Archive for the 'Czech Republic' Category

Jun 18 2012

Zilina v Sigma Olomouc

Published by 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

Oct 25 2011

EFW Oktoberfest 2011

Published by under Czech Republic

In what is becoming an annual celebration of football, travel, drinking and good banter, the 3rd annual European Football Weekends Oktoberfest took place last weekend based in the Czech Republic.

Slovan Bratislava hosting Paris St Germain tagged an extra match and an extra city onto the itinerary for the guys.  We’ve discussed the match on the previous article, so for those wanting to read about the EFW-ers (mixed) experience at Pasienky, here are the links:

http://theballisround.co.uk/2011/10/24/bailing-out-the-eurozone-oktoberfest-day-one/

After a heavy night on the Pilsner Urquell (no Zlaty Bazant I’m afraid), EFW were, impressively, present and correct, almost to a man, on the 08:09 departure for Prague.  We were on the 10:09, via Breclav.  Which was subject to a 10 minute delay.  Would they hold the connection or would we be searching the Moravian-Silesian Fixture list for a MSK Břeclav home match?  They held the connection.

On arrival in Prague, the first impression (obviously) was of the train station.  Impressively renovated since my last visit, this was a station who’s concourse rivalled any in Europe.  Sephora perfume shops where Bratislava has the odd kiosk.  Then again, probably a similar comparison can be made between Eden Stadium and Pasienky.  We’re a hell of a long way behind still.

Straight onto the metro, and out at the Botel Florentina. Right in the centre of Prague.  Quite ironic, I found, to have a hotel with such a beautiful setting, given the nature of our weekend.  After a quick meet-and-greet, it was all-aboard the EFW Bingo Bus to Liberec.  After a painfully slow ride out of town, before we knew it we had stocked up on beer and were rolling North.

EFW Team Bus.

Liberec was much nicer than expected.  A city the locals seem to love.  Rather like Brno, it must be said.  I rarely get that impression in Slovakia, that the locals really love their city.

Here is Andy Hudson’s Liberec write-up:

http://europeanfootballweekends.blogspot.com/2011/10/slovan-liberec-v-fc-banik-ostrava.html

At Liberec, I was especially amused by the ‘Death Boys Slovan’ hoodies, and the ‘Alcohol Football’ emblem all over the ultras section.  I found it quite a friendly place to be honest, although Petrzalka fans posing for photos are obviously not welcome around here.  Banik Ostrava brought  a few fans along, obviously not happy with the Friday kick-off and there was a decent atmosphere for a very entertaining match.  3-2 to Liberec with a last minute winner.

Petrzalka? Out!

Two Slovans in two nights?  Tick!  EFW were happy, and the trip home, along with plenty of beers, souvenirs and a good-old sing-song was a lot of fun.  The rest of the night in Prague was somewhat hazy, it must be said.

We’d only got the one night in town, so there was no choice but to make the effort for a 09:30 rise for the Saturday morning fixture.  It was hard work, but we got out to Praha 9 in a taxi.  Only to find most of the Oktoberfest contingent had made it by public transport.  Hats. Off.

Saturday morning was what I had been looking forward to most.  Sparta Praha B v Zbrojovka Brno.  Brno fans regularly show up to support Slovan Bratislava, so it was the least I could do to return the favour.  Only the Brno fans were boycotting.  A ridiculously over-the-top police presence was ready for them, but soon rolled away.  Maybe it wasn’t so over-the-top after what happened at Znojmo a couple of weeks ago.

Sparta B v Brno

This was a great match, one I wrote up for the EFW site:

http://europeanfootballweekends.blogspot.com/2011/10/sparta-praha-b-v-zbrojovka-brno.html

From one remote suburb to another; on the other side of town.  Via bus, metro, bus, an Armenian restaurant for some borsch and a bloody long walk we arrived.  At a field.  Somewhere in Prague, for the 15:00 kick-off.  No-one really knew who was playing, we understand it was Division 9, some people weren’t impressed and left.  But it was fun.  A kick-around while the players took their half-time break probably made it, that, the 18-stone centre forward and the ref with sunglasses.  Those who went to town instead probably made a good call, but this was the end of the fun for me.  As for the Oktoberfest, that was still rolling onto Zizkov, Dukla and Admira, not to mention Plzen.  Hardcore dedication which certainly brings it’s rewards!

I made it back for the 18:13 to Bratislava where we enjoyed a beer from a “Verim Plzen” can.  Hard to believe they’ll be playing Barcelona in Prague next week.  After plotting our own Eastern Slovakian Football Weekend and some discussion of internet trolls, we were through Brno, and soon back in Bratislava.  Where we managed not to fall down some dark crumbling steps coming out of the station.

There are many things about the Oktoberfest that appeal to me, and that sums up what makes it so special.  EFW successfully bring together people of all backgrounds who share a basic common ground of travel, football and beer, but it gets so much more specific than that.  Some are genuine groundhoppers, some are writers, bloggers, photographers, others just love their football.  Barnet, Sheffield United, Legia Warsaw, Tranmere Rovers, Royal Antwerp, FC Petrzalka, it doesn’t matter, everyone comes together and has a damn good time.

