Mar 24 2012

The Sad Story of Púchov

Published by at 4:34 pm under Domestic and tagged:

Of all the one-off occasions involving Slovak football clubs since independence, few have been bigger than Matador Púchov’s UEFA Cup first-round, first-leg meeting with Barcelona in September 2003. In front of a crowd of 18,000, Milan Jambor scored in injury-time to equalise Patrick Kluivert’s strike for the Catalans and earn his side a well-deserved draw. The natural order was predictably restored two weeks later as Barca won 8-0 in a rainswept, almost empty Nou Camp. But the gulf in the two clubs’ fortunes has widened considerably since then. Messi, Xavi and friends, as everyone surely knows, are pursuing their third Champions League trophy in four years. Púchov, in sad contrast, have resigned from Slovak football’s III liga Západ (3rd division west).

Things have been going wrong at Púchov ever since they lost their Corgoň Liga place in 2006. Their six-year stay in the top-flight had taken in two Slovak Cup Final appearances, including the 2003 victory over Slovan Bratislava which sent them into Europe and, ultimately, to the meeting with Barca. But relegation brought the loss of major sponsorship deals, including one with the Matador tyre company worth around 1.3 million Euros a year. As a result, the club decided it wouldn’t be able to compete in the second tier, so dropped two divisions, changing its name to FK Púchov in the process. An against-the-odds promotion was earned in 2008/2009, but II liga football brought further problems. Relegation at the end of 2010/2011 was inevitable, especially as the club had had to concede some of its early spring away fixtures, having been unable to afford the costs of travel.

According to director Ľubomír Taldo, a former player for the club, things seemed to be looking up for Púchov last summer. Šport centrum Púchov, who had stepped in to ensure that travel costs could be met towards the end of 2010/2011, were joined in discussions over the financing of the club by Continental (who had taken over Matador) and the local authority (who own and maintain the stadium). No agreement was reached, however, and, with club owner Jaroslav Rosina unable to find other investors, the decision was taken last week to withdraw the club from the III liga.

Naturally, there is now a degree of recrimination going on. Taldo, while admitting that the local authority had always met their obligations in terms of the upkeep of the ground, suggests that some authorities do more for their local clubs. He also feels that Continental, by far the largest employer in Púchov, could have offered more support. Meanwhile, the town’s mayor, Marián Michalec, blames the club’s situation firmly on Rosina and his ‘lack of transparency‘.

There is at least agreement on the immediate priorities. The club runs no fewer than ten youth teams – Taldo says that eight players from the oldest age category would have formed the basis of next season’s senior side – and both club and authority are determined to provide the best possible conditions for these to continue. If there is to be a senior team next season, it will have to join a league at least two divisions lower than the one it resigned from. But neither Taldo nor Michalec are taking even that eventuality for granted.

And now for a few personal recollections. I’ve seen plenty of Žilina v Púchov games and have visited the imaginatively named Štadión FK Púchov on a few occasions. The facilities are not the best – certainly not up to the demands of the Barca game, which was moved to Trnava – but there are worse venues, especially on a nice spring or autumn day. The river Váh flows behind one end of the ground and there are bars with outdoor terraces attached to the nearby sports centre. My first visit, though, was on a snowy day in late November 2004 and I was holding a cup of hot wine as Marek Bakoš curled a free-kick round the Žilina wall to score the only goal of the game. In spring 2006, I was present for one of Púchov’s last top division games, against an experienced, clued-up Artmedia Bratislava. The visitors won 3-1, but a skinny, left-footed teenager called Patrik Mráz had a fine game for the hosts. Artmedia must have noticed, as they soon signed him up. By the time of my next Púchov home game, in July 2009, Mráz had moved to Žilina, but he was one of the 400 or so hardy souls watching through a violent thunderstorm as his former side edged to a 1-0 win over Duslo Šaľa.

Bakoš and Mráz are not household names exactly, but their careers are developing nicely and mention of them is a reminder that Púchov have played their part in the development of Slovakia’s footballing talent over the years. Prominent Czech and Slovak coaches have been associated with the club too, including two of those currently linked with the vacant post of Slovak national team coach. Jozef Chovanec was born near Púchov and played in the club’s youth sides before moving to Cheb and then to Prague to begin his long association with Sparta. Pavel Vrba, meanwhile, was head coach between 2004 and 2006.

With the immediate future so bleak, nostalgia must surely be a temptation for all those associated with Púchov, even if it is of little practical use. The same could perhaps be said for wondering what happened to some of the 18,000 ‘home fans’ who turned up to watch Puyol, Ronaldinho and the rest back in September 2003.

James Baxter

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “The Sad Story of Púchov”

  1.   George Mon 25 Mar 2012 at 10:00 am

    Yes all very sad, but not really surprising given the way Slovak football has been run for the last 10 years . Strange that 18,000 fans will turn out at another ground, but if a club gets 2000 to attend any other home game that is considered a result . I remember 30,000 odd people coached in from all over Slovakia attending Artmedia`s first champions league game against Inter Milan ( score 0/1) . It just goes to show, if the football is of some quality and actually competitive and not Sunday park, then people will come and watch each week. I have seen perhaps one or two live Slovak games in the last 4 years, where I was a regular at Pz`lka during their Weiss years and made the odd trip to Slovan and Inter .

    BTW, For footballing fans, even those bobbin up and down in the north sea, an article worth musing I feel .

