So yeah…things were a bit different this season. I sort of moved abroad if you didn’t notice – to Slovakia to be more precise. I’ve had to get used to a whole new football culture and not just here in Slovakia, but in the neighbouring countries I’ve made sporadic visits to too. Whilst settling into a new lifestyle in a new country and a new job too, I’ve managed to fit in 85 games; that’s slightly less than previous seasons, although I’ve gone to places I’ve obviously never been before and sometimes doing a bit more exploring has taken precedent over football. Speaking of exploration though, my travels have seen me watch football in 7 different countries this season (England, Wales, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland), which is easily a record for me.
First thing first, the football. The football I’ve watched this season has been diabolically bad at times. Truly awful stuff. Nonetheless, I’ve grown to love it all. There is a sort of sadomasochism in watching Slovak football sometimes.
Off the pitch things have been as fun as usual. Before moving to Slovakia, I did worry slightly that the language barrier may spoil my matchday experiences, but it certainly has not. As soon as my first game back in Slovakia (at Svätý Jur) had finished and I found myself being invited by a drunken Slovak back to his house to meet his daughter and his pet tortoise, who could apparently speak English, I knew there was wackniness ahead. For those interested, I declined and got out of there quickly and onto the next train back home to Trnava. Fair to say there’s been some adventures this past year and overall I’ve had nothing but good memories from this first year living abroad. It’s been a hell of an experience and the people of this part of the world have been beyond welcoming to me (most of the time). Without further ado, let’s get stuck into these prestigious awards…
On the pitch…
Best Games of the Season
I have watched some pure dross this season. Like some real proper shit. But I suppose all the games that committed crimes against footballing entertainment just made the few good games seem even better.
3. Slovakia 4 – 0 Lithuania (World Cup 2018 Qualifier – 11th November 2016)
Probably one of my favourite nights of the season and certainly my favourite memory of my many trips to my Štadión Anton Malatinského – my local stadium. Joined by friends from England, France, Greece and Slovakia, we watched Slovakia put on a delightful footballing masterclass, as they romped to a 4-0 win over Lithuania. Okay, so it may only have been against lowly Lithuania, but Slovakia were still a joy to watch. They played some brilliant football and tormented the Lithuanians with the reinstated Slovak bad boy, Vladimir Weiss, delivering a stunning performance. Some of the goals were exquisite too (as noted in the Goal of the Season award). Just jolly good fun all round watching some excellent international football with my pals and all just 5 minutes down the road from my flat too. Perfect.
In the dying weeks of 2016/17, I found myself really scraping the fixture list barrel and I ended up at a few games in the real lower depths of Slovak football. I was rewarded for my adventures into the basement leagues with this ridiculous barnstormer of a game. The scoreline was even slightly harsh on the away team, but their naivety, coupled with Smolenice’s lethal streak, cost them. A stupidly fun game of football to watch with a nice mix of silliness with moments and goals of quality. Great little setting to watch a game too.
I’ve championed Žilina’s team all season as ‘the only good footballing side in Slovakia’ and this was where that opinion was first formed. Back in September I had still yet to see little football of quality in my new adopted home country – that was until I arrived at the Štadión pod Dubňom. Žilina are a quality side, who play an attractive possession-heavy, yet quick paced style, as they showed in this game v Senica. What made this game so great was that, despite the home team playing so well, plucky Senica equalised twice to scare the champions in the making. However, Žilina’s quality shined through and they eventually sauntered to their 4-2 victory. From those opening months they claimed top spot in the league and never looked back, deservedly romping to the title and destroying everyone en route. This game was a microcosm of why. Some brilliant football and some brilliant goals.
