ŠK Svätý Jur v Spartak Trnava II
Štadión ŠK Svätý Jur / 2. Liga – West / 28th August 2016
On Sunday 4th September the England national football team will roll into my adopted hometown of Trnava to take on Slovakia. It’ll be Sam Allardyce’s first game as England manager and his first opportunity for him to showcase what he has to offer as the new boss. I obviously have myself a ticket for the game with the ground a leisurely 5-10 minute walk from my flat. But, let’s remember, I’m Welsh (in case I’ve not mentioned it) – so despite having spent the last 6 years of my life living in the north-west of England, there’s absolutely no anglophilic sentiments coming from me and I have a ticket in the home end with the Slovaks. It’s not that I’m ‘anti-English’, it’s just that…well the Welsh have this sort of inbuilt system which denies the majority of us backing the English in any form of competitive arena. I promise it’s not personal and, undoubtedly, it’s a slight bit of a ‘small nation syndrome’ – but I can deal with that. We’re a remarkably proud and passionate small nation after all. However, exactly one week before the Three Lions and the preposterous media bandwagon that comes with them ploughs through the quiet town of Trnava, I was to at least pay a tribute of sorts to the nation that has looked after for the past 6 years. I was spending my Sunday at Svätý Jur.
‘Okay Matt, what the hell does that weird sounding Slovak place have to do with England?’ Well, as every Slovak has insisted on telling me with a snigger on their face when I’ve told them that I’m heading there, Svätý Jur translates as ‘St. George’. The coat of arms for the town – plus the football club’s badge – even features St. George slaying a dragon. The town is very a small one (population of about 5,000) and located almost halfway between Trnava and Bratislava. I’ve tried to find out any reason as to why the town is named after St. George, but to no avail (answers on a postcard), although I have learned that the town was forced to change its name under the communist regime to Jur pri Bratislave to eradicate any religious connotations from the town name.
I had spent the Friday and Saturday team-building with my new school in the centre of Slovakia, which meant that Saturday football was ruled out. This meant instead of watching the big derby between Spartak Trnava and Slovan Bratislava, I found myself rafting down the River Rhon for 3 hours. Not that I’m complaining, as the derby ended 0-0 and it turned out that I absolutely loved rafting on my rafting debut! And there was no need to worry about a football-less weekend either, as the Slovak league fixtures run over into Sunday. There were plenty of options available to me, but I didn’t fancy a long trip. So, after a spot of googling and having seen images of how charming a town Svätý Jur looked, I opted to head there with visits to castle ruins, a church, bars and Štadión ŠK Svätý Jur to watch ŠK Svätý Jur take on Spartak Trnava II in the 2nd division of Slovak football all on the agenda.
During those two days of team-building, I was finding myself getting frustrated by the amount of times I was being called ‘English’ by my new colleagues. Immediately I’d snap “I’m Welsh, not English.” My colleagues eventually got the point, but then found it highly amusing that I was going to a town named after England’s patron saint a day later. But there I was, arriving into Svätý Jur in 30 degrees heat at just before 1pm, underneath the scorching hot sun.
The bus journey to central Slovakia two days previous had certainly helped me understand the geography and landscape of the country a lot better and how most of the towns are laid out in a similar fashion to one another. So I was not surprised to find myself in a rather ‘shady ‘looking area with graffiti covering every wall and a series of apartment blocks around me as I arrived at the edge of the town. Virtually every town I’ve seen in Slovakia has these apartment blocks encircling the town – a feature going back to the country’s days under communism.
