ŠKF Sereď v Žilina II
Štadión Sereď / II. Liga – West / 4th March 2017
“I’m Al Pacino.”
A small town in south-west Slovakia was not where I envisioned meeting one of Hollywood’s finest, although I was highly sceptical that the chap making the above proclamation was the real deal. There was a resemblance to Pacino, but the fact that this gentleman could barely speak English, looked a bit younger than 75 and was inebriated by 1pm in this small bar in Sereď, all but confirmed that this man’s boast of being Al Pacino was likely a false one. This man was clearly a ‘character’ though.
On this particular Saturday afternoon I was to be joined by more illustrious company than any Hollywood A-lister: I was joined by Mr. and Mrs. Atherton Collieries themselves, Emil and Emma – if we’re sticking with the Hollywood theme, maybe the Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas of North West Counties football (of course, Emil is much younger than Michael Douglas!). We were definitely not in Beverley Hills though – this was the far less glitzy environs of rural, south-west Slovakia.
Emil and Emma were having a few days getaway in Slovakia and Austria, but Saturday is Saturday and Emil needed his football fix. So, I was put in charge of organising a football outing for him in my adopted homeland. The Slovak football fixture list had been healthily bolstered this weekend too, as the lower leagues returned following the 3 month winter break. Conveniently, ŠKF Sereď were at home – a team located a short 15 minutes down the train line from Trnava. Admittedly, I realised that the small town of Sereď was going to be a big change of tune for Emil and Emma, after they’d spent the previous day in the more august surroundings of lovely Vienna.
They were staying in Trnava, so I met them at the City Arena bar Bokovka, where both expressed their newfound passionate love for Vienna and Emma her disdain for a rogue schnitzel she had eaten that morning in Trnava’s City Arena. The ever-excellent Budvar in Bokovka perked us all up and by 12:30 we were abroad the train heading south. Like everyone who comes to Slovakia, Emil and Emma declared their love for Slovak trains, as we headed down the line on one of ZSSK’s fine double-decker trains. They were equally impressed by the combined paltry price of €5 for all 3 of our return tickets.
Emil has always questioned whether I fictionalise some of the strange situations I get myself into or the strange folk I encounter on my travels. I always reinforce to him that nothing is ever fabricated on these pages, yet even when he came along with me and Gibbo to Sandbach United at the end of last season, it was a fairly tame and ‘normal’ day by my standards. So, it was much to his bemusement and slight pleasure when what happened next unfolded.
There was a plush, little bar directly opposite the train station and we thought it would be rude not go in. Emil went to the bar and me and Emma sat down, only to be interrupted by the aforementioned Al Pacino in the corner.
“Anglický?” (“English?”) he bellowed Pacino-esque from his corner. I replied in the affirmative, not being bothered this time to add in my usual repose in this country of “I speak English, but I’m actually Welsh.” Our reply seemed to invite Slovak Al’s confidence and so he decided to then bring his beautiful dog over to Emma and made her shake hands/paws with the dog; sadly he didn’t introduce his dog to us by saying,”Say hello to my little friend.”
For 20 minutes Slovak Al didn’t stop talking to us – well, talking at us, as we couldn’t understand anything he was saying to us. Emma tried to help him out by handing him her phone and inviting him to type in his spiel on Google Translate; however, it seemed that Slovak Al was not the most techno-savvy, as he bizarrely pulled out a toothpick from his pocket and tried to use that to push the buttons on the touchscreen. We explained that touchscreen phones are not compatible with small wooden toothpicks, but Slovak Al had a quiet determination about him now. We gave up on this form of communicating, before Slovak Al soon had his arm on my shoulder and began leading me outside. I had no idea to what I’d agreed to, but fortunately he only took me next door to show me a hair salon and the fairly sizable house next to it. If I understood correctly, this was his business and his house – he’d done well for himself. Slovak Al was great fun, but another 30 minutes in his illustrious company would have been too much for us, so we left after the one beer and said our goodbyes.
On the surface, Sereď seems to be a typical Slovak town: commie apartment blocks, big church, pleasant town square featuring communist monuments and, of course, large Lidl and Coopertiva stores. However, the town’s history is less conventional and far from a happy one either. When Slovakia originally became the Slovak Republic between 1939-45, as Hitler made it a client state of Nazi Germany, it was here in Sereď where one of the nation’s three labour camps for the nation’s Jewish population was setup; around 14,000 Jewish people were eventually moved from here to Auschwitz in the final years of the war. To commemorate the town’s more tragic past, in 2016 a Slovak Holocaust Museum opened in the town. The museum was the other side of the town to where we were heading, as I was leading us to a bar on the map called the Balls Pub – the name raising the other two’s eyebrows – but sadly we found the pub closed until 14:30. No worries, just yards away was the Retro Cafe and that became our second pub stop of the day.
