FC Slovácko v Vysočina Jihlava
Městský fotbalový stadion Miroslava Valenty / Czech Liga / 24th September 2016
I’ve probably mentioned before that a big draw of moving to Slovakia was its location in the heart of Europe, giving me plenty of scope to travel to several countries I had yet to visit; obviously, I desired to watch football in these countries too. So 7 weeks into my Central European dwelling, I felt that having Slovakia and Austria as the only Central European rings on my Central European footballing bedpost was not good enough. I needed to add to that. There was one obvious country to venture to next: the Czech Republic.
Originally, I had planned to head to the much-hyped city of Brno the weekend after to watch Zbrojovka Brno play Czech footballing giants Sparta Prague. However, with the fixture being on a Sunday, tickets being in high demand (thanks in part to the return of the iconic Tomas Rosicky to his home nation with Sparta) and the idea that an I.D. system may be in place, I was deterred from making Brno my destination for my maiden crossing over the Czech/Slovak border.
After an evening of rummaging through Czech football fixtures, I decided I would go for the practicality of Uherské Hradiště, a town just over the border in the south of the Czech Republic. A few photos of the town had me convinced to visit the local football club, FC Slovácko, rather than the football club’s more ordinary-looking football. To seek whether my decision to go to Uherské Hradiště was a sound one, I turned to my compatriot and fellow Swans fan Ralph, who has lived in Brno for the best part of 10 years. He delivered a glowing review of the town of Uherské Hradiště and also gave me further reason as to why I should stay the night and attend another game the next morning; that story will be saved for the next blog though. For now, I’ll focus on my day in Uherské Hradiště and my experience of FC Slovácko. It didn’t start well to be honest, all thanks to my borderline arrogant lack of research…
“What’s the problem, sorry?” was my question to the really pissed off Czech barmaid in front of me. I found myself in a bar in the fairly ramshackle train station of the small town of Staré Mesto, waiting 30 minutes for my final train of the morning (a mere 6 minute journey down the track to Uherské Hradiště). Beer seemed a good idea while I waited. The beer was poured for me and I had handed over the money for it, so I was confused as to what I had done to annoy this previously smiley middle-aged barmaid so much. On glancing at a sign, I soon realised the problem: it was the money – I had the wrong currency. Stupidly, I assumed that, like their Slovak brothers, the Czechs used Euros and the notion of them not using the Euro hadn’t even entered my thoughts. I’m now very much aware that the Czech Republic use Koruna. Lesson learned: actually research a country at least a little bit before visiting. With a full pint already poured and with me having not a cent of Koruna on me, the barmaid reluctantly let me pay with Euros. I felt beyond stupid.
Not long before 1pm, I was arriving into Uherské Hradiště and its apparent award-winning train station with it claiming ‘Building of the Year’ in 2004 and the title of ‘most beautiful Czech railway station’ in 2011. Fairplay to the place, it was just a tad prettier than Crewe train station.
Conveniently, the Penzion I’d be staying in was literally next door to the train station. Less convenient was the fact that nobody was responding to my ringing of the front doorbell. I figured I’d head into town for an hour or 2 and hope for more luck after that. Like much of my Central European escapades thus far, I found myself in a very pretty, yet very quiet town. The main square was virtually empty aside from a trio of army jeeps and soldiers parked in the middle of it. This certainly looked like a place that required no military authority on the street.
Minutes later, I found myself in small outdoor bar and now armed with Koruna, I purchased a pint of Starobrno for 30Kč. Having no idea if this was cheap or not, I turned to an online currency converter. Much to my liking, I learned that the Czechs charge even less for beer than the Slovaks; this beautiful beer had just cost me about 96p.
Next, I headed to the main square, Mariánské náměstí, where once again I found more prettiness and more quietness. I ended up in a fairly nice restaurant, where my beer price had now skyrocketed to a whole 38Kč (about £1). After watching a wedding party unfold in the next room, I paid up and headed back to the Penzion, where I was now granted entry this time. I found that my hotel room offered a wonderful view of the train track below, so I can recommend Penzion Na Stavidle to any trainspotters. However, I’m not a trainspotter and I’m definitely not one to hang around relaxing in hotel rooms, so after ‘Czeching in’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist) I was back out exploring the narrow streets of this small Czech town.
