Aug 22 2012

Slovakia Persist with Pasienky

Published by at 11:23 am under International

I’ve got my ticket for the Slovakia v Latvia World Cup qualifier on October 12th. If you want to join me, you’d better act fast to avoid the rush. Actually, the point of this is less to advertise the attractions of Slovakia v Latvia than to explain why this is the only one of Slovakia’s three home autumn qualifiers I’m going to.

Essentially, the reason is that the Lichtenstein, Latvia and Greece games are all to be played at Pasienky (in Bratislava) and I refuse to make more than one six-hour round-trip to visit that sorry excuse for a football stadium, especially when the perfectly decent, and big-game proven, MŠK Žilina ground is just a ten-minute bus ride from my house.

I should say here that, while there are people who have had genuinely bad experiences at Pasienky (ask Stuttgart or Paris St Germain fans), I’m not one of them. I’ve been there four times, once to see Slovakia in a pre-World Cup friendly against Costa Rica and three times to see Slovan. The worst thing that’s happened to me on any of those trips was a late Filip Šebo winner for Slovan against Zlaté Moravce in April 2011 which helped put the skids under Žilina’s Corgoň Liga title challenge. Otherwise, I’ve always been among friends, the welcome has been friendly and the food (try the chicken steaks) has been first-rate. At the Slovan v Salzburg Europa League game last December, we were even sold hot wine, just the thing for a cold mid-winter night. As warming as the drink was the serving-girl’s enigmatic smile as she claimed not to have heard about UEFA’s alcohol regulations.

But another important reason I’ve always left Pasienky in at least an equable mood is that the weather’s always been good. Even the night of the Salzburg game was dry. If it rains, however, the place must become a genuine hell-hole. It has around 11,500 seats, all of them miles from the pitch. 10,000 of these are uncovered and I’m convinced that even the 1,500 or so non-VIPs in the main stand aren’t totally sheltered from the elements ; the structure is ageing and there must be leaks in that roof.

Finding people who actively like Pasienky is hard. Those who’ve only been once or, like me, have only been in dry weather might say it has ‘character’. It does, but so does my in-laws’ garden and no’one is suggesting that would be a good place to stage international football.  Inter Bratislava, who used to call Pasienky home, struggled to draw big crowds there, even when they were winning championships. As for Slovan, the current tenants, their fans hate the place with a passion. Players never have a good word to say about the ground either, hardly surprisingly considering that they have to make a long trek across an athletics track to get from dressing-room to pitch and back, that the surface is bumpy and cuts up and that, even on the rare occasions when there is a good crowd in, there is very little atmosphere.

So why are Slovakia playing there? We all know that the country has no national stadium at present but Žilina would be a more suitable venue for theLatviaandGreecegames, while Michalovce, a smaller but well-appointed ground in the east of the country, could probably have managed the Lichtenstein fixture. I suspect (and I stress that I have no verification of this) that Pasienky is being used because it is not owned by a club and thus the SFZ get to hire it on the cheap, an important consideration given their well-publicised financial problems.

Another reason, though this would be universally denied, may be that Pasienky has been a curiously lucky venue for Slovakia in the past, while Žilina has brought almost no luck at all. In Euro 2012 qualifying, the home team gained maximum points from its two Pasienky fixtures (against Macedonia and Andorra), compared with a damaging record of one point from three games in Žilina, where Ireland, Armenia and Russia were the opponents. Of course, these records could be put down simply to the relative abilities of the teams concerned. Even so, I have a sense that Armenia and Russiain particular might have found life harder at Pasienky, if only because primitive playing conditions can have subtly deflating effects on good sportsmen, and on visitors more than hosts. It will be interesting to put this theory to the test whenGreece, the best of the three sidesSlovakiaare about to face, are in town.

But a European nation that took part in the last World Cup finals should not be using sub-standard facilities to defeat the opposition, it should be hosting them at shiny, appropriately-sized stadiums. The people who pay good money to come along and support should not have to pack their binoculars so that they’ll be able to see the pitch, nor should they have to worry about catching pneumonia. They should be able to concentrate on creating a decent atmosphere. If and when Slovakia finally gets a ground like this in Bratislava, I will happily go to as many games as I can there. Until then, though, let’s just stop embarrassing ourselves. Let’s give up on Pasienky.