It was a nice bar with iconic pictures on the wall (the New York workers building the Empire State Building, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in a bar etc.) although it didn’t have any beer taps in use. Bottles of Pilsner Urquell it was to be. On the window was an advert for today’s game at ŠFK Sereď – the first sign of football we had seen all day. After receiving vague directions to the ground, we exited and made our way towards our Saturday football fix at the ground on the banks of River Váh.
As we headed around the corner from the bar, I knew we were definitely going the right way as I spotted two elderly gentlemen labouring up the road. Why was this confirmation? Because one of them had a cushion in his hand. I noticed this a few months ago, but it seems that you’re not really a true football fan in Slovakia unless you take a cushion to the game with you – preferably club-branded (yes, pretty much every club shop I’ve been in has them). The road snaked around the corner and 5 minutes after leaving the pub, we were at the Štadión Sereď.
Sereď had been sleepily quiet all afternoon (apart from Slovak Al) but there seemed to be a decent crowd going through the gates at the football ground; I supposed that people had missed their local football after its 3 month break – probably more so with Sereď sitting in 2nd place in the league. We joined the small queue to get in with entry costing €3 – this included a compact paper programme too.
I love the old Slovak lower league grounds. I’ve not seen many that have been given any sort of TLC, but as a fan of the more ramshackle-style of football grounds, this was absolutely fine with me. Here was no different. We found ourselves behind the tall main stand which was wonderfully tatty looking, yet there was another feature of the ground that truly caught all of our attention. Behind the stand was a small crazy golf course – really! Me and Gibbo went to Lancashire League club Fulwood Amateurs FC a couple of summers ago with their ground genuinely doubling as a driving range (obviously when no football was being played there), but I’m fairly sure I’ve never been to a ground housing its own crazy golf course. I suggested a quick prematch round to Emil, but the lack of putters on hand were to curtail such a plan. Instead, we headed to the large half wooden shack/half marquee bar to grab some beer and to watch some of the Manchester United v Bournemouth game which was being shown on a rather fancy-looking TV popped up on the bar. We didn’t get to view too much though,as kick-off at Štadión Sereď was soon upon us.
For the opening part of the game, we decided we’d enjoy our beers sitting up in the main stand and it was on walking up the steps and into the stand that the ground revealed its true trump card. Across the pitch, on the other side of the ground, was the most wonderful, quirky stand; the small raised stand stood perched on its own, almost ornamental platform with a little arched opening underneath it. It’d clearly had a tough life as we discovered at half-time when a gentle wind seemed to be blowing away one part of the roof. The photo below displays its amazingness and does it far more justice more than measly words ever will.
I still love that Slovak football retains the tradition of both teams waving to both sides of grounds as they line up in the centre circle (it’s usually funnier when one side of the ground is completely empty and the players still wave to an empty terrace). Equally joyous was the music the teams had come out too. Team entrance music has become a bit of ‘a thing’ on the blog this season and I stated back in November that the Austrian national team using Strauss’ Radetzky March to greet them to the pitch may be the most impressive so far (you sort of had to be there and be part of the equally boisterous too I think); clearly, the folk at Sereď had read my blog and they played the same tune here – even if it was a far less grandiose and more folksy Slovak-sounding version of the tune. Anyway, once all of this prematch ritual was completed, we were underway.
The opening 15 minutes were a bit slow to get started and we were not too bothered about ditching the action for a little bit as we went back to the bar for more beers (and breadsticks for Emma, who was still a bit hungry after the earlier unsatisfying schnitzel). We then opted to roam the crumbling stony terraces for the rest of the half, as Emil speculated how such a ground would fair if put under the stringent eye of the North West Counties ground grading system back home. I’m fairly sure they could write pages and pages of reasons why this place would not get near to achieving a suitable grading for Step 5-6 non-league football back home: the uneven, dilapidated stone terracing, the obstructive basketball court behind one goal, the equally obstructive football court behind the other, the roof partly blowing off the stand, the abandoned crazy golf course etc. . Luckily, no-one is really arsed about football at this level here in Slovakia and so I’m left with rickety, ramshackle grounds to explore most weeks.