Eventually, with no real pubs to be found, I ended up drinking Pilsner in a neat and tidy Pizzeria, who kindly let me steal their electricity to charge my staggering phone battery. There was an hour to go until kick-off at FC Slovácko and it had occurred to me that I had seen absolutely nothing to suggest that there was a top flight football club in town. That was my cue to leave and double-check if there was a football club here at all. Luckily, there was.
It took a ten minute walk out of the town centre until I found the home of FC Slovácko. I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that I have ‘a thing’ for floodlights, although I think every groundhopper I know suffers with ‘floodlight infatuation’.The floodlights here were glorious. Genuine beauties. The best way to describe them would be as elegant looking butterflies caught on towering poles. I was not expecting to find such lovely lights at a modern, new-build ground. In fact, after my initial fears of heading to a drab new-build, the whole ground proved a surprise.
I had seen a few photos of the ground and had hastily come to the conclusion that this would be a generic modern stadium. Instead, I found myself becoming a big fan of Městský fotbalový stadion Miroslava Valenty. Firstly, entry cost a mere 150Kč (£4.80), meaning this was probably the smallest amount of money I’ve ever paid for top flight football anywhere. On heading through the rather robust-looking security personnel at the electronic turnstiles, I was greeted by a large eating/drinking area, where fans were already enjoying themselves with beer and klobasa. I was soon to join them, but first a trip to the club shop was needed to pick up a scarf (my new European scarf collection rule: I am to buy a scarf any time I am outside the UK or Slovakia – I’d be skint if I bought one at every Slovak ground.)
I had 30 minutes of beer, some delightful klobasa and general ‘people watching’ behind the large stand, before I opted to head up the steps and into the ground proper. It’s not exactly breathtaking or innovative, but I was a fan of the stadium immediately; although maybe I was won over immediately by the young girls walking back and for to the bars, collecting beers to distribute to beer-craving spectators in the stand on demand e.g. me.
The two single-tiered ends behind either goal are virtually identical, although one was closed today with attendances not exactly soaring in the Czech top flight. The further stand was housing the home ultras, who, despite being small in numbers, tried their best to create a bit of noise, although the atmosphere was far from electric here; especially as I counted only 8 fans in the Jihlava away end. Down one side of the pitch is another small, single-tiered stand, but I was housed in the opposite stand today – a larger two-tiered stand. I initially started watching the game with a group gathered on one of the platforms in the corner between both tiers. However, stewards soon moved us on and probably rightly so, as I was fairly sure the platform was for disabled fans.
The home team began life as SK Staré Město in 1927 and after a series of name changes would eventually become 1. FC Synot at the turn of the century following a merger with the elaborately named FC Slovácká Slavia Uherské Hradiště. 4 years later, in 2004, the club would gain their current moniker of FC Slovácko. As Staré Město, the club spent most of its existence in the lower regions of the Czechoslovakia league, before making it to the 2nd division in the 90s and then into the top flight under their new guises. The club would fall out of the top flight, but their eventual promotion back to the top in 2009 was achieved in a strange manner to say the least – at least through the eyes of someone used to British football. Slovácko actually finished 10th in the 2nd tier only to achieve promotion by buying the top flight license from struggling Čáslav – not exactly a glory-fueled way to shoot up a division.
I’ve learned to expect little quality watching the Slovak leagues and so I was curious as to whether the Czech league could offer me some. It definitely didn’t. Dare I say, the football was even worse than the Slovak offering.
The first 30 minutes passed off as a complete non-event. After years of watching the pacey and frantic nature of British football (at all levels) it’s taken me time to adapt to Central Europe’s slower, yet clumsy, style. I’ve learned to take joy from different aspects of games, but there was nothing to get excited about here with both teams showing me why they languish in the lower regions of the Czech Liga. Instead, I found myself entertaining myself through the on demand beer passing through the stand constantly.
Arguably, Slovácko had been the less shit of these two shit teams, so it was slightly surprising to see Jihlava take the lead. Moments before the half-time whistle, Dāvis Ikaunieks was tapping in from inside the box to put the team one place off bottom into a 1-0 lead at half-time.
