IF THE EUROPA LEAGUE hadn’t got in the way, we might not have visited Bohemians 1905 of Prague. Game of the People was scheduled to attend the Prague derby, Sparta v Slavia, on Saturday March 19. But Sparta are still in the Europa, and two days before the game, they were in action in Rome, beating Lazio to claim a quarter-final place. So the big clash was shifted to Sunday night and we had to seek another local game for our fix of continental football. We were not disappointed.
For an authentic experience, Bohemians is an excellent location. Prague may be a chocolate-box city, but the “Kangaroos” are based in Vršovice, a district to the south-east of the centre, easily reachable by Prague’s excellent tram system. It’s not an area that tourists are likely to go, but as one Czech football fan once told me, “it’s where the real people are.”
Grounds for concern
When you think of Prague football, you invariably turn first to Sparta, then Slavia and Dukla. Some students of the game will associate Bohemians with Ireland, but that’s Bohemian, a team formed in 1890. Bohemians of Prague were formed in 1905, hence the date features strongly when describing the club. Bohemians 1905, with an average attendance of around 4,500 in 2015-16, are better supported than Dukla (2,500) and given their 5,000 Ďolíček stadium capacity, they are able to play against a vivid backdrop to a raucous soundtrack.
But it is under threat. Bohemians may lose their home and they may not get a license to play next season in the top flight. The club is trying to buy their much-loved stadium, but bureaucracy is getting in the way. The headline in one publication suggested, “Bohemka je v krizové situaci”, which loosely translated suggests the club is in a crisis.
They may have to play elsewhere or drop down two levels if the license is not granted. It sounds complicated, but before the match with Slovácko, Czech actor Ivan Trojan made an impassioned speech urging the fans to get behind a [peaceful] protest movement. One idea being discussed is a mass taxi protest in the city. Banners raised before the game indicated that the fans will vigorously defend their stadium. One message was clear: “Ďolíček vic nez stadion” – more than a stadium. It would be a shame if the “Dimple”, as it translates, passes into history.
Bohemians’ own history is not laden with trophies and garlands. Their only Czech[oslovak] title was in 1983 when they beat-off the challenge of Banik Ostrava and Sparta Prague. They have also won the Czech Cup only once, beating Sparta in the final in 1942. But they’ve played in Europe a few times, all before the collapse of the eastern bloc.
Panenka and pouches
In those days, Bohemians would have included in their line-up one Antonin Panenka – the man who gave his name to a certain penalty kick. A native of Prague, born in 1948, Panenka scored the audacious penalty that won Czechoslavakia the 1976 European Championship. The “Panenka” is the art of not kicking the ball directly into goal, but instead subtly lifting it, causing it to rise and fall within the goalmouth. It has been much-imitated since 1976 and Panenka, rightly, is a national hero. He’s also the current president of Bohemians, the club where he played from 1967 to 1981, appearing in 230 Czech league games and scoring 76 goals. He was capped by his country 59 times. We looked around, but the only sighting of Panenka was in the matchday programme, which curiously, has an English section.
It wasn’t the only thing that seemed out of place. The club’s badge is adorned with a kangaroo, which demands some explanation as the last time I checked, the famous antipodean creature was not a natural for central Europe. In 1927, Bohemians toured Australia and as a goodwill gift the club received two live kangaroos which were donated to Prague zoo. You could not help warm to the tall, grey mascot that stalked the pitch pre-match. It was certainly better than the gormless Disney-esque mascots prevalent at English games. The kangaroo stood on the halfway line, arms crossed – accompanied by a smaller version – watching the Bohemians limber up. He was good value for money! And so, too, was gaining entry to the game. A seat in the main stand cost just 180 Czech Koruna (£5), but you have to consider that the average wage in the Czech Republic is 28,000 Koruna (£900).
Even at these prices, people try to grab a free vantage point of any game at the Ďolíček. Given the ground is overlooked by houses and apartments – all life is here – not to mention a Post Office, people were hanging out of windows and standing on construction sites to watch Bohemians take on Slovácko.
Before the game, Bohemians were in 13th place in the 16-team Synot Liga, while Slovácko, from Moravia, were in sixth position. They brought along a few dozen supporters – “The Blue-white alliance” – most of whom decided to strip to the waist to watch the game, before realising it was too damn cold to go au naturale.
The game was more perspiration than inspiration although Bohemians had the upper hand in the opening 15. They had won just once since the mid-season winter break ended, and a week earlier, had lost 2-0 at league leaders Viktoria Plzen. The first half was fairly uninspiring, although Michal Hubinek in midfield and tall front man Patrick Schick, Bohemians’ leading scorer, stood out.
At half-time, the crowd retired for beer (well, you would in Prague, wouldn’t you?) and sausages and large chunks of [presumably] pork. You got the feeling that the supporters would have been quite happy to stay a little longer underneath the stand to eat and drink, and it was noticeable that the seats took a long time to fill after the break!. A gaggle of Scots – one dressed in a hoodie claiming that he was a honey monster! – doubtless on a beery-weekend in the Czech capital, added their own brand of humour to the occasion.
The match got better in the second half. Bohemians went ahead in the 58th minute when 21 year-old Hubinek cut inside and drilled a low shot in off the post. The “Tornado Boys”, “Greenhorns” and “Gang of Greens” went wild behind the goal, and our friendly kangaroo danced around in glee. Meanwhile, on the top of the building opposite, the “freebies” raised their arms in celebration.
Slovácko almost responded immediately when Matej Biolek struck the crossbar with a powerful header, but in the 64th minute, Bohemians scored again. Colombian midfielder Jhon Mosquera galloped down the flank and as he closed in on goal, his shot took a deflection and sailed into the net. It was enough to win the points and send the locals home happy.
As for us, we fell out of the main stand and onto a tram to get back to the centre of town. The Bohemians experience is one to be savoured and let’s hope that the Ďolíček remains something of a unique home of football. After all, it is “more than a stadium”.