We eventually arrived at the small stand on the platform (even more beautiful close up) where we settled down to watch the rest of the half. The game had improved a lot, as Sereď took the game to Žilina II. They’d had one shot cleared off the line in the opening ten minutes, but it would take until the 27th minute for the home team to take the lead. A great corner into the box was brilliantly and bravely headed home.
I’m told that these days half of Atherton are walking the streets wearing the rather fetching black and white ‘Colls’ bobble hats that Atherton Colls have ordered in. Emil and Emma were very kind to bring a bobble hat along for me as a present and with Colls’ game v Winsford called off that morning, we figured we should represent the club in Slovakia. So my flat cap was substituted for my new bobble hat halfway through the first half and photos were taken for the Colls social media clientele to show that Atherton Colls were on show that day at least, even if the team were not.
Back on the pitch, Sereď were looking comfortable – especially their no.14 left winger Adam Morong, who was causing repeated havoc down the wing. It would take something special for Žilina II’s young team to get back into the game and something special they certainly did muster up. Following a corner, the ball was cleared 25 yards away from goal, where Bosnian defender Bojan Letić let the ball bounce once, before hitting a superb volley that curled wickedly away from the keeper leaving him no chance. Or as Emma summarised it: “Well, what can you do?” Great punditry.
Half-time: ŠKF Sereď 1 – 1 Žilina II.
We completed our lap of the ground and on purchasing some beer for the second half, we stood on the stone terracing to the right of the goal to enjoy the second half.
The second half was fairly entertaining, even if it did take Sereď until the hour mark to retake their much deserved lead. The goal came about in comic fashion as a Žilina defender went to head back to his goalie, only to find the keeper jad come out to meet the ball too; in snuck the attacker around the two of them and tapped into an empty net.
Sereď wrapped up their scoring from the spot in the 66th minute, as they’re rather robust-looking skipper walloped in with his left foot. He was a powerful looking lad, so I couldn’t fault the goalie for getting out of the way of his spot kick.
The first 15 minutes had been rather dull and it was to be the same for the final 15 too, as our attention soon switched to planning on what to do that evening in Trnava instead. A decent spectacle for the most part though. A much deserved win for the home team as they kept themselves in 2nd place.
Full-time: ŠKF Sereď 3 – 1 Žilina II.
My mission to provide Emil with his football fix whilst he was in Slovakia was complete and we were soon heading out the gates again with a healthy crowd of 525 (the figure according to go-to Slovak football site Futbalnet.sk at least). As we left we began to discuss whether Atherton Colls (who play in the 9th division of football back home) would have beat second tier Sereď ; I’ve had fun at Slovak football all season, yet my opinion is so low of the standard that I genuinely believe Colls would give them a game.
There wasn’t exactly an abundance of trains out of Sereď that evening and, as welcoming as the town had been, we didn’t really think there was too much there to occupy us until the late evening, so back to pub number one we headed. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or saddened that Slovak Al was nowhere to be seen this, but our second visit to this bar was certainly much quieter now that we were Pacino-less.
And that was us done in Sereď. We’d found perhaps my favourite stand of the season, seen some decent football – including an absolute belter of a 25 yard volley fly in – and we’d even met Al Pacino. You can’t ask for much more can you?
Of course, we did make sure we got more back in Trnava as we hit some of Trnava’s finest bars, before finishing up in one of dingiest, but greatest. All good nights in Trnava finish in the Krušovice bar’s smoke-filled, wooden compartment-loving confines drinking a mixture of beer, borovička and Tatra Tea, whilst putting nostalgic classics that remind you of home on its battered jukebox. Even though the barmaid refused to accept my €20 note as it had 2 of the most tiny rips in it, a great night was had and Emil and Emma seemed happy with their weekend away in my little part of Europe.
The real Al Pacino once said, “‘There is no happiness. There is only concentration.” Well, after the shots in Krušovice, our night finished with not much concentration, but certainly happiness.
Highlights: being joined by Emma and Emil, easy and cheap to get to,bar opposite the station, Slovak Al Pacino, old, battered ground, THAT stand, crazy golf course, decent game, Letić’s goal.
Low Points: Slovak Al (he was hardwork too), not much to the town, couldn’t actually play crazy golf.
See all my photos from Sereď here.