Best Goal of the Season
Some decent ones throughout the season and certainly easier to pick than game of the season…
3. Jakub Mareš – MFK Ružomberok v FC DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda – (Fortuna Liga – 27th May 2017)
My last top flight game of the season saw me head to Europa League bound Ružomberok, who triumphed 2-0 over DAC. The 2nd goal of that game was a moment of beautiful individual brilliance by Jakub Mareš. The Czech attacker received the ball on the edge of the box and a quick feint sent one DAC player down on his arse. Mareš then burst wide past 2 defenders before firing back across goal and putting the ball into the far corner clinically. A beautiful goal and Mareš’ last in a Ruža shirt, as he has just signed for league runners-up Slovan Bratislava.
2. Erik Puchel – MFK Karviná v Bohemians Prague – (Czech Liga – 28th November 2017)
Karviná found themselves 2-0 up v Bohemians with minutes left when they brought on the blonde-mohawked attacker, Puchel. With such an exuberant hairstyle, I hoped his play would be equally lively. I shouldn’t have worried, as Puchel would score a goal in the 90th minute that was more audacious than his lucent hair. In the 90th minute and with the game won, Puchel lobbed the Bohemians goalie from 25 yards with a wonderfully precise volley. A delight.
1. Juraj Kucka – Slovakia v Lithuania – (World Cup Qualifier – 11th November 2017)
Back to that November night in Trnava and that Slovak 4-0 thumping over the Lithuanians. As I stated earlier, the star of that night was Vladimir Weiss; however, AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka would have the moment of the night – assisted partly by Weiss. A quick passing move from the defence took the ball up to the left wing and to Weiss. Weiss’ clever backheel out on the wing unleashed a couple of quick passes, before a one-two on the edge of the box lined up Kucka to send a first time shot flying into the far corner. A superb finish and, combined with the build up, my favourite goal of my travels this season.
(Skip to 1:13 on the video below for Kucka’s goal)
Boyo d’Or (Player of the Season)
My very own twist on player/player performance of the season. A strange award that has been won from stars from all across the football universe: from Leo Messi to current holder Gareth Delve of the Welsh League Division Three. I hear Cristiano Ronaldo is still fuming that he’s never won this crown, but Messi has. So who is going to take the crown from my compatriot Delve’s head this season…
3. Pavel Zavadil – FC Zbrojovka Brno
“Zavadil will be the best player on the pitch,” Ralph confidently declared before I left him at a Brno pub and headed off to watch Zbrojovka Brno take on Zlin in the Czech top flight. He was right – Zavadil was brilliant. More impressively, Zavadil was dominating the game at the ripe old age of 39. Zavadil has had interesting career having played in Greece, Sweden and Israel, but clearly those experiences have made him an accomplished midfield general. Completely bossed the show as I watched Brno beat Zlin 2-0.
2. Michal Sáček – Sparta Prague
“Have you noticed the Sparta no.16? He’s quite good,” I said to Iain as we hit the 10 minute mark of Sparta Prague v Bohemians. I’d quickly learn that “quite good” would be a remarkable understatement. I looked at Iain’s programme to find out that this was 20-year-old Michal Sáček – I’ve not forgotten the name since. From the 90 minutes of football I saw him play, I think Sáček could be a future star. Sáček plays as a centre-midfielder and seemed to be good at everything: a superb eye for a long or short pass, quick-minded, decisive, but yet always looking completely calm and composed. For the 90 minutes I was at Sparta’s Letná Stadion, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. As a Swansea and Wales fan, the biggest compliment I could possibly pay him is that he reminded me of a young Joe Allen. And coming from a certified Joe Allen fanboy, that is high praise indeed.
1. Filip Hlohovský – MŠK Žilina
The best player I’ve seen in Slovakia easily. What a joy of a footballer to watch. A sort of attacking midfielder/winger hybrid who would go on to to be the top goalscorer in the Fortuna Liga. Hlohovský is 29 now and has played for a few clubs in Slovakia, after a few struggles off the pitch earlier in his career halting his progress and impacting on his talent. However, this year he has really hit his peak and even captained the national team in two unofficial friendlies in UAE (admittedly it was mainly a Slovakia B team). Hlohovský plays out wide and, although not exactly a speedster, he seems to cover all areas of the attacking third – hence all the goals this season. I’ve been lucky to see him live a few times this season and every time he’s been phenomenal with a particular highlight of my Hlohovský-viewing being a delightful, inch perfect free kick v Senica.
