MFK Topvar Topoľčany v Slovan Duslo Šaľa
Mestský štadión Vojtecha Schrotterta / 3. Liga – West / 8th October 2016
I’m an indecisive soul. Anyone who has spent time with me will know that – especially when it comes to this whole groundhopping malarkey. I was bad enough in the UK, but throw me in a country I’ve barely explored and that indecision seems to be amplified by a 100 with a massive host of towns and football clubs for me to visit; I even now have the added option of debating which country to watch football in with the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary all nearby. I spent all week debating where to spend my Saturday afternoon and eventually gave up and let my Twitter audience decide. I whittled my options down to four lower league Slovak games (no top flight this weekend with it being international week) and threw my options to Twitter in a 12 hour poll. Much to my surprise, 101 people cared enough to vote for Slovak towns they’d probably never heard and the triumphant winner with a unanimous 43% of the votes was the town of Topoľčany and their football club MFK Topvar Topoľčany. Why my Twitter followers gravitated towards Topoľčany, I have no idea, but, Topoľčany it was to be. So that’s how I found myself spending Saturday morning in the bar in Trnava train station, watching Slovakia’s answer to Ninja Warrior with a bottle of Pilsner and a train ticket to Topoľčany in my wallet.
Unlike a lot of my train journeys over the past two months, this one was a simple direct train ride taking just over an hour. Topoľčany is located 60km north-east of Trnava and resides in the Nitra region of the country. What was visibly different about looking out the window on my train journey today was that everything was remarkably flat. The whole area was a patchwork of crop fields and little farms and villages, until the town of Topoľčany was suddenly upon me.
Topoľčany isn’t as pretty as other Slovak towns I’ve been too and it sort of has a rougher-looking edge to it. At the same time, this seemed to give the town a bit more identity and I liked the place because of that; it wasn’t just another Slovak identi-town. More importantly for me, there was a lot of life here on this Saturday afternoon with some sort of festival/market in town. I began walking down the pedestriaised street cluttered with market stalls and market-goers. Slovaks being Slovaks, I found myself stuck behind a whole host of slow walkers dawdling along, before eventually emerging onto the main town square. The centrepiece of the square was a large church, which today was surrounded by a small, rickety-looking funfair. I completed a lap of the square and even found myself a flat-capped statue to befriend. My eyes were scanning for a decent-looking pub or bar, but with nothing particularly noteworthy, I ended up in a small cafe/bar sipping a bottle of the local brew, Topvar.
Topvar consumed and now perfectly refreshed, I headed back into the town square. I found myself drawn to a bar called Kaiserhof, purely because of its balcony. Up its winding staircase I headed and emerged into a rather fancy restaurant with more affluent-looking families enjoying early afternoon lunch with coffee. This was far too salubrious for someone like me, but the waiter had clocked me walk in and I felt compelled to sit down. Over he came with the food menu, although I quickly made him dismiss that by shaking my hands and indicating that I was only there for the pivo. It dawned on me here that I was truly embedded into my Slovak lifestyle, when I was appalled at having to pay the astronomical price of €1.80 for a beer. Such lavish pricing led to me having just the one beer and then getting me and my unimpressed wallet out of there.
It was just after 2pm and with a 3pm kick-off today, according to football fixture website goliath Soccerway at least, I headed towards the ground. I zigzagged through more market stalls and pop-up booze and food establishments, before eventually finding myself amongst a host of tumble-down apartment blocks. Then, suddenly, the gates to Topoľčany’s footballing home appeared, after a 5 minute walk from the town centre.
The little ticket booth was located alongside the gate, which opened out onto a lane leading down to the main stand. I had the option of a €1.50 ticket or a €2.50 ticket – the latter granting me access to the stand and some seating. After paying about 40 cent more than usual for a beer I went for the more frugal option; plus, I’m more happy wandering a terrace anyway.
