Jun 02 2012

Happier times for Slovan .. 20 years ago

Published by at 12:50 pm under Domestic and tagged:

This season, MŠK Žilina won their sixth Slovak league title. In the process, they drew level with Slovan Bratislava as the most successful club of Slovakia’s independent era. What they cannot match, however, is Slovan’s record of eight federal Czechoslovak titles. The first of these was won as Sokol NV Bratislava in 1949. The last was sealed on 3rd June 1992, twenty years ago almost to the day.

There were periods after World War II when Slovak clubs dominated the Czechoslovak league. Sokol NV’s 1949 triumph, for example, was followed by two more in quicksuccession. Later, the eight titles between 1968 and 1975 were shared between Spartak Trnava (five) and Slovan (three). But Slovan’s 1975 success – they finished just two points ahead of city rivals Inter – was the last a Slovak side would enjoy for 17 years. Baník Ostrava were just entering their own golden age, winning the championship in 1976, and again in 1980 and 1981. Dukla Prague (1977, 1979 and 1982) also lifted three titles during this period. Even Zbrojovka Brno got in on the act, in 1978, as did Bohemians (1983). Then Sparta Prague won the league in seven of the next eight seasons, the only exception being 1985/1986, when Vítkovice (another Ostrava club) were surprise champions.


By 1991, though, Sparta knew they were facing a renewed challenge from the Slovak capital. This had all but disappeared during the mid-80s. Slovan finished bottom of the league in 1985 and didn’t return for another three years. Inter followed them into second-tier football in 1986. Indeed, in 1985/1986, no Slovak club finished in the top eight of the 16-team league. But, on their return to the top flight, Slovan improved steadily, finishing ninth in 1989 and seventh a year later. In 1990/1991, following some off-field reforms and the appointment of Dušan Galis as head coach, they came agonisingly close to winning the league. A surprise late-season home defeat by strugglers Hradec Králové ultimately cost them, as they finished just a single point behind Sparta.


Among the early highlights of 1991/1992 was a September UEFA Cup tie against Real Madrid, which Slovan lost just 3-2 on aggregate. In the league, despite not losing after the season’s second game, they hadn’t completely shaken off Sparta’s challenge by the time the final match, at home to Vítkovice, came round. A disappointing 0-0 draw at Cheb in the penultimate fixture, coupled with Sparta’s handsome 4-1 win at Prešov, had left Slovan with plenty of last-day nerves going into the Vítkovice game. In fact, they needn’t have worried, as the 90 minutes quickly turned into a party. In front of 34,687 at Tehelné pole, a ninth minute free-kick from Peter Dubovský opened the scoring. The same player would later score his team’s third goal, and his own 27th of the season, to add to Jaroslav Timko’s header. By the 80th minute, champagne bottles were being opened on the substitutes’ bench. Within seconds of the final whistle, the pitch was a sea of blue and white as the Belasi fans invaded.


As with any historical success, there’s a sense of poignancy in the recounting of these events. The Czechoslovak league continued for just one more season, and Sparta won its final edition, finishing five points clear of city rivals Slavia. Slovan were a further point behind, in third place. Despite some serious talk over the last couple of years of reviving the federalcompetition, it now seems certain that it will remain only a part of history. Slovan fans, meanwhile, will be far less bothered by their team’s (admittedly disappointing) third-placed finish in this season’s Corgoň Liga than by the continued sorry state of Tehelné pole. If you can look at pictures of the ground (there’s a lovely one in Saturday’s Športwith full stands and joy on the faces of the fans without feeling sentimental, you’re either a hardened cynic ornot a football fan. Then, of course, there is the tragic story of Dubovský, arguably Slovak football’s greatest ever talent, beautifully related by Ralph Davies for Britski Belasi last year.

