Nov 04 2011

Paris & Bratislava; a tale of two footballing cities

Published by at 4:06 pm under European,Guest and tagged: , ,

Delighted to welcome old friend and Paris resident David Williams to the blog with his account of another disappointing night for Slovan Bratislava in the group stages of the Europa League:

Earlier this year, during a week’s break in Eastern Europe, your guest blogger and a couple of fellow Parisian holiday thrill-seekers had the pleasure of accompanying former schoolmate BritskiBelasi and his elite selection of expat Slovak football cognoscenti to Slovan’s victorious Champions League home leg against Kazakh champions Tobol Kostany.

That balmy Zlatý Bažant fuelled July evening at a surprisingly atmospheric Pasienky- a perfect caricature of this Westerner’s vision of Eastern European stadia, with its stark, modernist floodlights and scoreboard, despite its patent limitations as a football ground and spiritual home for Slovan – couldn’t be much further removed from adrenched and rather dreary Parc des Princes in early November.

Of course, no sane person would spurn a visit to the “City of Light”, but Paris really is a lot more pleasant in the springtime, or at least before the clocks go back. As long-term 1920s resident Ernest Hemingway once remarked “All the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street.”

Thus it was, unseasonably mild temperatures apart, that Hakim and I returned, accompanied by Jérémie and Stéphane this time, to see our summer crush in the flesh for a second time as they sought to replicate the kind of performance that earned them a draw at home to PSG, one of the self-declared most financially ambitious clubs in Europe, their bombast bolstered in recent weeks by the continuing clamour surrounding David Beckham’s mooted arrival in January.

Pre-match expectations settled on a modest but essential victory for the home side given PSG’s variable form in Europe, in stark contrast with their domestic dominance of 9 wins in the last 11, including impressive victories against Montpellier and Lyon.

From the off, there were clear differences in quality and approach between the two teams, with PSG attacking relentlessly, but without much success, through a tasty quartet of Erding, Pastoré, Nenê and Menez, while Slovan made a virtue out of necessity with 10 men behind the ball. This pattern lasted right until midway through the second half when PSG finally broke the deadlock, a cruel turning point coming just seconds after Halenar’s horrendous miss from only 10 yards following Guede’s excellent work down to the right byline. Subsequently, PSG sat back and allowed a much more adventurous Slovan to take the game to them in their own half, and the match at last developed something of an ebb and flow.

More authoritative match reports can doubtless be found elsewhere, but in a scrappy match more notable for heavy rain and poor control rather than high quality and silky skills, players who impressed for an outpaced, outmuscled Slovan included Martin Dobrotka, an assured presence at the back all night long, and Filip Šebo, who had a mild penalty claim in the first half and looked an excellent all-round package… despite a performance where nothing quite came off for him. Slovan may look hard at their midfield which struggled to break after Parisian attacks, frequently being harried and chased off the ball all too easily. However they did construct some long passing moves towards the end of the game, winning in the process their only two corners of the match in the closing minutes right in front of their delighted fans – a hearty 250-strong contingent who provided robust supportfor their team from beginning to end, despite being massively outnumbered and horrendously abused by the PSG fans, for whom perhaps the 0-0 draw a fortnight ago still rankled [could be their non-admittance to the game which rankled-Ed.]

As for the atmosphere generated by the home fans, much has changed in recent years since the dissolution by the French authorities of the six sets of “ultras” which used to command the two kops (Boulogne and Auteuil) behind the goals. In brief, repeated clashes between different factions led to the death of a Boulogne fan in 2010, banning orders for those in the hierarchy and a principled boycott by many former ‘foot soldiers’ who stayed away en masse from home games in the 201011 season, while the club was ‘cleaned up’ and sold to Qatari investors and a more family friendly clientele encouraged to fill a half-empty stadium (my previous midweek visit to the Parc in May 2011 was before some 27,000 spectators, about average for the season but over 20,000 short of full capacity).

This season, however, PSG have become the best supported team in France with an average league gate of 40,610, thanks to strong performances and heightened expectations following the arrival ofArgentine record signing Pastoré (for a mere €40 million). While the atmosphere last year was noticeable for its youthfulness (shrill teenagers mimicking the coarse hooligan culture they had grown up with), the middle aged demographic had now returned in a respectable midweek crowd of over 35,000. The two Kops were in good voice, particularly after the goal when the cannabis-perfumed Kop d’Auteuil exploded into life, culminating in a somewhat classless “Poznan” celebrationthat obviously brought to mind PSG’s nouveau-riche counterparts Manchester City.

