ŠK Báhoň v Inter Bratislava
Futbalový Štadión ŠK Báhoň / 3. Liga – Bratislava / 1st September 2016
On the 3 hour bus journey to some rural part of central Slovakia for team-building last weekend, I learned something very exciting: Slovakia is plastered with football clubs and football grounds. It seemed that every small, one-horse town or village have themselves a footballing arena. On the journey, some of the grounds were more bountiful with character than others; some had sexier floodlights than others; and some were generally just more plush than others – although the word ‘plush’ probably didn’t fit many of the grounds I saw on this particular bus journey through the heart of Slovakia. I tried to work out the potential clubs of the particularly cool looking grounds, but my phone was dying and I just couldn’t keep up my frantic searching of Futbalnet.sk (a Slovak football website that will seemingly be my online home for the next 2 years). However, it was a week before this bus trip that I had found my first football ground love in Slovakia.
I was still not fully aware of the football ground abundance in my new part of central Europe, so I got a little excitable when I stared out of the train window, en route to Bratislava, and spotted this wonderful, basic, rustic ground amongst the trees alongside the train track. There wasn’t a lot to it, but I was instantly enamoured with its bucolic charm. I hadn’t really been paying attention to where the hell I was – all I knew was that I had left Trnava about 10-15 minutes ago. I was confident I could eventually work out which club was lucky to call this charming piece of land ‘home’. I hadn’t predicted that I’d be inside the ground exactly 2 weeks later.On my second Sunday in Slovakia, I undertook the first Slovak football trip of my new life abroad, heading towards Bratislava, only to alight at Svätý Jur to check out the local club there take on Spartak Trnava II. This train route would once again see me go past this ground I had become infatuated with, so this time I was prepared and ready to work out who played at this wonderful ground. It was an easy task. Seconds after rolling out of Báhoň station, the ground appeared and after a quick spot of googling using the train’s Wi-fi (Slovak trains are a world ahead of the Northern Rail shit I was used to back in Manchester) I found that there indeed existed a ŠK Báhoň and indeed this was their home. Now, when to go? Well, there was an easy answer to that question.
ŠK Báhoň play in the Bratislava division of 3. Liga, where strangely one of Slovak football’s grandaddies play: Inter Bratislava. I’d say growing up that Inter were the only Slovak team I knew of, thanks to a combination of a childhood spent playing Championship Manager and the club’s conquests into Europe. I’ll save their story for when I inevitably head there some day, but somehow they have gone from Slovak European representatives to the 3rd tier. I decided that they’d be a cool away team to watch at such a small venue. More fittingly, ŠK Báhoň would be taking on Inter on ‘Deň Ústavy Slovenskej republiky’ – or ‘Constitution Day’ to you and me. The day is a Slovak national holiday (so, no work for me) celebrated every 1st September to commemorate the day back in 1992 when the adoption of the Slovak constitution happened, effectively formally kickstarting the ‘Velvet Divorce’ and eventually bringing an end to the old Czechoslovakia. Football on a Thursday night it was to be.
Back in Trnava, after a beer and spot of reading in Bokovka – a cool bar attached to Spartak Trnava’s ground and the conjoined City Arena mall – it was time to head to the train station and 11 minutes down the line to the village of Báhoň. Train fare: a measly €1.40 return.
Just like Svätý Jur four days earlier, Báhoň was pleasant enough, yet seemingly devoid of life, aside from a few kitted-up cyclists zooming through the village. Slovakia being Slovakia, there was a lovely church to see, but otherwise the rest of the place seemed to be just a neat and tidy residential area. I imagined if Slovakia wanted to create a clone of an American feel-good, family comedy set in suburbia, they’d film it here.
There were 2 hours to go until kick-off and I was beginning to worry that I’d have to pass the time aimlessly wandering the streets in the sweltering heat. More worryingly, I was busting for a piss and I didn’t feel that me and Slovakia’s relationship had quite reached the stage where I could piss in a bush at the side of the road yet. My heart jumped for joy when I spotted some large folded up umbrellas outside a small building, which alluded to a beer garden. A googling of the word ‘Hostinec’ confirmed to me that this was an ‘Inn’. My heart was fully heel-clipping with delight now.
