SFC Opava v FK Victoria Žižkov
Stadion v Městských sadech / Czech National Football League / 14th April 2017
Shortly after 9am, I was crossing the border into the Czech Republic, where I was greeted into the country by the usual presence the town of Břeclav. It was here I was to hop on to the InterCity train bound for Warsaw, although I’d be saving a visit to Poland for the rest of the weekend. I did however get a bit of a teaser for the country courtesy of the excellent Polish amber ale on the train. But, for now, I was staying in Czechia (does anyone actually call it that?) and so I dismounted the train in Ostrava – initially at the wrong Ostrava train station for my connecting train. My error was corrected soon enough and I got myself from Ostrava’s main station to Ostrava Svinov to make the short journey north to Opava – where I’d be visiting Czech 2nd tier club, SFC Opava. 5 hours after leaving Trnava and having changed trains in Bratislava, Břeclav and Ostrava, I had arrived in north Czech Republic, close to the Polish border.
Of my few forays across the border to Czech Republic, Opava proved to be one of my favourite towns so far; even though I was a bit freaked out by the stone, bird monuments, whose heads sporadically rotated slowly and in an Exorcist-style. These were virtually the first things I encountered in the town – a frightening introduction to the town.
The town was devoid of life on this overcast Easter Friday. With religion being prominent in this part of the world, most folk were tucked up at home with their families celebrating the Easter holiday. The town is small, but I found it very pleasant with its parks, pedestrianised streets and the usual big, fancy churches and municipal buildings. I had no idea where I was going, but I stuck to the rule I invented months ago when visiting these sorts of town in Slovakia and Czech Republic: walk towards the biggest church tower you can see and take it from there. This tactic took me right into the heart of Opava and then onto one of the main squares, where a load of wooden stalls were left unused in front of the wonderful town hall building.
All the shops seemed to be closed for Easter and some of the nicer-looking restaurants too; however, the grimmer bars, the sort of bars I love, all seemed to be open and busy and so I went in the first bar I noticed opened in the corner of the square. The smoke in the bar hit my nose hard and my hoody would reek of smoke for the rest of the day, but the Zlatovar beer was good, and only 22kc (about 70p), so I was content. Plus, the free Wi-Fi meant I could actually find out where the Penzion I was staying at was.
Following my Zlatovar, I headed a few minutes out of the centre and up towards the river Opava flowing alongside one of the housing estates. On the other bank was the Penzion Bárta, where I would be staying the night. I knocked the Penzion entrance door to no answer. After being uncharacteristically patient, a couple of minutes later, a woman came running out of the tattoo parlour just yards across the lane and she let me into my Opava abode. She explained that she was flustered whilst checking me in, as she was halfway through inking someone’s tattoo across the street, but didn’t want to leave me waiting. Impressive multi-tasking.
Back in the town, I ventured aimlessly into easily the most modern thing in the town, the large shopping centre, Breda & Weinstein. In here I found an excellent looking bar called Nová Sladovna. It seemed to be advertising it’s own craft ale, so I didn’t take much persuasion to head in.
As sad as it sounds, I do find myself actually missing Wetherspoons out here sometimes. Central Europe don’t do Spoons, but this bar was as close in appearance to Spoons as I’ve found so far – except there were no Fish Friday menus on the table or people off their tits having drunk there since opening time…actually there may have been some of those. The beer was superb and I tried two of the bar’s own: El Dorado APA and Galaxy Collective IPA. Weirdly, the male waiter seemed ill-impressed that I let the non-English speaking waitress serve me the first beer instead of him. “But she doesn’t even speak English!” he retorted, as if I should be able to know who is English speaking or not by sight alone. He seemed to make a point of being first on the scene to serve me my second beer though.
The clock was creeping past 3pm and with a 4.30pm kick-off on the cards today, I thought I’d walk up to the ground early to have a nose, visit the club shop and to probably head to the bar there. I zigzagged through the more residential parts of town, until I came back upon the river bank again. The pleasant walkway alongside the river would take me right up to the ground, where I arrived 20 minutes after leaving the bar.
