Prague is usually linked with stag and hen dos and general British drunken arseholeness due to the cheapness of a trip there. What people forget is it’s a great place to visit for the fitba ground collector due to there being four top flight teams in the city. Then on top of that, it is a stunning city with history galore and warm local welcomes galore and more appeal than cheap booze.
I treated myself to a ten-day break to Europe in December 2017. The purpose, a three city, five game trip, with as much culture and mulled wine from the Christmas markets as I could fit in. The trek was to stop in Prague, Geneva and Vienna. At the time of booking the Swiss and Austrian and Europa League fixtures had been fixed in place for TV purposes. This meaning I was to get Servette v Neuchatel Xamax in Geneva, a bonus Europa League game Austria Vienna v AEK Athens and Rapid Vienna v Mattersburg in Vienna. I had to just gamble with the Czech fixtures. Knowing the top flight play on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday I expected to get two of the Prague outfits. As long a one of them was Dukla, it was Christmas time and I wanted an away kit
As stated, the Czech capital was home to four top flight teams and a second tier team when I was there. The second-tier outfit play out of the Stadion Viktoria and go by name Viktoria Zizkov. A familiar name to some maybe? Viktoria are a team that are good in my book after embarrassing r*****s 1872-2012 out of the UEFA cup in 2002. Good lads. In the top tier, at the Eden Arena you have Slavia, at the Genarali Arena there are Sparta. These two possibly being the most recognizable names as they have shared fifty-one top flight titles between them. The lesser known teams are Bohemians 1905 who ply their trade at Ďolíček. The club are under their astounding sixteenth different moniker, the latest change coming in 2013. Most importantly to me, up high in the north west of the city in Stadion Juliska there is Dukla Prague. They were the number one draw. If I only got to see them, it would have been a success.
When the football gods looked down, they noticed the dates I was to be there and put Slavia, Sparta and Dukla at home on that very weekend. Then when they looked down again and noticed I arrived in Prague on the Friday I was to get incredibly lucky with Slavia v Banik Ostrava on Friday night, Dukla v Teplice on Saturday afternoon and Sparta v Mlada Boleslav on Sunday afternoon. Can something be more than perfect? This run of games went well past my expectations and I was fucking delighted to say the least
The usual six am KLM out of Aberdeen got me to Prague via Schiphol in the early afternoon. This leaving plenty of time to get a feel for the city prior to the big match at night. I visited the old town all afternoon and took in such sights as the Old Town square, Wenceslas Square, Charles Bridge the Museum of Communism among other things. People who think I just go to these places, watch football and drink beer are well off the mark. I cram in as much points of interest as I possibly can, and I only eat local food and drink local grog too. It’s my duty. No point in visiting a foreign city and not embrace the place.
After tucking into some delightful stew and a mandatory mulled wine from the markets after my touristy bit was done for the day, I headed to fulfil another of my geekish tendencies. The Hard Rock Café! This obviously to get a few pre-game pints and of course a badge for my collection. I took my seat at the bar as I was trying to be a model citizen. This being due to the fact I didn’t want to hog a whole table when by myself as the place was busying up with Friday night after work boozers. This led me to me being immediately befriended by the barmaid. As I was on my own, she must have taken sympathy on me. Either that or it was she genuinely did love my accent, which she told me on numerous occasions she did. She wanted to know everything about Scotland and said she had always wanted to visit. This was not just a ploy to keep me drinking as she told me the places she wanted to visit. Unfortunately for me though, Oldmeldrum wasn’t on that list. But not only was she well up on her knowledge on my home land she also won the award for most helpful person I have ever met on my travels. She informed how to get to the Eden Arena and every tram that goes in its direction including the amount of stops per tram, which stops had a bar near them etc. In depth and all written down for me. Unnecessary but very helpful none the less. After a few beers and a well-deserved tip to the lovely lady I donned my trusty Dons tourie, to which she informed me i’d would be a lot safer taking it off as Banik Ostrava had the worst reputation in the country for violence. Basically, any piece of clothing that isn’t Banik is a trophy no matter who it is. She also said to expect trouble in or around the ground. Then she backed this up by getting her colleague involved in the conversation. His exact words were “fucking bastards”. The words didn’t really sink in though and were completely forgotten when I got amused by the adjacent “Sex Machines Museum” as I was trying to find the tram stop. Once on the tram I was wondering what machines were in the museum and if it would be worth a visit on the Saturday. Then something from the back of my mind came to me. My Boro supporting mate offshore had told me at one point that when Banik Ostrava played Middlesbrough in the UEFA cup their fans had rampaged in smoggieville causing copious amounts damage. Maybe the Hard Rock barmaids words were because she was looking out for me. But ever the tough guy I kept on the hat. It was December in Prague after all.