Half-time: FC Slovácko 0 – 1 Vysočina Jihlava.
There was no need to wander off at half-time with beer coming to me, yet I figured a change of scenery and seating would be required. Plus, I am one of those weirdos who thinks that me moving seats may somehow change the game; I have been known to make friends swap seats with me during Swansea games if the Swans are losing – I swear it has turned around results at times! Spoiler alert: it didn’t work this time. Shit football was still reigning king here.
I was sidetracked from the game (willingly to be honest) by a familiar team name emblazoned across a blue and lime green tracksuit worn by a man walking past my seat. The team name was FK Blansko. Blansko were to be the away team at Slovácko II the next morning and also the team I’d be supporting; I’ll go into why in he next blog. I soon realised that most of the Blansko team were sat in front of me and with alcohol-induced confidence, I decided to go tell them that I would be watching them the next day and perhaps even try to make friends with them. My plan was poorly executed. Instead, I was greeted with bemused looks as I clumsily tried to explain to the club’s physio and one of their strikers why I had come over to say hello. They looked worried more than anything, so I changed tactics. I got up a photo of Ralph on my phone, as he follows Blansko everywhere, and showed them the photo whilst saying “My friend. Me Wales too.” They nodded understanding this time, but still had a look of “I really hope this semi-inebriated Welshman leaves us alone very soon.” I let them be just as the highlight of the evening was to happen.
It was worth enduring the previous 67 minutes of dross purely to see Slovácko’s stunning equaliser. The goal came from nowhere. One moment the ball was out near the right-wing about 30 yards from goal, the next it was soaring into the far post and flying in. The ball had rolled to Marek Havlík and he had swung his left foot at it; I was right behind him and the second he hit it it was destined for the goal. The goal was all the more glorious thanks to the helpless keeper soaring through the air, but getting nowhere near it. Definitely the best goal I’ve seen this season so far.
This made the closing stages a little bit more exciting as Slovácko pushed for a winner, but the quality just wasn’t there today to finish off the away team. It wasn’t long before I worked out that the game was heading towards a 1-1 final score. Instead, I took to trying to capture more ‘Instagram skies’ as the sunset behind the opposite stand radiating a lovely orange glow across the ground.
Full-time: FC Slovácko 1 – 1 Vysočina Jihlava.
Okay, so the game was very, very poor, but I had had an enjoyable evening at Slovácko with beer delivered to my seat and good stadium to enjoy too – it really was much better than I had expected. Plus, as I stated earlier, it was worth the measly entry fee for that second goal alone (I’ve just spent 20 minutes scouring the internet for a video of it to check if it was as good as I remember and to check that my opinion was not skewed by beer – no such luck though).
A literal walk through the park and then back through the town and I was back at the Penzion Na Stavidle for a breather before hitting town to experience the Uherské Hradiště nightlife; I wasn’t exactly expecting a raucous one.
As predicted, the town was dead with people enjoying quiet evening meals in the restaurants instead of raving the night away. But, me being me, my stubborn determination crept in and I knew there had to be somewhere where people go on a Saturday night for a more lively evening. This quest led to me aimlessly heading a little away from the main town squares. I actually ended up in a small, sparsely-lit park and it was here of all places where I began to hear the thumping of loud music somewhere nearby. On the outskirt of this park I found a rock club and after paying a small entry fee, I was into a place that actually had atmosphere. The bar was actually full too and so my evening was to be soundtracked by the likes of early -2000 rock favourites such as Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Papa Roach. To be honest, it was good fun, but having been out partying in Trnava the night before and after a whole day of not really having a break, I didn’t stay as long as I probably wanted to and instead I headed back to my hotel bed. I did have a second game of football to attend the next day after all – a 10.15am kick-off too.
Highlights: nice town, cheap beer, ground easy to get to, decent modern ground, those floodlights, meeting FK Blansko, Slovácko’s equaliser.
Low Points: town a bit dead, game was poor, atmosphere dead, not researching my foreign currencies.
See all my photos from Uherské Hradiště and FC Slovácko here.