Sep 12 2010

Zilina v Presov: Situation in Zilina 4 days before Chelsea arrive in town.

The discontent amongst fans in Zilina is continuing to grow ahead of the biggest match in their history.  Forget about Lampard, Terry and co. – just 4 days before the Chelsea superstars arrive in town for Zilina’s first ever Champions League group match, the conversations you’ll hear in Northern Slovakia have a very different focus.

James Baxter, a top class writer and regular contributor to WSC, lives in Zilina and is a long standing season-ticket holder at MSK.  Yesterday, James went to Zilina’s last league game before the Chelsea tie and here he brings us a fascinating update on the situation at Stadion Pod Dubnom:

The MSK Zilina v Presov game on Saturday, won 2-1 by the home side, was overshadowed by the ongoing dispute between Zilina and its fans over the prices of Chelsea tickets.

Zilina owner Jozef Antosik posted a statement on the club website before the game in which he attempts to explain the club’s decisions regarding the prices. He begins by stating that football in Zilina did not begin, nor will it end, with the Chelsea match. He then says that he ‘doesn’t insist that the club didn’t make a mistake’ over the ticket prices ; that double negative makes what admission there is seem insincere. Next, he details all the costs of running the club over the course of the season, emphasising that these costs do not come close to being met by income from ticket sales. There is also what amounts to a tacit admission that the Chelsea prices were actually intended to put the ‘ultra’ fans off. He says that these fans have pledged good behaviour before in return for favours from the club (subsidised travel to away games, lower ticket prices at home matches) yet have reneged on these promises. He adds that the club could not risk the kind of crowd trouble that has occurred at one or two recent games, including in Prague at the first leg of the Champions League play-off. Yet he does comment on the ‘fantastic atmosphere’ at that match and other recent big games. There is also a reference to defender Mario Pecalka’s criticism of the Chelsea prices, Antosik claiming that Pecalka’s monthly salary would pay for 187 fans to watch the match at 50 Euros each. The statement ends with a repeat of the point that the Chelsea games is neither the beginning nor the end of Zilina football but this time Antosik adds that, if it were the end, he would let all the fans in for nothing.

Overall, even allowing for the limitations of my Slovak, it’s an odd statement. It mixes emotion with rational assessment of facts, and shows both appreciation of and contempt for the fans. At other points, it’s not clear what Antosik is trying to say, the reaction to Pecalka’s comments being perhaps the best example. Ultimately, though, the statement fails because, while it does (just about) hint that mistakes have been made, there is no recognition whatsoever of the financial realities faced by the fans. In an area where salaries average 700 Euros and there is growing unemployment and insecurity, people find it hard to justify paying 50 Euros each (and remember those are the cheapest prices) to watch one game of football. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the sums the club are going to make from being in the Champions League.

IS IT BETTER WITHOUT US?

At the Presov match itself, the fans’ actions spoke louder than Antosik’s words. For 60 minutes, the ‘ultras’ in Section C of the North Stand sang themselves hoarse in support of their side. There were both new and old songs, all sung with feeling, but perhaps the greatest passion was reserved for chants of Pecalka’s name. Then, after an hour, the singers left their section. Many left the ground altogether, others went to sit in adjoining sections but maintained a stony silence (as did the rest of the crowd) until the final whistle. A banner was left in the empty section with the question ‘Is it better without us?’ written on it. It was a wonderfully eloquent protest ; even given the (once again) disappointingly small crowd of 3600, the difference in atmosphere once the singing had stopped was remarkable.

Zilina players celebrate Robert Jez's top strike

As for the game, Presov deserved better. With Ladislav Pecko, who won the 2009 title with Slovan Bratislava, now in charge, it’s difficult to see them being bottom of the table for long. They showed a mixture of skill and resilience that augurs well for the rest of their season. Zilina, as so often under Pavel Hapal (at least in league matches) mixed long passages of frankly tedious football with occasional moments of brilliance. Robert Jez put them 1-0 up after 14 minutes with a tremendous long-range strike and Admir Vladavic scored the second from a 44th minute penalty after Tomas Oravec had been tripped. Presov began the second half with a flowing move which ended with substitute Jan Papaj crossing for Michal Piter-Bucko to score with a diving header. They had chances to equalise after that, especially in that final half-hour when silence had fallen on the home crowd, but Zilina held on.

One suspects that Chelsea will not be too worried by what awaits them on the field on Wednesday. Zilina fans, conversely, do not seem to have got round to considering the Londoners. Few are yet wondering whether, for example, Chelsea’s attack will be quite so dangerous without Didier Drogba, or whether Momodou Ceesay will make life difficult for John Terry. They are still debating whether the tickets will sell-out, what the atmosphere will be like, even whether there will be another protest. Mr Antosik’s statement has done little to clarify any of those matters.

Many thanks to James for a fascinating report from ‘on the ground’ in Slovakia.

Zilina have temporarily regained top spot in the Corgon Liga after victory over Tatran Presov, and FK Senica’s defeat at the hands of Dukla Banska Bystrica.  Today sees two of Slovakia’s biggest rivals, Slovan Bratislava & Spartak Trnava, go head-to-head in a match where the winner will leapfrog Zilina into 1st place.   Once again the match at Pasienky stadium in Bratislava is surrounded by a massive security operation and promises to be an explosive affair both on and off the pitch.

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One Response to “Zilina v Presov: Situation in Zilina 4 days before Chelsea arrive in town.”

  1. [...] One slight problem as highlighted in this fantastic piece, is that many Slovakian fans aren’t content to pay Champions League prices for a one-off [...]

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