Best Young Player of the Season
Since I gave him runner-up in the Boyo d’Or, easily the best youngster I saw last season was Michal Sáček, but having struggled to fill this award last season, I’ll give out two honoruable mentions. At least I’ll then have some supporting evidence if ever a “I told you they’d be good” moment arises…
Filip Panak – MFK Karviná
The blonde, lanky Filip Panak is known as the ‘Czech Craig Bratt’ on these pages for his resemblance to my pal Craig. The young attacker made a hell of an impact in the 45 minutes of football me and Ralph saw him play. Karviná were drawing 0-0 with Bohemians when Panak was introduced at half-time. Minutes into the second half he scored and then set up a second and generally covered every blade of grass in the attacking third. A true game changer that day.
Adam Jakubech – Spartak Trnava
I’m a huge fan of the 20-year-old Spartak Trnava goalie and since my beloved Martin Mikovič has left Spartak to go play for some village club in Poland, Jakubech is probably my current favourite player at my local club. An awesome shot stopper and an assured presence, Jakubech has plenty to take him on further in his career between the sticks. Still has flaws, but has plenty of time to iron them out. One of my ones to watch in Slovakia.
The Cosmin Matei Hipster of the Year
The semi-iconic (maybe my favourite) award invented after the sexy performance of Lost Boyos demi-god Cosmin Matei – the finest Romanian ever to take to a football pitch in Leigh (it’s a strange story). So influential was his performance, which we still talk about to this day, we created this award, and named it after him, to celebrate Matei’s football-hipster-wet-dream-ness.
Having almost solely watched football on British shores over the past few seasons, the main criteria for this award has mainly been ‘be a cool, exotic, quriky foreigner’. Now, I watch almost all my football in foreign climes and thus I see cool, exotic, quirky foreigners a lot these days; so the other elements of the criteria come into play. Basically, this is the award dedicated to those footballers who are…well, cool. Maverick? Silky, unpredictable skills? Odd hairstyle or fashion item? Or are they just a foreigner playing in a strange setting and dazzling there? (See last year’s winner, South Shields’ Julio Arca). Any or of all of these elements are just some of the examples of what can get you the award. So without further ado…
3. Ivan Diaz – MSK Zilina
I declared Hlohovský the best player in Slovakia and the star of the imperious, title-winning Žilina team of last season – but he’s certainly not my favourite player for the Slovak champs. That crown goes to the ridiculously cool Argentinian midfielder Ivan Diaz. A beautiful footballer to watch, who elegantly commands the centre of the pitch. The only slightly irritant with him is that he wears no.9 – not exactly an orthodox number for a more withdrawn midfielder like himself. But, he’s a hipster and cool enough to pull it off I suppose and it certainly adds an extra touch of weirdness to him too.
2. Pablo Podio – Podbrezová
What a player. He even shares the first sound of his surname with his club…anyway…Another Argentinian playing the ‘quarterback’ role in Slovakia, this time for the overachieving village club of Podbrezová. Podio had been on the books at Inter Milan’s youth team, before heading to the heart of Slovakia. I saw him play in December when Podbrezová took on Tatran Prešov and initially I despised him for his audacity to wear two different colour boots. However, as soon as he started playing he could wear clogs for all I cared. Podio ran the midfield in a Jan Molby-esque fashion, complete with little bit of puppy fat around his belly. No pace to speak of but a very clever and elegant footballer to watch. He has just left Slovakia to play just over the border for Czech and Czechslovak Cup winners FC Zlin. I’ll definitely be making a trip there to watch him play next season.
