MŠK Púchov v FC Neded
Mestsky Štadión / III. Liga – West / 8th April 2017
Victor Valdes, Carlos Puyol, Michael Reiziger, Phillip Cocu, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Luis Enrique, Xavi, Ricardo Quaresma, Ronaldinho, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert – a mighty formidable line-up of players if I do say so myself. This is the team that lined up for Barcelona for their 1st leg game of the 1st Round of the 2003/2004 UEFA Cup. This was the first year of Frank Rijkaard’s managerial reign at Barca and this was also the season that the mercurial Ronaldinho arrived at Barca and began his jettison towards becoming the greatest player on the planet at the time. These were the nascent, pre-Guardiola days of Barca’s rebirth after years of underachievement. A portion of this side would go on to win the league the next season and lift the Champions League two years later in Paris. Back to this 2003/2004 UEFA Cup campaign though and Celtic fans will probably remember fondly that it was them who knocked this Barca team out of the competition in the 4th round. However, 3 rounds before the Bhoys beat the Blaugrana 1-0 over 2 legs, Barcelona had a more unlikely scare.
The aforementioned stellar line-up were the team who took to the field at the older incarnation of the Štadión Antona Malatinského in Trnava – the stadium now minutes from my flat and now used as the Slovak national stadium. However, it was not Spartak Trnava who Barca were taking on, but instead upstarts from the north, FK Matador Púchov; the team who had won the Slovak Cup the season before to earn themselves qualification into the UEFA Cup. Púchov’s actual home ground was deemed not worthy of Barcelona and UEFA, so Púchov were forced to head an hour south down to Trnava to play their European tie against the Catalan giants.
Surprisingly, at half-time Púchov were still holding Barca 0-0, but in the 49th minute the familiar name of Patrick Kluivert popped up on the scoresheet. It was a deserved lead. Púchov were dogged and resilient, but Barcelona were just several classes above them.
As the clock ticked past the 90th minute, Ronaldinho surged forward on one of those majestic dribbles that would be the fulcrum of lengthy YouTube compilation videos venerating him in the near future. The Brazilian seemed to effortlessly glide away from everyone and was through on goal and looked destined to make it 2-0. Ronaldinho being Ronaldinho, he went for a cheeky dink over the onrushing goalie. However, the magician’s trick went wrong and the dink was fluffed badly. Púchov scrambled and got the ball cleared to the edge of the box before lumping it up field. The crowd noise suddenly shot up in hope of one last chance. A perfect low cross from the right and across the infamous ‘corridor of uncertainty’ and the goal was left gaping. In slid Milan Jambor to tap home. The clock reads 93 minutes, so cue absolute scenes seconds later as Púchov claim a famous 1-1 draw. Check the video below to see the 30 seconds of football that began with a Ronaldinho one-on-one and ended with a Púchov equaliser.
Even though Púchov were punished brutally for having the audacity to grab a draw against one of Europe’s elite – Barca thrashed them 8-0 in the 2nd leg – that night in Trnava must surely go down as the most memorable in the club’s history. Sadly for them, the club never kicked on and, like most clubs in Slovakia, they entered a massive decline. The Matador in the name FK Matador Púchov refers to the car tyre producing multinational located in Púchov and once they pulled out of sponsoring the club, the club began to sink. Today, 13.5 years after that Barca tie and after a series of name changes, plus a couple of mergers with other local clubs, MŠK Púchov, as they are now known, sit in the 3rd tier. Fair to say it’s a world away from the circles occupied by Ronaldinho, Xavi et al.
I left my adopted home of Trnava at 10:30 and after an hour of train riding to the north – which included a couple of beers in the train bar as always – I arrived into Púchov. Everything I’d read about Púchov described it as an ‘industrial town’ and that was clear to see as soon as I arrived. I was here mainly for the football today and to say I’d seen the Slovak club who had drawn with Barceolona; away from football, I knew fully well not to expect too much from the town of Púchov itself (not that I was expecting much from the football either).
