Jun 18 2012

Zilina v Sigma Olomouc

Published by at 1:37 pm under Czech Republic

 

It was only a friendly, the sort of game I usually forget about within 24 hours of watching it, but Saturday’s Žilina v Sigma Olomouc fixture did have a certain personal significance for me. I lived in North Moravia for five years (1998-2003) and was a regular visitor to Sigma’s Andrův stadión. Now I live in Slovakia and have a season-ticket at Žilina. The two clubs have met many times in similar circumstances over the years – as well as being fairly close geographically, they have a good relationship and share similar outlooks – but this was the first encounter I’ve ever witnessed.

 

One thing Sigma cannot match is Žilina’s domestic success. But this, of course, can largely be put down to the greater depth of quality and more competitive nature of Czechfootball. Sigma are still a well-established club, with a fair claim to being the most stable in Moravia, and have a decent core support. They don’t have a fan-base to match, say, Baník Ostrava’s but the fans they do have don’t tend to desert them in droves when times are bad, as Baník’s have been known to do.

 

Yet inconsistency has been a characteristic of their on-field performance over the years. In 1997/1998, the season before I went to live in Moravia, they came third in the Gambrinus Liga. The five years I spent watching them saw them finish 4th, 12th, 3rd, 10th, and 11th. Even in the good years, they never quite looked like winning the title. Other teams were always a bit too good for them. Sparta Prague (inevitably) won four of the five championships during my time in the country. Other Prague clubs - Slavia, Bohemians and Viktoria Žižkov – also had good times around the turn of the millennium, as did provincial outfits like Slovan Liberec (champions in 2001/2002) and Teplice.

 

But Olomouc certainly provided a good production line of international players. I was lucky enough to see Tomáš Ujfaluši, Marek Heinz, David Rozehnal and Radoslav Kováč play Czech league football at, or near, the start of their careers. My favourite player was probably Stanislav Vlček, a wholehearted striker who went onto play for, amongst others, Slavia and Anderlecht. While with Sigma, he perfected the art of making runs down the inside-right channel and hitting shots across the goalkeeper. I soon lost count of the number of Gambrinus Liga goals he scored from this move. Sadly, he never made it work for him at international level, failing to score in his 14 appearances for his country.

 

Then there are those who have represented both Sigma and Žilina. Pavel Hapal, who returned to Olomouc in the spring of 1999 after spells with Bayer Leverkusen and CD Tenerife, was certainly one of the best players I ever saw in the Czech league. He clearly had the sort of football intelligence that transfers well to coaching and so it proved as he led Žilina to the 2009/2010 Corgoň Liga and then to the group stages of the following seasons Champions League. He brought David Kobylík, a former Sigma team-mate, toŽilina in his first season there. I remembered the 1999-2002 era Kobylík as a quick, tricky, tireless winger. At Žilina, he was clearly overweight (the result of a liking for pork and dumplings, I later heard) but classy with it. He was less reliant on one foot than most wingers, and his combinations with the full-backs, especially with Stanislav Angelovič down Žilina’s right, led to a lot of goals.

 

There were some fun European nights in Olomouc too. When I arrived, in 1998, Sigma had just dumped Kilmarnock out of the UEFA Cup and were awaiting a big tie with Marseille. The first leg, at the Andrův stadión, was a genuine classic, Heinz scoring twice to earn his team a 2-2 draw against a team featuring, among others, Robert Pires and Fabrizio Ravenelli. Olomouc lost the second leg 4-0, but even that was a better performance than Žilina would manage against the French side 12 years later. In 2001/2002, Sigma were drawn to face Celta Vigo. Having lost the first leg, 4-0 in Galicia, they quickly went 0-2 down in the return. Then, a remarkable 15-minute spellproduced four goals, including two for veteran midfielder Josef Mucha, and inspiredhopes that one of football’s greatest ever comebacks might be on the cards. It wasn’t of course ; Vigo made it 4-3 on the night, and breathed again.

 

These memories all came back as I was watching the current Olomouc team go through their paces on Saturday. It helped that Heinz, still (almost) as blond and youthful-looking as he was that night against Marseille, was in action. He now has a truly impressive list of previous employers, which includes clubs in Germany, France and Turkey. He was also the goalscoring hero of Ostrava’s 2003/2004 title-winning team and has 30 Czech Republic appearances (and 5 goals) to his credit. True to form, he had the final say against Žilina, rattling home a 90th minute shot to give his team a 2-2 draw. I’m not convinced they deserved it, as Žilina, for whom the very impressive Róbert Pich scored twice, had more of the play and chances. But who cares? I suspect the teams themselves won’t – both are still at a very early stage of their pre-season preparations. For me, it was relaxed, enjoyable fare in the mid-day sunshine, a bit like bringing old and new friends together and finding they get on well. Good luck to both clubs in the new season.

