ŠK Vrakuňa Bratislava v FK Kartpaty Limbach
Štadion ŠK Vrakuňa / IV. Liga Bratislava / 2nd September 2017
‘Vrakuňa Bratislava’…such a wonderful phrase…Oh wait, that’s ‘Hakuna Matata’. Nevermind. To be honest, from what I’d heard of the Vrakuňa suburb of Bratislava, it may not be such a wonderful phrase or place, but we like to give everywhere a chance here and try to hold no premeditated prejudice. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was heading back to the Slovak capital, this time to watch 4th division ŠK Vrakuňa Bratislava.
A bit of googling informed me that I wouldn’t find much in the unprepossessing streets of Vrakuňa (aside from one bizarre landmark, which I’ll discuss later), and so I decided to spend the start of my day in my favourite Bratislava bar: Fabrika.
Fabrika is still relatively new to Bratislava having only opened 3 years ago. It sits conveniently just behind the grounds of the Presidential Palace and halfway between the Old Town and the train station. The bar makes its own beers with its American APA being a particular favourite of mine. My visits to Fabrika have become so regular recently that the main barman in there now recognises me and always comes over to greet me. I always find such things nice, but always question whether it is a good thing for me that bar staff recognise me in a bar that is almost 50km from my home.
I enjoyed a few of Fabrika’s excellent APAs before I thought I’d head back nearer to Bratislava train station for a beer elsewhere. I thought I’d go to the brilliantly named Beer Arena, but was saddened to find it closed; whether this was a permanent thing or just a decision to now open later, I’m unsure – it certainly didn’t look shut down for good. This meant that I’d have to go back to the louring presence of Bratislava train station for a beer in one of the several train station bars…
I think I’ve mentioned it on these pages before, but Bratislava’s main train station is the absolute pits. The station is a run down, battered thing with some of the regulars that haunt the place looking and acting more like something out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video than something of this world. Nonetheless, I do weirdly enjoy my visits to the station, as you are never quite sure what you’ll see or what strange and weird folk you’ll meet. With my train ticket bought to head 10 minutes down the line to Vrakuňa, I headed to the relative safety of the upstairs bar; the bar I find least threatening and the one you are least likely to contract lung cancer from. A quick Zlatý Bažant and it was then onto the RegioJet that curved around the outside of the city before stopping at Vrakuňa.
Vrakuňa is your typical central European city suburb with reams of tower blocks with one or two parks thrown in for a spot of greenery. Vrakuňa does also have the Little Danube, a small river branching off of the actual Danube, running through the middle of it and dividing the area. It was alongside the Little Danube I walked for 10 minutes en route to the tower block estate I wanted to visit – or more specifically the random landmark I wanted to visit in the middle of the tower estate block estate. As I walked, and being the sad soul I am, I’d also moulded my Vrakuňa Bratislava/Hakuna Matata joke into a full-blown football song in my head (of course to the tune of the iconic song from The Lion King). I won’t display my full sadness with all the lyrics here, but it did contain lines such as ‘They play a problem-freeee…football philosophy…Vrakuňa Bratislava!’ There’s just a brief glimpse of my lyrical wizardry.
The Podunajských Biskupiciach estate is interesting in the fact that the several tower blocks form a slightly disjointed octagon shape. In the middle of this octagon is a park area full of trees and random mounds that make the place look like what Teletubby land would look like if it went through a communist regime. However, the real odd part sits in the middle of this area: a UFO. Many know of the iconic Most SNP bridge (AKA the UFO Bridge) that crosses the Danube in the heart of Bratislava, but I’m sure not many know of this ornamental sci-fi piece in the heart of Vrakuňa. It is simply called The UFO and was built in the 1970s by sculptor Juraj Hovorka. Why? Well I have no idea why, nor can I find any real reason as to why it is placed in such a strange location. Like many things in Slovakia, the UFO is now covered in graffiti and has taken a battering over its 40 year existence, even requiring multiple repairs in recent years. Anyway, I thought it was cool and glad I went along to see it. Onwards to the football.
ŠK Vrakuňa Bratislava’s home is virtually next door to the train station, so I headed back to where I had originally set off from. 10 minutes after leaving the galactic presence of the UFO and after another saunter down the path by the mellow waters of the Little Danube, I was outside the football ground. 1€ handed to the old-timer at the gate and I was in.
I regularly use the term ‘typical Slovak ground’, as most lower league grounds here do follow a certain formula, but Vrakuňa Bratislava is certainly not one of those. It was a ground I instantly loved for all of its little random elements. The ground is dominated by the main stand which houses everything: there’s the stand itself, but also the changing rooms, press box and also the large, spacious bar. Attached to this is a small conservatory-esque area, where spectators can enjoy a beer on one of the sofas, which look like they belong in a student flat and not a 4th division Slovak ground. Next to the stand is the frame of what appears to be a large shed to shelter the mini football pitches they have for kids. As I said, the structure remains just a frame and looks like it has been that way for a while.
