Spartak Trnava v Senica
Štadión Antona Malatinského / Fortuna Liga / 9th April 2016
So…I may have gone and accepted a job teaching in Slovakia. No joke. In the city of Trnava to be more precise. I appreciate a Welshman moving to Slovakia to teach is not exactly the most orthodox of arrangements and so I have found myself being asked by people countlessly, ‘Why Slovakia?’ Good question. My response? Shrugging my shoulders and declaring ‘why not Slovakia?’ Of course I’ve soul-searched for a more clear answer to the question myself and every time just found myself putting my decision down to the almightiest of gut feelings. I’ve wanted to have a go at working abroad for a while and there have been other offers, but this one just sort of felt ‘right’. So, fairplay to the school who are going to employ me, as they invited me to visit Trnava for the week during my holidays to make sure for myself that I wasn’t just basing a life-altering decision solely on the flimsy and fanciful notion of a gut feeling. Not that my gut feeling was to let me down it turned out. Not one bit.
As my brother has shown with his pedagogical globetrotting across Asia and Northern Spain, a new country does not mean an entirely new life, so do not fear – my Lost Boyos adventures will continue. In fact, I think with the strange world of Central European football about to open up to me, my future adventures are about to be bolstered by a whole new lease of life. I’d be lying if I said that Slovakia’s central location in Europe wasn’t a determining factor in answering the ‘why Slovakia?’ question. No doubt that the idea of having places like Vienna, Prague, Budapest, to name just a few, all within a couple of hours of my future adopted hometown of Trnava had me salivating slightly when thinking of future football travels. But, if I was going to start my football somewhere, I thought I may as well start local. And, as of August, local for me means Spartak Trnava.
Spartak are considered the best supported club in Slovakia with the most vociferous fans. Despite this, the club are yet to win the current Fortuna Liga – the Slovakian top-tier reformatted in 1993 following the dissolution of the old Czechoslovakia. Undoubtedly, they have the shiniest, most glittering stadium in the country too (at least from my early research): Štadión Antona Malatinského. The stadium has technically been there since 1921, 2 years before Spartak’s 1923 formation, although the ground has undergone highly extensive reconstruction over the past few years and virtually opened as a new stadium in August 2015 with a game against Brazilian club, Atletico Paranaese.
I arrived into Trnava on Wednesday night after being picked up by future colleague Andrej at Bratislava Airport (about a 30 minute drive from Trnava). As we entered Trnava, Andrej declared, “There’s the football ground.” I couldn’t see it anywhere. I then realised we were driving right alongside it. Fair to say, it doesn’t look like a football stadium – probably because the majority of the structure isn’t a football stadium. The funding for the new stadium came from the huge shopping mall which consumes most of the complex known as ‘City Arena’ and so you’re more likely to see signs for H&M, New Yorker and local supermarket Billa on matchday rather than the badge of Spartak Trnava. As one student I met at my new school eloquently (and rather misogynistically) put it to me the next day, “They built the stadium for the men and the shopping mall to keep the women quiet while the men watch the football.”
Spartak Trnava v Senica, the game I would be attending, wasn’t until Saturday evening, but by Friday evening and after 2 days in Trnava I was sort of a bit in love with the place and especially the locals. The effort that was made by so many people and strangers to make me feel welcome was immense and the Slovaks have an awesome sense of humour too. I knew fun awaited me moments after arriving in Trnava as my non-English speaking hotel owner, Tomas, insisted I had two shots of his homemade spirit before I completed my check-in (not that I was checking into a hotel room, as the hotel had forgotten to reserve my room for that night and instead I was made to sleep in the living room of the hotel owners’ living room). I was to learn that there are a lot of Slovak traditions and virtually all of them seem to circulate around doing shots of random spirits.
By the time matchday had come around on the Saturday, I had already dubbed a local bar with the title of ‘my favourite bar in Trnava’ and it was here I arrived at 2pm with 3 hours to go until kick-off. Čajka is an incredible bar (it translates as ‘seagull’ apparently). Small, fun, cheap and with phenomenal pizzas – the staff are all good fun too and they commended me for my fashion choices on the day: a morning club shop visit had seen me purchase a red and black Spartak scarf and a Spartak t-shirt. More controversially for me, I’d ditched my usual flat cap headgear for the day to wear my more Spartak-orientated red/black snapback (meaning my usual #NoFlatCapNoParty mantra was out the window for the day and switched to #NoSnapbackNoParty).
