Lost in…Ružomberok

MFK Ružomberok v FC DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda

Štadión pod Čebraťom / Slovak Super Liga / 27th May 2017

Awful X-Factor crooner Shayne Ward once sung “I’m here to win your heart and soul” and apparently that was his goal. A rather abstract and wishy-washy goal if you ask me. My goal on arriving in Slovakia was less abstract and certainly more measurable. It was achievable too. The Slovak top flight – the Fortuna Liga as it’s called under its current sponsorship deal – consists of 12 teams; well at least it did before Spartak Myjava decided to suddenly opt out of the league before Christmas. My goal was to visit all 12 grounds of the 12 clubs in one season (don’t worry, there was no Shayne Ward-esque ballad planned to serenade my objective). I thought 12 grounds in a season would be a piece of cake. However, I’d soon learn that the Slovak football climate is unpredictable to say the least. Ružomberok was the only ground I had left to do to achieve ‘Mission Accomplished’ – sort of…

By the end of February I’d been to Spartak Trnava (a lot), Trenčín, Zlaté Moravce, Žilina, Spartak Myjava, Tatran Prešov, Slovan Bratislava, Podbrezová, Senica and DAC Dunajská Streda. 10 down with a few months to visit the remaining two: Ružomberok and Zemplin Michalovce. Michalovce was always going to be the biggest ballache of the 12 with it being located in the far east of Slovakia not far from the Ukrainian border. I’m yet to find out how much of a ballache though. After the winter break Tatran Prešov, who I had already visited back in November, and Zemplin Michalovce were kicked out of their grounds by the Slovenský futbalový zväz (the Slovak FA) for what seemed very vague ground grading issues. Both clubs would opt to play their remaining 2016/17 fixtures in the glitzy new stadium in Poprad – over a 150km away from Michalovce. I’d been to Poprad a few weeks ago to watch local club, FK Poprad, but I never got to go there to watch Zemplin Michalovce – nor did I even care to; I only wanted to see them play in their actual hometown. So I suppose I eventually failed in my mission of doing all 12 top flight Slovak grounds really. Nevermind, there was still the other club remaining on my list: MFK Ružomberok. I would get myself to the north of Slovakia to visit their home on the final day of the Fortuna Liga season. I wouldn’t be in the home end though.

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My last game in the top flight of Slovakia for the season.

Craig was back in Slovakia and as you may remember from previous blogs, he’s taken a rather large shine to DAC – Slovakia’s ‘Hungarian club, thanks to the fact that the town of Dunajská Streda is located in the very south of Slovakia, where people of Hungarian ethnicity dominate the area. As a lover of all things Slovak, I find it condescending to get on board with the sheer Magyar ethos of the club, although I have no really disdain for the clubs or fans either. No doubt their fanbase is one of the most passionate in Slovakia and one that seems to be prospering and not diminishing like a lot of fanbases in the Slovak leagues. Nonetheless, Craig is enamoured with the club and he even wrote a blog all about his love for the club this week – you can read it here. Despite not succumbing to the DAC ‘charm’, I’m always happy enough to join him at their games – although you won’t find me joining in with their chants of “RIA! RIA! HUNGARIA!” With DAC playing Ružomberok on the last day too, it seemed a good fit for both of us: he could watch DAC and I could tick off Ružomberok.

Our chosen fixture would be kicking off at 5pm on the Saturday evening, but we’d also been at a match the evening before. My adopted hometown of Trnava would be hosting a Slovakia Legends v Spanish Legends game. Why? No idea, but it proved a bit of a let down as the likes of Mendieta, Morientes and Ivan Campo were touted as the game’s headline acts, but all were a no-show. Maybe that was why the game was free entry, as the term ‘legends’ may have been a bit over-the-top. Instead we had players with good reputations, but a long way off real A-listers. Players such as Jose Amavisca, Santiago Ezquerro and Salva Ballesta took to the pitch, as well as now former Spartak Trnava coach Miroslav Karhan (who was easily the best player on the day), and played out a 2-2 draw. The game did include the first time I’d ever seen an indirect freekick scored live too and by none other than WBA cult hero Igor Balis.

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Slovakia Legends v Spain Legends – very loose use of the word ‘legends’.

Despite a night watching ‘legends’ football and drinking borovička and Tatra Tea in Trnava’s clubs and bars until the early hours, we arose fairly fresh the next morning. Saturday morning saw us board the 10.27am out of Trnava and we were on our way to Ružomberok. We had a 3.5 hour train journey ahead of us, heading north from Trnava and towards the start of the Low Tatras, where we’d find the town of Ružomberok. We breakfasted on the train in the restaurant carriage and once I had some coffee in my system, I decided I could have my first beers of the day. As the beautiful northern regions of Slovakia shot past us, it didn’t feel like too long until we pulled into Ružomberok on this very hot Saturday afternoon.