I resorted to my default setting and headed straight for the club bar, where I found a random mix of settees, cuddly toy dogs, decorative tennis rackets on the walls and a decent range of football shirts and scarves adorning the walls – from Manchester City and Liverpool to a framed and signed retro Slavia Prague shirt. Perhaps more surprising for me though was the fact that the denim-clad, middle-aged barmaid could speak very good English; it’s rare here for me to find any people over the age of 35-40, who can speak good English (aside from in the bilingual school I work at of course). She assumed I was a new resident of the area looking to get a football fix, but when I informed her I was not and I began explaining the whole groundhopping concept, she just got confused. As I’ve said before in recent blogs, the Slovaks just don’t get groundhopping and from there on in she viewed me as a remarkably odd creature, looking wary every time she spoke to me.
It was my turn to be confused as I exited the club bar to actually find a small band of distinguishable away fans. Away fans are very rare in the lower Slovak leagues (and the top league for most clubs actually), but here in Vrakuňa there was a band of about 10 fans all clad in matching dark green hoodies chanting their love for the afternoon’s away team, Karpaty Limbach. Despite the away team featuring in the Bratislava division, Limbach is located about 25km away near the Little Carpathians mountain range (‘Karpaty’ = Carpithians in Slovak). Maybe the away fans had come to show the city slickers how it is done; admittedly, calling some of the home crowd ‘city slickers’ may be a tad lavish.
As the clock past over 4pm, the teams were out for the usual prematch handshakes with Vrakuňa in yellow and blue and Limbach in a generic light blue Nike kit, which looked more like a training top than anything. We were underway and the game would prove a thriller.
The first 25 minutes were not too thrilling to be fair, so I wandered around the ground to explore the nooks and crannies. My favourite feature I had missed on entering was that someone clearly lived in a small bungalow in the ground. Adjacent to the clubhouse was said house with a lovely, well-maintained garden looking out onto the pitch. Next to this was a volley ball court and it was on the fence in front of this that I watched much of the first half.
The home team were clearly second best and Limbach deserved their opening goal. It took until the 25th minute, but a rapid counterattack saw the no.15 beat the offside trap, go clean through on goal and dink past the goalie just as he arrived at his feet.
I thought that was a good time to go back to the bar. As always for me these days, I missed the next goal. In the 60 seconds after the 1st goal, Limbach made it 2. I left the bar just in time to see a rather robust, green-hoodied away fan, with ‘ACAB’ tattooed in big letters on his leg, celebrating wildly.
One home fan seemed to just be making inaudible, angry noises at the Vrakuňa players as their performance continued to dip and dip. I felt like shouting in a similar manner at the home team’s right back for having the audacity to wear the no.10 shirt whilst playing at full back.
There was more for angry fan to shout at in the 40th minute as Limbach earned a penalty and looked to have the chance to run away with a 3-0 lead before half-time. Fortunately for Vrakuňa Bratislava, the penalty was awful and the keeper easily got down to this right to save it and to keep the score at just 2-0.
Half-time: Vrakuňa Bratislava 0 – 2 Karpaty Limbach.
At the food hatch, there was a fairly extensive food menu by Slovak football ground standards, but when I asked English-speaking-denim-top lady for some Ccgánska pečienka, she broke the news that pretty much everything on the menu wasn’t available today. The only thing available was ‘hranolky’ – or chips to you and me. A plastic plate of chips would have to suffice. I should say a big thank you to the lady here too, as I came a few degrees close to sprinkling sugar all over my chips instead of salt; she fortunately grasped my wrist before my hranolky could be compromised with an unwelcome sweetness.
As I made my way through my plate of chips, I noticed a rather unusual trend spreading through the crowd of the 150 or so souls present It was certainly not a sunny day in Bratislava, but temperatures were still above 20 degrees in the Slovak capital. So I couldn’t for the life of me work out why so many men were exiting the club bar with blankets wrapped around themselves to keep warm. I would love to the see the reaction of people at places in the northern England non-league scene if they saw a lad wrapping themselves in a blanket at a match. They’d probably be thrown out or told to buy a bovril instead! (Incidentally, bovril is definitely not a thing in Slovak football).
I expected the second half to follow the same pattern as the first half, as Limbach really had battered the home team. However, the no.14 for Vrakuňa, Patrik Rédler, who mainly attacked down the left, began causing all sorts of havoc and was just generally superb. He played his part in the goal as a quick breakaway led to a Vrakuňa shot on goal from in the box. The goalie’s initial good save was undone, as Vrakuňa got another ball across the box for the no.16 to tap home. 2-1 and game on.