Trnava is a very beautiful, but very, very small city, meaning that after making a 5-10 minute walk through the quiet town centre, I found myself back in front of the bars attached to the football stadium. The city is so diminutive that you can get anywhere in the centre by walking 5 minutes or so.
Thursday night had seen me spend an hour in Cafe a Music watching a Slovakian blues band, so I tried my luck in there again on this Saturday afternoon; no such musical delights today though and so after one pint of Pilsner, I headed next door to another bar: Bokovka.
I had made acquaintances with Bokovka on Thursday night whilst watching the Dortmund v Liverpool game on TV and it is the biggest and best bar linked to the City Arena complex. I’d clearly made an impression Thursday night too as some of the bar staff greeted me warmly and, without me asking, began pouring me a pint of Cvikl – a beer I struggled to pronounce all week. My love for Bokovka escalated further when it dawned on me that they were showing the Swansea v Chelsea game on the several TV screens around the bar. Absolute scenes for me.
The school had kindly arranged me some company for the day too as two of the staff at the school, Romana and Ivet, agreed to come to the game too and meet up with me at Bokovka. I’m fairly sure I scared the girls on meeting up with me though, as they found me shouting and gesticulating at the Swans on TV. And soon I had brought myself to the attention of the whole bar by going a bit crazy when my beloved Gylfi Sigurdsson scored for the Swans (a goal that would prove the eventual winner). I must have looked a bit odd to the rest of the bar with me cheering Swansea whilst in the colours of Spartak; plus, I’m sure Trnava has not seen a Swansea fan since Wales played here (and won here 5-2) back in 2007.
Anyway, away from the football being played back on the South Wales coast, our game here in Trnava was approaching kick-off time, so we exited the bar and turned left and through the electronic turnstiles into the stadium. I’d asked for tickets in the stand with ‘atmosphere’ (tickets that I ordered in German actually, as the ticket staff spoke no English – just Slovak and German).
It had been drilled into me repeatedly all week that Spartak have some crazy Ultras with one lad telling me the night before that a Brit going into the same stand as the Ultras may not be a safe idea – but curiousity got the better of me and I ignored the warning. I’ve seen YouTube videos showing that Spartak fans can be a wild bunch, but today they were very subdued to say the least. I speculated whether this is a club and fanbase still finding its voice in its new home – a situation I’ve seen at many clubs who’ve moved to new grounds in the UK.
Without a doubt, Spartak’s stadium is impressive – if you are into the whole new-build thing. However, the stadium does a feel a bit similar to new grounds that we have in the UK. 3 sides of the ground are two-tiered with one side being a single-tiered smaller stand with the words ‘CITY ARENA Štadión Antona Malatinského’ adorned above it. The part I loved most about the ground is the open concourse in the middle of the two tiers which looked out pitchside – meaning fans can stand at the bars and still watch the game easily; not that I chose to do this. A pint of Corgin was ordered at the scandalously cheap price of €1.50 (like virtually all beers in Trnava it seemed) and we headed down to the lower tier behind the fencing between pitch and stand.
The teams walked on – Spartak in white and red and Senica in red and blue – whilst the fans around us raised their scarves into the air as the club anthem, Il Silenzio, played over the sound system. This was then followed by a group of the Ultras raising a banner across 3 rows of the lower tier, but I wasn’t to learn what it actually said.
For weeks now my blogs have moaned about the quality of football I’ve seeing live recently and I hoped that this may change out in Slovakia. Well, it didn’t. To be honest, the first half was about as boring a half of football I’ve seen in months actually. Yes, my first impressions of the Fortuna Liga were not exactly glowing, as there was little quality on show in this clash between the clubs in 7th and 8th place in the league (out of 12 teams).
However, there were two shining lights on the pitch today in the forms of Spartak captain Martin Mikovič and the no.12 Róbert Jež. Mikovič is clearly a talented and hardworking winger, but it was his team mate Jež who truly stole the show for me. He was superb. A sort of Spartak version of Leon Britton with his ball winning skills and his metronomic passing. Wikipedia seems to paint him as a 34-year-old veteran of Slovakian football with him playing for quite a few top flight clubs and gathering 9 caps along the way.
The game was as disappointing as the much-hyped atmosphere, so I figured more beer was needed and some food. The locals were munching away on seeds, which Romana explained to me were pumpkin seeds. I wanted to eat like the locals, but couldn’t find any such pumpkin seed sellers in the ground and instead they all seemed to lurk outside. Food was a struggle in general (I wasn’t silly enough to expect to find pies in Slovakia) and instead I was left with purchasing some more beer and a big bag of salted crisps.
