Tatran Prešov v Spartak Trnava
Tatran Stadium / Fortuna Liga / 19th November 2016
“And what did you think of Brexit?” I was queried at 10am by the skinheaded lad sitting opposite me on the train en route to Košice. In fact, there was a whole gang of skinheaded chaps around me who were listening intently and waiting for my response, as we sat drinking in the train bar. I truthfully told them I voted ‘Remain’ to which then led onto a more colourful conversation about immigrants. We’ll leave it at that my more liberal views contrasted massively with my fellow train bar dwellers’views, but they were respectful of that and let me be. It was all very diplomatic to be honest. This was my first ever Spartak Trnava away day and it would prove to be an interesting one.
The aforementioned ‘skinheaded chaps’ were Spartak fans travelling on the same train as me to the town of Prešov in the north-east of the country. The train had departed Trnava at 6.27am and after 3 hours of reading, I opted to head to the train bar where I bumped into my new friends. There was genuine astonishment displayed by them on learning that a Welsh lad was genuinely bothered to travel 5 hours across Slovakia to watch Spartak and such an effort earned me good faith from the traveling contingent here.
Having changed trains in the small town of Kysak, we were aboard a more local service where I was introduced to more Spartak fans. There was a lot of questioning aimed my way about what the hell I was doing here – on a train to Prešov and in Slovakia in general – but my answers just prompted more bemusement from them. My staple answer to everything was “I love living in Trnava and so I wanted to support the town’s football team.” That generally did the job.
I departed the Spartak fans at Prešov train station and headed for my hotel; although the sound of their chants could be heard echoing around the streets as I proceeded ahead. I’ll throw in now that Prešov is an awesome little town…well I say ‘little town’ even though it’s the third biggest ‘city’ in Slovakia with over 90,000 inhabitants. The town challenged for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2013, but lost out to Slovakia’s second city, Košice (more on Košice in the next blog). Prešov’s hub consists of one long main street littered with the usual Slovak mix of little shops, bars and pizzerias and finished off with a typically pleasant church in the middle of it all. In front of the church stands a large horse monument in homage to the townspeople’s nickname: ‘konare’ – ‘horse keepers’. Under Hungarian rule, the town was legendary for its horse stables and many travellers would stop off here on the long road to Budapest. The football team even features a picture of a horse on their badge.
Check-in at my small, but pleasant, hotel completed after a nice chat with the young receptionist, whose dad happened to be a Spartak fan too, and I was back out into the streets to explore. The receptionist had given me 2 bar recommendations, so I went in search of the exotic sounding Cuba Libre. I gave up trying to find it after the briefest of searches and veered back onto the main street. Here I was greeted with the sight of a angry-looking man hurling a glass towards someone with it smashing on a Christmassy, wooden hut instead, before a fight broke out with a police car soon zooming to the scene to break it up. I was then spotted by one of the lads from the train and invited into a restaurant for a beer with them.
Once again, there was more questioning, although this time relating to British football culture and mainly the hooligan scene there (I told them there isn’t any really). The repeated questioning was a bit unnerving, but I was soon to learn why it was happening. It seemed that an idea had been floated that I may be an undercover police officer. Genuinely. I found it hilarious, but it seemed they were deadly serious. Even when I showed them a photo of me on the website of the school I work at next to the words ‘Teacher of English’ I got the impression that they were still not fully convinced.
I ventured off solo again to see some more of the town, before eventually ending up in a small hidden away bar on a hill. However, I was once again joined by a couple of the Spartak contingent, who invited me to join them at the bar for whisky. I obliged with no querying of my presence in Prešov this time.
As the time crept towards 5pm, me and two others began the walk to the ground located away in a residential area of Prešov. Some random chanting from my two pals echoed through the cold Prešov afternoon (I daren’t ask what the chants actually meant) and ten minutes after leaving the pub, we were outside the Tatran Stadium – the home of FC Tatran Prešov.
Tatran Prešov are actually Slovakia’s oldest club having been formed in 1898. It’s largely believed that the first professional football game in what is now Slovakia occurred in Prešov; although the town was ruled by Hungary then and so the club played 2 Budapest clubs under the Hungarian name for Prešov: Eperjes. Like the townspeople, the club are now nicknamed ‘Konare’ and like their nickname, the club were considered the ultimate dark horses of the Czechoslovak league back in the 60s and 70s. They finished as unlikely runners-up on a couple of occasions and were beaten cup finalists in 1966.
The Tatran Stadium was constructed in the first decade of the 20th century and has been the site of football in Prešov since the game arrived in town. Today, the ground holds 5,400, although it’s not the prettiest sight you’ll see. I was fenced in the corner with the away fans on an open terrace with 3 sides of the ground being fairly similar. The only real stand was to my left, but even that was a rickety, old, wooden thing. The majority of the ground seemed to be a sort of rusting, fading green with the words ‘1 FC. TATRAN’ in big letters across one stand.
The game was a fairly good one with Spartak looking to make up for their disastrous 7-0 loss last time out against Žilina (I have no doubt that Žilina will comfortably win this league). Prešov languished down towards the bottom of the league in the little mini-relegation league that has started between them, Zlaté Moravce and DAC, so they were also desperate for points too.
The Spartak fans were in good voice and there was almost something to really shout about in the first half when big Cameroonian striker Robert Tambe hit the post with a guided header.