James Baxter

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Slovakia Persist with Pasienky”

  1.   Fat Eckon 28 Aug 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I’ve seen photos, I’ve seen it on the Europa League highlights programme on ESPN, I’ve been in a Rangers supporters bus parking outside it while I was goingto Tehelne Pole and I’ve read all your coruscting pieces on the place, James – I’m actually becoming strangely fixated on Pasienky.

    As I’ve told you before, out of the 138 grounds I’ve been inside in my life there are only two in which I’ve felt instantly depressed (Okay, Celtic Park is a third but I have to be counter-intuitive on that judgement to retain some sheen of objectivity) – I now need to get to Pasienky to find out if it can indeed be added to my personal list currently consisting of Links Park, Montrose and Turf Moor, Burnley.

    Plus, I’m off to see Serbia at Hampden next week to take my list of UEFA nations bagged up to 40 out of the 53. I’ve seen the rest of our group but have yet to see Slovakia and what with the Olympics and two games against Queens park in the SFL third Division, I’m thoroughly sick of the sight of Hampden … so add that to the pretty girl selling the contraband gluwine and I might be the only person on the planet who would actually look forward to gettting to Pasienky :-)

    Ach, but it sounds terrible though. Sounds like a horrible situation and you’ve documented it brilliantly, James. I’m actually embarrassed for Slovakia and Slovan – fantastic footballing tradition like theirs deserves so much better. Really hope it can all be resolved soon.

  2.   Fat Eckon 28 Aug 2012 at 2:02 pm


  3.   Jameson 29 Aug 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Alex, cheers, I’ll now be fixated on Links Park. Bleak little lower-division ground in lonely coastal town – I’m sure I’d love it!
    I understand Turf Moor being depressing but I had a different reaction when I went. It was 89/90 and I was with a Cardiff-supporting friend. We met a Burnley fan on the way up and he told a lot of funny stories about following the Clarets and gave perfect advice about pubs and staying safe – an important consideration with that fixture at that time. And I loved the big terrace along the one side, sth it had in common with several bigger grounds in Lancs and Yorks.

    I hate to say it, as it’s generally considered a characterful old place, but Fratton Park (in 96/97) depressed me. It didn’t help that we Baggies fans were sitting out in the open in sleety rain and our team was so rank as to be 4-0 down at half-time. I nearly left – and I NEVER leave games before FT. It was also Portsmouth itself, it seemed to lack any sort of charm and was just full of half-pissed hard guys looking for a fight. I’ll have to go back and give it another chance as I’m sure it’s not really that bad.

    As for Pasienky, I reckon you would enjoy it. I don’t say that in a ‘cos your taste’s weird anyway’ sort of way but because it IS different from what you get in our islands, sth I know you appreciate. I know there are Scottish grounds with tracks round them (Cowdenbeath, Berwick, Albion – are there any more?) but even they’re not a proper reference point for such an obviously communist-era venue. And it’s not totally featureless either, it does have characteristics all of its own.

    The reason I keep ranting on about it is that it’s so palpably unsuitable as a home ground for anyone – let alone a national team. And, tbh, there are other communist-era open bowls here that are actually more interesting, including one or two in stunning locations.

    Wish I could do you a swap and come to Hampden actually. Those Queens Park – Rangers games will be weird occasions, I should imagine. Is it likely there’ll be crowds of 50,000 and 48,000 away fans?

  4.   Fat Eckon 30 Aug 2012 at 12:59 pm

    LOL! You were right the first time, James – you’re talking to a man who was clearly more emotionally impacted by the destruction of Turf Moor’s terracing than the Berlin Wall so it IS coz my tatste’s weird anyway :-)

    Pasienky does indeed look great – the photos on the BB Facebook page of the Slovakia-Andorra game are superb. But I appreciate that the novelty would ware off pretty quickly if you were going regularly. It’s one thing for me to come along as a tourist and be all “my – this is so exotic” and another for it to often be the best Slovakian football’s top club and country can offfer by way of a big game venue.

    By the way were the visiting PSG and Stuttgart fans involved in violence or did they just get a soaking?