1. Lukasz Malkowski – Atherton Collieries
I never thought a preseason jolly to Carlisle City with my friends at Atherton Collieries would produce my ‘Hipster of the Year’. But following in the footsteps of Tony Taylor, Julia Arca and, of course, Cosmin Matei to become the coolest cat in Lost Boyos land is Polish winger Lukasz Malkowski. I can’t remember the exact process that brought Malkowski to Atherton, but there I was on the Colls fun bus to Carlisle with a rather shell-shocked trialist sitting next to me, who had once been a Montserrat international, and an amiable one-time Legia Warsaw player sitting behind me: Malkowski. Once Colls took to the pitch, Malkowski was ruthless down the right wing and it soon became clear he was way, way above this level. The Colls Crazy Gang chanted his name for the best part of 90 minutes; the only time his name wasn’t chanted was to chant “POLSKA! POLSKA!” instead. Lukasz seemed to love his new fan club and even took to videoing us chanting his name at him repeatedly in the club bar after the game. Me and Gibbo spent the whole bus journey back to Atherton in awe, as we talked to our new idol, who, on learning that I was moving to Slovakia, recommended I go over the Polish border to his hometown, Katowice. Such high esteem I held the mighty Malkowski in, I did make it to Katowice in April and was disappointed to find no Malkowski statues there. I was unsurprised to learn that he left Colls before the season started (I’m not sure where for, which only adds to his aura). A true cult hero and more than worthy of the Cosmin Matei accolade.
Matt Harrold Hero of the Year
The award for acts of football heroism, an award born when we witnessed Crawley striker Matt Harrold and his 60 minutes as goalkeeper v MK Dons – the most heroic and unorthodox goalkeeping showing ever (which eventually had a sad ending). It’s fitting that the goalie claims the award this season then…
Manuel Kuttin and his last second punt – Admira Wacker v Ried
Sometimes heroic acts come from acts of seeming stupidity. This is true of when I witnessed Admira Wacker goalie Manuel Kuttin save the day, as Admira took on Ried towards the start of the Austrian season. In the dying seconds, the game was heading for a 0-0, when Ried counterattacked. The away team played a dangerous ball into the box, which was expertly tackled and cleared far away by a defender rushing back. Danger averted and there were seconds until the final whistle and the confirmation of a 0-0. Kuttin wasn’t having that. Not happy with just leaving the ball head wide towards the touchline and for a Ried throw-in, he went in pursuit of the ball, leaving his goal unguarded in the dying seconds. It seemed a pointless and stupid act. As the ball was about to cross the line, he stretched, slid and somehow smashed the ball upfield. The ball soared over the away defence and towards the Ried keeper and backtracking defender. Confusion and lack of communication saw the two make a hash of things and bump into each other, leaving the Admira attacker to run past them and to freely tap the ball into the empty net. But it was Kuttin who all the players celebrated with, as his gamble had won them the game with virtually the last kick. Heroic.
Off the pitch…
Best Ground of the Season
I’ve enjoyed all my trips over the border into the Czech Republic and been to some cool grounds (and to a few that are no longer used too – thanks Ralph), but easily my favourite of my Czech ventures has been to 4th tier MSK Břeclav. I may as well state the obvious: it’s all about the triple-deacker stand. Wow. It is the showstopper of the ground, as it would be at any other ground. However, the rest of the place exudes character too with a lot of the place engulfed in trees and foliage. We had a superb, rainy day there in southern Czech Republic, having great fun with both sets of fans.
I’ve been to a lot of bowl-shaped stadiums this season of vary styles and sizes, but Honvéd is the granddaddy for me. It reeks of everything I want from an old European ground: Rickety grandstand. Check. Curving, open, stone terraces. Check. Beautiful, imperious floodlights. Check. Plus, the place is heaped in so much football history you can’t help but sense and embrace the nostalgic feel to the place. Sadly, the Bozsik Stadion is at its end with a new stadium on the horizon, although the stadium did have a fairytale ending. In the last game of the season, it was winner takes all between leaders Honvéd and 2nd place Videoton for the title with Honvéd triumphing and winning their first title in 24 years.