James Baxter

2 responses so far




2 Responses to “Zilina v Sigma Olomouc”

  1.   Fat Eckon 22 Jun 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Lovely piece, James. And in it I’ve found yet more common ground with the Britski Belasi posse.

    Yes, I do have some pork chops and Ayrshire tatties waiting for me in the larder for tonight’s Glasgow dinner and, yes, I did enjoy the real deal pork and dumplings in that “three violins”(?)touristey rip-off restaurant in Hradcany when I had my week in Prague but, no – it’s not the coincidence of David Kobylík’s eating habits with my own.

    Rather, when on that trip to Praha I went along to see Sparta at home. And they were hosting none other than Sigma Olomouc. I didn’t know at that point – 11th November 2006 – that I was watching Bohemia v Moravia but the Olomouc support certainly gave the impression of a large-ish club. Shame on me but, although all-too familiar with the maroon of Sparta, I didn’t even know Sigma’s colours. The cold demanded my wife wore my old Rangers bunnet as I purchased my ticket a few hours before kick-off – the drunk home fan shouting “SPARTA!!” at me in the street gave me a hint about the strips.

    Sigma, all in Adidas blue, lost 1-0 to Sparta, all in Nike maroon. Crowd of 5,530 and the only goal of the game scored by Libor Dosek.

    Yeah – I’m repeating myself here, aren’t I? But Bilek was the trainer who’d come back to haunt me at Hampden 5 years later and Jan Rezek, coming on as a sub in Warsaw last night, was an unused squad member that day in 2006.

    And that’s far from my most enjoyable use of a Sigma Olomouc memory. Eleven years after doing Kilmarnock home and away as you mention above, Sigma destroyed Aberdeen. It was truly horrible to see one of Scotland’s three European trophy winners humbled 5-1 at home by a club which had never made a final in UEFA competition (Sigma completed the job with a 3-0 home win) but when I walked past the Aberdeen support at Ibrox later that same season, national interests were temporarily put to one side:

    The red and white away support were abusing me with chants I could best paraphrase as “Your team is currently taking a few home beatings in the Champions League and we’re actually quite enjoying that”. How petty! Obviously, I was hurt and distressed. However, there were only two words I had to utter in response and I’d instantly taken Rangers’ impolite visitors back to a summer’s home game as hellishly humiliating as your recent version was pleasantly relaxing, James:

    SIGMA OLOMOUC!

    Okay, fair dues, I might have added a few other words either side of and inbetween those two but, well, ye get the idea, mate … :-)

  2.   Jameson 22 Jun 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Cheers Alex, that Aberdeen story gave me a laugh. Football fans all over, isn’t it? They should have been saying, ‘we’re rather troubled that your team isn’t doing too well in European competition. What with our 8-1 hammering by Olomouc, we’re both undermining the reputation of our proud nation. Let’s see if we can’t brainstorm a few ideas to improve matters.’ And you’d say, ‘you know chaps, I was just thinking the same thing myself. Your Cup Winners Cup win feels like only yesterday. It’s sad how badly wrong things have gone since then. Scotland as a whole should be doing so much better.’

    It’s the same here, of course it is. When Zilina played Slovan at home in the league last season, five months had passed since that caning from Marseille. Didn’t stop their fans chanting ’7-0′ in our faces on the way to the ground. They should have been shaking our hands and saying how great it was that a Slovak team had made the CL group stages. Then, when there were suggestions that Slovan might not be able to play EL group games at Pasienky this season, and might have to borrow Zilina’s ground, the Za fans became quite active on various message-boards. And they weren’t exactly saying, ‘isn’t it sad that Slovakia’s only European representative not only doesn’t have its own ground to stage the games at but might not even be able to play in its city? But if they do have to play in Za, we will turn out in force to help cheer them to victory and raise Slovakia’s footballing profile a little’. No, there’ll never be sensible thoughts when there’s tribal taunting to be done.

    You’re one up on me seeing Sigma play at Letna. I’m just glad they made a game of it for you. The 1-0 scoreline is familiar, though. I’m pretty sure I saw six encounters at the Andruv, including one right at the start of 2003/2004, and Sparta never lost. They always looked bigger, stronger and a bit better than Olomouc. Even in the drawn games, you felt they could have won if they’d really, really wanted to. My fondest Sparta memory (other than the kit, which I love) is seeing Tomas Rosicky playing for them as a 19-year old in the 99/00 fixture. He was subbed seconds from the end and the Sigma support, which usually hated Sparta with a passion, gave him a standing ovation. He might have looked like the shy schoolkid who spends all his time listening to Belle and Sebastian and never gets out in the sunshine, but he ran the whole game. His countrymen missed him last night.

    Three Violins (Tri Husle) sounds very much like it could be a Prague restaurant. The Moravians claim their own variation on the pork, dumplings, cabbage dish. They call it Moravsky vrabec (Moravian sparrow). David Kobylik no doubt swore by it.
    Enjoy the Scots version.

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