    There really is a communist era chic to so many stadia and match experiences behind the old iron curtain which is particularly interesting to guys like myself who were “only” 20 when the Berlin wall came down: I grew up with the cold war a reality but was young enough to stupidly romanticise and mythologise what was simply bleak totalitarianism. When you’re only drinking in a disastrous socio-economic phenomenon through football and war stories, as a western teenager it’s easy to find it all darkly exciting. But enough of this naivety remains in the psyche for it to be a buzz today, considering all these “newly” accesible football venues (the other thing about being 20 years old in 1989 is that the entire post-communist era still feels fresh for us over-40s).

    I was amazed and intrigued by what the Poles did with their old superbowl in Warsaw for Euro 2012. The aerial shots continually reminded you of what the layout used to be whilst also showing you, through the breathtaking beauty of the new roof and the lighting, just how far the nation has come from the communist era in some respects at least. (Lyotard said something about advances in art being a generation ahead of advances in technology and football stadia have, in many cases, become the new vanguard of social development: A kind of Field of Dreams-meets-L’Oréal phenomenon: “Build it and they’ll believe they’re worth it”)

    However, the fact the national stadium in Warsaw looked so “modern” simultaneously removed it from being remembered as an old Warsaw PACT venue at just the time I was doing that. This is why places like Pasienky (and we’ve talked for hours about Tehelne Pole) still have that allure for anoraks like myself. In retaining such stark reminders of pre-glasnost days, they remind you just how far the world’s come on – because you’re allowed to be there via Ryan Air or Easy Jet – but also just how far you are behind what was once enemy lines.

    Turf Moor – ah, now see you were there when they still had the Long Side and the Bee Hole end, James. And that is exactly why I felt depressed when I went. I didn’t go until 3rd march 2007 (A 1-1 Championship draw with Crystal Palace) and so between your visit and mine they’d knocked down the terracing which composed two sides of the ground and constructed those two horrible two-tier stands in their place. Those monstrosities were comfortable and safe enough, yes, but just so devestatingly soulless that I lost all sense of who I was and what life was all about the minute I got through the concourse and up into the ground. I don’t know exactly why. Ibrox has very similair stands in terms of basic construction but I think it’s something to do with how they work within the overall aesthetic. Palace’s all-grey away kit probably didn’t help either.

    As now, TV coverage of Turf Moor before I’d actually been in the place always came from the redeveloped north side stand so you see the lovely wooden-seated Cricket Ground end with its tiny wee Director’s box, and the tight, gorgeous Bob Lord stand opposite, and the whole visual vibe on my screen – along with the claret and blue strip – matched perfectly with the legend of a club which won two titles it shouldn’t have and which is basically, statistically, the most football mad town in England. All very “Lancashire” romantic. But when you get down there in person and into the ground – even outside it – those two mid 90s stands have pulled off the awful trick of looking like 1970s Croydon office blocks. It’s as if Burnley now have the ground Crystal Palace should have, and vice-versa.

    The two existing old sides of the ground only made the aberration of the two new sides more apparent. And Burnley is one crowd which really belongs on two massive rakes of terracing.(You survived them versus Cardiff??!! Jeezus – you must indeed have had inside info :-) )

    And it’s EXACTLY the same at Montrose. In microcosm. Because Links Park was once renowned for being so gorgeous and homely a venue, discovering it isn’t all that anymore was a bit of a shock and the reason for its depressing air is as per Turf Moor – they’ve PARTLY redeveloped it. This highlights how much they’ve buggered it up, retaining tangible traces of what it was. Again, they’ve added a “corporate” feel to half the ground and its a ground which couldn’t be less corporate if it was the headquarters of the Angus and District Anarchists Knitting Group.

    But, of course, what made it worse was the fact Angus’ other 3 grounds are just SO beautiful. I reckon if you go to Links Park before you go to Arbroath, Forfar or Brechin, James you will wonder what my problem is and thoroughly enjoy yourself. Lovely wee town for a pint too, Montrose. Like Aberdeen without the noise and, well, Aberdonians :-)

    Think the only Scottish ground with a track you didn’t list there was Hampden itself, mate – a track they’re about to reinstate to full effect for the Commonwealth games in 2014, in the hope one particular Jamaican might Bolt down Mount Florida way. The Hampden track is the bane of its redevelopment because they didn’t have the money to square off both ends of the ground and give the place the sightlines and increased intimacy it deserves – at least they can put it to use in a couple of years’ time (and, as I’ve probably told you before, I kinda like that Hampden, at pitch level, still looks like it did in the days it was holding 150,000. Being fully roofed gives it a tight enough atmos).