Ružomberok is enveloped in a variety of the mountain ranges found in the north of Slovakia with the town having about 30,000 inhabitants. On the topic of local residents, this was the town that produced Dr Jozef Venglos – the first foreign manager in the English top flight, after Doug Ellis took a punt on him in the early 90s and brought him to Aston Villa (it was a disaster).

In the 20th century the town became synonymous with industry, although these days the town itself does not feel dominated by industrialisation; in fact, we both had really good first impressions of the town as we crossed the bridge over the Váh River.

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A very blue train station at Ružomberok.

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Čebrať – more on that hill later.

The late afternoon kick-off time meant that we’d miss the last train back to Trnava, so we had booked ourselves a hotel; we found ourselves one fairly cheap and literally less than a 100 yards from the stadium. The stadium is located just away from the town centre and with just under 4 hours until kick-off,  we decided to head that way a little later and for now have a roam of the town’s centre. Everything was pleasant enough, although there wasn’t too much to see, aside from the big church. Of course, every town in Slovakia has a nice church, but I found the one in Ružomberok to be especially beguiling. The Roman Catholic Church sits atop a host of stairs leading up to it and from up there you can get some lovely views of the town and the hills and mountains surrounding it.

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Nice church.

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Look closely and you can see me taking the photo in those sunglasses.

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We headed back down from the church, after navigating.our way through a large crowd of tourists receiving a guided tour of the town and its few landmarks. Back down on the main high street, we gave up finding anything else of interest and instead headed into a nice-looking cafe bar attached to the Hotel Kultura. The hotel had made quite the coup it seemed as young people and children played outside all wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the name of the big event in town for the week: Hotel Kultura had only gone and bagged itself the extravaganza that is ‘Chess Fest 2017’. I don’t know a pawn from a bishop, so we avoided the orgy of chess play and ordered drinks in the quiet bar instead.

Next, we decided to go get ourselves some food to fuel us for the afternoon and it took us  just a couple of minutes to find a great steakhouse lodged down an alley. We both had a good feeling about the place and headed in. It was a good call. The menu was extensive and inexpensive and the beer was good. Craig is very much a cider drinker, but he was on his new favourite Slovak drink so: Vinea – a grape-based soft drink (these days owned by my beloved Kofola). When I first moved to Trnava, cider was a rare commodity, but in recent months it seems to have picked up loads in places like Trnava and Bratislava (maybe aided by my flat mate Hayley’s perpetual demand for it and Craig’s repeated visits). However, it seemed that the burgeoning love for cider hadn’t spread north or east of the west of Slovakia yet. He seemed happy enough with his Vinea.

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Main street.

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Pivo o’clock.

Another aspect of Slovak life Craig has grown fond of is the national dish,  Bryndzové halušky (basically dumplings covered in sheep’s cheese and sprinkled with bacon). I’m more of a goulash fan myself, so we turned to the ‘Specialties’ and ordered prospective favourites. It was a perfect lunch to keep us ticking over until the evening.

In the restaurant, we had mapped our way to our hotel and we were fairly confident we could defy the estimated walk time of 20 minutes. We zigzagged through the residential streets and occasional squares of Ružomberok, until the leaning floodlights of Ružomberok’s ground came into view – also a sign that we were near Penzion Blesk, our abode for the night. We were checked in soon enough and with the ground at the end of the street we decided to have an hour-long chill.

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The ground appears. And that black sheltered area was the entrance to our Penzion.

As the clock ticked towards 4.30pm, Craig decided that that was the time to put on his DAC shirt and scarf. We were literally 2 minutes walk away from the ground, but I still queried whether or not covering the garish yellow/blue striped shirt of DAC would be a wiser idea; it’s putting it very lightly to say that the Hungarian-orientated DAC are not very popular amongst Slovak football fans. But, Craig was confident there’d be little threat on such a short walk. I was still a bit uneasy about it. So, of course, we walked out of the hotel at the exact moment that the Ružomberok Ultras were marching down the streets in their orange shirts chanting in joy about the fact that the week before they had secured European football. I dragged Craig back to not end up walking behind them and now insisted he wear my hoody, until we got to the away end.

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Loving the floodlights.

We veered left away from the small Ružomberok street parade and navigated our way to the away entrance, where we did now find a whole host of DAC fans in the yellow and blue colours of the club and t-shirts emblazoned simply with the word ‘Dunaszerdahely’ (the Hungarian word for the town). It was at the away entrance that I encountered once again one of my biggest bugbears with attending Slovak football – especially as an away fan. Firstly, I had to show club officials my Slovak ID card so they could write down my details, before I could buy a ticket. This was easy enough for me, but as a non-Slovak dweller Craig had no such ID and had left his passport in the hotel; thankfully, after some deliberation, the officials let him use his driving license. Next, there was another checking of our documents on the other side of the turnstiles, before a thorough frisking from security. This all took place in a completely caged walkway that led up to the stand. Oh, and this was also all done flanked by armed police in full riot body armour. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed this sort of thing in Slovakia’s top league, but the heavy-handedness really is off-putting and feels somewhat unnecessary to me. Fans are treated like animals. Sadly, I can’t see this changing anytime soon.

