FK Senica v Slovan Bratislava
Štadión FK Senica / Slovak Super Liga / 11th March 2017
‘Be not dazzled by beauty, but look for those inward qualities which are lasting.’ – Seneca.
The great philosopher Seneca’s words were needed as I arrived in Senica. My best Slovak pal Tomás hails from the small town in the north-west of Slovakia and he’d always said he’d show me around once I finally decided to head there to visit FK Senica, who play in the top flight of Slovak football. Sadly, our plans conflicted and I headed north-west solo. Similar to me when I talk of my hometown, Merthyr Tydfil, Tomás derided Senica, but at the same time lavished love on his hometown too. The great philosopher Seneca was rather more beautiful with his words, but on arriving in the close-to-Seneca-namesake town of Senica, the word ‘beautiful’ was not in my mind. But, as the quote above advises, as always I was prepared to seek out the ‘inward qualities’ of the town.
Part of the reason I’d decided to go to Senica on this Saturday afternoon was because I actually had to go into school to work on the Saturday morning and Seneca’s 5pm kick-off was the best option for me to make in plenty of time. I was in school to complete IGCSE Speaking and Listening tests with students. Each student had to prepare a speech on a topic and then discuss it with me, so my morning was spent discussing a range of subjects, such as Steve Jobs, organic food in Slovakia, Breaking Bad and the rights of the LGBT community. By 11.30am, we were done and after my boss, Lubica, had very kindly taken us out for an early lunch in Trnava, I was aboard the 13:03 train to Senica.
Field after field after field passed by my graffiti-covered train as we headed north, until we entered a small valley of mountains. This was the first time I had been on this train route and it was cool to see the unrecognisable names of obscure towns and (mainly) villages en route; forgotten little places such as Bíňovce, Smolenice and Jablonica (I bet they all have shitty football grounds though, so who knows, I may well end up,at one of them). 58 minutes after departing Trnava, I arrived into Senica – there wasn’t a lot to see.
My initial hopes that the name ‘Senica’ was some sort of Slovak grammatical mutation of the name ‘Seneca’ and that somehow there would be some bizarre link between the town and the Roman philosopher were dashed after the briefest bits of research. The name Senica actually derives from the Slovak word for ‘hay’ –seno – and the suffix ‘-ica’ which can be added to place names. With the rural areas enveloping the small town, I suppose the link to hay made sense, although the town itself certainly had more of an industrial vibe.
On arrival, there was a bus waiting at the station, which most of my fellow train passengers were boarding. I snubbed the bus travel and figured I’d get to know Senica a bit better with a walk. A bad move to be honest. The train station is located right on the more rustic edge of the town and so the walk proved to be a long one with little to see apart from fields and abandoned industrial buildings. Soon though, I was in more familiar and more Slovak surroundings, as I became engulfed in apartment blocks. In fact, it felt like most of the town was one big commie estate. There were a few rundown, little bars concealed in amongst the jungle of tower blocks, but I decided to snub them as I headed for what I assumed was the centre. I was correct, although there wasn’t much of a centre – just a large church (as always), a few cafes and a busy main road; it seemed that most of the cars were passing through rather than arriving into Senica though.
Senica native Tomás had given me one pub recommendation: the Hellstork Bar – Hellstork being a brewery near Senica. Tomás had even bravely compared it to my much-cherished local in Trnava, Lokal Pub. A big claim indeed. I found the square where Google Maps claimed the Hellstork Bar to be, but there was no sign of it. I had decided I had gone wrong, until two men emerged through a door on a balcony area just above me and it was here I spotted the word ‘Hellstork’ on the window. My word am I happy I found the place.
The Hellstork Bar ranks as one of my favourites that I’ve found on my Slovak travels. Similar to my beloved Lokal Pub, there was a chalkboard listing the various craft bears on offer. I opted for one of Hellstork’s own, Pink City IPA. It was flipping glorious! Plus, extra points here as most of the excellent beer was still priced at a fairly average €1,50 compared to the more expensive, but far from extortionate, €2+ prices in my craft beer-loving local in Trnava. It seemed that Senica wasn’t really in a craft beer mood on that fairly pleasant Saturday afternoon, as only another two customers entered the bar whilst I was there. Maybe there was more life in the place later. The beer was good enough to keep me there drinking until around 4pm when I decided to begin the walk to the stadium with this evening’s game kicking off at 5pm.
Down the main road I headed, before veering left past more apartment blocks and into the town’s park. We were well into March now, but the place was still very autumnal with piles of brown leaves and bare trees. The only colour was the distinct blue of a structure just through the trees: this was the bright blue seating of Štadión FK Senica. Although nothing particularly thrilling to write home about on first look, the ground was a decent, little modernised ground. It reminded me of a mix between Zlaté Moravce’s ground and nearby Myjava’s stadium. Clearly the ground had undergone some sort of development in recent years as everything looked very neat and tidy.
