Aug 13 2010

Not-such beautiful Pastures for the Slovakia National Team

Published by at 2:26 pm under International and tagged: , , ,

In a review of this week’s international friendly between Slovakia and Croatia, I can be quoted as saying that the game was played in front of a “decent enough crowd of around 4,000″.  This probably serves as an indication of the standards I have come to expect from the football following public in this beautiful country which frustrates as much as it intrigues.  In advance of the game, I even speculated as to whether the crowd would match the 1,600 who turned up for Slovan Bratislava’s latest league game against Dukla Banska Bystrica.

Pasienky Stadium - basic

The ‘open-roofed athletics-track stadium’ that is Pasienky (‘Pasture’) in Bratislava probably did a good job of making the crowd look smaller than it actually was, and the official figure the SFZ quotes as the attendance for this match was 6,366.   This measly number of people, equivalent to the average attendances at Gillingham or Brentford last season, was all who turned up to watch some top class players.  I won’t exaggerate  so much as to use the term ‘World-class’ but in the likes of Marek Hamsik, Miroslav Stoch, Martin Skrtel, Jan Mucha and Vladimir Weiss, Slovakia have players who are brushing shoulders with the biggest names in some of the best leagues in the world.  I really wonder how these players feel about disrupting their pre-season campaigns to play a friendly match in front of so few fans and furthermore risking injury (Robert Vittek pulled up with a thigh strain which may lead to him missing the start of the domestic season in Turkey).

Kornel Salata, the only home-based player in Slovakia, in front of empty seats at his home stadium

Kornel Salata, the only home-based player in Slovakia, in front of empty seats at his home stadium

If this match was held in advance of the World Cup in South Africa, the attendance would probably be understandable, the naturally pessimistic football fan in Slovakia probably had no expectation for a team of relative unknowns travelling to their first ever World Cup.  However, again without wanting to exaggerate and use a term like ‘storm onto the World scene’, Slovakia certainly created quite a stir in their upset of Italy at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and qualification for the knockout stages of the tournament.  With the exception of the Italy game, Slovakia’s other group matches, against New Zealand and Paraguay are 2 of the prime examples people use when talking about all the empty seats at the World Cup.  As was correctly pointed out by the wonderful WSC preview magazine, not many Slovaks were expected to travel to the World Cup, and those that do will come from the “higher-end of society with relatively little interest in the domestic game”.  That was certainly the case, and the World Cup cameramen must have had their work cut out finding Slovak-painted faces in the stadiums on those days.

However I do believe, contrary to some other countries, that these players take real pride in wearing the Slovakia shirt. Having lived in the shadow of some strong Czech teams in recent years, this young team has a really good spirit, an excellent coach in Vladimir Weiss and should be aspiring to match, if not better their performance from South Africa in the next European Championships in 2012.  If there was a structured drive to attract fans to football in Slovakia over the next couple of years, the team could the surely expect up a huge support in these neighbouring countries easily reachable by road, rail or air (infrastructure which is all developing rapidly in Slovakia).

Miroslav Stoch went on the record after the Croatia game saying the players were “disappointed with the attendance” and they had hoped for better after their exploits this summer.   In defence of the fans, I regularly bang on about the ‘sub-standard’ nature of the Pasienky stadium and the situation shows no signs of improving.  Money allocated to the construction of a new national stadium has evapourated into a different fund set up to help flood victims in the east of the country, and the only construction in the vicinity of the now-closed Tehelne Pole stadium is the beehive of activity across the road at the Zimny Stadium, the new National Ice Hockey Arena being built ahead of the country hosting the World Championships in 2011.

Zimny Ice Hockey Stadium

Zimny Ice Hockey Stadium

Ice Hockey is officially the Number 1 sport in Slovakia, but how football fans must be jealous seeing this amazing modern structure springing up  right next door while they are forced to pay up to 30 Euros for a tickets to stand in a stadium with one of the worst views of the pitch imaginable.

Derelict in the face of new construction: The former home of the National Team is in a sorry state

Derelict in the face of new construction: The former home of the National Team is in a sorry state

Once again, the buck has to stop at the SFZ, the Slovak Football Association.  There is an ever growing list of incredible gaffes which can be attributed to the organisation running the game in Slovakia, some of which are described by this excellent article written by James Baxter for WSC.  To me the most humiliating one has to be the lack of a National Stadium.  Can there be any other countries within the European Union where the situation is so dire (comments welcome)?  Until something is done to allocate public funds or attract the finance needed from elsewhere to construct a simple but safe and comfortable stadium with around 20,000 seats (how many of these have been built around Europe recently), there will be little or no change to the attendances at international and domestic football, I am almost sure of it.  While the National Team has already resorted to playing matches in Austria, another feasible option is to relocate the matches to Zilina in the North of the country where there is a semi-acceptable stadium, and possibly a public more passionate about football.  Although a pity for Bratislava, if some matches were played here, maybe the SFZ could dream of 5 figures when quoting the attendance for qualifying matches for Euro 2012.

To me the recipe for success is simple, the site in Bratislava is available, and it will benefit everyone, anybody got a spare 20 Million Euros?

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