Púchov sits at the start of the mountainous area that leads up to Žilina. As beautiful as some of the surrounding area can be, I’d noticed on my previous train journeys through the area that the region is scattered with large, abandoned factories from the communist era – lot of these near Púchov. I was welcomed into Púchov by some tatty- looking industrial warehouses and graffiti stating ‘No Reds, No Sharps, Fuck Off AS!’ I assumed that the grafitti was directed towards nearby neightbours AS Trenčín. AS Trenčín are well known for having a very left-wing following; I’d heard that Púchov fans can lean a lot more to the right and probably wouldn’t take well to some of the sentiments expressed by Trenčín fans. As well as anti-Trenčín graffiti, there was also the usual ‘ACAB’ tag covering another wall – a tag found across a lot of towns in Slovakia and surrounding countries (ACAB = ‘All Cops Are Bastards’).
Over on our Czech brothers’ site, The Blansko Klobása, there’s always a lot of love for the Danube. It’s an outstanding river and I agree with the hyperbolic language usually used to describe it, but slowly but surely I’m becoming a big fan of the Váh river in Slovakia. It was looking beautiful today as I crossed it to reach Púchov’s main hub, although it was probably the only part of Púchov I’d describe as beautiful.
I know I’m the sort of person that ardently tries to see the best in most things, but, put bluntly, Púchov was a bit of a dive. The town was a dull, grey place littered with the coldness of the worst aspects of communist architecture. Not even the three very prominent and rather pretty churches could alter my opinion. After a 10 minute wander of the streets laden with typical communist tower blocks, I needed a beer and so I settled for one in the Caffe West. To my delight they had Zlatý Bažant ’73 – a far nicer take on the original Zlatý Bažant in my opinion.
It was also whilst in Caffe West that I took to Twitter and was reminded that the Grand National was taking place at Aintree later that day. I’m not a big gambler to say the very least, but I usually throw a couple of quid on the National. As I had only just been reminded of the event, I originally figured I wouldn’t bother this year’s gambling market with my measly few quid – that was until I spotted something on Facebook, which completely changed my mind. My pal Steven Arthur is the luckiest and jammiest person I know with him always seeming to win bets and be able to draw a fair amount of cash from fruit machines. On seeing him post on Facebook about a 16/1 horse sharing his surname, One For Arthur, I felt it was a sign and I took a £5 punt on the name Arthur being lucky again (as had many other of his Facebook friends, judging from his Facebook comments). I phoned my contact who was actually at Aintree (Craig was on his uncle’s stag weekend taking in Blackpool and the Grand National) and my bet was on. Fingers crossed.
I headed across the street to another bar and found an unlikely mascot outside: Marilyn Monroe – a full-sized plastic depiction of her obviously, not an actual reincarnation of the American sex symbol. As I said earlier, Púchov had the typical appearance of an industrial, communist town, so Marilyn Monroe, a symbol of the gaudy, flamboyant America of the 60s, seemed a bit out of place here. Within the small, dingy pub I found a scruffy, old fella, who already looked out of it and far more fitting to the surroundings than Marilyn was. There were no complaints from me in here, as beer cost €0,80 and the bar had some music channel on blaring out 80s anthems. Nothing lightens up a gloomy room than Genesis slamming out some Invisible Touch.
With the town being a bit grim and with not a lot on obvious offer, I turned to my old pal Trip Advisor to see what it could uncover for me here in Púchov. Not a lot it seemed, although there were a lot of glowing reviews for a bar called Čierny Havran (‘Black Raven’). On noticing that it was just around the corner from Marilyn Monroe, I thought it rude not to pay a visit.
I found Čierny Havran easily enough, even though it’s hidden away below street level and beneath a hotel. The reviews were spot on: Čierny Havran was awesome. The two women serving were friendly and smiley towards me, despite speaking virtually no English, the beer was good and the food menu was extensive, inexpensive and in English too. A lot of the aforementioned reviews praised the restaurant’s traditional Slovak dishes, yet I opted to go in a completely different direction with my food order. Being a completely landlocked country, Slovakia is not known for its seafood, nor is it very prevalent here. I love my seafood and on seeing “squid with garlic sauce” on the menu – which I surmised was a very loose translation and was probably calamari – I immediately opted for that. For €5 I did indeed get a huge portion of calamari and fries. A delight.