I headed around to the back of the main stand, where I once again found a battered looking hotel built into it. This has become a running trend of the grounds I’ve visited over the past few weeks having witnessed similarly tatty hotels built into old stands at DAC and at Komárno. At the far end of the stand I found the dinky club shop. Not a lot going on in here, although everyone seemed to be buying these yellow t-shirts with some pro-Opava slogan written across it (I later noticed on Facebook that there was a rally crying for everyone to wear yellow). I bought myself a scarf for 250kc and I also purchased Craig a mock Opava shirt car air freshener as 1) he likes collecting random football crap for his car 2) Opava wear yellow and blue like his beloved DAC. The yellow and blue of Opava are the symbolic colours of Silesia – the region largely consisting of south-west Poland, but taking in a small section of the Czech Republic too. The people of Silesia are very, very proud of being Silesian, which I perhaps got more a sense of at Ruch Chorzów the next day.
With mementos purchased, I went in search of a bar. “Pivo?” I asked one fan who was sitting on a wooden bench sipping away at a pivo. On probably realising I was a silly foreigner, he got up from his seat, put his arm around me and led me into the hotel, past the reception and to a bar area located on the top floor. He then bowed and left me be – nice guy. Pilsner was drunk in the bar, whilst a rather cute, little cat wandered around. I know of ‘Non-League Dogs‘ but this was my first ‘Czech League Cats’ experience.
There were now just 15 minutes to go until kick-off, so I headed for the entrance in the corner of the ground, which would give me access to three of the four stands in the ground. A measly amount of Czech crown was handed over and I was into the fan area behind the stands. Here, there was a large beer tent and several klobása stalls and having shunned the sausage at football for a few weeks, I ordered myself some klobása to go with my pivo. Exceptional klobása it was too.
As the teams emerged onto the pitch, I stood in the stand behind the goal with netting to protect me and fellow nearby spectators from any wayward shots. As I looked around the ground, I began to think it had the feel of a small Football League ground with all 4 stands being all-seater. If we are going with Football League comparisons, The stand at the far end was definitely a more glamorous Gillingham with it being completely open; it was here where the small number of Viktoria Žižkov fans were housed too (the club whose ground we had wandered a few Saturday mornings ago before heading to Slavia Prague). Attendance-wise, I felt the crowd was very healthy at Opava with 3372 taking up most of the stadium. After so many ventures to lower league Slovak grounds, where sometimes you get maybe 100-200 fans scattered amongst the rubbly terracing, seeing any sort of crowd is exciting for me these days. And the Opava fans were great too. The Opava Ultras – the Opavaci – sang their hearts out and drummed their drums for virtually the whole 90 minutes.
The game was kicking off minutes after I arrived pitch side. Initially I took my space behind the goal that Opava were attacking, before shuffling around to the corner a bit closer to the Ultras.
Here is statement that hasn’t been cropping up very often on these pages over recent months: I enjoyed the game. Genuinely, it was great to watch and not just because both teams have wonderful shirts. I like Žižkov’s classic red and white stripe format, but Opava just pipped it for me with their blue/yellow, Boca-esque shirt.
Opava were dominant for most of the 90 minutes, but Žižkov were the team getting the more shots on goal. An attacker put a header just over, then they hit the post, but finally Žižkov got their goal. A shot from 25 yards was parried by the Opava keeper, yet not far enough away from his goal; the ball bounced away from him and in came the Žižkov attacker to drive home. Cue the small band of 10-15 Žižkov fans in the corner to go wild and celebrate shirtless.
Despite the score, I have to say that the Opava fans were great and continued to drum away and chant – they really didn’t stop during the whole 90 actually. Sadly for them, the team on the pitch were still not making that much needed breakthrough. A win would be useful for Opava too, as they chased Sigma Olomouc and local rivals Banik Ostrava at the top of the league.