..it may only be a field, but you can still get a beer!

Many thanks to Danny, Stoffers and Stu for their organisation.  I think I can speak for the whole Bratislava contingent when I say we really enjoyed our taste of the Oktoberfest.

An unexpected end to my footballing weekend, as part of the family Sunday in Okoc, an hour East of Bratislava, the men asked me if I wanted to go to the football.  Oh, go on then, if you insist.  ”It’s only 5th Division, they warned”, after the previous day, it couldn’t be any worse, but that’s the beauty of it!  Okoc / Sokolec (Ekezs) are bottom of Division 5 West South in Slovakia.  Bottom of the bottom of the pyramid.  Which is why they didn’t get relegated after finishing bottom last season.  They lost 0-2 to second bottom Vlcany and are now, already 5 points adrift.  Vlcany’s second goal, it must be said, was an absolute screamer from 25 yards into the top corner.

Slovak Div 5 to finish off the weekend? Go on then!

I really enjoy village football in Slovakia.  Everyone knows everyone, the bar is always open and you can tell it’s the highlight of the week.  Around 200 people there, I’d say, which compared to some recent Corgon Liga attendances, isn’t half bad.  If any EFW groundhoppers ever make it here, I’ll be very impressed indeed!

5 responses so far

Aug 27 2011

Plzeň & Trnava’s European Exploits

There are almost too many stories at the moment, aren’t there? Slovan beating Roma, the Europa League draw, Vladimir Weiss Senior’s selection for the Ireland and Armenia games….

During flatter periods, it’s a fair bet that this blog would already have had its ha’penny worth about Viktoria Plzeň’s qualification for the Champions League group stages and Spartak Trnava’s tragic-comic elimination from the Europa League. As it is, let’s belatedly say something about these matters now.

Starting with Plzeň, I’m well aware that sections of the Slovak media have been trying to claim a joint share for Slovakia in the West Bohemian side’s achievement and I hope I don’t appear to be doing the same thing here. Pavel Vrba, the Plzeň coach, mastermind of their success and all-round genius and good guy, is Czech (well, Moravian actually). His first significant honours as a head coach were indeed with MŠK Žilina in 2006/2007, but it was Vrba who took Žilina forward rather than the other way round. Since Vrba, all Žilina coaches have been, and will be, judged against his footballing standards. When you consider that Pavel Hapal never got close to winning the fans’ admiration in the way Vrba did, despite qualifying for the Champions League himself, you see how difficult they have it.

As for Plzeň’s Slovak players, Marián Čišovský has done a good job for them at centre-back. Rather like Slovan’s increasingly impressive Marián Had, ‘Čišo’ was previously known as a marauding full-back – I once saw him score a hat-trick from his right-back position as Žilina won 7-3 in an end of season frolic with Inter Bratislava in 2004-2005 – but appears to have successfully adapted his game under Vrba.

The real reason the Slovak contribution to the Plzeň effort is being trumpeted in these parts, however, is that the goal-scorers in the 2nd leg victory over Odense were Marek Bakoš and Michal Ďuriš. In his Púchov days, Bakoš always seemed to reserve his best performances for games against Žilina. He was strong, quick, held the ball up well and took a mean free-kick. With Pavel Horváth in the team, Plzeň have little need of the last attribute but, as he showed on Tuesday night, Bakoš still finds ways to score  goals just when his team needs them.

Ďuriš, meanwhile, used to be one of a host of promising young forwards at Banská Bystrica. Two of the others, Dušan Uškovič and Róbert Pich are still to fulfil their very obvious talent (the latter is currently providing the Žilina public with excitement and frustration in roughly equal measure) but, under Vrba’s guidance, Ďuriš is well on the way to fulfilling his. As in the cases of Čišovský, Bakoš and Slovan’s Had, you can bet that Weiss Senior has noticed.

So what of Trnava and their Europa League campaign? I would actually argue that their efforts in the early stages of European qualifying were more creditable than Slovan’s. They started, under the cloud of a long-running fan boycott, remember, at the end of June and overcame increasingly difficult opposition in increasingly impressive style before coming up against Lokomotiv Moscow.

Trnava’s performance in the first-leg in Russia, which they lost 2-0, does sound somewhat anaemic and over-cautious but they clearly gave the home leg a real go and, at 1-0 up with 15 minutes to go, appeared to have a real chance of at least earning extra-time. Then goalkeeper Pavol Raška conceded a penalty, converted by the visitors, and was sent off. Though the outcome of the tie was effectively decided at that point, all sorts of shenanigans occurred in the closing moments. Two more Trnava players were shown red cards, along with a Russian, who, apparently unnoticed by the Italian referee, did not depart for the dressing-rooms but stayed on the field to play out the match.