It really was mindblowingly boring, but suddenly in the 39th minute a Spartak corner was scrambled across the box for Mikovič to tap into the far corner from close range for Spartak to make it 1-0. Everyone in the stadium seemed to have awoken from a slumber to cheer the goal as the cheers for the goal felt almost delayed.
Half-time: Spartak Trnava 1 – 0 Senica.
The stadium looked very empty this afternoon and so stewarding was virtually non-existent, meaning that spectators could wander the lower or upper tier as they wished. For the second half I wandered upstairs to get some photos from a higher vantage point; plus, the view was much better from up here without that silly fence in the way.
Within minutes of the second half starting, Spartak Trnava added a second and it was Mikovič again. A superb through ball into the box saw the winger run in unmarked, before sending the keeper the wrong way with a clever finish. 2-0.
The second half was a bit more entertaining, but at the same time not much of a contest as Trnava dominated proceedings – especially my new favourite, Jež.
Senica did have one clear chance where a ball was played across the box from the left, leaving their forward to take on the goalie one-on-one only for him to fire wide somehow.
There were a couple of half chances for Trnava, but the game slowly died out and the home team gathered up the 3 points.
Full-time: Spartak Trnava 2 – 0 Senica.
I’d noticed the players had celebrated both goals in the same corner, even running the length of the pitch to celebrate there in the first half. It was this very same corner they headed at the end of the game to speak to a load of the fans, so I headed over to take some photos. It had turned rather chilly during the second half and the girls wanted to head back to the warmth of the bar, so they said they’d meet me there.
Of course, I forgot this was Slovakia and ‘the warmth of the bar’ translates there as ‘ buy some shots’ – particularly national favourite borovicka (that stuff was popping up everywhere). Romana and Ivet had a shot ready for me, but I’d also been taught here that one shot is not traditional and must be followed up with the traditional second shot. I purchased the next ones.
I’d landed in Slovakia on Wednesday night, spent two days working in school and two nights out, meaning I had had very little sleep. I’m usually relentless and can carry on going, yet this evening I was completely drained of energy and headed back to the hotel for some sleep. However, I was awake again by 21:30: back to Čajka I went.
As I mentioned earlier, Trnava is small, so undoubtedly I stood out a bit with it not exactly being a hotbed of tourists coming over from Britain. Inevitably, anytime my accent/English language was heard, questions were immediately asked about what I was doing in Trnava – in a friendly manner of course. Such a turn of events occurred in Čajka as a uni lecturer from Trnava University heard me speaking and invited me to talk to her and the 4 students she was out with. As with all locals it seemed, this gang were very welcoming and I was asked to sit and join them and just like everywhere else I had gone I was asked: “Why Slovakia?” At least I had some ideas behind my answer now. Then the lecturer lady left and the four students invited me out partying. Why not.
We zigzagged through the quiet streets with the four girls promising me they weren’t taking me anywhere to ‘rape’ me – which was reassuring – but it seemed the planned bar for the party had called it a night. However, some other young folk who were heading to the same bar said they knew another party. Onwards we went through the streets with it now well past midnight.
We eventually ended up in this strange one floor building by a youth hostel called ‘Relax’, where they were hosting a ‘retro music party’ tonight (which cost an eyewatering €3 to enter). The first part of the night involved an array of 90s dance songs (think the likes of Rhythm is a Dancer and The Key, The Secret) which I obviously loved, but then for an hour I was treated to retro Slovakian pop – which was surprisingly good fun. What I don’t remember though was the local photographer clearly recognising a big groundhopping celebrity like myself and snapping photos of me looking like an absolute player (they weren’t really my type to be honest…)
I woke up the next morning and realised that I had had a belter of a first footballing adventure in Slovakia. The football had not been too thrilling, but no doubt that with Trnava being my future hometown club, I’ll be back to the Štadión Antona Malatinského a few times in the future. I was now eagerly anticipating my new European football conquests that were to come in the future. What I hadn’t banked on was me receiving a text that morning which would see my next Slovakian football adventure come just hours later…
Highlights: Trnava is beautiful, Čajka, friendly locals, Bokorka, new stadium has good facilities, cheap tickets, cheap beer, Róbert Jež, late night partying in Slovakian nightclub.
Low Points: new stadium feels a bit generic (good if you like shopping), atmosphere was a let down, poor game.
See all my photos from my time in Trnava and at Spartak Trnava here.