Slavia Prague 2 v 1 Banik Ostrava
Eden Arena, Czech Liga, 1/12/17
As I jumped off the tram outside the ground, I landed right outside the megastore. Meaning I could get my scarf for the collection. But also, to beat the cold as it was bloody freezing. Once the much-needed garment was obtained and donned I looked for a bar to waste the 40 minutes I had. Low and behold there were little beer stalls outside the ground complete with burgers frying up. Result on two counts, the the burger warmed me right up and the pints of Gambrinus (League sponsor at the time) went down a treat too. One thing I noticed as I stood there looking at the ground, it’s had the appearance of a shopping mall, it wasn’t very football stadium like. Turned out though it only had this look on one side. I needn’t have worried about the interior of the stadium looking shite though. It’s a beauty. If the new Aberdeen Kingsford Krapshack was to look like Slavias midden then I’d be more than happy. I’m not a huge fan of new builds but I liked this place. My seat was in the North stand behind the goal right in with Slavia Ultras. Not deliberate but it would do for a change. (I don’t usually mingle with the hardcore crews, I’d rather watch them in action) At the far end of the ground were the Banik fans in good numbers, a couple of thousand perhaps. In the corner of the South and East stand. Penned in with huge crowd breaks between them and the Slavia fans in the South and East stands. In front of them on the track must have been around thirty stormtroopers. This was maybe as a precaution as Banik fans were as I heard “fucking bastards”. As the game drew nearer, I noticed a washing line of “trophies” being hung on the fence in front of the Slavia Ultras. This meaning it wasn’t just Banik Fans who went trophy hunting then. There were hats, scarves and one shirt. I couldn’t help but be gutted for the fan from Ostrava as it was Baltic. Not a night to lose your shirt.
The game kicked off and with both sets of fans flaring off instantly filling the stadium with smoke leaving the far goals well out of visibility for the first five minutes. What I did manage to make out as the game was well open and pretty end to end and it didn’t take long for the net to bulge. But it was the fans from Ostrava who were rejoicing after their ex player Frydrych put through his own net via a huge minky deflection on around ten minutes. (to be noted this was the only time the ball bothered the Slavia goal all night meaning that didn’t have a shot on target during the game yet scored) As the Banik subs celebrated in front of me I noticed a familiar face. The well-travelled Milan Baros (He is still playing for them to this day at thirty-seven). The game continued in the end to end fashion but as time wore on the home side seemed to find their feet a bit after their early shock. They deservedly equalised through Skoda. Almost straight from the kick of Banik lost possession and Slavia broke, this leading to a corner. Frydrych the villain earlier on made amends and rose to head home and put his team in the lead. This was like a red rag to a bull. The “fucking bastards” I had heard about made themselves known immediately and I was to witness the worst fan trouble I have seen in any of the grounds in any of fifteen countries I have watched football in. What started as a few flares being thrown over the fence turned into flash bangs being thrown and the Slavia fans running for cover. Next thing I know there are seats on fire in the crowd break and the Banik fans are trying to climb over the fence. This triggering the storm troopers to do their job. As they forced their way into the away end, they did something that increased the violence tenfold, they tore down all the flags hung on the fences. Every single one of them. This leading to what looked like the “Gremio avalanche” of Banik fans trying to attack the police. There were punches, kicks, seats and even flares raining down from every angle while the police used their shields and truncheons to bat away missiles and people. This all started on the half hour mark, but the game continued until forty minutes into the match when the referee noticed a ball boy being hit by a flare to which he blew his whistle and removed the players. The rioting kept going, the Banik fans tried to tear the fences down, tried to hurt the police while some still hurled flares, broken seats and flash bangs at the Slavia fans. This went on for another twenty minutes (I know this as the scoreboard clock did not stop) until it all just died off. With order restored the players re-emerged and played out the final five minutes of the half plus injury time. The time on the clock was “68” when the half ended. What had just happened was quite easily the maddest shit I had ever seen at a game at the time and still to this day. The second half was quite dull in comparison. Not many chances and a general midfield scrap. The crowd had gone a bit limp too. I’m not sure if this was due to the goings on in the first half or not but it seemed to have changed the mood. Forty-five minutes and two Gambrinus came and went and my first experience of Czech football was over. But what an experience.
