FK Slovan Duslo Šaľa v Baník Horná Nitra
Šaľa Stadium / III. Liga – West / 18th March 2017
“Say hello to my little friend,” I declared Pacino-esque as I proudly sauntered over to our table in Partizani, whilst wielding a Tommy Gun. I should probably elaborate.
I had my pals Ed and Sean visiting me in a Trnava for the weekend and so my Friday night was spent showing off the town’s finest drinking holes. Of course such a tour included the battered and beautiful (at least on the outside) Partizani. Also, joining us out on the town were my French pal Axel, who was determined to break his own personal record for most beer drunk on St. Patrick’s Day (he was genuinely tallying on his arm), and blog regular Ju, who was visiting once again from Chesterfield. As we drank our beers in Partizani, it suddenly hit me that there was enough of us to unleash one of the bar’s infamous ‘guns’. I ran off to the bar and told the others to brace themselves, before I reemerged with a wooden tommy gun containing 10 shots of borovička. Joyous stuff. That was the catalyst for what then became a very, very blurry night for us all.
I mention this as it explained why I woke up the next morning to hear Sean being sick in my toilet at 8am. This wasn’t too surprising; after all, this was the same lad who made a star turn on these pages a few years ago, as he showered Dumbarton Castle in sick before we went to watch the local football club there. I, on the other hand, am very proud of my sturdy resistance to both hangovers and post-drinking sickness, so when I woke up feeling rough, I knew we’d had a good night out in Trnava. The issue with our grogginess was that we had agreed to meet Ju at Trnava station to catch the 10.30am train south to Šaľa via Galanta. I lay in bed worrying I may actually have a rare hangover for me, so I got up showered (my shower really is awesome) and put some tunes on to gee myself up and my two compatriots who lay still half-dead in my living room. It did the trick.
At 10.30am we were aboard the our first train to Galanta – and of course we sat upstairs as Sean and Ed experienced their first Slovak double-decker train.
We arrived in Galanta just before 11am and had an hour wait there to make the mere 10 minute journey further south down the line to Šaľa. Not to worry though, I knew full well from a previous visit that Galanta train station had a good bar. Me and Ju embraced the hair of the dog theory and got back on the Budvar, Ed opted for coffee and Sean had Coke, although he hardly drunk it, as he made sporadic visits to the toilet to continue unleashing more spews leftovers from the previous night’s ‘sesh’.
Our hour in Galanta passed us by quickly as Sean entertained us with how dead he was and also with some football trivia. There was a lot of football trivia questions throughout the day actually. Sean’s self-made and quite bizarre question proved infuriating: name the player who’s played for 4 clubs in 3 different countries and has had Thierry Henry, Fredi Kanoute and Vinny Samways as club team mates. Even with clues it proved a killer to us and it took us most of the afternoon until Ed stumbled upon the answer (which I’ll drop at the end of the blog).
Shortly, after midday we arrived into Šaľa and it wasn’t the prettiest sight to be honest. Like many of these small Slovak towns that I venture to for football, the place seemed asleep. A long road took us from the station and past the usual parade of colourful tower blocks, before we veered right towards a church we’d spied in the hope that that was where the town centre would be found. Our supposing was correct, although it was certainly not a bustling place.
The town centre was dominated by another typically fancy, sizable Slovak town church, but there was little else around us. We spotted a few cafe bars down the street and headed there and down some steps into a bar located below street level called A-čko Bar. What we found was a fairly flush, sort of tacky-chique bar. Pilsner was bought and we headed downstairs, although Sean spent most of his visit with his head being in the bar toilet, as the repercussions from the night before continued. More football trivia ensued between our remaining trio as Ed deployed the more fun ‘Top goal scorers in the Premier League beginning with each letter’ question (e.g. Top goalscorer for A is Anelka, B is Beattie, C is Cole etc.) We found it fun at least – you can google that one for the answers though.