Further entertainment was added to my Púchov pub experience with the additon of more 80s music videos parading colourfully on the TV screens (Jason Donovan, Ray Parker Jnr., Prince etc.), before the TV was turned over for the final 30 minutes of the Vaughn/Wilson comedy romp Wedding Crashers – in Slovak of course. Christopher Walken proved particularly amusing dubbed over in Slovak. But it was once this was finished that the the true TV treat kicked in – my favourite Slovak show: Tvoja tvár znie povedome.
The show is a Slovak version of a show concept used across Europe called Your Face Sounds Familiar. In a nutshell, it’s a Stars in their Eyes style setup, but with celebrities performing as famous singers. The genius part of the show comes from the fact that the celebrities don’t chose who they perform as, but instead a ‘Randomiser chooses for them- sometimes to bizarre effect; for example, the time I witnessed a white comedian having to ‘black up’ to perform as Cee-Lo Green. I envisioned OFCOM having a field day if such exploits were aired back home. I could have happily sat there all afternoon watching, but having been in the bar for an hour and a half, I decided to head for the football ground – of course only after the Slovak celebrity on my screen had finished his rendition of Ricky Martin’s Maria.
It was 15:30 and as far as I was aware I had an hour until kick-off. It seems as the Spring blossoms and the night’s get lighter, Slovak lower league football push back their kick-off times with most games now being a 16:30 kick-off on this Saturday and some going beyond 17:00 kick-off times in a few weeks. I say most kicked off at 16:30, as I’d noticed some at other times. So, as I strolled casually through the town, my heart sank a little when I saw a large billboard advertising today’s MŠK Púchov v FC Neded game as a 15:30 kick-off. A look at the time on my phone told me that it was already 15:45 and if this billboard was correct I had already missed the opening 15 minutes of the match. I wasn’t too far from the ground and the distant sound of a referee’s whistle confirmed to me that the game was most certainly underway. It seemed I’d misread my information online.
“Shit! I’m going to have missed 20 minutes of the first half,” was my initial reaction, before I remembered I was heading to a Slovak 3rd division game and decided 20 minutes less of watching it was probably a good thing. I’m sure some of the more rule heavy groundhoppers reading this are throwing their scrupulous handbooks at the wall in anger at the notion of me daring to be so blithe about being 20 minutes late and daring to count it as a ‘tick’. Even with the ground now in sight at the end of the street, I didn’t exactly rush, but soon I was at the gate to pay my €1 entry.
MŠK Púchov’s football stadium sits in the middle of a whole sports complex alongside the Váh with the football ground being flanked by a large sports centre on one side and a hockey stadium on the other. The football ground was what I’d come to expect from the lower depths of Slovak football: a large stand on one side of the ground with the rest of the arena consisting of a curving, open, stone terrace. And of course, this was all very thinly populated with spectators. On one side of the ground were more youthful folk standing behind a Slovak flag and I figured this must be Púchov’s small band of loyal Ultras.
No matter the level in Slovakia, you can usually guarantee that the ground will have a large, electronic scoreboard – it’s as if ‘having an electronic scoreboard’ is the only criteria on a Slovak ground grading application (if such an application even exists). Anyway, the scoreboard at the far end of the ground revealed to me that Púchov were already 1-0 up against Neded.
There was almost a second goal shortly after my arrival, as Púchov could have made it 2-0 with a delightful goal. As is the usually the case, the no.10 looked a good player and he should have had an assist to his name. A superb run through the defence led to him backheeling a pass across the goal, but Púchov’s attacker skied an easy opportunity in front of goal.
There was some quite nice football on show on this overcast Saturday afternoon, yet there wasn’t really anything in terms of chances and so the game slowly turned into a fairly bland one. I went off to explore the rest of the stoney terraces as the two teams tried to get something going on the pitch.
Half-time: MŠK Púchov 1 – 0 FC Neded.
I’d completed my lap of the ground as the half-time whistle sounded. I approached the friendly, hi-via jacket-wearing chap, who earlier had looked almost honored when I had asked him to take a photo for me. My question to him didn’t exactly require a mastery of the Slovak language: “Pivo?” He pointed out the gate and to a bar attached to the side of the ice hockey stadium.