Svätý Jur is a town on a small hill, so I began the ascent up the slight gradient until I arrived at the quite charming main street, Prostredná. It was early Sunday afternoon and the place was an absolute ghost town; I felt like I had the town to myself. I went to have a quick look at the town’s church – the main feature of the town – before then deciding I needed a beer to cool me down. I found two wine tasting establishments, before I found a bar on the main street, where I was the only customer. Not for long though. I sat out on the street looking out for fellow groundhopper Thanos. Thanos, a Greek lad living in Bratislava, found out I was moving to Slovakia from my posts on the European Football Weekend Facebook page. He immediately messaged me saying that we should meet up as he didn’t know any other groundhoppers residing in Slovakia. We did briefly meet up when I was in Bratislava just over a week ago, but today was our first groundhop together. My Greek friend was soon joining me for a beer and we were soon discussing all things football related. I’m not sure I’ve met someone from outside the UK with such an incredible knowledge of our nation’s lower leagues. Sadly, aside from his Greek team in his hometown of Trikala, he’s a Leeds fan though. Nevermind.
Before taking in today’s football, we decided to indulge in a quick spot of culture. I had read that up in the woods just above the town, some castle ruins could be found. So off we went, up even steeper streets until a small alley led us into the woods (it was nice to get in some shade). It took a matter of minutes to find the ruins, but to access them we were required to climb a rather steep and slippery pathway, which we eventually manipulated our way up.
The castle, named Hrad Biely Kameň (White Stone Castle), and which apparently predates the 13th century, is now just a few remaining walls, after the fort was raided by Ottomans in the 1600s. It’s sort of just been left there to decay over time. Thanos had told me that a big thing in Slovakia is to travel to a castle and set up a camp to eat at; there was one such large group doing that here. Not quite the same, but I did eat my ham and cheese baguette bought earlier in the day at the site to at least follow this tradition slightly.
Getting back down the slippery slopes was a pain in the arse, but soon we were back in the town centre getting some ‘zmrzlina’; ‘zmrzlina is ice cream by the way – I just prefer the Slovak word for it because of the audacious amount of consonants to start the word. It is still probably my favourite Slovak word so far. They do bloody lovely zmrzlina here too.
There was just over an hour to go until kick-off at ŠK Svätý Jur, so we squeezed in one more bar visit. The bar we chose was a proper local place where we immediately stood out like sore thumbs. The locals were enjoying watching some sort of Slovak sporting bloopers show, whilst we were terrified for our lives thanks to an old lady. Some crazy-eyed old lady came and stood right next to our table and stared at us both for a good two minutes without blinking – we tried to act normal but it was impossible; she was frightening. She eventually mumbled something quietly in Slovak to which the guy next to us told us she had said, ‘Coffee?’ He was sniggering, so I’m guessing the crazy old lady is a regular AND tolerated feature of the establishment. We turned her offer down, but it still took here a good minute to take her piercing gaze off us. It was definitely a cue for us not to hang around here.
It took minutes until we were back near the train station I had arrived at earlier that day. It was just around the corner from here we’d find the Štadión ŠK Svätý Jur – I’m sure you’ve guessed from that name that this is the home of ŠK Svätý Jur. A mere €2 and we were in for today’s 2nd tier game.
This was my first taste of the Slovak lower leagues, having only watched two top flight games in Trnava and Trenčín on my previous week in Slovakia back in April. In my head I was going to be entering a world of crumbling concrete stands and a few old men drinking on the sidelines. That may well still prove to be the case, but it certainly wasn’t today. Svätý Jur’s home is not exactly modern, but it is definitely tidy. The main hub of the club is in the main stand, which sits alongside the halfway line. Here, there’s the changing rooms and ‘VIP area’ plus the main seating stand with standing areas flanking either side of it. On the opposite side of the ground is a smaller stand, but our favourite feature of the whole ground had to be the other stand sheltered in the trees; well, I say stand, it’s basically just 4 rows of 7 seats completely open. It is remarkably tinpot.
Adjacent to the main stand is the club bar, which was superb with its open, wooden setup being perfect for this scorcher of a summer day. I’ll admit it was a bit different to the club bars back home with the walls draped with pictures of former Slovak presidents and communist leaders, as well as a few Slovan Bratislava scarves – a reminder that we were in their territory more than Spartak Trnava territory. I was delighted to see the bar had a big screen though and so this meant that we could watch the closing stages of West Brom v Middlesbrough (although apparently we were lucky that we had missed most of the goalless draw). My football watching today was to be accompanied with Corgoň – the beer of choice on my previous two Slovak football experiences.