We were in though and what I will say here is that once into Ružomberok’s ground you can’t help but marvel at its magnificence. It is quite easily one of my favourite grounds in Slovakia’s top flight. The ground consists of just two stands on opposite sides of the pitch with each holding roughly 2500 fans. Originally, the stadium, which was built in 1955, could hold 20000, but necessary modernising in the 1990s saw the construction of the two current stands. It’s as if these two stands are having a face-off with the areas behind each goal completely open, apart from the large Tesco behind the far goal. The ground’s brilliance comes from two factors in my eyes. Firstly, the floodlights are cool, as the four of them lean almost lazily on the two stands. However, the real eyecatcher is the backdrop to the stadium: towering above the ground is the huge presence of the 1054m high hill of Čebrať. Unsurprisingly, the stadium’s name, Štadión pod Čebraťom, is inspired by the hill with it translating as ‘Stadium under the Čebrať hill’.

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Nice.

There was still just under 30 minutes until kick-off and as the away end began to fill up (DAC always have good away following, fairplay to them) I noticed some fans had beers. I’d not seen any sort of bar in our rather basic part of the ground, but I went in search of beer. It soon became clear why I hadn’t seen a bar, as there wasn’t really one in the away end. Beer was available through a caged door, where on the other side of fencing they had a table with two taps: one for beer; one for Kofola. I ordered one of each for me and Craig and the drinks were passed through a gap in the fencing. Once again, more perks of being an away fan in Slovakia.

It wasn’t long before the two teams were out on the pitch and this was the cue for the rather bizarre techno-banging club anthem of MFK Ružomberok to begin blasting over the PA system. As the techno beats of their anthem finished, a DAC fan climbed the fencing and insisted all their fans raise their scarves and begin their own anthem, Nélküled. It’s always a rousing, powerful rendition from the fans too. This prompted what became a sort of noise battle between the DAC fans and the Ružomberok Ultras in the opposite stand. Both sets of fans alternated between chanting at each other with a lot of the Ružomberok cries being about their Europa League crusade next season, thanks to them having secured 3rd place n the league the weekend before. An unlikely chain of events today would also see DAC qualifying for Europe too – but there was more chance of me wearing a Cardiff City shirt than that happening.

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Home fans…

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…away fans.

The game proved to be a fairly entertaining one with DAC getting out of the blocks particularly quickly and forcing a fine save from the monster in the home goal minutes into the game. However, Ružomberok had the look of a very astute, streetwise team, as they effectively handled anything DAC threw at them. Plus, they looked to be a team lethal on the counter. Strangely enough, this was the first time I’d seen Ružomberok play at all this season, but they were showing why they’d done so well in the league.

Ružomberok have Czech striker Jakub Mareš banging goals in for them (well, they did – news this week suggests he’s signed for Slovan Bratislava), but it was not the star striker who was standing out for me, but one of Ruža’s midfielders. Quite simply, Ružomberok’s no.6 Michal Faško is superb. Faško was calm, composed, cultured and seemed to be everywhere. I was a big fan of the 22-year-old.

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Match action.

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Match action.

As the first 15 minutes progressed the home team grew more confident, as one floated cross into the box had the DAC keeper scurrying quickly to punch away. That was just a warning sign.

In the 23rd minute Ruža took the lead – in wonderful fashion too. A neat, flowing passing move down the right was eventually worked to the right of the DAC box. A neat pass into the box was powerfully fired home into the top corner from 8 yards by Peter Gal Andrezly. The goalie had no chance. A great opener but the home team had even better goal to come.

That second goal came in the 36th minute and it would come courtesy of Mareš. It’d be one of the best solo goals I’ve seen all season. Mareš received the ball on the edge of the box and flummoxed one defender, who fell on the floor, before gliding past two covering defenders. From an acute angle, Mareš took aim and placed his shot in the far corner to make it 2-0.

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DAC losing 2-0…

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…means sad Craig.

The game got a bit fiery from here and I have to say that I felt a lot of it was down to the ref and some of the scandalous decisions he was making; actually, more accurately, the decisions he wasn’t making for DAC. In regards of tackling, there seemed to be one rule for DAC and another for Ružomberok.

Half-time: MFK Ružomberok 2 – 0 DAC Dunajská Streda.

Last time I watched DAC play, it was in their own stadium and it was probably the most barnstorming, attacking showing I’d seen on my Slovak travels, as they trounced Tatran Prešov 5-0. That attacking verve was missing today and they never really looked like scoring. The main entertainment was coming from the fans in both ends.