    I will no doubt now spend the rest of the day going through Scotland’s league venues in my heid, trying to think of proper running tracks – but I think you’ve nailed them all there, mate.

    Rugby Park, Kilmarnock and Love Street, St Mirren were other venues which once had that classic Scottish Bowl shape – Ibrox and Parkhead too – but redevelopment and moves put an end to their existence, long after the decline in popularity of outdoor velodrome Cycling, athletics meetings and Football Club sports days had stifled their usefulness (Meawdowbank Thistle moved into an actual athletics stadium and then moved to and became Livingston).

    As for the Rangers newco going to Hampden on League business I reckon there’s a chance of at least one of the visits being a sell-out as the whole freak show nature of Rangers in the lower leagues has yet to lose its novelty value.

    We had 49,000 at home to East Stirlingshire a few weeks ago and I was at the Ibrox ticket office yesterday to buy my tickets for the next two Newco home games (haven’t committed to a season ticket this season – just can’t trust what’s going on right now – taking it week by week): “Falkirk in the League Cup you can basically sit anywhere you want but for Elgin City (third Division match on Sunday) we only have Club Deck and the wings of the Main Stand left”. Bloody hell. I spent years deriding the glory-hunting element of the Rangers support but now it appears we’re more interested in a Third Division match than a knockout cup game, against a team from two divisions higher up, in one of Scotland’s three main domestic competitions. Genuinely impressed. Is it the fact that the Third Division is SO far away from the norm of Oldco Rangers life (Falkirk at Ibrox in the League Cup still feels like standard fare) that we’re flocking to those games with a sense of genuine interest in the utterly exotic as much as defiant loyalty? Or is it just that Sunday’s live TV coverage means they’ve actually closed off certain areas of the ground?? If Ibrox is being almost sold out again for a bottom tier SFL match, especially after a few struggles in this league, then maybe the collective mindset is improving. Don’t want us becoming cultish – but a little more appreciation of what we have will always help.

    So I get the impression there will be a near sell-out of our first trip to Queens Park (their captain tweeting about how he’ll soon be breaking Rangers’ players legs will help add a few thousand Daily Record readers to the mix – let’s all gang up on a drunken amateur coz he was talking to his mates and the tabloids picked it up: classy!) but I’m watching with interest to see how this trend continues.

    I’ve seen Queens Park at home a couple of times in the past and I even saw them securing the Third Division title once at, of all places, Central park Cowdenbeath, and the impression I get is that there may be 49,650 away fans in that 50,000 crowd :-) . but they’re one set of fans who could teach a lot of Rangers punters a thing or two about loyalty. AND they put Dundee out the League Cup last night! (that’s Dundee who replaced old Rangers in the SPL)

    And, yeah, all I’ve ever heard from anyone who’s been to Portsmouth is how maniacally violent the place is. Very hsitoric but also pretty squalid – town and club. I even remember when WSC did their Match of the Month from Fratton Park and the writer spoke to an elderly lady who said she’d been following Pompey for years and it was even worse in the 40s and 50s when sailors on shore leave would get pissed and go in beside the home fans to cheer on the opposition, no matter who those opponents were, purely in order to get a scrap. With an Archibald Leitch Main Stand and the home side being one of the four historic Champions of England I’ve yet to see in the flesh, I would like to get there some day but what you’re saying about your visit, James, just adds to a list of testimonies which have me in no great rush.

    I’ll do Pasienky before Pompey!

  5.   Jameson 04 Sep 2012 at 5:48 am

    Forgot to mention in my other reply that Stuttgart fans were involved in trouble – as I recall, their version was they were attacked in their sector and the police either did nothing to help them out or actually joined in.

    As for PSG fans, my suggestion that they had a ‘bad time at Pasienky’ was a touch misleading because they didn’t get in the ground at all, they were turned away at the gate and sent back to town, despite having tickets and everything.

    There’s more on it in the archive for Oct 2011 – the guys from the European Football Weekends website were at that game as well.

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