FC Zbrojovka Brno v FC Fastav Zlin
Městský fotbalový stadion Srbská / Czech Liga / 7th May 2017
“I just can’t go watch Brno. I just can’t do it. And you can write that in your blog.” So I did. These were the words of my compatriot Ralph, as I stated my plan to go watch Zbrojovka Brno later that evening. Despite hailing from South Wales like me, Ralph has spent a large portion of his life living in the Czech Republic now. His first football love in his adopted home nation was his local team, Zbrojovka Brno, who he had followed home and away. Fair to say that that little love affair went out the window years ago, as he got more than frustrated with the club for a number of reasons. The word he kept using was ‘boring’ – and that applies to the stuff on the pitch and the apparent inept running of the club behind the scenes. As highlighted in my last blog, about our day in Vyškov, Ralph now follows lower league FK Blansko with his pals in The Blansko Klobása and is having a whale of a time doing so.
Despite refusing to join me at the football later that evening, my Welsh pal was still willing to give me a day long tour of his adopted hometown. An omelette of chili and cheese was had for breakfast in a local cafe, before my tour commenced.
Over the weekend, I developed a lot of love for Brno. The Czech capital, Prague, remains one of my favourite cities that I’ve ever been to, but I actually liked the fact that the Czech Republic’s second largest city very much had its own vibe and wasn’t just a smaller Prague. Brno is big enough without feeling imposing and there’s a nice mix of old and new. Also, from my limited experience there and from what Ralph was telling me, I got the feeling that Brno is very much a town on the rise. More importantly for my tastes, there seems to be lots and lots of football to be found within it and surrounding Brno – always a good thing in my eyes obviously.
Having pointed out a few of Brno’s most famous and historical buildings, before we headed up to the park housing the huge cathedral that towers over the city. Some wonderful views could be found of the city from up here and Špilberk castle could be seen on the hill above here. That’d be our next port of call.
The sun was blazing down now as we climbed the tourist-clad walkway heading up to Špilberk Castle. The castle is a 13th century structure and seems to have spent large chunks of its lifetime as a prison with it apparently being considered one of the most notorious prisons in the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Outside of Brno, the prison became more largely known during World War II when the Nazis occupied it during their first year occupying Czechoslovakia. Things were far less notorious today as we settled down for a beer at the bar atop the hill. A lovely place to have an afternoon beer in the sun (especially now that the place was devoid of the horrors of imprisonment).
It was a strange day weather-wise, as it had gone from sweltering heat walking up to the castle to grey skies and rain on the way back down. Next up on my tour was Brno’s display of ornamental bawdiness. First up was ‘the indecent little man’ statue latched onto the Church of St. James’ – a boy exposing his bum for all to see and raising his middle finger up it. There’s two stories behind it it seems, but it is generally a response to the building of a rival church nearby.
Then we headed just around the corner to find a statue of a horse. Seemed innocent enough. Apparently, this horse is infamous in Brno and people regularly stand underneath it and look up at its head. Ralph asked me to do the same and on seeing a young boy running away from the scene giggling madly having looked up at the head below, I knew what was coming. I’ll let the photo below do the rest for me… Brno is rude.
Away from statues fingering their bum and penis-headed horses, things were back to normal, as Ralph led us away from the town and to the old home of the football club: Stadion Za Lužánkami. Visiting inactive football stadiums is becoming a running theme every time I go somewhere with Ralph; he’d previously taken me to Banik Ostrava’s old ground before we headed to Karviná and he’d also taken me to the old home of the now defunct FK Drnovice the day before this one, before we headed to watch Vyškov v Blansko.
Quite frankly, Stadion Za Lužánkami – or Luzanky as it is more commonly known – is a thing of concrete beauty – well, I’m sure it used to be. The whole stadium is one huge open bowl that can (or could) hold 50,000 fans. During the 60s and 70s it was the largest stadium in Czechoslovakia and also holds the record for the largest attendance at a Czech League game: in 1996, 44,000 watched Brno take on Slavia Prague there. Now the stadium is a scene of rubble and graffiti covered concrete terracing. In the more shiny world of modern football, Stadion Za Lužánkami was seen as unfit and unsafe for purpose by the authorities and in 2001 Brno left their much-loved home and moved 3km north to Srbská.
