup, throwing the league away on the last day and knocking Glasgow Rangers out of Europe. Of course, it was too good to be true, and a few scandal-fuelled years later they fell into the lower leagues where they have remained ever since. And they’re so small Bohemians’ stadium looks fancy in comparison.
Then when I moved back to Prague I moved to the Bohemians neighbourhood, or rather the outskirts of it, I did, little by little, start pondering the unthinkable: to actually change teams, at least until Viktoria came back up. The reason was not just the proximity, in fact the distance to both fields is pretty similar – but rather because Bohemains just happen to be one of the coolest football club in existence. There are two very good reasons for that:
1: Antonín Panenka played for Bohemians. Antonín fucking Panenka! The man with the majestic moustache who in the first ever major tournament penalty shootout took the last kick against the mightiest German team of them all and calmly chipped it over the keeper. Like drinking water – or beer rather, actually, since he practiced those kicks with the keeper of Bohemia and they gambled on beer or chocolates. Ever since that kick has only been called the Panenka and even if Pirlo and others have looked mighty cool when executing it, no one will ever beat the man himself. In addition he serves as Bohemians president these days.
2: Ninety years ago Bohemians toured Australia and returned with a couple of kangaroos. The kangaroos found a home in the Prague Zoo and are probably in kangaroo heaven by now – but they live on in the team’s logo and associated merchandise. Kangaroos can of course be all levels of cool – but the Bohemians kangaroo is obviously the coolest of all.
The foulmouthed Scot and a semi-naked old guy
But yeah, the game. It just started. The stadium takes about 5000 people and is separated into four stands. One is by far the biggest, mine is probably the second biggest and seemingly the only one that also has standing areas. Then there are two tiny ones – and it seems to me that the Sparta fans fill one of them. There are perhaps 50-100 of them, I’m surprised there aren’t more, their stadium is only half an hour away by tram, but perhaps they just don’t get more tickets.
The game is rather slow to begin with and the main entertainment is a foul-mouthed Scot standing next to me. He sort of seems like a schizophrenic hooligan – he talks calmly with his mate in between yelling a series of cuss words at the players. It almost feels like a dirty robot takes over his mouth from time to time. When his mate asks if he’s going to get a season ticket he tells him that Celtic back home is the only team for him – but those beautiful shirts of Bohemia do stir his heart. Since they have green and white stripes like the fields of Scotland, sorry, I mean like the shirts of Glasgow Celtic. Certainly a rare look for a football shirt. At the front of our stand an old lady sells a fanzine and some young lads hang on the fence.
The first half is even in a strange way – Bohemians bring the fight and want it more, but Sparta obviously has better footballers. Yet they are not showing it much. Sparta’s Ghanaian striker Benjamin Tetteh is the only player to catch my eye – when he’s near the ball something usually almost happens. But just almost, so far, and very little happens. The beer line is exceptionally long, it’s a strange business model to have only two people serving beer in the whole stand. But I do go to the line at halftime, if only to get one of those renewable kangaroo beer glasses.
I watch the first five minutes of the second half from the beer line and it doesn’t look good. Sparta have obviously had a good team talk and are playing some good attacks. Although standing behind the goal always feels a bit distorting, I always feel I notice the attacks on that goal better and perhaps make the mind wander more when it’s at the other goal … and damn. A free kick. Sparta has had two good chances in the last two minutes and this free kick is so close it’s almost like a penalty for Sparta’s Josef Šural. Bohemians goalkeeper had also felt a bit wobbly – and he’s standing totally still while the ball flies past him into the net.
Yet then things really get mad. I hadn’t been completely sure until then that Sparta’s fan were all in that small stand – until I see it erupt in ecstasy. Not only that, a flare is thrown onto the field and an old guy enters the field to dance bare-chested just by the end line, before the security guards arrive and put a stop to the party.
After that Sparta’s attacks grow less frequent but they continue to control the game – it seems both teams have accepted their destinies; the uninspiring giant just doing their job and the minnow falling narrowly. Something everybody can be moderately happy about.
Yet ten minutes from time Bohemians wake from their slumber – and three minutes from the end Sparta’s offside trap fails to contain Jan Záviška, who’s having no troubles in putting the ball away into the near corner. People jump up and cheer – although of course peacefully, us Bohemians are of course not some barbarians like those bloody Spartans!
To my surprise I’m far away from being the only foreigner here though, even if it’s far away from the tourist trail. There’s a lot of Brits and some Dutchmen and Germans – and one of them has a St. Pauli shirt on, since those two of the most leftist football clubs in Europe have friendly relations.
Then the referee blows it off – our kangaroos managed a draw against the giant and I walk home, happy enough with my newly acquired kangaroo beer mug.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson