Slovan Bratislava v Spartak Trnava
Štadión Pasienky / Slovak Super Liga / 4th December
If there’s one thing football loves, it’s a good old-fashioned, fierce rivalry. This past weekend saw two of Europe’s biggest derbies take place with Barcelona and Real Madrid competing in El Clasico and Lazio taking on Roma in the Derby della Capitale. Undoubtedly they are two of European football’s most renowned contests. I’m sure a lot less people were aware that Slovakia’s very own ‘Clasico’ was taking place on the Sunday afternoon.
THE game in Slovakia is Slovan Bratislava v Spartak Trnava. Slovan hate Spartak, Spartak hate Slovan. This isn’t a crosstown rivalry either, this a rivalry between cities: Trnava the cultural and artistic capital of west Slovakia, Bratislava the outright capital of the country. I learned quickly of the hatred; even while watching a game at Devinka Nová Ves, I angered one gentleman by simply revealing I lived in Trnava. He made it quite clear to me that he was a Slovan fan and he hated anything related to Trnava.
Slovan are the most successful team in Slovak football history having won the old Czechoslovak League 8 times over 5 decades and the current Slovak top flight 8 times; they also claimed 4 league titles between 1939-44 when Slovakia was briefly an independent nation before communism came to rule. However, I’m sure Slovan would state their finest achievement was winning the 1969 European Cup Winners’ Cup final 3-2 against Barcelona- the only Slovak club to hold a European title; not that the club would celebrate and boast about this sole fact through their Twitter bio…oh…
Because of their success, you’ll find Slovan fans all around Bratislava and across the country, but the one place you won’t find them these days is the actual stadium. Since I’ve lived in Slovakia, Slovan fans have been boycotting their games, leaving their Pasienky Stadium a huge, empty bowl at times. I’m still not sure the exact details behind the boycott, but I believe it relates to unhappiness at the board. It was also suggested to me that Slovan fans have not been too happy about playing at the Štadión Pasienky since 2009, as it is the former home of their other rivals and crosstown neighbours, Inter Bratislava (who went into financial meltdown and began building again in the lower leagues). With Slovan attendances so low, spice was certainly taken out of Slovakia’s big derby day. Nonetheless, as a ‘Trnavský,’ I obviously wanted to check out the derby for myself.
I arrived in Bratislava early Sunday morning and went for a leisurely stroll around the Old Town, taking in the Christmas markets. It was my third Christmas market in three days having enjoyed some mulled wine at Trnava’s market on the Friday night and at Žilina’s festive effort the day after. Fairplay, Bratislava is a genuinely wonderful city and I’ve loved all my visits so far. I had planned to make my second pilgrimage up the hill to Bratislava Castle to get one of those awesome panoramic photos of the capital below. Then, I realised I really couldn’t be arsed and went to the pub instead.
On one street in the Old Town, you’ll find an Irish pub alongside a Scottish pub. Having sampled the Irish pub a couple of months previous – to watch Wales v Georgia on TV – I thought I’d give the Scottish one a go. Despite the name, Loch Ness Pub, and the various scotches on offer, I’m not sure what is particularly Scottish about the establishment. I was delighted though to find that they had that awesome IPA I was drinking in a Košice bar two weeks previous; once again, I forgot to make a note of its name, but I recall it had some reference to ‘Oceania’ in its name – I’ll remember it one day.
Having enjoyed a a healthy portion of IPA, I was then joined by Ju. I’d met Ju, a Derby fan from Chesterfield, at Spartak Trnava v DAC a few weeks ago. He’s clearly enamoured with Slovakia as, having traded contact details with me, he emailed me a few weeks ago saying he was coming back and he wanted to take in the Slovan v Spartak derby. To bolster his football weekend itinerary, we also headed to high flying Žilina the day before, as they trounced Trenčín 3-0. Following our quick visit to Žilina, Ju had joined me in Lokal Pub in Trnava Saturday night, but it seemed that once he had arrived back in Bratislava late that night, he carried on the party until the early hours. He was hungover enough Sunday morning to not join me in drinking IPA anyway and instead opted for a large coffee and a glass of water with lots of ice to start off the day.
I say it all the time, but undoubtedly one of the great things about groundhopping is the opportunity it gives you to meet fellow football fans. The Facebook group European Football Weekends – a spawn of Danny Last’s semi-iconic (and now defunct) blog of the same name – offers people the chance to share useful information on grounds and places across Europe, as well as offer opportunities to meet up with fellow football adventurers. Through EFW, I’ve met Thanos, my Greek friend residing in Bratislava, and this weekend he had met up with an American groundhopper named Michael, who now lives in Belgium and has a wife from Prešov (very cosmopolitan indeed). Belgian groundhopper, Stéphane, had also got in touch with me too about meeting up for the derby. So with Stéphane and his friend Vince meeting us in a bar opposite the Irish Pub, we all headed to the very British-sounding Red Lion to meet Thanos and Michael.
There was some confusion at first, as the Red Lion was closed, but soon a barmaid turned up for the 1pm opening time. Soon we were joined by Thanos and Michael and we were all one big happy groundhopping collective with a gregarious mix of Welsh, English, Greek, Belgian and American. In another show of the ‘small world’ of groundhopping, it transpired that Stéphane and Michael were already well-acquainted with one another from Belgian groundhopping, although neither one of them had any idea that the other was in Bratislava.
Beers were drunk and football talk was had, while Ju went outside for a cigarette with the barmaid and convinced her to let him take her out later that night. As the time crept towards 14:30 and the rather strange 15:20 kick-off time, we decided we’d get a taxi to the stadium located in the north-east suburbs of the city. Ju went on negotiation duties and tried to get us a taxi driver who wouldn’t play the ‘rip off the foreigners’ card. Eventually we had a car big enough for the six of us and an okay-ish €15 fare between the 6 of us. We were en route to the Štadión Pasienky .
We arrived at the home entrance with 30 minutes until kick-off. The others had already decided that they didn’t really fancy the hassle of the away end and so they made their way through the gate and into the home end. Me and Ju had the problem on our hands of actually finding the away end. I explained my stance to the smiley lady working at the ticket office, but she seemed to be encouraging me to get a home ticket and walk around to the away end; I explained to her that I didn’t think that’d be allowed or a particularly wise way for me to approach the away end. “You are not looking to fight are you?” she asked worriedly. I gave her a look as if to say ‘do I really look like I want to fight?’
We sussed out that we would have to make a 10 minute detour around the apartment blocks surrounding the one side of the huge bowl, until we arrived at the away end. Some police officers confirmed we were heading in the right direction for the away end, before the familiar red and black colours of Trnava’s support began to appear and we found ourselves in a car park with the rest of the travelling support.
I figured I’d keep a low profile today, but I didn’t really have a choice it seemed as some of the Spartak Ultras spotted me and came over to say hello to me. It seemed they had enjoyed reading my blog about my Spartak away trip to Prešov and one of the lads even insisted on buying me and Ju beers and joining us for a drink. This time, instead of serious questioning, jokes were made about the ‘undercover cop’ suspicions from my day out in Prešov and we had a good talk about British football in general. However, kick-off time was soon upon and it was time to head up into the bowl.
I’ve heard many slate the Pasienky, but it’s definitely the sort of ground I like: a huge open bowl with imperious floodlights – I can even cope with a running track encircling the pitch (I always feel such a feature adds a real ‘European’ feel). The floodlights have to be the oddest part of the whole setup: they’re awesome and huge, but they all have the red and white ‘Coca Cola’ logo scribed in huge letters on the side. They look a bit like huge Coca Cola branded cigarettes. It’s weird.
The teams emerged onto the pitch under the slowly oranging sky. A minute’s silence was acknowledged by all in the stadium in tribute to the victims of the tragic plane crash in Colombia, which killed virtually the entire playing and coaching staff of Brazilian club Chapecoense, as well as many other passengers on board. At the ref’s whistle to signal the end of the minute, the noise level shot up – from the away end at least – for the beginning of the derby.
Slovan have been in good form of late and have climbed their way up to 3rd place and into the final European place. Spartak, despite more scattergun form over the season, started the game chasing Slovan, who were 6 points ahead. I knew it would be a close game, but Slovan were probably favourites to win.
Undoubtedly, Spartak made the better start and, looked remarkably solid for the whole duration of the game really. Cameroonian striker Robert Tambe fired a shot from a tight angle to create an early chance, but it wasn’t long though before Tambe would get a more glorious chance…
There was a clear sense that momentum was with Spartak and their big moment was coming. Skipper Martin Mikovič dinked in a left footed cross from the right, which led to a half hit shot on goal; the scrambled shot was saved by the Slovan keeper, but in came Tambe to smash home from close range. Scenes occurred in the away end as everyone went crazy celebrating getting one over the enemy. Ju’s trip to the bar, located outside the stadium structure itself, was ill-timed it seemed, as he completely missed the goal. He did come back with beer for me just as the celebrations died down.