Located under the rather worn-looking main stand, I found the bar area. The bar was a rather bland, beige place with a quite sticky tiled floor. Beer was a mere €1 though, so I was content. With 45 minutes to go until kick-off, I settled down and relaxed with my beer, whilst reading a book written by my old Geography teacher from school on my Kindle. The book chronicles him cycling from my hometown of Merthyr Tydfil to the Shetlands in the weeks following his wife’s sad death from cancer. I’ve been reading a lot of travel books lately in preparation for my own crack at the genre (hopefully) and I have to say that Hill’s Ups and Downs is a very bittersweet read, but one of the best travel logs I’ve read in a while. My former Geography teacher is fittingly named Mr. Hill, so, as a lover of puns, I am a big fan of the title too.
Slowly I sipped away at my beer and indulged in my travel literature, but I soon began to notice that all had gone quiet in the bar. I figured that everyone had taken their beers onto the terraces. It was turning grey and a little bit chilly outside, so I was happy to remain in the bar with my beer (in actual glass) with 15 minutes until kick-off. That was until I heard the faint sound of what sounded like a whistle, followed shortly after by another similar sound. It then hit me (a realisation, not the whistle): the game had already kicked off, hence why I was the only dickhead in the bar. I necked my pint and headed for the concrete terrace where my suspicions were confirmed by the clock on the scoreboard: the game had kicked off 16 minutes ago unbeknownst to me – even though I was just on the other side of the wall to the game. Silly Matt.
Although I had missed 16 minutes, there was still no score on the electronic scoreboard over on the far side of the ground; plus, judging from my Slovak football experiences so far, I guessed that I had probably missed no real action at all. Up on the concrete terrace behind the goal I headed to take in the first half action.
There was certainly something glorious about this crumbling, unloved ground. There was the main (only) stand sat on the halfway line with the seating raised above pitch level and with the whole structure looking like it had been left untouched for decades. It was great. However, I was more enamoured with the huge blocks of concrete that made up the rest of the ground. Around the whole ground ran these sizable concrete steps, which, with greying skies overhead, created a sort of wonderful bleakness. This felt like a true, old-fashioned European football ground, even though where a running track clearly once ran, there was now grass grown over it.
Immediately I desired my photo taken in such an arena, I asked the bobble-hatted, middle-aged man to my right. There was not even an ounce of English from him, so I took to gesturing with my phone for him to take a photo. He smiled cheerfully and agreed. The problem was that he kept taking a photo with his thumb over the lens. I tutored him on how to overcome this photography problem, but on attempting again I still had several photos of his thumb print. I did go to explain again to him, but then a steward, who had clearly witnessed the floundering photography lesson unfold, intervened and took a quick photo accurately and without any thumbs in view (apart from the two I had raised obviously).
As for the game, it was not actually as bad as others I’d seen recently. Topoľčany were much the better team against Slovan Duslo Šaľa, mainly down to their exotic imports. In a rather bizarre transfer spree this summer, Topoľčany signed 4 Rwandans from the Rwandan top flight. Two were on the pitch this afternoon with their no.16, Jean Claude Iranzi, causing absolute havoc out on the wing. Pacey and erratic, he was great to watch, even if his end product wasn’t always great.
Despite their general domination, Topoľčany would have to settle for 0-0 at half-time and after just 30 minutes of watching football, I was back in the bar.
Half-time: MFK Topvar Topoľčany 0 – 0 Slovan Duslo Šaľa.
A scattergun approach to head counting had me to estimate the attendance somewhere between 110-130 hearty folk and it seemed that the majority of these had headed back to the bar the same time me. However, unlike my experiences at other football grounds here, bar service was actually quick, even though the baseman was lovingly serving each beer and making sure that the head on each beer was just right. This barman was a lot more efficient and hasty with his bar skills than my other encounters with similar staff at other grounds. Once again, I sat at a table on my lonesome to participate in some people-watching and I wasn’t even too bothered when I heard the whistle go for the second half.
Predictably, my non-chalance toward the second half restart would come back to haunt me, as glancing up at the scoreboard revealed that we were just entering the 49th minute and it was 1-0 to the home team. Apparently they had scored within 60 seconds of the restart.
It wasn’t my day for catching any football action on the pitch it seemed, so I decided to go enjoy the ground some more. The ground was now beginning to surpass Nové Mesto nad Váhom’s home, where I visited last Sunday, as my second favourite Slovak ground so far (it’ll take something truly special to knock the magical Báhoň off the current top spot).