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Match action.

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Match action.

Ružomberok never really looked troubled and the fans began to focus on partying rather than the game in front of them. After unveiling a small orange and black tifo, the Ruža Ultras instigated a mass conga line that went around the whole section they occupied in the stand. They are musical bunch the home Ultras with their three drummers, although the DAC fans were less enthused by their showing. Chants of “RUŽA…HOOLIGANS…HA! HA! HA!” emanated from the away end, mocking the Ultras over the other side.

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“Let’s all do the conga!”

There wasn’t too much happening on the pitch, although Craig got excited as DAC introduced the Hungarian attacker Kristopher Vida. Craig is a little bit in love with Vida, so much so that he added him as a friend on Facebook; Vida was good enough to accept his friend request too.

Even with Craig’s favourite on the pitch, DAC offered little and the game had looked like it was going to stay 2-0 from the start of the half. There was some drama after one late tackle from the home team sparked some feisty ‘handbags’ involving the majority of the players on the pitch. The Ružomberok player at the heart of it was lucky to get away with just a booking after pushing an opponent in the face.

Scuffles aside, Ružomberok would hold out for the win though and put an end to DAC’s impressive 16 match unbeaten streak.

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Handbags.

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Match action.

Full-time: MFK Ružomberok 2 – 0 DAC Dunajská Streda.

Towards the start of the season, me and Craig had witnessed DAC earn themselves a rather feeble draw away at Zlaté Moravce and the team were in trouble of being stranded at the bottom of the table. Since then their fortunes have improved rapidly and significantly with them getting out of their temporary home in Senec sharpish and moving into their new (well, redeveloped) stadium in Dunajská Streda before Christmas. No doubt a huge part of their upturn has been down to the appointment of Csaba Laszlo (who most reading this will remember as Hearts manager). Fair to say the DAC fans revere and adore Laszlo, but it sounds as if he’ll be leaving the club in the summer. As the players came over to salute the away support, there were only calls for one man. The away fans chanted Laszlo’s name, until he eventually came over thumping his heart in appreciation. It looked like a goodbye from Laszlo, but what a job he has done. I’d tipped DAC to finish highly next season and a lot of that prediction was down to the excellent job Laszlo was doing.

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The DAC fans beckon Laszlo over.

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Craig being a DAC fan.

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Back through the cage and out of the ground.

After the DAC Csaba love-in, we began to exit back through the caged walkway and it was only then that I noticed the party going on over the other side of the pitch between the Ruža players and fans. I thought it was a particularly nice touch when the players posed for a team photo with the Ultras. I’m sure the Ruža party went on late into the night. I’m already looking forward to seeing who they, and Žilina, Slovan and Trenčín, draw in Europe in the summer.

Minutes after leaving, we were back at the hotel. We had sort of planned on heading into town following a bit of a breather in the hotel, but it seemed the previous night’s revelries, plus the various celebrations throughout the week for my birthday, had caught up with us and neither of us could be arsed to move. So, our evening was spent watching cup finals from across Europe in our hotel room. Firstly we watched Dortmund beat Frankfurt in the German Cup and clearly the German-ness rubbed off on us. Following the game we headed down to the hotel restaurant for dinner and the waiter seemed to think we were German! I did play along in German for as long as I could, before we were rumbled and found out. With cider and beers purchased from the Tesco behind the ground, our evening ended with drinks in the hotel room and watching PSG win the French Cup by scoring a last-minute winner against huge underdogs Angiers.

And that was it. My season of top flight Slovak football was done for the season. I supposed a completed my groundhopping goal of ‘Completing the Fortuna Liga’ as best as I could – maybe I could say I completed it with a * next to it. Also, it seems that Zemplin will be back in Michalovce next season anyway, so it will get done. I’ll save ranking the grounds for now, but I will say that Ružomberok ranks highly. The town is pleasant enough, although there’s really not much to it. The football ground is a beaut though, helped largely by the Čebrať backdrop. Anyone looking to sample top flight Slovak football in an interesting ground, I’d highly recommend Ružomberok.

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Thumbs up.

As the top flight finishes, that’s not the end of my travels for the season; I’ve had great fun in recent weeks watching football in Leopoldov and Smolenice in the real nether regions of the Slovak football pyramid and thankfully the lower leagues have a couple more weeks in them yet.

Highlights: pleasant town,  cool ground, backdrop of ground, both fans good, Mareš goal.

Low Points: heavy-handed security at turnstiles.

See all my photos from Ružomberok here.

3 thoughts on “Lost in…Ružomberok

  1. Pingback: The ‘Lost in…’ 2016/17 Awards | Lost Boyos

    • I literally have no idea haha. The town is certainly not designed for a large crowd to enter it. Very quiet place.

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