A third tier Slovak as my favourite ground? Yep, a very strange choice I know and I’m fairly confident I’ll not be able to articulate my strange love for the ground adequately. Anyone who has been on the Trnava-Bratislava train with me, will have witnessed me staring out the window as the train passes through the small village of Báhoň and me, like a giddy little kid, excitedly declaring, “There it is!” as the train rolls past the village’s football ground. I’ll never properly be able to put my finger on why, but Báhoň’s ground is just one I couldn’t help falling in love with (hopefully the photos on the blog paint more of a picture of the place). I suppose it’s probably because I’ve not been to a ground quite like it before or since and I suppose that’s what a groundhopper is always looking for – something a bit different. The ground is essentially a grassy half-bowl with the grass banking being used as the ground’s stand, alongside the quaint little clubhouse behind the goal. It’s scandalous that I’ve still only been there once with it being about 15 minutes away from Trnava.
Best Club Bar of the Season
A punky, little bar perfectly fitting for this punky, little club. And no staircase has ever spoke truer words than the one below…
Best Floodlight Porn of the Season
I made a revisit to Trenčín this season and their ‘lollipop’ floodlights are still easily my favourite floodlights. But, I gave them this award last season and I’m all about the sharing out the love here. So here’s my favourite floodlight porn of this season. Phwoar.
I couldn’t choose between these three stands, which are all very different. Here you are…
MSK Břeclav – Stadion na Lesní ulici’s ‘triple-decker’ stand
Firstly, here’s MSK Břeclav’s triple-decker offering again. Once again, wow…
BKV Előre – the grandstand
There’s just something majestic and grandiose about this bad boy of a grandstand, the centrepiece of Hungarian 3rd tier team BKV Előre. I imagine it is still exactly the same now as the day it was built. Close to the centre of Budapest too, so definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the wonderful Hungarian capital.
ŠKF Sereď – Štadión Sereď ‘s little, bridge stand
When Emil and Emma visited Slovakia, I took them along to 2nd division ŠKF Sereď. The ground was your usual Slovak affair (battered grandstand, bowl-shaped, crumbling stone terraces etc.), aside from this strange, little, bridge-like stand on one side. It has been given little TLC over the years it seems, as at one point the roof was literally almost being blown off. We loved it though.
Best Backdrop to a Ground
FK Poprad – NTC Poprad
I’ll just leave this here. The stunning backdrop of the High Tatras looming majestically behind Poprad’s footballing home.
Best Food of the Season
Smoked Pork and bread – Sparta Prague
A recommendation of my Prague-dwelling pal Iain, who was chaperoning me at Sparta Prague. The photos do not do its delights justice.
Leberkäsesemmel – St. Pölten
The best thing about Austrian football cuisine is Leberkäsesemmel. It doesn’t sound too appetising (usually it’s pork, bacon and corned beef grinded fine and made into a small loaf, which is then placed inside a hard wheat loaf) and it even looks a bit disgusting, however, give it a go. As Craig discovered at the Ernst Happel Stadion and I later at St. Pölten, the stuff is beautiful – although maybe not one for those on a diet.
Cigánska pečienka – Slovan Duslo Šala
I started the season with klobása being my Slovak football food of my choice, but soon fell in love with cigánska pečienka – something I’d argue is more prominent at Slovak grounds than klobása. For those who don’t know, cigánska pečienka is essentially either chicken or pork steak cooked in a distinctive, sort of mustard-y sauce and put in a huge bun with other vegetables (‘cigánska’ basically means ‘gypsy-style’). It’s always very good, but easily the best – and most expensive – cigánska pečienka I found was at 3rd tier Slovan Duslo Šala. Head there if you love crap football, Sampdoria memorabilia and some mightily good cigánska.