I headed to the ticket office, where I surprisingly found a lady who could speak perfect English and who seemed confused as to why I was there. I asked for the cheapest ticket, which set me back a whole €3. You can’t fault around £2 for top flight football!
Across the road from the ground, I spotted a bar called The Beer House. I assumed a bar with such a name would be big on their beer; instead, what I found inside was more of a family restaurant full of screaming kids. I sat at the bar for a quick beer, before heading back across the road and into the ground.
On entering, I found myself in a large open area alongside the car park. Bravely, Slovan Bratislava’s team bus was even parked behind the home stand. I went in search of a bar and headed into the nearest building. ‘Yes! A bar!’ I thought triumphantly and briefly. The briefness of the thought was largely due to the big, skinheaded Slovak fella all in black steamrollering towards me. He, clearly a bouncer, pointed me out the door and then tapped on the VIP sign. Hadn’t he heard of Lost Boyos?
Back outside, I found the actual bar for the lowly, non-VIP folk like myself. The bar was a little hatch, which on peering inside contained what looked like 3 middle-aged women stuck in a claustrophobic cupboard full of cardboard boxes. On ordering my beer, one of the women went off to an unsighted corner of their cupboard and re-emerged with my plastic-cupped beer costing me a mere Euro. Where the beer was produced from though, I’ll never know.
Beer in hand and kick-off looming, I headed to the stand. I realised why my ticket cost €3 as I found out that ‘Sektor E’ was the open stand alongside the main stand. This was fine, as it was a clear evening in Senica, although I think I would have coughed up the extra Euros to go in one of the other, more sheltered, stands on a more rainy, wintry evening.
FK Senica must hate seeing me arrive at their games. The first game I ever attended in Slovakia was on my week long reconnaissance visit in Trnava last April. I watched Spartak Trnava comfortably beat Senica 2-0. Since then I’ve seen Senica lose 4-2 at Žilina and 2-0 at local rivals Spartak Myjava (who have recently resigned from the league mid-season). That’s 3 losses out of 3 when I’ve seen Senica live. I even once walked into a pub when Senica were on TV and leading the game, but after 5 minutes of me being in the pub, they conceded 2 and went on to lose (I can’t remember who against). I am a curse upon FK Senica, but maybe watching them play at their home ground would end such a curse. Or maybe not…
As the teams arrived on the pitch, I was more distracted by the loon who stood at the top of the steps into the main stand brandishing his Manchester City v Ajax half-and half scarf in a way that suggested he was maybe trying to sell it. Around his neck was a FK Senica scarf – also blue and red. Aside from a half-and-half wielding weirdo, we got through the usual prematch etiquette and soon the game was underway.
There was a whole host of familiar football characters on show. Firstly, I was delighted when I noticed young Boris Balis – son of WBA legend Igor Balis – running down the left-wing in front of me. Boris featured on Lost Boyos way back in September as he played for Spartak Trnava II away at Svätý Jur. I’d seen him play for Spartak’s first team a couple of times too and despite, being very, very raw, I was a big fan of his. I had no idea he had moved to Senica on loan over the winter break.
Also, for those who are fans of obscure, former Premier League reserve goalkeepers and Football League goal scoring heroes, Slovan Bratislava had two such players representing them. Jogging towards the away section just before kick-off was Everton’s former Polish keeper Ján Mucha and he seemed to be getting a lot of love from the away fans. Playing out on the left for Slovan was former Watford and Ipswich goalscoring supremo, Tamás Priskin (who also played 3 games on loan for my beloved Swansea from Ipswich – scoring once for us against Ipswich’s arch-rivals, Norwich). To be honest, Priskin looked a shadow of the player he once was, although he never really struck me as an attacker who should be playing out wide. The main striker role he probably desired was occupied by Slovak footballing legend Róbert Vittek though.
The Slovan players had fairly loud support behind them, but as per usual there was only a small gathering of Slovan fans behind the goal, as most continue to boycott the club for a number of reasons it seems. Senica don’t really have any sort of vociferous fanbase and so the only noise in the stadium came from the Slovan fans chanting their disdain for Spartak Trnava. They also had their usual chants about being fascist and hooligans. Ironically, their pro-fascist chants seemed to be the tune of the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West – and I’m not really sure the Pet Shop Boys and fascism are very compatible together.
Senica have a young team, whilst Slovan are 2nd in the league at the moment and pursuing a slightly faltering Žilina team for the top spot. Senica played some nice football and looked neat and tidy, yet lacking any sort of killer blow. Slovan appeared a bit more streetwise and dealt with them comfortably.