Dukla Prague 0 v 2 Teplice
Stadion Juliska, Czech Liga, 2/12/17
Saturday started with a visit to the castle and some more grub from the Christmas markets. I followed this up with a wander about checking out what Prague have to offer. But in my head, all I wanted was a Dukla Prague away kit. Without my lovely friend from the previous night I had no means of mastering the public transport, so I opted for a taxi up the Stadion Juliska. As the car got further and further from the city centre it felt like we were going up a mountain. Windy, cobbled upward hills with mad cyclists flying down at the rate of knots, much to the displeasure of the driver were the order of the day. Eventually I saw floodlights and my excitement grew. I was almost there. Once the driver pulled up, I noticed the lack of football fans milling about which I found unusual with just under an hour until kick off. I also couldn’t see any bars nearby, this forced me to ask the steward if there was a bar once I was in inside. (daft question I know, since beer is like water in the Czech Republic). The fine steward took me into the ground and pointed out the toilets, the snack bar, beer bar and most importantly the club shop. Which in fact was a club shed. None of which was hard to find but it’s the thought that counts. First stop had to be the club shed to tick off a bucket list item. I had to get a Dukla Prague away kit for Christmas which I did. I also got my obligatory scarf (the only time it hasn’t been the most important momento from foreign travel). I grabbed a programme, but when I asked for a badge for my bro the two ladies became intrigued by my accent. I explained I was a football tourist and an Aberdeen fan to which I got the usual “this guy’s mad” reaction. I’m not sure if its because football tourism isn’t a big thing for foreigners as this happens all over. Do they possibly not understand? Anyway, they gave me the badge for free, but I still expect a pint from my brother as the amount of badges I have got him over the years has helped shape his collection (one of the best in Scotland without a doubt). I’m due A LOT of pints if you are reading. Once my shirt and scarf were on (still freezing in Prague) I went to get a beer and a feel for the Stadium when I bumped into the clubs Bear mascot. (I don’t know the furry buggers name to this day) Never shy of a photo with a mascot I did the needful (I’m a big kid, life doesn’t have to be serious). Turns out he speaks English as he quickly said “Aberdeen huh, welcome to Dukla” before any kids heard him. The stadium its self is a beauty. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it floats my boat. It’s a typical old school eastern European type affair. Big main stand with the rest of the stadium being terracing in an oval. I say the Main Stand is huge. It holds around eight thousand punters and hellishly steep giving it the looming over you effect when in another part of the ground. I took a wander around as far as I could. Although a small capacity ground the footprint of it must be huge. It felt like I walked for ages to get across to the other wing. With kick off almost there I wandered back over to the stand but couldn’t help feel disappointed with the crowd. It was extremely sparse. This was not helped by the grandstands imposing hugeness dwarfing it(it was paltry 1332). This would explain my initial thoughts when I first turned up outside the Juliska. The game was not the greatest but definatley not the worst I have seen. Teplice were by far the better team and dominated. The took the lead on half an hour. The game being devoid of much to talk about did throw up one of the daftest sendings off I have seen. The Dukla defender was booked for an accumulation of fouls right on half time. I would have though it would have been the final action of the half. But no, this guy clearly wasn’t wired up correctly and from the resulting freekick absolutely sacked the Teplice player who received the ball from the free kick. Utter madness on a grand scale. Duklas already uphill struggle had just got as steep as the steps in the Grandstand. It was made impossible straight after the restart when Teplice grabbed a second through a long range piledriver. This silencing the Ultras and their drum. On the Ultras,it was quite heartening to see them made up of around fifty late teens/early twenties having beers enjoying themselves and supporting their team. As I scanned the crowd during the break it was more than apparent that Dukla don’t have much “new blood” in their support. It’s a very old crowd. I went to grab another beer for the last fifteen minutes but stood at the back as I didn’t want to re-enact Rocky on the stairs again. A guy started speaking to me as he noticed my hat (always trusty for making conversation). I got on to the topic of the age of the crowd. He told me that its more than noticeable as the crowds are down. These older guys are fans of the first Dukla (who disappeared when the merged with Pribram in 1997 to make FK Pribram). They do not attract new fans as the were not around at any decent level in the noughties. The fact that the two most successful clubs in the country are in the city is surely a factor too I would suspect. A shame really as this is a famous name in football and not just because of Half Man Half Biscuit. The game peetered out into nothingness as Teplice knew it was mission accomplished and Dukla knew they were down and out. I said to my goodbyes then wondered how I would get back to the city. I gambled on a bus that was heading down the hill. My theory being, If I could see the river Vitava I would jump off and I would be able to find the old town where I was to get a meal then head to a pub to catch Viktoria Plzen v Jablonec. (2 v 0 Plzen)