Within, I found a darkened room with two old men casually swigging beers alongside their borovičkas, whilst watching the Leo di Caprio ‘classic’, The Man in the Iron Mask (in Slovak of course). Having relieved my bladder in a toilet, not a bush, I joined the men in drinking beer accompanied by borovička (I was trying to be a true Slovak) and trying to fathom a heavily dubbed Leonardo di Caprio. No English here, but the barman and the two men applauded me for my borovička purchase and conversation was attempted. It took another man entering the bar to bring clarity to our chat, as the new member of the party could speak some German just like myself. Soon I was relaying my story of how I’ve ended up living in Trnava and how I had come to Báhoň to watch football. They found it all very amusing and insisted on me getting more borovička. I’d had fun in the ‘Hostinec’, but kick-off was 30 minutes away and I still had no idea where the ground was. Some directions were given to me (auf Deutsch) and I was on my way to ŠK Báhoň. I followed the simple directions I had been give, but it lead me to a rural lane which appeared to be going nowhere. I decided that I had got cocky with my German and perhaps I didn’t understand the directions as well as I thought. Then a man on a bike pulled up next to me, clearly seeing me confused, and questioned me in Slovak. I definitely heard the words ‘futbal’ and ‘štadión’ and I was suddenly just shouting the word “Štadión? Štadión?” at him repeatedly. He proved little help as he chuckled, then went on a long rant whilst frantically pointing both ways up and down the road, before suddenly cycling off with me chasing after him still querying “Štadión?”
I figured I must be close for him to mention the ground, so I opted to plod on in the opposite direction to the charismatic, possibly drunk, cyclist I’d just encountered. I was rewarded for persisting with the country lane with the glorious sound of the thuds of football drawing ever closer. And then, there it was: the home of ŠK Báhoň. My word is it a wonderful, wonderful home too. I excitedly threw my €1 entry to the young boy on the gate and I could not wait to delve into this idyllic ground.
I had set myself up for disappointment with me thinking that I had maybe over-romanticised the ground in my head from those two fleeting glimpses from the train. It was the first lower league ground I had seen in the country, so I thought maybe I had latched onto it because of that. But there was to be no disappointment here this evening – just sheer joy. I was in love with the place immediately. Quirky and scenic – not much else I want from a football ground. I realise that I’ve rambled on about my affection for the place without describing the ground. To be honest, there is little to describe and I feel the photos will do the ground more justice than my mere words ever could. The best way to sum up the ground is as a grassy, football amphitheatre. No stands here, but there’s no need either. Nature is the stand here with a large banking circling half the ground taking on the role of ‘stand’ flawlessly. The banking is scattered with a host of wooden benches and the ground even seems to flatten out at measured breaks to almost form tiers. The serenity of the place is only interrupted intermittently by the trains that pass directly behind the ground. Quite simply this ground is magnificent.
The only real structure in the ground is the building housing the changing rooms, with a large sheltered area attached onto the end of it where the bar is housed. I love the Slovaks and their nation, but I suppose this brings me on nicely to probably my chief qualm with the Slovaks…
Queuing. Good god do the Slovaks love a queue! 2.5 weeks I’ve lived here now and a huge portion of that has been spent in a line. Whether it be a bank, train station or the local shop, the Slovaks are never in any rush and even seem to enjoy the whole queuing process. When I’ve mentioned this to Slovaks they seem oblivious to the whole thing with others suggesting that the enduring of queues may be a leftover from the nation’s days under communism. Some people have described me as a ‘100mph person’ so I’m a very, very frustrated ‘queuer’ and this is one part of my new life I’m struggling with. But, I keep telling myself that maybe the slower pace of things will do me good over time. Here at ŠK Báhoň though, I was my usual impatient self as the queue for a beer was just not budging. I did eventually get a beer for €1 and the Slovaks at least make you wait for quality in this respect, unlike the piss-like Carlsberg you find at football back home.Trnava is beautiful, but definitely not a tourist hotspot. Because of this, I’m now used to being the ‘outsider’ in town and I expect that feeling to be intensified when I head to smaller towns and villages like Báhoň. I wanted my photo taken under the ŠK Báhoň badge, so I approached a couple with me already deploying various gesticulations and speaking English louder, expecting the couple to not understand a word I was saying. However, by chance, I had found myself some other ‘outsiders’, as the couple I had approached were Scottish and holidaying in Bratislava. With my photo taken, I was happy to have some English-speaking company for the evening and Neil and Jane proved to be great company too. Neil had paid the standard €1 entry for the privilege tonight; weirdly, Jane had got in for free with the person on the turnstiles bluntly stating “woman,” as a valid explanation for her football on the house. Odd.