There was little to mention in regards of chances and it wasn’t really surprising that the deadlock was broken with a penalty. A brilliant run from his own half from Slovan’s no.45 Aleksandar Čavrić, eventually saw him chopped down in the box and it was a definite penalty to the away team. Up stepped Slovak football journeyman Róbert Vittek to make it 1-0 from the spot in the 23rd minute.
There were a few half chances for Slovan, who now looked comfortably in control, but little to get excited about it. I was very impressed with Slovan’s no.4 Vukan Savićević, who I thought was bossing things from the middle of the park. Aside from Savićević’s showing, there was little else of interest happening football-wise.
Half-time: FK Senica 0 – 1 Slovan Bratislava.
I headed back to the beer cupboard at half-time with food now also on my mind too. I had my doubts that such a cupboard could conjure any substantial food, so I was happy to see people walking away from there holding cigánska – Slovak football’s food of choice. Cigánska it was to be for me! One elderly Slovak try to converse with me as I waited for my half-time food, but it didn’t take him long to realise I had no idea what he was saying. He seemed to find my lack of Slovak hilarious though and then proceeded to tell the rest of the queue about there being a foreigner amongst them, whilst he still laughed hysterically.
As I headed back to the stand, I was almost knocked over by the scarf man from earlier. He now had his Ajax/Manchester City scarf tied around his neck and he was now circling the car park frantically brandishing his outstretched Senica scarf between his hands. He seemed a popular guy as his parading was interrupted several times by people stopping to say hello and chat to him. I was still unclear whether he was actually trying to sell his scarves or if he was just very, very proud of his two scarf collection. Nevertheless, he soon had the Senica scarf back around his neck and the Ajax/Manchester City was once again being thrusted around instead. I didn’t make any offers for either of them anyway – if they were even for sale.
As the second half got underway, I noticed that a sudden coldness had hit the ground and my new coat wasn’t fulfilling its duty of keeping me warm (although, thinking the freezing winter months had now past us by in Slovakia, I had bought the coat more for its look than its practicality and heat retention). Maybe the football would be thrilling and distract me from the slight chill; then I remembered that this was Slovak football and putting faith in the football being of decent quality is utterly pointless. The second half really was shit.
Once again, there were a few chances, but ultimately it was just Slovan retaining the ball and comfortably dominating without ever really exerting them too much. The highlight really was the excellent cigánska.
As full-time slowly approached, I realised that this game was definitely going to finish 1-0. My curse upon FK Senica was to continue on. Forgive me Senica, I promise it is nothing personal.
Full-time: FK Senica 0 – 1 Slovan Bratislava.
As both teams headed off to clap their respective fans, I made a hasty exit as I braced myself for the long walk back to the station. I remembered the bus I spurned earlier, but I couldn’t be bothered to work out where and when the bus back to the station was, so I committed to the long walk again instead. Through the park I headed, which was quite creepy in the darkness now, and back out onto the main road. There were those same quiet bars with their lights on, but otherwise Senica seemed like it was on shutdown as I strolled the darkening streets alone. There wasn’t even a Coopertiva open for me to buy some beer for the train home. ‘Not to worry though,’ I thought, I’d spied a bar opposite the train station earlier in the day – that would do the trick.
Eventually, I found myself heading back down the long, dark road, past the abandoned industrial buildings, then a small forested area and eventually back to the station. Predictably, the bar was closed and it actually looked like it was closed down completely. I instead had to waste away my final half hour in Senica sitting in the train station, whilst an inebriated middle-aged couple swayed back and forth, smoking and drinking from cans of Corgoň, whilst sporadically tripping over their multiple bags of shopping from Kaufland on the floor.
I was soon home to Trnava though and soon back out on the town on learning that my French friends had more French friends visiting them. More importantly, all of my French drinking buddies that night were from Brittany – the part of France my parents have just moved to. I learned that my French pals and fellow Trnava-dwellers, Axel and Helene, had never been to Krušovice bar before and so, just like the Saturday before, I found myself on the borovička and gasping for air in Krušovice bar’s smoke-filled room to round off my day out.
So what ‘inward qualities which are lasting’ did I find in Senica? Well, the football was terrible and there wasn’t much to the town. The Hellstork Bar was probably the most beautiful thing I found there and I suppose the football ground was decent too, otherwise I think you’re better asking my pal Tomás about more of Senica’s virtues, as I’m clearly struggling.
Highlights: Hellstork Bar, decent ground, cheap food and beer, Vukan Savićević was good to watch.
Low Points: hell of a walk from the station, not much in town, awful game of football.
See all my photos from Senica here.