By the time I was getting to the end of my Corgoň, the teams were coming out onto the pitch, Svätý Jur in all red and Spartak Trnava II in white.
My first experience of the Slovak lower leagues was underway and the surprising element for me was that the game was an entertaining one. It started at a fairly frantic pace with the ball not really making it into either box. However, after 10-15 minutes, Spartak’s technical superiority seemed to kick in and they were soon bombarding the home goal. We had both expected Svätý Jur to be the better team purely based on the fact that they had won the Bratislava section of the league below last season, but they were generally second best all game.
As the game steadied, I suggested that we complete a lap of the ground, only to realise that the areas behind both goals were taped off and thus our way to the other side was blocked – even though we could see spectators over there. It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that there must be another entrance to the ground from a different street.
We did head over to the left side of the main stand and this proved a wise choice, as the away team battered Svätý Jur’s goal in front of us. Spartak’s no.17 Kouakou Privat Yao and their no.10 Boris Balis were causing particular havoc. In fact, it was only writing this a day later than I recognised the name Balis and yes, my suspicions were right: Boris is the son of former West Brom right back and cult hero, Igor Balis. There’s one for those interested in their obscure Premier League footballers.
It would be Ivorian, Kouakou Privat Yao, who would open the scoring in the 15th minute, as he cut inside the box and fired low and powerfully past the home goalie to make it 1-0 to Spartak. However, that was the most joy they’d get out of the keeper for a while. Fair to say, the home goalie was the star of the show and probably delivered the best goalkeeping display I’ve seen in a quite a while. Plus, his name was Patrick Hipp – if that name doesn’t make you a football hipster, I’m not sure what does.
Balis and Kouakou Privat Yao continued to attack at will, but on every occasion they were thwarted by Hipp with him seemingly having some sort of force field around him when it came to 1-on-1s. Even when Spartak got themselves a corner, a close range header from that was superbly saved by Hipp.
The remainder of the half proved to be Spartak Trnava II v Patrick Hipp, yet it could be argued that Hipp came out on top for the half, even if he did concede one. Sadly for him, the rest of his team were letting him down and they went in 1-0 down.
Half-time: ŠK Svätý Jur 0 – 1 Spartak Trnava II.
We decided that our half-time mission would be to find our way around to the other side of the ground. The usual repertoire of speaking English louder and using more hand gestures was reeled out to make sure the stewards understood what we were after; it seemed to work as the steward at the gate gestured we needed to walk around the streets to the other side and indeed we had understood correctly. On the other side we found a smaller entrance amongst some bushes and we were soon on the other side of the ground.
We really wanted to sit in the really small, ‘tinpot’ stand, but we soon worked out that the lads around there were real Spartak fans, so we didn’t want to be invasive. Instead we headed for the little tent providing pivo (Slovak for ‘beer’ – I have feeling you may see that word a lot on future blogs) and pork and chicken steak burgers. Thanos delved into the cuisine, but I was still full after ice cream; plus, I’d been ill 48 hours before and gorging myself was still an issue.
For the second half, we sat in the small stand with some actual shelter – not that there was any escaping the sun today. We sat in the lowly front seats, whilst the older lads right at the back seemed to have some sort of VIP service going with the lad from the tent bringing trays of beer over to them as I soon as their plastic cups were empty.
The second half continued the same as the first with Spartak laying on attack after attack on the home goal. Hipp was still superb.
The game seemed to be slowing and after our second water break of the game (it really was hot) it looked like things would just remain the way they were with Spartak taking away 3 points from a 1-0 win. But, from absolutely nowhere, Svätý Jur scored. In the 69th minute, a ball was played to the back post and Martin Vika headed home easily from close range. Game on.
Well, we thought it might be ‘Game on’, but not much happened after Svätý Jur’s equaliser. Then, I looked at the clock to see that there were just minutes left, just as Spartak broke into the box and earned themselves a penalty. Up stepped Filip Tomović and scored the only way possible past such a cool dude like Hipp: he ‘Panenka-ed’ him. Off the top of my head, I think it may actually have been the first time I’ve ever seen anyone score one live , but it was that piece of audacity that had Spartak back in the lead.