Impressive European support for Trnava

Miroslav Karhan has apparently taken it upon himself to write to UEFA detailing Trnava’s complaints about the refereeing while Pavel Hoftych (a Czech coach whose work, like Vrba’s, could well be worth watching) has given a reflective interview to today’s Šport in which he emphasises that, despite the disappointment of missing out on the group stages, his team’s European experiences have been of great benefit.

My sympathies to Trnava, then, but credit too for an honourable effort. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do even better in Europe next season. Many congratulations to Plzeň and, as this season‘s true fliers of the Slovak flag, congratulations to Slovan too.

James Baxter

 

8 responses so far

Feb 02 2011

Brno v Ruza

Published by under Czech Republic,Guest

Cross-border friendlies are common between Czech & Slovak teams as preparations for the 2nd half of the season continue. Yesterday afternoon, Brno based Ralph Davies went to see a match between two teams looking for a drastic improvement in domestic form once the real business starts again:

Brno V Ruzomberok

The winter break is far too long in the Czech Republic for those of us who need a regular fix of live football. The chance of seeing a new look Zbrojovka Brno face a MFK Ruzomberok side sitting 9th in Corgon Liga was too good an opportunity to miss and after hastily rearranging my afternoon appointments, I was on my way to the Brno training centre just outside the city.

Police Station? No, it's a training ground.

It has been an interesting couple of months at the Metske Stadion. In December, the Zbrojovka owner, Roman Pros, introduced a lie detector to the club. New signings will take the test to see if „the athletic performance has not been negatively influenced from the outside“. Pros insists that this is normal practice at any place of employment,however I don’t know of anybody who has had a polygraph test.

Soon after this was announced, Brno released many of their senior players. Coupek,Polach and Trousil have since joined Dubnica and Martin Lejsal has left for FK Rostov in the Russian League, while Karel Vecera has invited players from all over Europe and beyond to try their luck and to improve the fortunes of the Moravian side.

In fact the first conversation I overheard in the clubhouse was an Italian agent discussing the terms of a contract for Marco Migliorini, a young Italian defender who had obviously impressed the management to be offered a deal. I would have got the details if they hadn’t spotted me eavesdropping .

Ruzomberok are managed by Serb Goran Milojevic, one of the few footballers to play for both Red Star and Partizan Belgrade before spending the majority of his playing career in Spain. In 2006 with Jan Nezmar, Erik Jendresik ,Marek Sapara and Igor Zofcak in their side they did the league and cup double. Fast forward to 2011, under Milojevic and they are stuggling at the bottom end of the league.

Friendly matches in the Czech Republic are hardly crowd pullers (I counted a crowd of 18 men, 1 lady and a dog), those of us who braved the conditions were treated to a goal fest with Brno running out 4-1 winners .

Attendance: 19 + 1 dog

Both sides used the game as an opportunity to experiment with tactics and their line-ups and I wouldn’t read too much into the scoreline, as Ruzomberok played the neater football and the result somewhat flatters us.

Zbrojovka opened the scoring in the 5th minute. Marosi whipped in a free kick which was fumbled by Penksa in the Ruza goa,l leaving Martin Jilek with the simple task of poking the ball home. In 19th minute the Slovak team drew level, the skillful Hoferica weaved his way into the penalty area and scored from what looked like a impossible angle. Midway through the first half Brno regained the lead, Bulgarian trialist raced down the left wing, cleverly skipping past his marker and put in the perfect ball for Marek Strestik to lash home from just inside the penalty box. As the referee blew for half-time, the entire crowd made a rush for the warmth of the clubhouse. Both sides made several changes in the 2nd half and it wasn’t long before Brno increased the lead.

Memories of good times at Brno

Zilina transfer target, Kalabiska neatly chesting down and volleying home after a knock down from Simersky. Rabusic added a fourth from the penalty spot after former Nitra winger Robert Valenta was bundled to the ground.

And that is how it finished. Jaroslav Kostelny, Marko Radic, Tomas Dubek all impressed for Ruza, while Simersky , Rabusic and Valenta showed enough talent to suggest that Brno may actually get out of the mess they are currently in.

We like Zbrojovka Brno here on the site and will hopefully be hearing more about how they get on in the 2nd half of the season as well as welcoming Ralph to Slovakia for more football days out.

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Feb 01 2011

Tipsport League: Inspiration for joint competition?

Earlier in the month, we posted some coverage of the Tipsport League, a semi-friendly tournament which has been ongoing throughout the lengthy winter break in the Czech & Slovak Republics.

Opinion and interest amongst our readers and twitter followers was mixed, a fairly common consensus was for people to see the tournament as offering an interesting scouting window and at least some footballing action during the winter break.   The opportunity is there to see new players who may be on trial at certain clubs, or promising youngsters able to better show their skills on the artificial pitches rather than the often heavy, poor quality grass pitches at clubs’ main stadiums.  However at the majority of matches, crowds remain sparse and mainstream interest is perhaps diminished by the non-participation of some of the bigger clubs from both countries.

The tournament concluded this weekend, with domestically 6th placed Slovak side ViOn Zlate Moravce losing 3-1 in the final to Sigma Olomouc of the Czech Republic.