Best Fans of the Season
I have my own very specific criteria for what makes ‘good fans’ but it generally centres on 1) are they loud and supportive 2) are they fun 3) will they enjoy a beer with you after the game. These three all fit those..
3. Stabæk fans
“We love Rhyl,” was something I never thought I’d hear a gang of Norwegians say. But, here were a gang of Stabæk fans having the time of their lives in ‘Sunny Rhyl’ even though their team would surprisingly draw 0-0 with Connah’s Quay. The game didn’t seem to matter to the small, hearty band of Stabæk fans though, as they voraciously cheered on their team. They were great fun and friendly too, as we were soon invited to join them in the pub on this Thursday night. They were just great, great fun and a trip to Stabæk is needed in the near future.
2. Budapest Honvéd fans
After been invited into the Ultras stand by someone I befriended earlier, I was treated and looked after well and probably had the most fun 90 minutes in a stand I’ve had all season. Bouncing about, smoke grenades and a 90th minute flare show – all you’d want from an experience on a curving stone terrace at a historic European ground. Honvéd cruised to a 1-0 win too to make it an all round awesome evening. I was so happy for them when they won the league this season.
1. Bohemians Prague fans
Bohemians fans are awesome. I need to go watch a game at their ground. My only two Bohemians Prague experiences have been seeing them as the away team at first Karvina and then at Sparta Prague a few months later. They lost both games, but you wouldn’t have thought it by the way their fans saluted their players at the end. Both games the green army of Bohemians outsung the home fans (and out-flared them). A Bohemians game – with their fans – is high on my list next season. I’m a little bit in love with them.
Chants of the season
Chant of the season could have been a no-go area this season, as I hardly know what any of the chants mean in these foreign lands. However, then I spent some time with the The Blansko Klobása…
FK Blansko/ The Blansko Klobása – Bad Medicine
“HE’S DOWN, HE NEEDS BAD MEDICINEEE! / BAD MEDICINE IS WHAT HE NEEDS! / OH OH OH! / HE’S DOWN, HE NEEDS SÁSA THE PHYSIO! / SASA THE PHYSIO IS WHAT HE NEEDS!”
The Blansko Klobása are basically a walking musical. The gang are a small group of expats living in the Czech Republic, who hail from a mix of South Wales, Birmingham and Middlesbrough and who all follow lower league FK Blansko in the Czech leagues. As the only ‘hardcore’ fans of the team – and the fact they are British – they have free reign over the chants and usually make chants out of pop/rock songs not usually heard on the terraces – especially in central Europe. Human League, Deacon Blue, Only Fools and Horses and Crowded House were just some of the bands I’ve heard get the TBK treatment – and that was just in one Saturday afternoon in Vyškov. Undoubtedly my favourite of their songbook arsenal though is their tribute to FK Blansko’s physio, Sasa the Physio, to the tune of Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine. I’ve never seen grown men so excited for a player to go down injured just so Sasa could run on and we could burst into the Bon Jovi classic. But, it happened and it was beautiful…the chant, not the player down hurt.
Best Pub of the Season
Lost Boyos spends as much time at the bar as it does on the terrace, so this award is a biggy. Central Europe has a hell of an interestig bar and brewery scene, so there were plenty of options to choose from here…
3. 1516 – Vienna
My favourite in Vienna. Here you’ll find lots of screens showing football from all over Europe and the world, although more pleasing to me is the ceiling covered with football scarves from clubs from all over Europe and beyond. There’s a great atmosphere to the place and being a brewery bar, the beer is always excellent (although I wish they’d permanently bring back the awesome sour beer they do sometimes).