  2.   Jameson 25 Mar 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Fair points George, but re crowds, I do wonder about the ‘chicken and egg’. Do people not support football here because it’s crap? Or is it actually that a lot of those who’d say they’re football fans are actually starf****rs who take offence at the fact they’re not watching Messi, Rooney et al every week?

    I still go and watch Zilina regularly. I think they’re a decent team (not a great one, of course not) with players who have solid techniques and try to play in an attractive style. But of the 2,000 or so who bother to show up every week, half start jeering and whistling as soon as we get to about the 30th minute and the team isn’t at least 3-0 up. I think that, if there were 5,000/6,000 regulars trying to create a real football atmosphere, the game here wouldn’t only LOOK better, it would even BE better. Because footballers respond to having a bit of a stage to perform on.

    I wouldn’t know for sure but perhaps this is why Continental didn’t back Puchov a bit more. Why should they really, when there’s so little local interest most of the time? After all, they’re already providing half the people there with a livelihood.

    On the other hand, it also seems that, where provincial clubs in SK are well-run, it’s because the top boss of a big company with long-established local connections is owning them and running the show. Antosik at Zilina is one such (his silly public pronouncements notwithstanding), Ondrejka at Zlate Moravce is another. Mind you, after yesterday, perhaps he ought to get some of his brickies to build a wall in the goalmouth.

  3.   Fat Eckon 19 Apr 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Frighteningly apposite piece for a Rangers fan to be reading, James.

    Usually your stuff has me reaching for the football yearbooks and atlases and clicking onto wiki to get more info (and – who am I trying to kid – this piece hadme loking up teh stats about Puchov’s trip to the Nou Camp – Ronaldinho hat-trick, braces for Luis Enrique and Saviola and one from Motta, all in frontof less than 30,000 as you say – pretty disrespectful stuff from the Catalans considering the tightness of the tie after the first leg) but rather than doing my usual of wishing I could be stood on the banks of the Váh watching anyone of the ten teams currently holding Puchov together, I’m feeling a cold chill which no amount of warm wine could remedy.

    I saw Rangers hold Barca at home in 2007. We lost the return 2-0, going on 10-0 in the Nou Camp and I was one of the crowd that night – way up in the furthest away tier in worldsport – and now a lot of Rangers fans like myself are actualy HOPING our club is allowed to fall down the Scottish divisions like we’d plummet from that Nou Camp stand, rather than face the liquidation which would see us re-instated, as a new company, in an SPL which needs us far more than we need it.

    Of course it’s a tenuous link-in but when I read here that Puchov were ASKING to be sent down an extra tier or two because of financial problms just a few years after holding Barca at home it was a real chiller.

    And I knew Barca had never won the UEFA Cup (despite dominating Fairs Cup history) so I began wandering aloud who’d put them out that season. Looked it up and realised why I couldn’t “remember”. Bloody Celtic! :-)

    There’s a punning irony in Puchov’s sonsors being Matador at a time when they played Spanish gints but Continental weren’t willing to get them back on the road to European glory but your post in the thread is absolutely spot-on – if the fans don’t give their team time then why the hell should a backer? AGAIN, this is EXACTLY the Rangers problem. When we were holding Barca in the Champions LEague it was part of the run which saw us play in the 2008 UEFA Cup final – 2 months later we went out of the Chapions League qualifiers to Kaunas of Lithuania and there was widespread, very vocal condemnation of our manager Walter Smith and our owner, Sir David Murray. Both men went last season and now we’ve won nothing and are about to go bust. No-one seems to be saying they perhaps judged these men harshly.

    Puchov can join Portsmouth and Port Vale in the Skint League with Rangers – we should organise a tournament designed to raise cash and give us all some sort of continental competition. I hope they get themselves back on an even keel soon – sound like a lovely club.

  4.   Jameson 20 Apr 2012 at 5:50 am

    Thanks a lot Alex – and welcome back of course.

    When I think of clubs in this region who are having problems (and Puchov aren’t the only ones), thoughts do tend to turn to Rangers. But in this case, I didn’t consider the parallels in that much depth because Puchov were struggling to get 200 people in by the time they withdrew from III liga whereas Rangers are one of those proverbial ’45,000 to watch the kits dry’ clubs. But, as usual, you’re giving me a new perspective – there’s more than one way a fanbase can make a (potential) backer say ‘no thanks mate, not worth the bother’.

    Interesting that Rangers also had a brave home draw with Barca before comprehensively losing the 2nd leg (if not quite as comprehensively as Puchov) in the same season as getting to the UEFA final and should be jeering Murray and Smith just 2/3 more months on from that – it’s a sobering thought and makes you realise just how much some people are lacking perspective.
    Wish a few more Zilina fans could get this through their heads as well.

    ‘Puchov can join Portsmouth and Port Vale in the Skint League with Rangers – we should organise a tournament designed to raise cash and give us all some sort of continental competition.’

    What a cracking idea that is. Perhaps Ostrava could get themselves involved too, to help the ‘save Banik’ campaign along.

  5.   Fat Eckon 24 Apr 2012 at 7:45 pm

    We’ll send it to UEFA for consideration, James – it can’t be any worse than the Intertoto :-)

    (Shut up, Alex – everyone knowsyou LOVED the Intertoto)

    Problem is, I want Bradford Bulls involved too …

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