Sigma celebrate with the Tipsport Trophy

It was a surprise to see ViOn in the final, but indeed good that a Slovak team made it all the way.  MSK Zilina presumably had to field a very weakened team in their 1/4 final against ViOn with the majority of their senior squad otherwise engaged in another friendly club tournament being held in Dubai.

ViOn, who were only promoted to the Corgon Liga last season and are still very much in the mix for qualification for European football, will have been pleased with the experience and also receive a modest financial reward for their endeavours.  They are currently just one point behind Slovan in the league and have [what should be considered] a big Cup semi-final against MSK Zilina to look forward to.  With a modest, but attractive and modern ground, Zlate Moravce might be one of the Slovak teams on the up in the next few years.

ViOn: 2nd Place in the Tipsport

What is interesting about the Tipsport League is that is does regenerate debate on the idea of a combined competitive competition for football clubs in the Czech & Slovak Republics.  This has been proven by a fairly mainstream media article published on one of Slovakia’s biggest news sites sme.sk yesterday discussing this very topic and publicising the competition.   One point raised by the Sigma Olomouc coach Zdenek Psotka is very much in line with my own personal thoughts.  While a complete federal league is probably fairly ambitious at this stage [not to say I don't dream of it in the future], a slightly more competitive and comprehensive cup competition would surely be a good starting point and generate more interest than the cup competitions currently on offer in the two countries.

What form this will take and how it will be driven [by sponsors and clubs or by the respective federations] and what support it would get from UEFA, remains to be seen, but with positive reports coming from this season’s Tipsport League, maybe it could continue to evolve and grow.  Besides, the current format with the participation of seven Slovak clubs is still relatively new.  It was only 2004 when MSK Zilina became the first Slovak team to take part in this competition.

I guess the big challenge for the Tipsport League is to attract a few more of the bigger names of Czech & Slovak football, some of whom, such as Slovan Bratislava, Sparta & Slavia Prague appear to prefer their own private winter-break schedules.  Also, with the matches being played on artificial training pitches, usually with just one stand along the side, the scope for bigger crowds is also not really there at the moment.

It is more than feasible that I’m wrong on a few of my points above, maybe they don’t want all the big teams in the tournament and maybe they don’t intend on attracting bigger crowds.  Certainly some of the scenes from matches involving Spartak Trnava would vindicate that stance.

As regular readers will know, here on the blog, we like to generate debate and look at a few different ideas, especially where the merger of competitive Czech & Slovak football is concerned!  For that reason I would be interested to hear the official mission statement from the Tipsport organisers and perhaps a vision of how they see the tournament evolving.

Britski Belasi says; give us a cup competition involving all Czech & Slovak 1st and 2nd Division teams and a Europa League place at stake for the winner, and just see what happens!

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Jan 15 2011

A look at the Tipsport League

As reported already on this site, the Fortuna Weekend Championship, staged last Saturday in Prague, showcased skill and exuberance on the pitch, and noise and colour, if not much taste (the sight of all those topless Slovan fans was a bit off-putting), in the stands. Watching on TV, it looked like the ideal way to spend a grey, cold January day and I hope to be there next year, whether MŠK Žilina are participating or not.

Meanwhile, another friendly tournament, the Tipsport League, held at various venues across the Czech and Slovak Republics throughout January, is a rather downbeat affair which attracts (Trnava hooligans notwithstanding) only a few diehard fans. The disadvantage the poor old Tipsport League has is that it is played outdoors – mostly on artificial pitches – and Czechs and Slovaks with sense, which is most of them, tend not to be keen on the idea of shivering through outdoor sports events in January.

Still, besides serving the usual purposes of friendly matches, the Tipsport does share one feature with the Fortuna Championship and that is its cross-border format. This season, 23 teams are competing in it, 16 from the Czech Republic and 7 from Slovakia. The winners of the three five-team groups, all of which are based in the Czech Republic, will progress to the semi-final, while those finishing top of the two four-team, Slovakia-based groups will play off for the last semi-final place. The final will be held on the last Saturday in January. Two of the groups, those based in Bohemia, feature only Czech teams, while the other three are mixed.

Žilina are hosting a group at their training centre in Strážov. Liptovský Mikuláš and Trenčín, both from Slovakia’s I Liga (one level below the Corgoň Liga), and Třinec, from the Czech Republic’s second tier, are the other competing teams.

I suspect I’m not alone in associating the town of Třinec mainly with the huge steelworks that looms menacingly over its railway station on the line between Žilina and Ostrava but there is a decent sporting tradition there too. The ice-hockey club has spent most of its history at the highest level of domestic competition while the football club enjoyed a few seasons in the top division of the old federal league in the 1960s and 1970s. The footballers are having a decent season this time round too and are currently just four points shy of second place in their league. If their 2-0 win over Mikuláš in last week’s first round of Tipsport games and 5-1 thrashing of Košice in a midweek friendly are anything to go by, they seem to be gearing up for a serious crack at promotion to the Gambrinus Liga.