I noticed two men over on the previously unmanned other side of the ground, so I began my lap of the wonderfully curvaceous concrete terraces to join them. From the other side of the ground, directly opposite the main stand, I fixed my position alongside one other spectator isolated out on the remoteness of this terrace. For blog/memento purposes this guy was asked to take my photo too; obviously I had to have a photo of myself from each side of the ground and this gentleman’s photography skills were at least sound.
The game was following a similar pattern to the first half with it not thrilling, but not exactly falling on its face either. The Rwandan winger and centre back still seemed to be the most accomplished on the pitch.
I finished my lap of the ground in the dying minutes and ended up back alongside my inept photographer from earlier, who was still a smiley sight. He’d have more to smile about at the game’s death, as Topoľčany’s David Hopsevyan meek shot from the edge of the box somehow squirmed under the away keeper. The goalie lay forlorn on the floor as he realised his mistake had given the hosts a second. Topoľčany celebrated rather emphatically, before the ref let Duslo Šaľa take kick-off followed by the immediate blowing of the final whistle.
Full-time: MFK Topvar Topoľčany 2 – 0 Slovan Duslo Šaľa.
I’d seen enough of the club bar for one afternoon and so I decided to leave straight after the whistle and make my way towards the revelry of the fete consuming the town centre. Plus, with kick-off being half hour earlier than I had initially thought, I felt I’d won back 30 minutes before my 17:41 train out of town.
Minutes after leaving the ground, I had a beer in hand, after purchasing from a street vendor, and there was some sort of Slovak folk duo performing traditional folksy music. What was missing from my ensemble was some food having consumed nothing at the football ground. Here on the food stall-aplenty street, klobása was everywhere. I picked the best looking food stall and ordered my portion of klobása. Fair to say, it was one hefty lump of klobása but I was genuinely astonished when I was told it would set me back €5! 5 flipping Euros?! You can get a whole meal and a beer for that price in many parts of Slovakia, not just a big sausage. I figured this must be some sort of particularly wonderful klobása, so I went along with it. It was great, but certainly not worthy of its astronomical pricing. What exactly was so special about it to warrant such a price remained elusive to me. Lesson learned: never buy klobása from street vendors at town fetes again.
I’d had enough of the rather awful Slovak folk music and overpriced klobása, so I abandoned this part of town and headed towards the train station in hope of finding one final pub before leaving the town. I was about to give up when I noticed that the crumbling old building opposite the station had a sign declaring it to be’Nevada Pub’. It didn’t look an open and functioning pub, but I tried the closed door nonetheless. I was very surprised to find it open and even more so to find a fairly garish bar within trying to be classy. Of course, there was only one customer in there already, sitting alongside the large wall covered in a painting of the Nevada Desert landscape. My day in Topoľčany would finish with me sitting alongside the trees and rocks of this painted desert while watching some sort of cringeworthy ‘Czech/Slovak’s Got Talent’ show.
My day out wasn’t finished there though, as on arriving back in Trnava, I was soon back out the door heading to the pub to watch Slovenia v Slovakia on TV. I sat with some chaps in Slovakia shirts, who could speak excellent English too, to watch the game. Slovenia were awful, but Slovakia were even worse and so my adopted home nation sunk to a 1-0 loss in a dire game. I thought Slovakia could do with someone like the all-action attacking midfielder and Spartak Trnava captain, Martin Mikovič. Lo and behold, who was sitting on the table next to us, but the man himself: Martin Mikovič. I was drunk enough by now to approach the great man and my evening finished with me joining Mikovič and his entourage for a quick drink. He seemed to enjoy my story of him being the first player I had seen score in Slovakia, having seen him score twice for Spartak Trnava back in April in their 2-0 win over Senica.
All in all, a good day in a town I really liked, mainly because it had a bit of a buzz about it. Topoľčany’s football ground was also a work of concrete porn and an unorthodox beauty in my eyes.
Highlights: a lively town, Topvar, great ground, lots of concrete terracing, Rwandan footballers, hanging out with Martin Mikovič.
Low Points: missing kick-off, expensive klobása.
See all my photos from Topoľčany here.