FC Slovan Hlohovec v TJ ISKRA Borčice
FC Slovan / IV. Liga – West (North-West) / 5th March 2017
I think I mentioned it in one of my early blogs about my Slovak football travels, but Slovakia really is bountiful with footballing grounds – most of them in fairly tumbledown condition. Look out the window on any bus or train journey as you go through even the most obscure of villages and you’ll usually spy the sight of a dilapidated old stand. Of course, this is great for me. It’s from this ‘I-spy’ method that I discovered my favourite ground in Slovakia so far, ŠK Bahón (just look at its bucolic magnificence!). Now, I have a bit of an evergrowing list building in my head of other grounds I’ve spotted on such journeys and need to visit. Today was one such example of a ground on my list, as I headed to a ground not far from my Trnavský home and a ground I had spotted several times when I’ve head east out of my adopted hometown on the train. Also, I was about to reach a new low in terms of Slovak football spectating as I sunk further down the football pyramid and headed to watch my first game in the 4th tier of Slovak football. My destination? FC Slovan Hlohovec.
The day before, I’d been watching football in the relatively heady heights of the II. Liga at ŠKF Sered along with my visitors from the north-west of England. Our party carried over from our day at the football and into the night in Trnava, where an excess of beer, borovička and Tatra Tea was enjoyed. Thus, Sunday morning I woke up suitably groggy, but with just enough time for a hasty shower and to get myself breakfasted before heading back out the door for more groundhopping misadventures.
Just like the previous day when, I really didn’t have far to go on this fairly pleasant Sunday morning, as I boarded the train in Trnava at 10.28am and found myself at my destination at 10.48am via a train change in neighboring Leopoldov. As soon as we hit the home stretch heading into Hlohovec, the sight of that unloved football ground came into view. The sky seemed to almost instinctively greyen as the sight of Slovan Hlohovec’s greying structure emerged.
I alighted at the train station (obviously, Matt) and realised there and then that I had done virtually no research into the town and had no clue as to where I was going. However, despite writing a blog called Lost Boyos, I seem to rarely actually get lost and I’d like to think I have a competent sense of direction. I ignored the pathway alongside the train track back down to the nearby football ground and instead headed for the large church I could see in the near distance, concluding that that would be near some sort of town centre.
Hlohovec is a pleasant, if slightly rundown in parts, little town sitting next to Slovak’s longest river, the River Váh, and with some hills backdropping it. I could try make it sound nicer, but I think the town’s website musters up something far more poetic (even if some of the translating is a bit stilted around the edges):
‘At morning’s dawn, when the first rays of sun appear on the eastern edge of town, they always first touch the high hills embracing Hlohovec, sliding down onto vineyards, fields, and meadows; from there down below to the valley. They slowly creep into the streets, slightly pressing against the windows of the houses to greet their dwellers. Ultimately they touch the surface of the river Váh, coiling down the valley in a wide, arching bow. Such is the beginning of a new day.’
Lovely stuff. I’m sure Wordsworth would have even been proud of that spiel.
I wandered lonely as a cloud through the quiet streets for a while, seeking anything of interest, before I emerged onto the streets surrounding the imposing, yet beautiful church in the centre. As I’ve seen regularly on a Sunday morning in Slovakia, locals couldn’t get through the church doors such was the number of church-goers already present within and so instead they crowded outside and tried to participate in the service from the square. It really was a nice church, but by now I was looking for a place of alcohol rather than a place of worship. Soon I found a place of alcohol that I’d willingly worship at regularly.
We have a new Slovak record for my cheapest pint! The previous had been a €0,80 beer in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, but here in Hlohovec, the Hostinec Ryba (which I believe translates as the ‘Fish Tavern’ – no sea life here though) was offering Topvar for €0,75 a pint. It was a fairly big open bar with wooden picnic benches and drunks already slumped upon them. The sign on the door stated that the bar had been open since 5am, which may have explained the drunken, almost zombified locals around me. Some of them were even braving the darkened room in the corner labelled with athe international sign for ‘Over 18s only’. Initially, I wondered what might be going on in there, before I could hear the chiming sounds of various fruit machines. Nothing dodgier (I assumed).
For €0,75 a pint, I made sure to at least get two beers here in the Hostinec Ryba, before finally being enticed by the rather charming, antiquated building across the road. As I got closer, I realised the building was nothing too special and was in fact a pizzeria. My photographing of the building for blog purposes caught the attention of the two waitresses inside, who looked a bit freaked out by my audacity to snap their restaurant. And so I felt I had to go in for at least one beer to prove I was at least a little bit ‘normal’ to them. Admittedly, I’m not sure I did myself any favours in the normality department by turning down a pizza in a pizzeria; more so, when I saw just how cheap the pizzas were just as I was leaving.