The above factors might have been enough by themselves to persuade me to pay a rare visit to Strážov but tomorrow’s Žilina v Třinec game is given added intrigue by the likely presence in the Třinec side of ex-MŠK player Peter Štyvar. Štyvar will always be remembered in these parts for his expertly-taken goal in Žilina’s 2008 UEFA Cup win at Villa Park (sorry to mention that again, Villa fans!) and now he’s hoping to resurrect a career that went into serious decline thereafter. A 750,000 Euro move to Bristol City didn’t work out, nor did a loan spell at Skoda Xanthi. Štyvar spent part of last season at Trnava but only made the occasional start before deciding to try his luck with Třinec. It will be interesting to see how he performs against his old mates tomorrow.

I’ve no idea what sort of side Žilina will start this game with. Last week, the players who didn’t travel to Prague for the Fortuna Championship, earned a 1-0 win over Trenčin, which, if nothing else, shows the squad’s strength in depth. Pavel Hapal has admitted, though, that the squad is likely to get smaller over the coming weeks. The four ‘new’ players (three are returnees) are already training with the club, while no’one has yet left, despite continuing speculation over the futures of quite a few, Oravec and Rilke included. With the likes of Pečalka, Piaček, Jež and Bello available today, Žilina could field a strong team.

All this will seem trivial once the real stuff starts again in late February but, for what it’s worth, I would be surprised if the winner of this match does not go on to finish top of the group. If it’s Třinec, they’ll definitely be worth keeping an eye on when the Czech leagues get going again.

James Baxter

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Jan 14 2011

Spartak Trnava fans riot in Luhacovice (Czech Rep)

Published by under Czech Republic

Our first mention of Czech side FC Tescoma Zlin this week came when former Brighton’s Slovak goalkeeper Peter Brezovan referred to a pre-season friendly he played there with his former English employers Swindon Town.  In what one assumes to be a slightly different ‘off-season’ atmosphere, Zlin took on Slovak side Spartak Trnava last week in a winter break ‘Tipsport-Liga’ match.

The official attendance at the match was 500, the vast majority of whom must have been fans associated with Trnava (or Ostrava).  Slovak fans travelled on masse to Luhacovice and what started out as the type of vociferous support Trnava fans are known for with banners and pyrotechnics descended into heavy riots with police.  Trnava fans are known to have a link with fans of the Czech side Banik Ostrava and banners showing their allegiances were on display at this match.

Unfortunately this incident has happened at a time when we’ve been using the winter break tournaments involving Czech and Slovak teams such as the Fortuna Vikend Sampionu and Tipsport Liga as fine examples of the friendly rivalry that exists between teams from the former Czechoslovakia.  This type of incident is not going to do much to help the cause of the potential merged league although it is not to say that his happened purely because Trnava were playing in the Czech Republic.  Besides, football grounds like this are hardly suitable for handling large crowds and it is nothing new that Trnava fans travel in larger numbers to support their team.

Trnava won the match 1-0 thanks to an 84th minute winner from striker Lubmoir Bernath.

Photos and video of the incident can be found here:

http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/255-photo-zlin-spartak-8012011.html

4 responses so far

Jan 09 2011

FORTUNA VÍKEND ŠAMPIONŮ 2011

Published by under Czech Republic

Yesterday a special event took place in the O2 Arena in Prague, one that I feel deserves all the publicity it can get.  With the Czech and Slovak Republics in the middle of a painfully long winter break (league football doesn’t start until the end of February), this indoor football tournament is perfectly timed and seems to be gaining popularity amongst players and fans alike.

Winter entertainment, oh yes!

The tournament takes place over one day with six teams split into two groups of three.  Three Prague-based teams, Sparta, Slavia and Bohemians were joined this year by Slovan Liberec and two big guns from Slovakia, MSK Zilina and Slovan Bratislava.

I’m not a futsal expert (yet) but basically it looks like 5-a-side with rolling subs and no throw-ins and it seems mighty popular in the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and presumably other countries in the region.  There are several aspects that stand out to me as making this tournament so special, and I’ll get to the off-the-field stuff shortly!  What really impresses me on the field is that plenty of the big name players get involved.  How fantastic to watch Zilina take on Slovan in 5-a-side match with Momodou Ceesay (who may have taken the opportunity to have a chat with representatives from Sparta?!), Robert Jez and new boy Róbert Pich (signed recently from Banska Bystrica) for example, up against Karim Guédé, Filip Šebo and Martin Dobrotka?

Around 9,500 fans took this great opportunity to see lots of exciting players in action and there was significant support for all three Prague teams as well as a large number of travelling fans from Bratislava.  Belasa Slachta were out in force and provided especially vociferous support for Slovan throughout the day.

Slovan fans

Unfortunately beer wasn’t allowed into the seating areas but this was probably a good thing with Slovan fans in especially close proximity to their Slavia rivals.  From the pictures though the atmosphere seemed very good natured and what a totally unique situation with at least four sets of rival fans in the same Arena (Zilina & Liberec apparently didn’t bring any support?!)  Obviously in the indoor arena with the roof closed, the noise is amplified and what a refreshing change this is from the open athletics-track stadiums so prominent throughout Slovakia!