2. Szimpla Kert – Budapest
Budapest is the city of Ruin Pubs and Szimpla Kert is the original and grandmaster of them all. I’m sure some would claim it’s too ‘tourist-y’ and yes I’ve seen the tours go through it, but the place is vast enough that they don’t become a hindrance. There are various different bars scattered around the place if you can find them amongst the two floors of graffiti-covered walls and random tat (there is a derelict car used as a seating area in the middle of the place for example).
1. Lokal Pub – Trnava
My new home away from home…from my actual home. I thought I’d miss my beloved Piccadilly Tap in Manchester, but thanks to Lokal Pub in Trnava I’ve hardly given the place a second thought. Lokal Pub has been magnificent for me from my first day living in Slovakia when my pal Tomáš stated, “If you love craft ale, I should take you to Lokal…” Lokal is located in a small little cavern below street level and has an ever-changing chalkboard of awesome craft ales. And the staff know their shit about beer too. There have been very few Lost Boyos day trips that haven’t ended here. In fact, with it being less than 5 minutes from my flat door, many an afternoon/evening/night has been spent there. I adore the place.
Best Double Thumbs Up Photo of the Season
The super double thumbs up in The Swan Inn, Rhyl
The first night of my 2016/17 season saw us head to Rhyl to witness Connah’s Quay unlikely 0-0 draw with Norwegians Stabæk. The game was awful, but most certainly the highlight of the night was the pub visit with the Stabæk fans after the game. Our night in the Swan Inn was one of the best of the season as Welsh, English and Norwegians enjoyed themselves together in one big party. The above photo features fans of Rhyl, Connah’s Quay, Celtic, Crawley, York, Stabæk and, of course, Swansea. Football’s beautiful spectrum coming together in a small North Walian pub – it’s what football fandom should be all about.
The ‘Never Again’ Award
Not a pretty, or even a shitty town, just..meh. One of the dullest places I’ve ever been to in my life and easily on a par with last season’s winner of this award, Kidsgrove. Decent football ground, but very little else…well nothing else. Never again…
Twat(s) of the Year
England national football team
(DISCLAIMER: Firstly, please don’t read this as a Welsh, anti-English rhetoric – it’s meant to be a bit of a joke about how the England national team screwed me over twice in quick succession. It’s meant to be sort of humorous, so chill before calling me a small-minded ‘sheep shagger’ or anything).
One of my favourite things about this past season is having international football 5 minutes from my doorstep with the Slovak national team calling Trnava home (for now). Following Slovakia has been one of my favourite things this season, although it did bring more brief heartache.
Obviously, Wales’ Euro 2016 adventure was the thing of dreams, but there was one heartwrenching blip: the bloody English. Sturridge in the 94th minute. It was so cruel. However, us Welsh got over it and had the perfect antidote to such despair with a semi-final finish. I knew I was going to the Slovakia v England qualifier months later and thought maybe my new adopted nation would get revenge over the English forthat late winner for me? Nope, they did the exact same thing and conceded to a Adam Lallana goal in the 92nd minute. England had now cruelly beaten both Wales and Slovakia with injury time winners in space of three months. The start of that epic 100% winning streak under Sam Allardyce…Anyway, twats.
Mascot of the Season
Adler the Eagle – Ruch Chorzów
A pitch side anarchist and one of the most entertaining presences off the pitch I’ve ever seen: Adler the Eagle – the crazy mascot of Ruch Chorzów. He spied on the opposition manager and copied down some notes; he psyched up the Ultras; and even wandered the stands posing for photos with random Welshmen like the one below.
Best prematch entrance song
A new award that came to life after me and Nicky of My Year in the Welsh League fame began discussing at Cardiff Met Uni v Pontypridd what would be the best entrance music for teams to walk out to prematch. We decided on what we thought would be the best – and we were almost right…
3. Soroksár SC: The Alan Parsons’ Project – Sirius
I’ve since heard it played at other clubs when I’ve watched games on TV, but my first experience of this atmospheric entrance music was at Soroksár SC. Hungarian 2nd tier football had never sound more dramatic. For those not familiar with The Alan Parsons’ Project’s eerie guitar-jangling Sirius, you can listen to it here if you wish.