Half-time: SFC Opava 0 – 1 FK Viktoria Žižkov.
Behind the stand housing the Ultras, I discovered two small booths selling beer and with purchased I headed back to my spot for the second half.
Similar to the first, Opava were playing the nicer football, but they were now creating a few more chances too. One such chance saw an Opava blaze over from 5 yards with the goal gaping and it looking simpler to score.
Just like the first half though, it was Žižkov to score again. A quick counterattack led to Žižkov getting up to the Opava box. When the ball bobbled around a bit, a Žižkov player seemed to almost inadvertently nutmeg a defender, which seemed to surprise the attacker as much as the defender, yet he ran onto it quickly and tapped home past the onrushing goalkeeper. 2-0 was a bit harsh on the home team with 15 minutes to go.
As Opava continued to create chances I went for a wander of the larger main stand, where the upper and lower tiers were separated by a wide, walkway through the middle of it. I got my photos from here and then decided it was a bit more fun on the other side.
The Opavaci were still going strong and backing the team vehemently and in the 87th minute their team gave them something to really cheer. Opava grabbed themselves a lifeline as they earned a penalty. I felt that the Opava forward left his foot behind himself a bit to invite the foul, although I was obviously glad it was awarded with the prospect of a late comeback on hand. Opava duly made it 2-1 from the spot and we had an exciting final few minutes ahead.
It felt inevitable really. As the clock ticked over 90 minutes, Opava continued to surge forward and were eventually rewarded for their persistence. As the ball was volleyed across the 6 yard box, amongst a flurry of players a Žižkov defender stuck a leg out, which cruelly, for them, headed into their own net. With one of the final kicks of the game it was 2-2 and there was much jubilation in the Opava stands
Full-time: SFC Opava 2 – 2 FK Viktoria Žižkov.
There was mutual love shown between the fans, players and a particularly happy looking Opava manager, before the crowd quickly headed out the gates and back south towards the town. Some veered inwards back into the surrounding parts, but most headed down the lovely river path, as did I. This route took me right back to my Penzion door, where I figured I should probably have an hour or two to take a breather and to maybe try to try wash my hoody a bit as the smell of smoke still hummed powerfully on it. I was semi-successful in my mission and left it to dry, whilst I relaxed for a short time.
By 8pm, I was back on the town as I started off in the brilliant, medieval-style Středověké Pivní Sklepy for Pilsner and pizza, before heading back into the heart of the town centre. I’d noted it earlier and felt I had to visit an establishment that had the balls to call itself The Pub. There’s a general trend to the bars I seem to like: generally hidden away in some random alley, selling craft ale and usually underground or below street level (that just seems to be my style for some reason). The Pub – yes, that was it’s definitive article-loving and rather boastful name – ticked the latter, but it was far glitzier within than I envisaged. All the tables were occupied, so I sat at the bar, enviously looking at the tables which had beer taps coming out of the middle of them. I later thought that it was maybe for the best that I didn’t sit at a table with beer directly available in the middle of it.
Things got a bit blurry after this as the Czech beer kicked in, but there were 2 other bars I can’t remember the name of, before I ended up in this rather cool place down the road from my hotel, which seemed to be as much a house as a bar. I said as much to the barman who seemed to think my simple comment was hilarious, before he told the two waitresses what I said; they seemed to find it hilarious too. Maybe I should move to the Czech Republic to be a comedian.
After a day of travel, beer and football, as the clock struck midnight I was happy to lay out in bed. Opava was a great way to start my Silesian adventure: I liked the town, I liked the football club, I liked the football ground and I liked the fans. Plus, it was great to actually enjoy watching a game of football for a change too with an actual crowd.
Next stop: Poland.
Highlights: nice, little town, Nová Slavdovna, great ground, friendly and fun fans, decent game, everything very cheap.
Low Points: shame it was Easter and thus town quieter.
See all my photos from Opava here.