There was one more visit to the toilet for Sean, before he was fit enough to get a few yards down the street to our second pub stop…well, I say pub, but it was actually a hotel. We entered the Hotel Centrál and the two women at the reception seemed startled and baffled as we asked was their bar open. Initially, they said it wasn’t before they seemed to have a rapid change of mind and invited us in. I can’t imagine the hotel and hospitality business is booming in Šaľa, so I guessed any sort of custom was welcome.
I was unsurprised to find that we were the only drinkers in the hotel bar, although I came close to leaving immediately on seeing the bar itself. Why? Their only beer on tap was Staropramen. My word, that beer bad, but I thought I could endure one. That turned out to be wrong. One sip and I felt sick. A second sip and it felt like it had triggered a hangover in my whole body. I was almost ‘doing a Sean’ and heading for the toilet. I held it together though, although once we left I did leave behind 3/4 of a pint of Staropramen. It really is rank, so much so it seems that it is the catalyst for my body to shut down.
It was now time to make the walk to the ground. Strolling alongside the main road, we eventually arrived at a bridge that took us across a particular vast part of the Váh river – Slovakia’s longest river. It was looking glorious on this Saturday afternoon.
As soon as we arrived at the other side of the river, we found ourselves outside the Šaľa Stadium – the home of FC Slovan Duslo Šaľa. It was actually on the other side of the bridge that I found out that Duslo are a chemical company, as we went past one of their buildings in the town Šaľa – which also explained why the club are nicknamed the Chemici. Chemistry was never my strong point, but I could tell from the roadside looking down at the ground that this ground had a formula to please me.
This was Ed and Sean’s first time in Slovakia, let alone their first Slovak football experience, so they were slightly incredulous, but happy, as we paid €3 to get past the small little ticket booth and into Šaľa’s footballing home. Šaľa Stadium was not particularly different to a lot of the grounds I’ve been to in the Slovak lower leagues, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The ground had the usual Slovak football ground ingredients of 1) a main stand where the seating is raised above pitch level in a grandstand-style and 2) open stone terracing running around the majority of the rest of the ground; although here there was another fairly big stand, by 3rd tier Slovak standards, on the other side.
We circled around the back of the stand and headed to the sort of wooden veranda/bar area attached to the side of the stand, which then led into the stand itself and another bar room. This room was an interesting one as for some reason there was a whole load of Sampdoria stuff in here – from photos on the wall of the team in action to part of a mannequin wearing a replica shirt. Now, I’m all for Sampdoria shirts – they are beautiful and iconic – but there had to be a link between the Italian giants and this small Slovak third division team somewhere. I took to google in search of a link, but my online search proved futile. Not to worry though reader, the link eventually presented itself to us and all will become clear by half-time.
Still, no alcohol for Sean, as he still participated in sporadic vomiting sessions in the toilet, but the other three of our group all settled for the Kozel and it proved much more settling for me after the Staropramen horror show earlier. Ju had entered the bar querying loudly for all to hear, “Does anyone speak English here?” so attention was drawn to us immediately. Fair to say the locals were bemused at an Englishman and 3 Welshmen arriving at their humble local football club (I made the differentiation between us and the English the best I could through hand gestures and speaking loudly in a tongue clearly undecipherable to them).
Eventually, the hefty and rather bombastic chap working the grill, which was the home of some huge klobásas and cigánskas, declared he could speak some German, so I was put on communicating through pigeon German duty. He sought clarification to whether we were supporting Šaľa or Baník Horná Nitra today; “Šaľa, natürlich,” I replied and our host was all smiles then. He told me that he had been at the club for 10 years, but he couldn’t muster up enough German to tell me in what capacity; he could have been the chef there for 10 years, he could have been a very hands-on chairman providing the catering too – we’ll never know.
