Sep 16 2010

MSK Zilina v Chelsea

Published by at 5:49 pm under European and tagged: , , ,

So, finally match-day 1 arrived in Zilina.

Who better to tell us about the match day experience than James Baxter, long-standing Zilina season ticket holder?  It is with great pleasure & gratitude that I present James’ report exclusively here on Britski Belasi, the blog which brings you real-life stories from the heart of Slovak football:

So, after the protests, the recriminations, the discussions of whether to boycott or not, the at times quite exhilirating level of supporter activism, there is a football match to report on. As was always possible, MSK Zilina v Chelsea was less of a contest than MSK Zilina vs its own fans, Chelsea effectively wrapping things up within the first 30 minutes.

Anyone interested enough to be reading this blog will know what happened on the pitch but mention of Anelka’s performance is unavoidable. A friend and fellow Zilina fan commented to me today that ‘Anelka played for 20 minutes.’ It’s true in a sense but a more devastating 20 minutes is difficult to imagine. The sulky Frenchman’s anticipation, cruise-control speed and ability to make the right decisions at the crucial moments were brilliant. I’ve been thinking since the game, perhaps naively, that Zilina would have found Drogba easier to handle.

Anelka-top class / Dubravka-steep learning curve

For the Slovaks, Pecalka tried to make up for the inadequacies of those colleagues to the right of him (left-back Patrik Mraz was sound enough) and put in a lion-hearted display. Bello didn’t look out of place in a midfield area which also featured the likes of Mikel and Essien. And the whole side couldn’t be accused of giving up ; even when there seemed to be a very real chance of conceding more than West Brom and Wigan have to Chelsea this season, Zilina kept playing their football.

Bello & Essien tussle in the midfield

Piacek and Guldan, though, will be seeing this game in their nightmares for a while yet. Piacek is normally a solid central defender but keeping up with Anelka, in body and mind, was beyond him. While Piacek is as good in his position as anyone Zilina have, the selection of Guldan is one I don’t understand. He came to the club as a central midfielder but Hapal now seems intent on converting him into a right-back, even when the perfectly competent Angelovic is fit and ready to play there. I can’t believe Guldan was in the team for his height – Chelsea’s main threat was never going to be in the air – so it really isn’t easy to figure out why he started the game.

Off-field questions, of course, will not go away. I was not in town at all on Wednesday (we had a quiet family celebration at home) so can’t comment first-hand on the atmosphere in the pubs and bars. I did have an eventful day on Tuesday, however. It included doing a short interview for Sky Sports who, credit to them, broadcast my answer about the ticket-prices. As with the Zilina fans, that issue seemed to be of more interest to their reporter than the prospects for the game itself. I also met a few Chelsea fans who were laid-back, friendly and, again, sympathetic over the ticket question.

The game was officially sold out, though, curiously, Slovak and British media report different attendances.  There were touts on the roads going to the ground, quoting 80 Euros per ticket ; I didn’t hear for what area of the ground. The atmosphere inside could have been worse. The crowd were behind Zilina during their encouraging flurry at the start of the match and again after Chelsea’s fourth goal. Yet there were long spells of silence too and you just knew that the ultras’ presence would have made the whole occasion so much more special. I don’t know how many of them went through with their stated plan of walking en-masse from Marianske Square to the ground and singing their songs outside but some certainly did. Before kick-off, they were actually audible from our seats in the East Stand, which tells you something about the relative tameness of the atmosphere inside.

Message from the Ultras

A particular irritation for me was the number of Chelsea shirts visible in the home sections of the stadium. None of their owners, as far as I could hear, were English. They were Slovak tourists, there to fawn over the stars from London and take souvenir pictures of Terry, Anelka et al. One tourist, not (thank God) dressed in a Chelsea shirt was Robert Fico, Slovakia’s former Prime Minister, whom we saw when leaving the ground at the end. The presence of people of his type, while regular fans struggled to justify the admission price, is more evidence of what kind of occasion it was.

One account of last night which I identified with was the Daily Telegraph’s. Their reporter pointed out that, if Chelsea’s security people had been a little less uptight and had allowed the players to walk the 150 yards from the Holiday Inn to the ground (as some apparently would have been happy to do), Terry and his team-mates would probably have been given flowers. An exaggeration perhaps but, while it was always expecting a lot for Zilina to seriously test Chelsea on the pitch, the English side could, and should, have had a bit more hostility to deal with from the home support. To sum up, not quite the night we all hoped for back when the draw was made. Doesn’t that seem a long time ago now?

Once again many thanks to James for this excellent report.  This story has stirred emotions amongst football fans across Europe.  In the words of the Zilina Ultras, “we will swallow this, but we will not forget it”.

5 Champions League matches remain for Zilina & their fans.  Keep following Britski Belasi for all the news on how the club decide to approach ticket sales for the remaining games, and how the fans plan to make an impact both at home and on the road.  Who knows, maybe we’ll even be there too ..

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