There have been talks of renovating Luzanky, but to little avail, although there is one heartwarming tale from recent seasons that saw the stadium have another day in the sun. Brno cult hero Petr Švancara wanted one final farewell game for the club, before calling it a day. He mooted the idea of playing it at Luzanky, which now looked more like a wild wasteland than a football stadium. Amazingly, the community and the city pulled together and people worked voluntarily on the weekend to restore it to something playable for one final time. On the 27th June 2015, 35,000 turned up to watch this match between two teams of former Brno players (there was a great article in the Guardian about the occasion, which you can read here).
The battered stadium was all locked up and although there were some smaller fences that we could have easily climbed over, we really couldn’t be bothered. We went for beer instead. Our route to more beer took us past the Ultras’ bar, but we snubbed this to head up the road to a cool bar on the corner called U Bilého beránka, which sold some wonderful beer called Hauskrecht. It was then onwards to another cool little bar 10 minutes down the road from Brno’s current footballing home, Městský fotbalový stadion Srbská – or just Srbská for short. It was here where the invisible barrier appeared that would stop Ralph heading any further. He didn’t once come closer to breaking his one man boycott of Zbrojovka Brno. I made the walk up to Sbrská alone.
Having seen the truly breathtaking sight of Luzanky, the fact that Sbrská wasn’t going to be the old stadium already gave me a negative perception of the new ground. However, I was quickly won around me. It started with the floodlights. This blog has on various occasions highlighted the joys of proper lights towering over old grounds, but for a modern ground, the Brno lights were reasonably cool too.
I headed down past the main stand and around to the back of the large standing terrace behind the goal. Here, I found the ticket office and I was soon in possession of a ticket for 100kc; that’s about £4 – not bad at all for a top flight game. It was then around to the small fan zone area on some sort of football court where there was a strange mix of things on offer: there was the expected bar and entertainment for kids (here some inflatable goals and footballs), yet there was also a stall taking people’s heart rate next to another stall discussing a local zoo. Not exactly your prematch staples.
Considering my favourite colour is red, my European football scarf collection is still fairly lacking the colour, so a red Brno scarf was purchased from the small portacabin behind the stand. Then, once I had finished my pint of Starobrno, I made my way around to my entrance into Sector S. On the other side of the turnstile was a crazy, old drunk man rapidly spewing incomprehensible Czech at me, but shrugging my shoulders as I headed past him and then ignoring his continued rambling at me got me into the stadium proper.
Luzanky was a wondrous, beautiful slab of concrete and I so wished I could have watched Brno play there instead. However, Srbská was certainly a likable ground too. I was on the standing terrace behind the goal with it sloping up from the main stand towards the other stand, giving it a rather strange, but quite cool, lop-sided feel. The terrace is quite away from the action and it was the same behind the far goal, where a group of about 50 Zlín fans were already awaiting kick-off. The stand to my left was your usual bog-standard seating stand, but the one to my right looked a far steeper one and it was here in the bottom tier that the Ultras gathered (apparently they had frequented the terrace I was on in the days when Ralph used to go).
I headed down the hill of the stand to the small hut selling beer – of course, it was Gambrinus – and down here next to the beer hut I found a rather unusual setup for a football ground terrace. In a small area between the upper parts of the stand and the lower seat, there was a sort of ‘child zone’ supervised by one very smiley lady. There were colouring books and craft stuff, as well as a small area to kick a football around. It just seemed a bit out-of-place and odd to me.
I figured I’d watch the match from atop the terrace to get a good vantage point. There were apparently over 4,000 at the game on this Sunday evening, but the attendance on my terrace was threadbare to say the very least. As the teams came out, the Ultras were in good voice down below, accompanied by the usual flag waving and drum banging. Plus, I absolutely loved the Brno club anthem (something I’ve only just remembered while writing this, so I’ve just gone to YouTube).
Captaining Brno on this sunny afternoon was 39-year-old midfielder Pavel Zavadil. The Czech veteran has had an interesting career having started at the now non-existent FK Drnovice (whose unused ground we had visited the day before) and then moving to Czech giants Sparta Prague. He turned far more nomadic then playing in Greece, Israel and 3 clubs in Sweden, before rocking up at Brno in 2012, where he has remained since. Ralph had told me that Zavadil has the appearance of a pirate and is also an excellent footballer. He was spot on with both; Zavadil did indeed look pirate-esque and he was superb in the middle and easily the best player on the pitch. Playing alongside the no-nonsense former Czech international Jan Polák, Brno really had a sturdy midfield base to build from.
Today was a bit of a nothing game with Zlín in the upper parts of mid-table and Brno in the lower parts of mid-table, although despite their lower position in the table, I felt that Brno dominated for virtually the whole game; largely thanks to the excellent Zavadil.