The teams emerged and this meant I had to swap my very snazzy Kozel glass for a plastic one, as we headed out pitchside. I began my apologies in advance to my visitors for the diabolical standard of football they were about to endure, as we crept our way along the semi-circular stone terrace behind the goal. Ju continued to ask random spectators if they spoke English with the answer being a predictable “Nie” every time. We were very much the only English speakers in a sea of Slovak language.
We headed around to the other stand to watch the first half – it was definitely not a classic. Despite some in party declaring the football ‘better than expected’ I thought it was the usual dull, dross I suffer most weekends. Ju had clearly had enough too, as he suddenly disappeared. We then spied him back over on the terrace chatting to another female. The problem he had in chatting her up was she spoke no English. And so I got to witness the strange sight of Ju and this woman passing his phone back and forth as they chatted via Google translate. It turned out she was the mother of Šaľa’s goalkeeper. Ju hadn’t scared her at least and she was the willing photographer of a group photo for us.
Had much happened on the pitch? Not really. The most exciting thing we had to chat about was the irritating haircut of Šaľa’s right-winger. If there was a TV show ‘When Man Buns Go Wrong’ (imagines Alan Partridge delivering the infamous ‘Idea for a TV show…’ into his dictaphone), then Šaľa’s winger would be a prime protagonist. Think of a blonde-haired Jason ‘He’s got a pineapple on his head’ Lee. Choosing such an exuberant hairstyle surely meant he had to deliver on the field, yet his play was as frustrating to watch as his bobbly hair. Every rare touch of class was followed by abject attempts at superfluous flair or just shoddy touches and passes.
Half-time: FK Slovan Duslo Šaľa 0 – 0 Baník Horná Nitra.
Half-time meant lunchtime and as headed back to our pal’s grill from earlier. My football cuisine tastes are transforming slightly as I’ve noticed myself opting for cigánska over klobása more frequently (apologies to our friends over at The Blansko Klobása for the blasphemous comment). Here was no different. However, I almost threw my cigánska back at our server when he told me it was €4. 4 whole Euros for food in Slovakia is unheard of! Just a week earlier I was having cigánska for just over €1. I tried to make my point clear to him in German, but he didn’t understand or was feigning not understanding. I had no doubt that this was the ‘silly-Brits-abroad-know-no-better-so-let’s-rip-them-off’ money-making tactic that you sometimes experience here in Slovakia (especially from taxi drivers). Yet, I will say that this was genuinely the finest cigánska pečienka I’ve had in Slovakia. It was beautiful and huge! I’ll be careful to say ‘value for money’ though, in case I have an ardent Slovak football catering audience who decide they need to raise prices nationwide.
If I thought I’d been ripped off, then I was even more flabbergasted when the fella charged Ed and Sean €6 each for their Klobása. Maybe the fact that it came served on an actual proper plate with the bread served in a little wicker basket made him think that it’s value should increase. However, once again, it was a huge piece of meat and the lads were full of praise for their first ever taste of Slovak klobása.
As the natives were clearly fascinated with us, Ju – ever the unshy – headed over to attempt to chat to them. I think the chat involved just saying the names of British football teams. Once again though it was Sampdoria who intrigued me, as a gentleman came strolling through the bar wearing a Samp coat and hat with someone’s initials on it. There had to be a link with Šaľa somewhere and it soon became clear.
To make up for our extortionately priced lunch, our pal came over again, but this time bearing gifts. Being Slovakia, of course the gifts he came bearing were 5 shots of borovicka – a free shot for each of us and one for himself too. We ‘na zdravie-ed’ and downed them with Sean even being polite enough to ignore his current disdain for all things alcoholic and not turn down free alcohol; this is especially important here in Slovakia where turning down free borovička is tantamount to treason.