Given the apparent volatile nature of Slovak football, it is probably best that I let more seasoned observers pontificate on Slovan’s prospects for the Corgon Liga, now that their Europa ambitions have been extinguished, and on their potential (likely?) European involvement next season.

As for PSG, they just about redeemed themselves and now have a good chance of qualifying for the latter stages of the Europa – a competition in which their new owners expect them to be a lot more than just also rans. After their strong start to the first third of the Ligue 1 season they will also surely be hoping for a top-three finish come May time and Champions League football next season, but would definitely have to strengthen and/or become much more clinical in front of goal to have any realistic chance of reaching the knock-out phases, a feat their great rivals Marseille only achieved in 2010-11 after three consecutive failed attempts.

 David Williams

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Paris & Bratislava; a tale of two footballing cities”

  1.   James Baxteron 04 Nov 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Interesting write-up Dave, didn’t know much about the PSG fans other than that they had a ‘reputation’. Six ultras groups? I sometimes think one is one too many!

    Slovan should be back in Europe next season in some capacity – unless their sugar-daddy suddenly decides he’s had enough and leaves them, as he left Artmedia more than 3 years ago. As it stands, Slovan are easily the wealthiest club in the country and the only one with a half-decent chance of keeping their best players. They seem to be learning to play in Europe now and if the majority of this squad do stick around, they could be stronger for the experience next season.

    I didn’t see the whole game last night but I caught the final 25 mins or so, as well as the game at Pasienky, and I have to say PSG haven’t impressed much.

  2.   Dave Williamson 04 Nov 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Thanks James, following on from your question above and previous blog post on racism in football, the following very comprehensive Wikipedia entry is a reasonable summary of events up to 2010:

    I’d completely forgotten about the lock-out in the first game (thanks Dan!) and have probably confused Guede and Bagayoko in the build-up to Halenar’s miss.

    There seem to be performance issues with French clubs in Europe this season, with Ligue 1 matches being prioritized by managers, explicitly or implicitly, and decent clubs like Rennes going down 3-1 last night to Celtic (who are apparently a dozen points behind Rangers in what is surely an inferior league).

  3.   Georgeon 04 Nov 2011 at 10:32 pm

    ….Filip Šebo, who had a mild penalty claim in the first half and looked an excellent all-round package…

    You liked Sebo ??? Are you deaf ???? But Shite, I will buy up his management & commercial rights for a few grand and let the PSG Towelheads buy him from me and become a muti millionaire !!!

  4.   StaryJazvecon 05 Nov 2011 at 10:46 pm

    What the Dickens! “elite selection of expat Slovak football cognoscenti” – I havent been called that for a while. Nice write-up fella.

    Here’s the Halenar howler at 0:25 if you havent had the pleasure yet:

    I don’t like to be a hater, but its a beaut.

  5.   Fat Eckon 15 Nov 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Dave – you were doing great there until you called my beloved SPL an inferior league! I have to clarify – inferior to Ligue 1 or the Corgon Liga?:-)

    Just because every Scottish Club was knocked out of Europe before the end of August and Slovan’s qualification for the Europa League was not, unlike, Celltic’s, by default …

    Yup – hoping Big Sebo gets himself a wee goal or two in UEFA competition is about as much direct Euro football interest as this Rangers fan will enjoy for the rest of this season. It seems only like yesterday we were beating PSG on pens in Paris or stuffing Lyon in the suddenly-appropriately-named Gerland (What Lyon did to us at Ibrox we’ll just blow over for now).

    That was a nice read, sir – especially for someone who was only able to see 5 minutes of highlights from the Parc des Princes on the Friday. Slovan definitely had their chances on the night and while never threatening to qualify from the group have so far singularly failed to disgrace themselves as some would have predicted. The Corgon Liga will be shooting past the SPL in the coeficient rankings soon …

    Luckily I managed to see EVERY bl**dy MINUTE of Celtic’s 3-1 win over Rennes who, as you say, could not have been more disinterested if they’d been reading their kindles throughout the 90 mins. To emphasise the point, the Celtic midfield and defence consistently gave them the ball for the entire opening 25 minutes, so shaken were they by the Bretons’ easy superior fitness: Basically, remember the goal Rennes scored in the first meeting? – that kinda thing.