We took a seat on one of the benches and I learned that Neil enjoys a spot of groundhopping too (well, obviously, I was sitting with him at a 3rd division Slovak game after all).We shared a couple of stories and I knew that as soon as I began talking about my trip to their hometown of Edinburgh last year that I had chosen the wrong side; I told Neil I had been to watch Hibernian that February, yet, predictably, he turned out to be of the other side of Edinburgh and was a Hearts fan. Enough of Scottish football rivalries though, the game in front of us was about to begin.
First thing first: Inter Bratislava’s shirt is a beauty. A cool yellow and black striped number made by hipster favorites Hummel. I’m trying to start on a positive here as the game was a little bit awful; well, it was absolutely dire to be honest. There was really nothing to say about that opening half, but I was entertained enough by my surroundings, so I went for a wander of the banking. It was only then I realised that they had even taped off a part of the banking as an away end for the Inter fans. Not that anyone paid attention to the tape with fans of both teams mingling happily.
The only excitement of the half came about when ŠK Báhoň hit the post with a powerful low shot. Seconds later, Inter countered and performed the same post-hitting act up the other end of the pitch. That was genuinely the only interesting action of the first half, apart from a mild penalty claim.
Just before half-time, me and Neil headed for more beers and once again the queuing felt endless. I will say, to the bar staff’s credit, they were trying to create the perfect beer each time with them scrutinising the head on every beer poured and intrinsically altering it as they saw fit. It was like watching scientists weigh up chemicals in a laboratory at times.
Half-time: ŠK Báhoň 0-0 Inter Bratislava.
There was one toilet behind the changing rooms, but the door wouldn’t shut properly and so I think I angered a local as I walked in on him mid-wee. I made it out of the scenario unscathed and I was soon back on our ‘bench for the Brits’, hoping for a more entertaining second half.
Again, the football was a very slow burner, so much so that Neil and Jane dismissed the action and went for a wander too. After a few minutes, the football was so mindnumbing I went for my second stroll around the ground. However, this time I broke through the taped off area and around to behind the goal where there were just two men on one bench and two young lads watching from amongst the trees. From my new vantage point, the ground looked even more magnificent.
By the time I returned back to the club bar, we had some actual action on the pitch. Me and Neil had feared a 0-0 was on the cards, but it wasn’t to be tonight. Whilst queuing for another beer, Inter bundled in a goal. An almighty scramble ensued in the box, before the ball fell to Jakub Šulc to fire home from close range in the 62nd minute.
We hoped the goal would be the catalyst for a more meaty contest, but it proved not and the football remained as stagnant as before. In fact, it would take until the 89th minute for anything else to really happen and that would be another goal for Inter. A seamless breakaway led to the Inter attack outnumbering the home defence. A simple pass across goal left Šulc with an open goal to score into and he and Inter had their 2nd goals of the night.
Inter, nor Šulc, were not finished for the evening and in the 90th minute Šulc had Inter 3-0 up. Once again, another breakaway saw Šulc head goalwards and his shot luckily crept through the keeper’s legs for him to claim his hatrick. I then noticed that he was wearing the no.5 and I debated whether I had ever seen a player score a hatrick whilst wearing the traditionally defensive number of 5. I think Šulc may be the first to claim such a worthless accolade.
Full-time: ŠK Báhoň 0 – 3 Inter Bratislava.
Neither team deserved a 3-0 win, but thus is football. To be honest, I could moan about the football on offer, but the football is only half the remit on these pages. For me, the undisputed winner on the night was the ground itself. I don’t have a list ranking my favorite grounds, but I imagine, if I did, ŠK Báhoň’s home would be a contender for a top ten entry. That good. The ground is only 10-15 minutes from my new home and so I’m sure I’ll be back; although it’ll be interesting for me to see how much love I have for the place on a cold winter’s evening – it’s definitely a summer ground.
I still had about 40 minutes until my train back to Trnava, so I figured a spot of queuing would pass that away – and maybe I’d have a spare 5 minutes to drink my beer too. The plan was a good one and it was soon time to go. But not before seeing most of the Inter Bratislava team naked as the window to their changing room was wide open as I headed for the exit; I promise I walked straight past and didn’t stop for a gander to see who was the longest in the shower….
If ever you happen to find yourself anywhere near Bratislava or Trnava – or just western Slovakia for that matter – make a point of visiting Futbalový Štadión ŠK Báhoň. You will not regret it.Highlights: beer and borovička, the ground is just magnificent, meeting some actual English speakers, the banking stand, nice beer, very cheap.
Low Points: not much to do in Báhoň, awful game.
See all my photos from my trip ŠK Báhoň here.