Following our free shots, the grill guy led me back into the bar and towards the photos of Sampdoria. The Samp link was finally revealed as he pointed at photos of the Samp player in the photos and then at the Sampdoria coat-wearing man and stated proudly “Vater.” He then turned the Sampdoria shirt-clad mannequin around to reveal ‘Ivan 95’ on the back. The Ivan in question was Dávid Ivan – a Slovak youngster who’s played 20+ games for Samp but is now on loan at Bari. His dad was very happy to say hello to me (once again, there was little English understood or spoken), but I did learn that Ivan and his dad hail from Šaľa and Ivan had played for the youth teams here at Slovan Duslo Šaľa. It was great to see the locals clearly massively proud of a local lad making it all the way to Serie A.
The second half got underway as we were ordering beers to take up into the main stand. After watching fairly dire football for the first 45, of course we missed the opening goal of the game. Sadly for those around us, who were watching a game from a table in the bar, the goal went the way of the away team.
Now sitting up in the main stand, we witnessed a far more entertaining game of football as Šaľa sped things up with them now attempting a fight back from 1-0 down. The home team would get a deserved equaliser in the 73rd minute. A ball towards the left saw Muhamed Nurediny break clear and fire powerfully past the keeper.
The game was a lot more exciting in the final stages as Šaľa pushed for a winner, but, thanks to my Swansea fandom, we did find ourselves leaving early. Swansea were away at Bournemouth in the televised 5.30pm (6.30pm Slovak time) and during our outing in Šaľa I had worked out if we left the game bang on full-time, we could make the train back to Trnava with plenty of time to make it to Bokovka, where they’d be showing the game. We thought it’d be rude to just walk out, so we headed back to the bar to say a ‘dovidenia’ to the locals who had tried their very best to ignore the language barrier and make us feel welcome. Our grill-overseeing friend gave me a very long and powerful handshake, whilst Mr. Ivan proudly told his wife about how I’d given him some #NoFlatCapNoParty stickers.
We made it to the bridge back across the Váh and heard the ref blowing for full-time and to confirm the 1-1 draw.
Full-time: FC Slovan Duslo Šaľa 1 – 1 Baník Horná Nitra.
“It’s only a straight line to the train station,” I repeatedly insisted as others in our party said that to make the 17:14 out of Šaľa we’d have to leave 10 minutes before full-time. It wasn’t too long before I was admitting my error and realising that it was just a straight line to the station, but a bloody long straight line down he road at that. With minutes left before our train was due to depart, we all broke into a bit of a run, making it look like we’d committed some sort of gang robbery in one of the local Coopertiva and were now making a real shoddy getaway. We made it to the station with seconds to spare, but, predictably, after such a final burst of energy from us, the train was delayed. Once aboard though there were a few sleepyheads for the brief 30 minute journey back down the line to my adopted home.
After all that, in hindsight, I think I’d have rather have battled against a few more pints of horrible Staropramen in a shitty Šaľa bar than have made it back to Trnava to watch the Swans. The Swans were woeful as they lost 2-0 to the Cherries and the only positive of that part of the evening was Bokovka’s ever-brilliant Budvar goulash that comforted me through Swansea’s 2-0 defeat and general abjectness. The usual alcoholic panacea was ordered to blur away the Swans’ loss in the midst of their relegation battle.
Swansea may have let me down, but it was another good day in Slovak obscurity. There seems to be a pattern forming with my trips to Slovakia’s lower leagues games: arrive in small town with nobody around; find a dead bar; go to football ground with old grandstand and stone terracing; and watch shit football. It’s not a glwoing review, but nonetheless these trips are always fun. Today was no different and much love to the Šaľa lot who made us feel welcome and who were good fun – despite the complete lack of understanding of each other’s languages. I’ll also be keeping a closer eye on Dávid Ivan’s career from now.
Highlights: my pals visiting Slovakia, A-čko Bar was cool, typical, but cool Slocak ground, friendly locals, food was immense, hanging with Dávid Ivan’s dad.
Low Points: Šaľa is dull, Staropramen (yuck), food immense, but expenisve, football was crap.
Answer to Sean’s quiz question: Daniel Alves.
See all my photos from Šaľa here.