    But Celtic, quite simply, wanted and needed it more and I have to compliment them on their ability to ride out a horror start and test Rennes’ desire to the point where the visitors caved. Well, I don’t HAVE to compliment them but – what the hell – no-one in Paris or Slovakia is going to grass me up …

  6.   Dave Williamson 20 Nov 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Just catching up with comments (flattering and otherwise!)

    Chuffed you enjoyed the post Fat Eck, I didn’t mean to decry the SPL for all its atmosphere, history and tradition (qualities which French football lacks somewhat), but as you seem to confess yourself, Ligue 1 is undoubtedly a technically superior league these days (although I watch precious little of either so am hardly qualified to comment!)

    Have bookmarked the “Fat Eck” page at the top of this site, looks like an interesting read I shall have to make some time for sometime soon!

  7.   Jameson 22 Nov 2011 at 7:03 am

    Well Dave (if you’re still following), having met you that one time, it’s obvious you’re clued-up enough to know which comments are worth taking notice of. The fact is it’s impossible to write on this site, include a suggestion that Filip Sebo might just have some personal and/or footballing quality and not attract hostility from one particular quarter. Don’t worry about it ; anyone genuinely wanting to know about PSG-Slovan (including me, given that I saw only 25 mins) couldn’t have done better than read this piece.

    I’d also strongly recommend anything by Alex, not least the Fat Eck pieces on here. As they feature Artmedia (whose glory days seem so far away now) they seem to be about a bygone era but in fact it’s all only six years ago.

    This thing about the relative strength of different leagues is a little fascination of mine. Obviously the French league, despite occasional accusations of dullness and the fact that the very best players tend to leave, is one of Europe’s best four or five.

    As for the Scottish and Slovak leagues, the Scottish is surely better but you’d need a series of games between a variety of sides to really determine whether that’s true. Artmedia actually came out slightly ahead from clashes with Celtic and Rangers six years ago (beat Celtic 5-4 on agg in CL qualifying, drew twice with Rangers in the group). But what would happen today if, say, Dunfermline faced Nitra, or Inverness played Presov over two legs in a tie that really really mattered? Perhaps I’m the only one interested but maybe you or Alex (if he’s still following) could indulge me a bit here….

  8.   Jameson 22 Nov 2011 at 8:26 am

    Meant to add that I’m joining in for the Salzburg game at Pasienky next month – it’ll surely be the end of Slovan’s European efforts for this season and will be a kind of squaring of the circle for me, after being there on that July night for the Tobol game.

    Slovan have really only had one bad half (the 2nd away to Salzburg) in the group stage so far. Otherwise, defeat by the odd goal to the very classy Bilbao and mostly keeping stride with PSG over two games represents a decent effort. There’s a sense of ‘what might have been if they’d been a bit more positive?’ but I suspect the answer might be ‘something nearly as humiliating as Zilina’s 0-7 against Marseille’. Weiss wouldn’t allow that to happen. His teams are sometimes lacking going forward and can be downright dull, but they’re never totally embarrassed.

  9.   Dave Williamson 22 Nov 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks James! Still following? Only just, in rare odd moments, having just caught up with your article on Guédé among others.

    It was an interesting experience submitting a piece of creative writing (rather than translation/editing, my stock trade) for public consumption and debate, and I’m still rather pleased that I found time to knock out a half-decent article, even if large parts of it were already written before the match! ;0)

    There is something to be said for defensive performances too, I didn’t in the end see any of Spurs-Villa last night, but apparently we were negative, totally outclassed and lucky to only lose 2-0.

    The positive flip side to this is that Villa’s predicament, shared with 13 others clubs – 7+ points behind all the sides that count in the European qualifying places after only 12 games!! – means I have more time to follow just about whichever team takes my fancy!

    (This week – my initial loyalties to perennial strugglers Nancy, from back when I lived there, who fully deserved the three points they got away to PSG on Sunday night, and a genuinely exciting game to boot, even if Canal+’s late bl**dy decision to broadcast it led us to return our tickets and left me to watch the match on telly!)

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