I then zig-zagged my way through more residential streets, before I came across the open square I had walked through earlier. I’d made a note of it purely because I liked the name of the bar there: Slopper Club. It had earlier been closed, but now through the open gates I headed and down the small alley I found a small wooden-sheltered area, where I guessed smokers were plonked. I ignored that area and headed indoors, where it seemed I was the only punter, aside from an old man and a child; don’t worry, the child was left to play on an iPad, he wasn’t already on the borovička (although it wouldn’t have surprised me in this country). The barmaid seemed excited to see me anyway, as she seemed keen to practice her clearly very good English. But, once again, there wasn’t much to see here and half the town still seemed to be in bed on this early Sunday afternoon.
I have had experiences of kick-off times being wrong on Slovak football websites and sometimes even being offered a range of kick-off times (and dates sometimes), so I do have a habit of going to the ground a little bit earlier than I used to just to be on the safe side. Plus, Slovak football grounds usually have a more than respectable bar effort to keep me busy if I do arrive early. So, with that in mind I headed back towards the train station to work my way around to the ground.
I followed the ‘FC Slovan’ signpost by the station and that led me through some sort of wasteland, until I emerged through a gap in a decimated brick wall and into what I first thought was some sort of small industrial estate. In front of me was a large warehouse – or so I thought – and some youths skateboarding around the graffiti-tarnished skate park adjacent to it. I began to make my way around the warehouse – estimating that the football ground would be on the other side of it – only to learn that it wasn’t a warehouse at all; this was the home of HC Sporta Hlohovec – the town’s handball team. I’ve mentioned before that generally ice hockey is king in Slovakia, but handball is quite a big deal too, although definitely more popular in other countries in nearby central/Eastern Europe than in Slovakia. Hlohovec is definitely a handball town with the local team playing in the top tier of Slovak handball, the Extraliga. Despite me mistaking their handball arena for a tatty warehouse, it was still far glitzier than the football ground that I’d find on the other side of it.
As I said, I’d seen Hlohovec’s footballing theatre of dreams from the train a few times and I always liked its modest, rundown look. Well, close up it was more uncared for than I realised. The ground is dominated by the fairly large main stand (standard Slovak setup of platform raised above pitch level) with stone terracing running around two of the other sides of the ground. I was approaching the ground from behind the goal and there was literally no fencing or boundary stopping me walking directly onto the pitch. Thanks to this, I was bombarded by stray footballs from a misfiring shooting warmup from the away team, TJ ISKRA Borčice. Of course, I loved this as I ran around chasing footballs like an excitable puppy and pinging them back to the players; this was until I tried one rather ambitious long ball that curled wayward and went nowhere near the pitch. One of the players then indicated that I could abandon my role as makeshift ball boy and I concurred that I should probably go to the bar instead.
I headed through the gates and was greeted by a rather sad-looking, middle-aged lady sitting behind a desk seizing everyone’s €1 entry. Every game I’ve been to in Slovakia, regardless of the level, has always given me a proper ticket, which always makes me smile, and here was no different.
Once again, here, even in the 4th tier, I found a very respectable club bar that seemed to be a cavernous building with a range of football paraphernalia gracing the walls; this included a shrine to Slovak football deity, Marek Hamšik. Hamšik is king in Slovakia and I’ve regularly got irate with some of my students who like to claim, “but Mr. Matt, Hamšik is better than Bale.” I have taken to supporting Slovakia, since I live by the national stadium, and, yes, Hamšik is awesome, but the notion that he is better than Bale is absurd and I do get riled up by the claim – even with the little 11-year-olds who argue such a silly idea (I’m fairly certain they do it on purpose to wind me up and I probably do get too serious with them). Anyway, I bought my beer (€1), shunned worshipping at the shrine of Hamšik and headed up into stand ready for kick-off.
Unlike the day before at Sereď where a ‘Slovak-ed up’ version of Strauss’ Radetsky March greeted the players onto the pitch, today there was no such grandiose. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have even noticed the teams come out if it wasn’t for the garish, Fiorentina-esque purple shirts of Slovan Hlohovec and the gentle pitter-patter of semi-interested clapping. Apparently there were 150 in attendance, but I thought there was about half of that and most of them stayed in the bar drinking shots all afternoon and watching the Premier League football on TV.