5-a-side Prague derby? Superb.

Slovan came into the tournament as holders after defeating Slavia 5-1 in last year’s final and were exceptional in their two group games beating Zilina 5-2 and Bohemians 5-1.  Togoloese Slovakia-wannabe Karim Guédé proved himself a master of this version of the game with 5 goals and I must make special mention of one touch of genius I saw from Robert Pich of Zilina. He managed to bring a high ball back over his head with his chest, turned and volleyed into the net, more quality like that and he won’t be in the Corgon Liga for long!

So both Slovans topped their groups.  Bratislava finished clear top of Skupina A,  Liberec narrowly took top spot in Skupina B despite losing to Sparta thanks to goals-scored (they beat Slavia 8-5 !)  This meant Slovan faced Sparta in the semi-final and a highly entertaining game finished 4-4.  Slovan unfortunately lost 2-1 on penalties so just missed out on the final.  Zilina were hammered 6-2 by Liberec so the two Slovak teams met again in the 3rd place play-off.  Slovan proved the first match wasn’t a fluke and have full futsal bragging rights in Slovakia after running out 4-3 winners to finish the day in 3rd place.

Unfortunately Slovan couldn’t hold onto their title, but they were the only undefeated team on the day and showed a good team spirit and rapport with the fans.  Hopefully this is a sign of how they will start back in the Corgon Liga post-winter break.

Credit to Liberec, they eased past Sparta 6-3 in the final and were obviously delighted to lift this coveted trophy, pity they didn’t have any fans there to celebrate!

Liberec-Sampion!

Credit also to the organisers, the players (who scored 83 goals between them), fans and sponsors for contributing to a quality event.  Here’s hoping for more like this in the future and I’m already plotting the Britski Belasi tour to VÍKEND ŠAMPIONŮ 2012.

Full summary and statistics as well as more photos can be found here.

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Dec 30 2010

Czech & Slovak Football’s fight against Racism

When I first came to live in Olomouc in 1998, one of the first football matches I attended was Sigma (the local team) versus Viktoria Žižkov in the top division of the Czech league. The occasion was less notable for anything that happened on the field than for the concerted racial abuse, mostly in the form of monkey noises, aimed at Žižkov’s Zimbabwean player Kennedy Chihuri. It is difficult to define the emotions I felt on witnessing this. Disgust and embarrassment were certainly among them. So was shock. I thought I’d come to live in a university town, a place known for a metropolitan outlook and liberal values. While I hadn’t expected the football terraces to play host to symposiums on tolerance, it was definitely an unpleasant surprise to hear significant numbers of home fans – local people presumably – react so primitively to the presence of a black player in the opposing team.

At the time, Chihuri was the only black footballer in the Gambrinus Liga and I was soon to learn that he received appalling treatment wherever he played. Worse, he didn’t get much support from those in a position to offer it. I recall once watching Slavia Prague against Žižkov live on TV. As Chihuri went to take a corner in front of a section of Slavia fans, bananas were thrown from the stands in his direction. The commentator didn’t pretend not to notice this but his words  - ‚special greetings there from the Slavia fans to Chihuri‘ – and the tone in which he uttered them suggested not condemnation but mild amusement. The Czech football authorities, meanwhile, seemed all too happy to ignore such incidents, at least as long as they took place in domestic football and thus weren’t drawn to the attention of an international audience.

During that 1998/99 season, English language newspaper the Prague Post published an interview with Chihuri. I’d already seen him give the odd bit of post-match reaction on TV and knew that he was articulate and spoke decent Czech. In print, he came across as generous and intelligent. He didn’t lightly dismiss his experiences of racism but did insist that he was happy living in Prague and greatly valued the warm relationship he had with the Žižkov fans. He also expressed the hope that more foreign players, from Africa or elsewhere, would come to play in the Czech Republic. In time, of course, they did. Looking back now, I think of Chihuri as a Czech league version of Cyrille Regis or Viv Anderson ; someone who, in running an initial gauntlet of racial hostility, helped smooth the path for others. I haven’t been to a Czech game for years but do know that there are several black players at Gambrinus Liga clubs these days. And it’s probably safe to assume that football-related racism in the country, while still a problem, is not as overt or reflexive as it once was.

That, after all, seems to be true of Slovakia. A real watershed in this country was the Slovakia v England World Cup qualifying game in 2002 in Bratislava. On that occasion, Emile Heskey in particular was subjected to shocking abuse by Slovak fans. Leaving aside the hypocritical attitude towards those incidents in sections of the English media (racism towards Turks during an England v Turkey match at Sunderland in the same qualifying campaign was widely ignored), the Slovak football authorities, and perhaps even some fans too, were embarrassed by the amount of unfavourable publicity which resulted. Certainly, since I came to live in Žilina in 2003, while I’ve heard racist sentiments expressed at football matches, instances of the kind of sustained abuse aimed at Chihuri and Heskey have been rare (one such instance is detailed later). Official anti-racism campaigns, with slogans such as ‚Kick racism into touch‘ or ‚Show racism a red card‘, have been fairly common in Slovakia over the last few years. Though easy to dismiss as tokenism, they have probably helped, if only because, with constant repetition, a simple message generally gets through to the majority.