In the first minute there was a 50/50 collision between a Zlín attacker and the Brno keeper, prompting the Brno physio to sprint onto the pitch. The Blansko physio-inspired ‘Bad Medicine’ chant from the day before went round and round in my head, but I just about resisted the urge to blurt it out loud. Not that anyone would have heard it, as I was practically alone at the top of the terrace.
There were a few half chances for Brno, but the first clear chance of the half fell to Zlín. Another one of Ralph’s tips for the day was Zlín’s winger Robert Bartolomeu, as Ralph had seen him play for Zlín II the Wednesday before in a midweek game against Blansko. Once again, I agreed with Ralph and he was probably Zlín’s most dangerous looking player throughout the game. In the 44th minute he was played in on goal, only to be denied a close range shot at goal by an excellent retreating sliding tackle. And what a catalyst that tackle would be for Brno.
Just over a minute later, as we crept into first half stoppage time, Brno earned a corner. Zavadil fired one in and as a Brno player rose and met the ball firmly with his head, the ball headed goalwards and the keeper saved it, only for a scramble to ensue, which eventually resulted in Brno taking the lead. According to the electronic scoreboard at the far end, it was Jakub Řezníček who eventually bundled the ball in.
Half-time: FC Zbrojovka Brno 1 – 0 FC Fastav Zlín.
I headed back to the beer hut at half-time to hopefully get some food to accompany my pivo. I was hoping for klobása, but instead they were selling the shittest looking hot dogs ever. I headed back to my spot with just a Gambrinus and no food. Anyway, I was saving my stomach for something a better later that evening. I promised myself that my empty stomach would be worth it later.
Some erratic goalkeeping from both goalies led to some half chances, especially when it came to crosses, but otherwise the game was slowing down. Brno were definitely on top though and they eventually earned their deserved second goal.
I swapped the top of the stand for a lower tier in the corner and I was rewarded with a great view of the second goal. A superb cross was put in from the left by Zavadil (who else?) and as it arced away from the goalie, Petr Pavlík had to get the slightest touches on his head to guide it in. The players wield away to my corner of the ground to perform a celebratory pile on.
The rest of the half was a borefest really, as Brno never really looked in trouble of conceding again. After looking at the clock a lot in the last ten minutes out of boredom, the 2-0 win was eventually confirmed for Brno. Certainly a deserved a 3 points.
Full-time: FC Zbrojovka Brno 2 – 0 FC Fastav Zlín.
The home team headed over to the Ultras for the usual post-victory trading of thanks and songs and then I made my way out of the stadium. A quick 20 minutes walk back down the road brought me back to the bar selling the beautiful Hauskrecht. I met up with Ralph here and told him of my Brno football experience and how he was spot on about the magnificent Pavel Zavadil (sadly for Brno, I’ve just learned that he’ll be playing for Karviná next season – when he’ll turn 40). Admittedly, there was only one thing on my mind by now though…
I absolutely love living in Central Europe, but I’m always asked what do I miss most about home? My answer is usually the same: curry. Although not completely non-existent, curry has been very, very difficult to come by in this part of the world – especially over the border in my adopted home in Slovakia. It seemed Brno had a few curry houses on offer for me. Ralph, knowing how much I missed Indian cuisine, agreed that the best way to finish our Sunday was a visit to an Indian restaurant. Having discovered his usual choice closed, we found another one and it was flipping marvelous called New Bombay. To show Indian food’s popularity around here, we were the only ones in the restaurant. More for us. Lamb Tikka Massala and garlic naan for the win.
Another excellent beer in Ralph’s excellent local and it was time to call an end to the weekend…well, sort of. It was a Public Holiday in Slovakia and Czech Republic on the Monday, so no work for me the next day and thus I stayed in Brno a little longer, sampling a few more of the city’s drinking holes – including Pegas brewery, apparently the oldest microbrewery in the whole of the Czech Republic.
If you are after a Czech football trip and don’t fancy Prague, then I suppose Brno is naturally the second best choice (I’m sure others will tell my why it’s not shortly). There’s plenty of clubs nearby and it’s fairly easy to get to most of the Czech Republic from there. However, I certainly haven’t got anything bad to say about Zbrojovka Brno and if you do find yourself in the city, I think its worth a visit. Just don’t expect Ralph to go with you.
Highlights: Brno is a cool city, castle drinking, Brno tour, visiting Luzanky, new ground was decent, Zavadil is a genius, CURRY!
Low Points: wish I could have watched a game at Luzanky, not a great game.
See all my photos from Brno here.