Sparta Prague 3 v 0 Mlada Boleslav
Generali Arena, Czech Liga, 3/12/19
Matchday three was to start with a few beers in an Irish Pub in old Town Square. I would never normally set foot In an Irish bar on my travels unless in Ireland. I had a valid reason though. I noticed a blackboard outside it on the Friday advertising the Aberdeen v r*****s game at Pittodrie. In I popped to watch the Dons get a do in. A do in that coincided with the rumour mill going into overdrive with stories of Derek McInnes heading to r*****s as manager. Pretty much at this point I lost all faith I had in him. (to be noted he went down for talks, took time off his actual day job of managing Aberdeen to “soulsearch” then went on to get pumped by sevco twice in the next two months) Anyway it was what it was, and I can’t stick him still. But I’m veering off topic. After the game I got Google maps in action to see if the Generalli area was near. Forty-five-minute walk it said. Given that I am over six foot two I usually divide the time by two and I won’t be far off due to my long strides. I set off, crossed the river entered a park then i could see the stadium in front of me. Five minutes tops it took me. Did I run and not realize it? The most incorrect Google maps has ever been with me. I was really early so the superstore was visited when it was as good as dead, and the essential scarf was obtained as always. I was so early I couldn’t even enter the ground, so I had a gander about then found a café up the road for a beer and to get out of the bitter Prague chill. There was an extra bonus as there was a telly in the corner showing the highlights of the previous day’s games. Result. The Generali Arena is tidy enough. It has a Tannadice/Stamford Bridge disjointed to feel through the evolution and renovations. Its aged a bit through the years and could maybe do with a clean out the years but its ok in general(li). It also has heaters in the roof, so you are not cold at your seat. Modern football wankery but it was December. This was probably the worst game I was at. The game was men against boys. It had goals but it was so one sided it was almost boring. An exhibition for the home side who had killed the game by fifteen minutes as they were two nil up via an OG and a goal from their full back who had bombed forward. The game was put out of reach and well and truly killed as a contest five minutes from the half when Josef Sural* who was one of the best players on the park notched a third. Half time brought something I had never seen before. The one hundred and fifty or so Mlada Boleslav fans in the far corner all disappeared for what I can only imagine was to drown their sorrows as they were getting schooled. I mean every single one of them did. There was not a single fan left in their section. I’m sure a lot of them stayed having beers after the game restarted as the small following looked to have halved during the break. The only thing of note in the second half apart from Sparta making Boleslav look like a dog chasing its tail was the introduction of Tomas Rosicky. Cracking player for his country and in his Dortmund days. The reason I mention him is unbeknown at the time he was to announce his retirement from the game due to persistant niggling injuries (I think that means age),meaning I saw his last ever match. The worst game of the three but the best team out of the six in Sparta.
*Josef Sural was to tragically die in April 2019 when his new club Alanyaspors team bus crashed on the way back from a match after the driver fell asleep. He had only signed in the January. He was 28
As far as trips go this was one of my favourites. It was made by great people, warm welcomes, good food, great beer, different culture and of course football ground collecting. It was pretty much the epitome of why I am a football tourist and why I love it. The rest of the trip didn’t go fully to plan as my flight to Geneva was cancelled so the replacement flight I was given got me into Geneva at half time of the Servette game. I got a drab and dissappointing 0-0 at the Ernst Happel and also got my bank card eaten outside Rapid Viennas Weststadion. You have to take the rough with the smooth as they say and Prague was beyond smooth and is still one of my favourite trips I have had the pleasure of making. I may go back for a Bohemians 1905 game. Oh and to visit the Sex Machines museum.
Afterwards-Viktoria Plzen went on to win the league with Slavia in second. Sparta came fifth and Dukla in eleventh. Slavia went on to win the league last season and Dukla were relegated as the finished rock bottom. Sparta continued their mediocrity