2. Pontypridd Town: The Gladiators Theme
As we stood on the sideline at Cardiff Met Uni, me and Nicky had gone through several tunes we thought fitting of a truly epic entrance, before deciding there was only one winner: “GLADIATOOOORSSS, READY!” Yes, surely nothing would get the players’ adrenaline pumping more than the cheesy theme song to 90s Saturday night TV staple Gladiators. Fortunately, days later we’d witness its effect as Nicky was in charge of the PA system for Pontypridd’s Friday night Welsh League opener v Newport City. It was perfect and it worked too, as Pontypridd went onto smash Newport City and win 6-1. AWOOGA!
1. Austria: Rainhard Fendrich – I Am From Austria, Johann Strauss – Radetzky March
It would take something special to beat the theme song to Gladiators, but Vienna is a special place. Me and Craig found ourselves towards the top of one of the Ernst Happel Stadion’s stands for Austria v Republic of Ireland. The musical buildup to the game was as grandiose as the city of Vienna itself. As tens of thousands of red and white flags were waved, epic ballad I Am Austria by Rainhard Fendrich played emphatically over the PA system; I’d never heard of the song in my life, but its patriotic, sing-a-long, heart-thumping balladry almost made me wish I was Austrian (give it a listen here – it’s cheesy and awesome). This then led into the famous Radetzky March by Strauss. Only Vienna could get away with playing such classical music to introduce the teams, but it was bloody magnificent and got the locals fired up (they bloody love their orchestral stuff don’t they?). Altogether a fine way to buildup to a game of football and maybe just a little bit more bombastic than Gladiators; although maybe Vienna couldn’t pull off the Gladiators theme just as Pontypridd couldn’t pull off Strauss.
Highlight of the Season
The wedding at Spartak Myjava
There’s been so many highlights of the past season exploring Slovak football and the other surrounding countries and their football and many of them have been mentioned already. However, I think when I look back on this season in years to come, the thing I’ll always remember is ‘the wedding game’ at Spartak Myjava. Myjava is a semi-pleasant but fairly underwhelming town in the north of Slovakia and I had watched a fairly underwhelming opening 45 minutes of football between Myjava and local rivals Senica. I could never have predicted what would happen next. I was nearby the small band of jolly Myjava Ultras behind the goal, when I looked right and I saw a bride and groom walking towards me with a small army of followers in their finest dresses and suits behind them – clearly a wedding party. They were as passionate about cheering on Myjava as the Ultras and I had to go find out what was going on. It seemed that the bride was a big Myjava fan and insisted on going to watch the second half of the match after her wedding ceremony. So I spent the second half boozing with the wedding party (especially the father of the bride) and the Ultras and had the most fun I probably had all season. Myjava responded on the pitch too by scoring twice to win. I’ve never seen such a party in a stand like it before and I probably won’t again. I included the videos below to demonstrate just how drunk I eventually got with them. Sadly, Spartak Myjava pulled out of the top flight mid-season for a number of reasons it seems and the club is about to start again from lower down the leagues. Sad news indeed.
And so 2016/17 season is a wrap. What a blast it was! Undoubtedly moving to a different country has been one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and I couldn’t have picked a better country: Slovakia, I do truly love you – and your neighbours too. Big thanks to those who have joined me this season and made it awesome again, friends old and new.
It’s not goodbye yet to Slovakia either – there’s another year to come of central European adventures next season. For now, I’m off back to the UK and my parents new home in France for a bit, so until then, ‘dovidenia’.
As always to finish these award blogs, here is the 2016/17 double thumbs up reel, this time soundtracked by James – Sometimes because 1) There is literally a storm outside as I type this 2) The reel does feature a James t-shirt at one point 3) It is probably my favourite song ever. Enjoy.
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