There was still time for Tomović to add one more goal to proceedings to give Spartak a deserved 3-1. Tomović’s 2nd goal was a thing of beauty, as he arrived into the box from the left, dragged the ball past one sprawling defender, before sidefooting his shot into the far corner from an acute angle. A beautiful way to finish the game.
Full-time: ŠK Svätý Jur 1 – 3 Spartak Trnava II
And so that was that. A good game all round with some good football, but with Hipp being the star of the show in the ŠK Svätý Jur goal. There was still about 40 minutes until my train home and as I was less than 5 minutes away from the station, I thought it rude not to head back around to the proper bar.
I thought it had been a nice, quiet start to my new Slovak adventures and maybe some of the randomness that seemed to follow me on my UK adventures were left behind on those shores. How wrong I was. I knew we were in for something special when a drunken man stumbled to the bench opposite us and began talking to us in Slovak. I already sensed that this guy would be a ‘character’. He soon clicked that neither me or Thanos could speak Slovak and so he drunkenly stuttered his way through some broken English, expressing his dislike for the Greeks when Thanos unveiled his nationality and then pointing out his favourite Slovak political heroes from the many on the wall. He was a jovial and funny soul and he was soon inviting us to his house around the corner for dinner and to meet his tortoise, who, if we understood correctly, could ‘speak English.’ As tempting as it was to see a Slovak tortoise speak English, I’d have to wait another 2 hours for the next train back to Trnava, so we passed.
Thanos left for his bus back to Bratislava and I was left by myself for 10-15 minutes with our new friend, Milan. After turning down the cigarettes he was trying to force on me, he was soon once again insisting that I came along for dinner, but I politely declined several times. He then upped the stakes by telling me that he had always wanted a son and that his daughter was 30-years-old and only a bit older than me if I was interested; he emphasised repeatedly that she could speak English. Once again, I had to decline. “Next time, next time,” was Milan’s favourite retort, before then saying “sorry” once again for his lack of English (as if my Slovak was extensive). Even when I eventually got away and made for the ground’s exit, I could hear him running after me, which was slightly worrying; however, it was only to bring me the burger he thought I’d left behind. It definitely wasn’t mine, but he then began insisting I take it anyway. I had images of an angry Slovak in the bar demanding to know where his food had gone, so, once again, I had to turn down another of Milan’s offer. Nice guy, but clearly absolutely bonkers.
I made it back to Svätý Jur without encountering any English-speaking tortoises, marrying any strange men’s daughters or eating someone else’s dinner and instead I was treated to a beautiful sunset around the fields surrounding me. It was while embracing the scenery around me that my mind turned to the day’s finances and just how ridiculously cheap my day had been. The day’s football outing had involved: one return train ticket (33km), a match ticket, ice cream, baguette, 2 big beers before the game and 3 beers during the game. Total cost of my day? €13.70. Almost as crazy as Milan. I’ll get used to this though I’m sure.
It had been a pleasant introduction to Slovak lower league football and I suppose the day had ticked most of the Lost Boyos boxes: something semi-cultural – well, we went to some ruins so check; beer – check; a decent game of football – check; a complete nutcase obviously being drawn towards me – check. Great stuff. The ground was a good one too, although on the bus journey to central Slovakia, I had seen a host of old, crumbling places bursting with character and it’s these sort of places I aim to seek out next. As well as trying to do the whole top flight roster in one season…plus, heading to games in the surrounding countries. I have a lot planned basically. But, yes, after a weekend of trying to be ‘cultured’ in Vienna (and probably failing) the weekend before, Lost Boyos is up and ready in Slovakia. Na zdravie!
Highlights: pleasant town, castle ruins, ‘zmzrlina’, tidy ground, cool bar, good game, Boris Balis, Patrick Hipp, crazy Milan entertaining us.
Low Points: town was dead, worrying whether I’d ever escape Milan.
See all my photos from Svätý Jur here.