Not to sound like a broken record when it comes to Slovak football, but predictably 4th division football was comically bad – especially in the first half. Borčice sat at the top of the league and they at least played the more competent, error-free football. It was Hlohovec’s errors that led to the opening goal in the 5th minute, as their defender sliced a clearance from a scramble in the box and the Borčice attacker sliced a volley past the keeper to make it 1-0 to the away team.
The goal woke up Hlohovec, especially they’re rather lumbering striker who I quickly dubbed ‘Slightly Fat Slovak Gareth Bale’ – the slight resemblance coming from his bobbed hair and beard; he certainly didn’t play like the real deal and I’d certainly concur with the students in school if they argued that Hamšik was better than Hlohovec’s ‘Slightly Fat Gareth Bale’ (who was irritatingly playing up front and wearing the no.6 shirt).
There was a crazy moment in the 11th minute, when Borčice had a chance to fire home from close range, but the attacker’s shot hit the goalie’s underside, shot up into air, hit the post and rebounded away. That was as fun as it got really.
By now, some stingy, tight-fisted spectators had taken their place in the open area behind the goal and were thus unashamedly stealing football viewing by circumventing the €1 entry fee. Some people…
Slightly Fat Slovak Gareth Bale had his moment to shine, when the Borčice goalie dropped the ball from a Hlohovec free kick. Slightly Fat Slovak Gareth Bale came running in to smash it home, but instead fluffed his lines under pressure.
Half-time: FC Slovan Hlohovec 0 – 1 TJ ISKRA Borčice.
As the second half unfolded and things began to get a little duller on the pitch, I headed back to the bar for more beer and I decided to change my vantage point. In a superb touch, atop the bar on its roof was an open beer garden looking out on to the pitch. I pictured this as idyllic in summer, but the environment was slightly spoiled on this afternoon as the sky had now turned a very ominous grey.
Hlohovec had had a bit of a go in the first half, but the second half belonged solely to the away team as they waltzed to an easy victory. In the 54th minute Borčice made it 2-0 – not that I saw the goal. I looked away as they scored, clearly seeking anything more interesting than the football on show.
A minute later, it was 3-0 to Borčice courtesy of their own footballing clone. Hlohovec may have had a Gareth Bale-a-like, but Borčice had themselves their own version of a Football League stalwart and journeyman Richard Chaplow. Slovak Chaplow, wearing the no.10, was easily the best player on the pitch and finished off a fine back-heeled pass across the box.
I stayed around long enough to watch a Borčice attacker smash a shot across goal, which somehow no-one bundled in, but by then I was done. In a rare case for me, I’d lost proper interest in the game. I decided that I wanted to watch the end of the game, although I’d be doing spectating from the comforts of the club bar, where I could watch by the window and also watch some of Tottenham v Everton too. I’d become part intrepid football-goer/part stereotypical Premier League armchair fan. Admittedly, I probably became more of the latter as there was little of interest happening outside the window, whilst on the TV in front of me, Pochettino’s Spurs were playing their usual exciting brand of attacking football.
Full-time: FC Slovan Hlohovec 0 – 3 TJ ISKRA Borčice.
Trains out of Hlohovec back to Trnava were getting less frequent in the late afternoon, so instead of hanging around for hours after the game, I decided that I had seen enough and to get the train back about half hour after the final whistle. I paid my respects at the shrine of Hamšik and got out of there.
I began working my way around the open side of the ground, where I noticed a groundsman (possibly) taking the nets down. I saw my opportunity; I hurdled the fence and gestured to ask the fella would he take a photo of me on the pitch in front of the stand. He seemed to find it funny and bemusing that someone wanted a photo on the pitch at his club, nevertheless he was more than obliging. It was then time to get out of Hlohovec.
I know I always take the piss out of the standard of football here, yet I do revel a little bit in the masochistic act of putting myself through watching it all. However, the standard of football will never put me off visiting places like Hlohovec. The ground was a battered, old places, but brilliant because of it. It certainly had character – like most grounds in the lower leagues here to be fair – and with plenty of football being played in the lower leagues here across Saturday and Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised to find my Sabbath day accommodating 4th division football again; who knows, maybe even lower again next time.
Highlights: decent little town, Hostinec Ryba and its €0,75 pints, another ramshackle ground, good bar, Slovak Richard Chaplow showing.
Low Points: town a bit dead, poor game.
See all my photos from Hlohovec here.