Nowadays of course, there are several black players in the Slovak league, many of whom considerably enhance the quality of the football played. Žilina’s Issiaka Bello and Trnava’s Koro Koné are good examples but perhaps most significant of all is Karim Guédé, currently of Slovan Bratislava. Born in Hamburg, but of Togolese origin, Guédé is favourite to become the Slovak national team’s first ever black footballer. He plays as a defensive midfielder and, with his skill and strength, looks to be the ideal candidate for that role in the national team when Miroslav Karhan decides to retire. Coach Vladimir Weiss, who managed Guédé at Artmedia Petržalka, has publically stated that he holds that view and hopes a citizenship application for the player can be speeded up.

Seeing Guédé play for Slovakia would be great but would not, by itself, convince me that the game in the country has overcome racism. In July of this year, at a match in Žilina between MŠK and Slovan, there was a rare, but no less depressing, reminder that the problem does still exist. Slovan fielded two black players ; Guédé and a youngster from the Ivory Coast named Mamadou Bagayoko. Bagayoko had an eventful game. Starting on the right of midfield, he gave his side an early lead. After 25 minutes, he was switched to left-back following the sending-off of Marián Had and was effective in neutralising Žilina’s right flank. Then, in the last minute, Bagayoko was involved in the incident which led, first to a red card for the home side’s Ivan Lietava, then to an unseemly scuffle between several players which carried on after the final whistle. Once the referee had calmed everything down and most of the players had begun to leave the field, the Ivorian, one of the last to depart, had monkey chants directed at him by a group of Žilina fans. I was as shocked to hear this as I’d been when it happened to Chihuri 12 years before. It doesn’t matter that Bagayoko would almost certainly have been ignored had it not been for the on-field controversy ; the chants were clearly racist in nature and came as a timely reminder that this is indeed an issue we must not yet allow ourselves think has gone away.

Still, some perspective is helpful. Racism in England is also taking time to overcome. The late 1970s, it is generally agreed, were the years when the problem was at its most serious and players like Regis and Anderson are credited with being among those who endured the worst of it.Yet I well recall going to watch Everton in the 1988/89 season, and hearing half of the fans in the home end chanting, with apparent pride, ‘Everton are white’. Turkey’s players and fans were abused at the World Cup qualifier in 2003 and there are still reports of racist incidents, some of them anti-Semitic in nature, in English football today. If English football can claim, despite all this, that it has made progress in fighting racism (and, all things being relative, I believe it can), then so can Czech and Slovak football. The Bagayoko incident shows it has not been uninterrupted progress. It would also be right to point out that extreme nationalism in the form of anti-Hungarian sentiment afflicts the game in Slovakia and is probably worth a separate article all of its own. For now, though, I like to think that, if England came to play in Slovakia again, their black players wouldn’t have to put up with what Heskey endured 8 years ago. Whether the English media, so often prone to both self-congratulation and condemnation of others, would be prepared to acknowledge that is another question.

James Baxter

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Oct 05 2010

Pavel Vrba: Zilina legend, Plzeň legend ??

Apologies in advance for the long introduction – this article deserves it.

The original intention of the Britski Belasi blog was to provide an outlet for myself to share a few stories from the football terraces in a lesser-known footballing region, but this has been massively surpassed already. We now find ourselves covering all aspects of Slovak football; from the National team to the League, the Cup, Ultra fans groups, Division 1, Slovak players abroad and much more – we’ve even been known to discuss tactics!   Quite frankly, it’s a fascinating journey.

I’ve been massively lucky to establish contact with James Baxter, a writer of top quality who, unlike myself, is based permanently in Slovakia.  James writes original stories which expertly combine journalistic neutrality with the passion of a true Slovak football fan.  This gives a unique angle to the articles and I am very proud to post the following piece on this website.

While we concentrate primarily on Slovakia, we keep more than half an eye on our neighbours, the Czech Republic. Honestly – we’re dreaming about a merger of the leagues.  Anyone who’s glanced at the Czech League this season couldn’t help but notice a new name at the top – Viktoria Plzeň – 9 points clear after 11 games – are playing a wonderful brand of attacking football which is bringing back the fondest of memories to MSK Zilina fans, like James.

Now it’s high time I handed over to James to tell us about Pavel Vrba, the man at the helm in Plzeň, clearly a coach worth knowing about:

Viktoria Plzeň are not a club I would normally pay much attention to. I lived in the Czech Republic for five years – between 1998 and 2003 – but in North Moravia, and Sigma Olomouc were my local team. Plzeň, coming from West Bohemia, were physically remote. They were also fairly non-descript ; my only real memories of them are that they kept yo-yoing between the top two divisions of the Czech League, playing fairly colourless football in the process. They were to me what Birmingham City probably are to a Newcastle fan.