Vrakuňa were like a completely different team in the second half and we now had one almighty end-to-end game. The drama of the occasion was slightly distorted by the rather incongruous beats of some sort of Ibiza Anthems banging out from a speaker at the back of the club bar.
In the 69th minute, Vrakuňa equalised, as the Limbach keeper made another great save only for the ball to fall to the incoming striker to poke home. Vrakuňa didn’t waste time celebrating and were now going of the jugular. 3 minutes later, they had sliced right through it.
Rédler was a genius on the left wing. All pace, power and trickery and just great fun to watch. He certainly deserved his goal in the 72nd minute. It was sort of his goal anyway, as his freekick deflected in off a player in the box. The home team celebrated with a pile on in front of their manager.
The final 15 minutes looked like they could go either way, but there was only one way I was going: to the train station. I had a choice to miss the final 5 minutes and make the next train back to Bratislava or wait an hour after full-time for the next one. With me wanting to watch the big Wales v Austria game on TV that night, I really wanted to be back in the Old Town in plenty of time, so I chose the former option. Yes, I know, I’m not a real football fan as I left early.
As I mentioned earlier, the ground is next door to the train station and so I hoped I could maybe watch the final minutes of the game from the modest train platform. My hopes were half answered…literally. I could see half of the pitch through a bush. There was no board to say if the train was late or not, but of course it was by about 15 minutes meaning I could have stayed and watched the game’s finale in the ground anyway. That will teach me for being a shit football fan.
Down the one side of the pitch that I could actually see, I watched Limbach’s right winger run down the line and play the ball into the box. I could not see what happened next through the thick shrubbery, but the cheers of delight signalled that Limbach had grabbed a late equaliser to make it 3-3 with minutes left of the game.
Full-time: Vrakuňa Bratislava 3 – 3 Karpaty Limbach.
A barnstorming second half to make it one of the best games I’ve seen so far this season. Well done to both teams for that.
My RegioJet train eventually arrived to take me back into the heart of Bratislava and I then made the brisk walk to the Old Town to the Red Lion to watch the Wales game. The night before, I had been at Slovakia’s excellent showing against Slovenia in Trnava, as they beat their qualifying group rivals 1-0 in Trnava. It seemed that that hadn’t disheartened the Slovenians visiting Slovakia though, as I entered the Red Lion to find a large gang of Slovenians pissed up, singing along to their accordion. More odd was the massive cooked pig in the middle of the room that they had brought with them and were cutting up in the middle of the bar. Even though they were completely shitfaced, they maintained their manners and went around everyone in the pub insisting they have some of their sliced pork. They were all very friendly and great fun, although some didn’t seem to understand how a bar works and seemed to head behind the bar to fetch their own beer.
“Alright Matt,” was not what I expected to hear amongst a crowd of Slovenians, although the voice was definitely tinged with a whole load of London-ness. This turned out to be Englishman and Spurs fan Mike, who I’d spoken to over social media and who I knew lives in Bratislava and has lived in the Czech/Slovak part of the world for some time. It was completely unplanned meeting him, but it was great to finally meet. Being a regular in the Red Lion, he made sure that there was a screen showing the Wales game for me, away from the lively Slovenians. He came and joined me with his English mate Chris (who also knew some of my colleagues – small world) and our party was completed by Greek pal Thanos. Admittedly, my party was truly completed at the full-time whistle.
WOOODBBUUUUUURRRNNNN!!!! As the clock ticked over 70 minutes, I’d began to accept that Wales were going to draw yet again, leaving qualification from their World Cup qualifying group unlikely. That was until our 17-year-old wonderkid came off the bench to score a wonder goal on his debut and to send me and many, many, many of my compatriots wild. The Wales win was a perfect way to cap off a great day in the Slovak capital. I couldn’t have cared less that I had to wait until midnight for the last train back to Trnava.
Of course, for personal reasons the Wales’ win was probably the best part of the day for me, but I would like to give Vrakuňa some love too. It may not be the most celebrated neighbourhood in Bratislava to say the very least, but…it does have a funky cool UFO monument there. That’s cool if anything. More to my liking though was the football ground and it’s randomness. There’s plenty to take in at Šk Vrakuňa Bratislava and when the game is also as good as the one I saw, you cannot fault it. Vrakuňa Bratislava…such a wonderful phrase…well ‘wonderful’ still may be too strong, but I liked it anyway.
Highlights: Fabrika, the UFO, cool ground, good club bar, good game, Patrik Rédler performance, Wales and Woodburn in the evening with the drunken Slovenians.
Low Points: UFO aside not much in Vrakuňa, depleted food menu at the ground.
See all my photos from Vrakuňa here.