The next chance went the way of the home team and they really should have taken the lead. Musefiu Ashiru broke through on goal for Prešov, but instead of hitting his effort first time when one-on-one with the keeper, he dithered and Spartak got back to tackle him and clear away. A lucky escape thanks to some awful decision-making.
That’s when one of the fans from earlier in the day spotted me and shouted something towards me with a grin on his face. By then, I’d been chatting with another Spartak fan who spoke English and when I asked him what he was saying, he told me he was calling me ‘police’. I think the whole police thing was a bit of a joke by then, but also a gentle reminder that if I was somehow some sort of informant, they’d probably be killed.
The last real chance of the half fell to Spartak left back Oliver Janso – although I say ‘chance,’ it was far from a chance. From about 35 yards out and with no-one near him, Janso rocketed an effort which swerved everywhere before crashing against the crossbar and probably almost snapping it.
That was it for a fairly entertaining first half.
Half-time: Tatran Prešov 0 – 0 Spartak Trnava.
At half-time I did something really stupid. After those initial ‘being undercover’rumours, what did I go and do at half-time? Have a nice, smiley photo with the geared up police officers in the away end. I wasn’t helping my cause there and it didn’t go down well. A few of my questioners from earlier had spotted me and began to follow me as I headed off to the little food/drink van for some halftime beer and klobása. They made it very, very clear that they were not happy with me posing and being chummy with the police. I apologised and thankfully didn’t get my head knocked off. Lesson learned.
The second half was more of a thriller than the first and it wasn’t long before Spartak had the lead. A superb through ball saw Erik Jirka go through on goal. He coolly dispatched his shot past the advancing keeper and then wielded away to us away fans in the fenced off away end. There were suitable scenes.
Shortly after, it was 2-0 to Spartak as a corner saw the ball eventually fall at the back post for big Robert Tambe to tap in from close range. Once again, there were scenes.
A fairly nervy final 15 minutes was setup as Prešov went and equalised. Spartak had looked comfortable, but Jakob Bartek buried one in the top corner from close range with 15 minutes. I teach a student with that exact name, so I’ll try not to be too harsh to him in lessons this week.
As expected, Prešov were beginning to pile on the pressure in the dying minutes, but eventually Spartak broke. It became three Spartak attackers v one defender, as Tambe charged from the halfway line. At the very last second he passed across goal to Martin Mikovič, who tapped into an empty net. It was great to see Mikovič come off the bench and score, as the skipper had missed the 7-0 hammering at Žilina because of injury. Plus, having enjoyed a quick beer with the man himself weeks before in a Trnava bar, he’s probably my favourite Spartak player.
Full-time: Tatran Prešov 1 – 3 Spartak Trnava.
The Spartak players came over to thanks the fans and poked their hands through the fence to shake hands; of course, I went to say hello to my old mate Martin Mikovič, but lack of eye contact saw him fail to recognise me (not that I was expecting a secret hand shake and a man hug or anything – or him even to remember me really).
After I left the stadium, I found myself walking along a pitch black lane alongside the small Torysa river. I had definitely taken a wrong turn as I found myself very much alone heading towards the tower blocks on the edge of town. If any Prešov thugs wanted to pick me off, now was their chance – especially with a convenient river to dump me in. Fortunately, I seemed to be the only soul around and the sight of the tower block estate prompted me to do a u-turn. I made it back to the hotel where I decided I was going to relax for an hour or two – it had been a very long and draining day so far.
Spartak fans were heading out-of-town on a late train, so by the time I was back in town, it was a hell of a lot quieter. The Irish Pub in town had been closed earlier in the day and so I headed there to be a proper British tourists. However, like every other Irish pub I’ve been to in Slovakia, it wasn’t very Irish-like at all. I think every Slovak town has an opportunistic pub owner who believes throwing up the words ‘Irish Pub’ on the front of their establishment will get in more foreigners passing through town; I would criticise the tactic, but it seems to work, as I keep visiting them and giving them my business when travelling across Slovakia.
My beloved local pub in Trnava is actually called Lokal Pub, so I was excited to learn of another craft ale bar presenting itself in Prešov, under the even more concise name of just ‘Lokal’. And it was in here that it happened again. I entered a fit of hysteria. I perused the beer menu on the wall, before turning to the barman to ask about one particular beer. And then I saw it: winking at me seductively behind the barman were several bottles of Punk IPA. It was ordered and, just like when I found it in Pezinok a few weeks before, it was a delight. ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ they say and this couldn’t be more true of my relationship with Punk IPA these days.
The next morning I was getting up at 7am to head to Košice and having got up at 5.30am this morning, I felt my night was coming to an end before midnight. My usual sturdy endurance was failing me and I couldn’t be bothered to battle my tiredness. Having bought the most Slovak of meals – a pizza (literally, every street in this country seems to have a pizzeria) – I headed back to my hotel to rest up ready to go again in east Slovakia the next day.
It had been an interesting day and one that’ll probably stay with me for a while. At times, I felt a bit like Louis Theroux and having to deal with claims of being an ‘undercover police officer was certainly a new one on me. There wasn’t too much to the ground at Prešov, but I’d visit the town again.
The next time I’ll be on the road with Spartak will be for the big derby against Slovan Bratislava, which I’m sure will be an experience…
Highlights: Spartak fans in good voice, Prešov was a cool town, Spartak winning (including a Mikovič goal), Lokal.
Low Points: having to explain not being a cop (never thought I’d type that).
See all my photos from my trip to Prešov here.