Mid-beer, I could hear the blowing of the whistle to signal the start of the second half. I’d already missed the opening goal and a whole 20 minutes already, so I once again took my time and didn’t rush – safe in the knowledge that Slovak football would probably offer up nothing exciting during those extra few minutes in the bar (I was correct).
For the second half I headed back to my position isolated by myself underneath the scoreboard and hoped for something to happen. Not much did.
The game followed the same script as the first half with Púchov dominating and playing some nice passing football at times, yet chances were still at a minimal. I decided to go for another wander around the ground, so past the Ultras I headed (where I noticed a few stares heading my way) and to the terrace near where Púchov were attacking.
It turned out my move was a good idea, as I had a perfect view of the second goal and a perfect view of why the linesman was correct to let play continue, even though Neded’s Nigerian centre back, Toheeb Olayemi Taiwo, protested vehemently for an offside flag long after Púchov had gone through on goal. A quick one-two and Púchov went through on goal unhindered to score again and to make it 2-0.
The game was done with that 2 goal lead, although I found a new form of entertainment for the closing 15 minutes. Neded’s Cameroonian midfielder seemed to be attempting his best N’Golo Kante impression by covering plenty of ground in midfield and making plenty of tackles. The amusing part came from the amount of times he went to ground and sort of half-won tackles, yet never seemed to come out of the tackle with the ball. It happened time after time and kept me amused for the remainder of the game at least.
Full-time: MŠK Púchov 2 – 0 FC Neded.
It wasn’t exactly a thriller, but I had actually seen some better football than I usually see in the realms of Slovak lower league football.
Earlier in the afternoon, I found myself not really looking forward to the prospect of spending almost 2 hours in Púchov post full-time, as I’d have to wait until the 20:09 train back to Trnava. However, thanks to that surprise earlier kick-off, this meant I could now get out of Púchov 2 hours earlier on the 18:09 train. There really didn’t seem any reason to hang around and, one bar aside, there had been very little to truly entice me into staying in Púchov. Not long after kick-off, I was back at the station and soon I was rolling out of Púchov as the evening suddenly seemed to be turning hotter and sunnier than it had been all day. Perhaps it was pathetic fallacy signaling the happiness that was about to come my way.
Fair to say, I’d forgotten about the Grand National by now, but as I was reading up online about another disappointing loss for my beloved Swansea City that afternoon, I noticed that the National was in its final stages…not only that, but One For Arthur was winning. My phone wasn’t getting the best of internet connections in north Slovakia, but I seemed to be reading that One For Arthur had only gone and won the bloody thing! Soon this was confirmed to me emphatically, as I received a ‘YOUR HORSE WON!’ text from my man at Aintree (he stupidly didn’t tag along with my ‘lucky Arthur’ bet). Time to celebrate my £60ish win! (Not exactly a fortune I realise, but that’s look 4 nights out in Slovakia).
Admittedly, in a Slovak train bar there isn’t really anything exactly extravagant to celebrate with so I stuck with the €1.50 bottles of Krušovice. I even had someone to celebrate with too, as a man sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and in broken English seemed to be telling me that he knew me from ‘Facebook posts’ and so he insisted I join him for a beer. Nice guy, even though the language barrier was a bit of an obstacle; I don’t think he knew what the Grand National was either as I tried to explain my joy.
I love reading about football history and with Slovak football not having as rich a football history as others, it was great to uncover and be reminded of the Púchov 1-1 Barca story a few months ago. For that alone, I’m glad I visited Púchov. I don’t think I’ll be in too much of a hurry to go back to the town though.
Highlights: bizarre Marilyn Monroe icons, cheap beer, Čierny Havran, €1 entry, 20 minutes less of Slovak football, some decent passing football at times, One For Arthur winning the Grand National.
Low Points: Púchov a bit bleak, not much to Púchov, getting KO time wrong (as much a bad thing as a good thing) and missing a goal, few chances in the game.
See all my photos from Púchov here.