Dubovský was one of several members of that Slovan squad to represent Czechoslovakia at international level. Vladimír Kinder, Ľudovít Lancz, Miloš Glonek and Ondrej Krištofík were among the others. Some players continued their involvement with the game after retirement. Indeed, some continued, or later renewed, their association with Slovan. Ladislav Pecko was coach as the club won the 2008/2009 Corgoň Liga title, while Boris Kitka is the current assistant to Vladimír Weiss. Galis, of course, coached Slovakia from 2003-2006 and then went into politics, spending four years as a member of parliament for SMER.


As for captain Tomáš Stúpala, his story is a nice illustration of both club loyalty and the transient nature of football. He played for Slovan until 1998, making a total of 257 first-team appearances. He also had a short spell as coach of the club‘s reserve team, in 2008, but left when Ivan Kmotrík became the owner. He now works in the suburbs of Bratislava, for a firm which produces gaming machines. He insists, however, that he and the rest of the 1992 teamcould still find their way around a football pitch. ‘We’d probably struggle at the top level,’ he admits, ‘but if we played in the fourth league we wouldn’t disgrace ourselves.’ While we will probably never learn the truth of that intriguing prediction, we do know that what Stúpala and his colleagues achieved twenty years ago will never be in doubt.

James Baxter

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Happier times for Slovan .. 20 years ago”

  1.   StaryJazvecon 02 Jun 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Yeah, was just thinking the very same as I started reading this. Superb pic in today’s print Sport of most of the 34,000+ on the pitch after the 92 title win, maybe I should cut it out and send it to DR.

  2.   StaryJazvecon 02 Jun 2012 at 3:38 pm

    A Slovan legend team will play Pezinok next Sat to commemorate the 92 title win. Perhaps it will give us some pointers to the Stúpala conundrum.


  3.   Jameson 03 Jun 2012 at 2:42 pm

    The other thing that got me about that pic was that, not only has the pitch been ‘flooded by fans’, to misquote Sport’s caption, but that the stands and terraces still look full as well.
    34,000+ – and there were only 7,500 for the entire last round this season.

  4.   Fat Eckon 07 Jun 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Great piece, James. First thing I have to ask you is do you happen to have a link to Saturday’s Šport so I can see that photo of TP brimming over with joyful punters? Sounds bl**dy amazing. As I’m always prattling on about, I was in that ground with only 6,000 in it and it was quite an atmosphere that night, so it’s hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff imagining 35,000 in the place … especially before the seats were slapped onto the terracing behind each goal.

    I’m at that stage of life – what’s the Slovak for “pipe and slippers”? – where I can’t believe it’s twenty years since it was 1992, if you know what I mean. This is reflected in my taste in music, food, drink and political comment. But, because I’ve spent my entire life absorbed in football, I can’t believe it’s ONLY 19 years since the break up of the federal league. I never saw Czechoslovakia live – despite them featuring so heavily in Scottish international folklore because beating them at Hampden provided the key victories in our qualification for the 74 and 78 world cups, either side of six Slovan players being at the heart of their European Championship win in Yugoslavia – but I saw the Czech Republic as early as 1996. And I saw the bastards at Hampden again last year … but that’s another story :-)

    Having spent well over a decade needing to see Slovakia for my iternational teams anorak list and being gutted every time Scotland fail to draw them in a qualifying campaign (I’ve seen the Faroes and Lithuania almost as many bloody times as I’ve seen SCOTLAND!!!) and having seen a few Czech and one Slovak team (home and away) playing Rangers in Europe, as well as doing a Czech league game a few years back whiel on holiday in Prague, I feel, subliminally, as if Czechoslovakia is ancient footballing history. CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S ONLY TWENTY YEARS since Slovan were champs of Czechoslovakia. So thanks for that excellent piece!

    And if Slovan hadn’t lost that crucial game to Hradec Králové then Rangers wouldn’t have got Sparta in the following season’s European Cup and – hey – maybe we’d have hung on in extra time in the second leg against Slovan in a way we just couldn’t against those spoil-sports from Prague! Ach – wishful thinking …

    Reviving the federal competition? I once read a very good article
    in WSC about that ;-)

  5.   StaryJazvecon 10 Jun 2012 at 1:12 pm


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