Plzeň coach Pavel Vrba

But it’s getting harder not to notice Plzeň now, when they are a remarkable nine points clear at the top of the Gambrinus Liga. I take a certain distant pleasure in this run of success as the mastermind of it, coach Pavel Vrba, is perhaps the best-loved of the men to have had charge of MŠK Žilina, my current local club, during my time in Slovakia. Vrba not only won great affection during his 28 months or so at Žilina but also led the side through 2006/2007, the most enjoyable of their recent Slovak league championship campaigns.

Vrba arrived at Žilina in June 2006. His credentials did not look great ; he had been sacked by Puchov, Žilina’s near neighbours and a relatively small club, the year before. Žilina, meanwhile, had had a disappointing 2005/2006, idiosyncratic Croatian coach Marian Vlak losing his job as the season meandered to its end.

With Žilina having failed to qualify for European competition, Vrba’s arrival was not accompanied by the signing of any new players. However, he did have talent to work with. Dušan Kuciak, Peter Pekarík, Tomáš Hubočan, Zdeno Strba and Stanislav Sešták, all now Slovakia internationals, were at the club. So were current captain Robert Jež and enigmatic Slovenian playmaker Dare Vršič. After an opening day defeat at Banská Bystrica, the side began to click. They lost only two more games all season, dropped just two points at home (against Nitra) and scored, on average, three goals per game.

It wasn’t just the results, it was the style of play. Full of players who were comfortable on the ball and loved going forward, Žilina were simply irresistible. Other sides tried various tactics against them ; several packed the defence, one fielded three left-sided defensive players in the belief that Pekarík and Sešták on Zilina’s right were the principle threat, one or two others decided they’d probably lose anyway so might as well try to attack. Hardly any caused real inconvenience. Only Artmedia Petržalka were remotely in the title-race by  Spring 2007 but when they visited Žilina in April, hoping for a win that would maintain at least the appearance that they were serious contenders, they were blown away 6-1. ‘We were made to look like puppets,’ one of the Artmedia players said afterwards. A couple of weeks later, needing three points to mathematically secure the title, Žilina were 5-0 up against Banská Bystrica by half-time.

Things could never be quite so good again. Žilina’s Champions League campaign the following season ended in an unfortunate qualifying defeat to Slavia Prague, on penalties after a goal-less 210 minutes. Their hopes of domestic honours to mark their centenary year were terminated in both league and cup by an Artmedia side now managed by Vladimir Weiss. Vrba’s preferred style of football was certainly more aesthetically pleasing than Weiss’s but proved less effective, perhaps even a little naive, in the crucial games. The season ended on an especially sour note as Andrej Porazík and Pavel Devátý, both of whom had played vital roles in 2006-2007, together with Mario Breška (signed to replace the Bochum-bound Sešták), had their contracts cancelled by the club.

Finishing second meant Vrba still had a UEFA Cup campaign to tackle in 2008/2009. His side came through the first two qualifying rounds safely enough but then a 1-1 home draw with Levski Sofia, together with a couple of poor league results, saw the Žilina board run out of patience. Just days ahead of the return leg in Sofia, to the dismay of the supporters, Vrba was sacked. His successor Dušan Radolský oversaw a surprise win in Bulgaria, followed by a fine group stage effort that included a famous victory away to Aston Villa. When Radolský moved on, Pavel Hapal came in and led Žilina to the 2009/2010 championship, then to qualification for the Champions League group stage this season.

Yet neither Radolský or Hapal have been as popular at Žilina as Vrba was. After the 2008 win in Sofia, Žilina fans were not hailing new coach Radolský, they were unveiling banners reading ‘Thank You Pavel’. Even as last seasons Slovak league campaign was drawing to its victorious conclusion, there were as many chants of Vrba’s name at home games as there were of Hapal’s.

Several factors account for the esteem in which Vrba is still held in Žilina. For a start, he seems to be a genuinely nice man, always coming across well in interviews. He is also one of the few Czech coaches in Slovakia to have come up with a decent answer to the familiar question of whether he would ever be prepared to speak Slovak : ‘No,’ he said, ‘the language deserves better than an assault from the likes of me.’ The football itself, of course, is crucial. Fans of many clubs are able to name a favourite season and some are so lucky that they can cite one where what their side produced on the field came close to perfection. For many Žilina followers, 2006/2007 really was that good. Clearly, Vrba, rather like Arsene Wenger minus the histrionic victim complex, had a vision of how he wanted the game played and the players revelled in their attempts to enact it. It might even be the case that relative failure in 2007/2008 and early 2008/2009 made him seem all the more human and his achievement in 2006/2007, therefore, that bit more special.

Whatever the answer, Žilina fans will be delighted to see Plzeň doing so well now. They will also hope that Pavel Vrba is as appreciated over in West Bohemia as he was during his time at MŠK.


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