According to the official attendance there were 1046 in the stadium – no chance! However, there was certainly 300-400 away fans present and they were in superb voice for the whole 90 minutes, led by the two drummers at the front. Somehow, me and Ju got invited down towards the fence to join the drummers and the lads around them for the rest of the game.
From our new position on the terrace, we had a clear view of a Slovan attacker make a meal of some slight contact on the edge of the box and subsequently earn his team a soft penalty. I thought I knew what was coming. Up front for Slovan was former Championship stalwart Tamás Priskin – formerly of Watford and Ipswich. I had a feeling he’d score today largely because he’s the first former Swansea player I’d seen play in Slovakia. Priskin had played just 3 games for us on loan from Ipswich towards the end of our promotion winning season – ironically his only goal for us came against Ipswich’s arch rivals Norwich. As Priskin stepped up, hope suddenly filled me. Spartak’s goalie, 19 year old Adam Jakubech, is very raw and a bit erratic at times, but undoubtedly he’s a good shot stopper. Priskin’s penalty went to the keeper’s left and Jakubech got low to block it, before a Spartak defender lumped it away. The save was celebrated like a goal. There was maybe extra joy at the fact that Priskin is Hungarian – not exactly the most popular nationality in this part of the world
The rest of the half was one big Spartak party and Spartak didn’t ever really seem troubled. The penalty save seemed to have galvanized them even more. Similar to their 3-0 triumph at home to Spartak Myjava the Sunday before, Spartak were playing controlled, measured football and , dare I even say, eye-catching at times.
Half-time: Slovan Bratislava 0 – 1 Spartak Trnava.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first and Spartak just seemed to be in control without truly dominating. It really should have been 2-0 as the half developed.
Easily my favourite player in Slovakia is the mighty Mikovič – Spartak’s little winger, captain and all round local boy playing for his local club. He almost scored the perfect counterattacking goal. A clearance from a Slovan corner saw him head the ball to Tambe, who played a one-two, before Mikovič then volleyed to Hallilovic. Hallilovic then played Mikovič through on goal in a ‘classic Mikovič’ position. Mikovič rolled the ball past the keeper and I was already celebrating – before the ball cruelly hit the post.
There was no other real chances in the game and the away end was already in party mood. Football is such an unpredictable game, but, for some reason, I felt utterly confident that Spartak had this game won even with them only holding a 1-0 lead. Slovan looked a defeated team and they were to be.
Full-time: Slovan Bratislava 0 – 1 Spartak Trnava.
Once the Spartak players had come over to salute the away support and the travelling fans had shown them some love (through the medium of call and response chanting) the stadium emptied remarkably quickly. I just started taking a couple of photos of the lifeless bowl, when they started turning the floodlights off, leaving us in darkness. We seemed to be the last spectators leaving the stadium.
With the rest of our previous gang already heading back into the centre, me and Ju hopped on a nearby tram and made the 5 minute trip down the line back to the main station. Initially, the plan was to head out in Bratislava for a few celebratory beers, but a lively weekend was catching up with me and so I decided that I’d celebrate closer to home in Trnava.
There was enough time for a farewell beer in a bar in Bratislava station – a bar I had somehow missed before. It was definitely my sort of bar with football scarves adorning many of the walls. We enjoyed our beers while watching Manchester United v Everton on TV. A lad behind us picked up on our chat and he was groundhopper too, visiting from Yorkshire. Even stranger was the fact that later that night, Ju befriended a group of 15 lads from his hometown of Chesterfield- they’d been in the Slovan end earlier in the day too. It seems there were more international groundhopper in the home end than Slovan fans!
After saying my goodbyes to Ju, I was aboard the train to Trnava and soon back in my adopted hometown. My celebrations involved pizza and beer in Čajka, before I finished my weekend exactly where it had started Friday night:drinking warm white wine in Trnava’s main square at the Christmas market.
I always enjoy a trip 47km west to Bratislava and this Sunday was no different. It was great meeting up with a great bunch of fellow groundhoppers, Despite it’s emptiness, I enjoyed visiting the Pasienky, but most importantly of all, Spartak triumphed over Slovan. I tell everyone I speak to that as a town to live in, I’m delighted to live in Trnava and I’m already madly in love with the place. So it’s always nice to see my beloved Trnava’s football team get one over the more renowned city of Bratislava.
Highlights: enjoyed The Red Lion with other hoppers, huge bowl stadium, cool floodlights, Spartak win, good atmosphere amongst the away fans, scenes for Spartak goal, Jakubech’s penalty save, football bar in Bratislava station.
Low Points: stadium bit away from city, shame no fans in the home end.
See all my photos from Slovan Bratislava here.