FK NOVES Spišská Nová Ves v Partizan Bardejov
Futbalový štadión Spišská Nová Ves / II. Liga / 11th November 2017
Us Welsh do love a good castle. Our lovely little country is scattered with a plethora of different castles in all shapes, sizes and varying degrees of grandeur or ruin. However, if there is a country that perhaps loves their castles more than us Welsh, then it is Slovakia. Slovakia, just like my native Wales, has been attacked, invaded, defended and conquered repeatedly over much of its history – so it is perhaps little surprise that the land is scattered with many forts and castles. It is said that Slovakia once had over 300 castles, but now it is believed to be somewhere in the region of 120 – some largely ruined these days. Still, it is claimed that Slovakia has more castles per person than any other country in the world.
When I’ve been able to, I have tried to combine some of my football adventures with a spot of castlehopping – whether that be here in Slovakia or even when I still lived in the UK. The one castle I’ve been desperate to visit for a long time is perhaps Slovakia’s most iconic: Spiś Castle, located in the east of the country. I decided I should stop thinking about going and just sort something out – which I did.
Less than 30km southwest of Spiś Castle is the Slovak town of Spišská Nová Ves. It’s not the biggest town, with it holding just 40,000 inhabitants, but it is a well-known one in Slovakia, largely because of its close proximity to numerous Slovak tourist attractions: the High Tatras and several ski resorts; the Slovenský raj (Slovak Paradise) national park; the UNESCO heritage town of Levoca; and also the aforementioned Spiś Castle. Most people use Spišská Nová Ves as a hub to stay in to visit these iconic places and not really spend much time in the town itself. Of course, I’m not ‘most people’. Spišská Nová Ves also have a 2nd division football team and they were due to play their fellow east Slovaks Partizan Bardejov at 13:30 on an upcoming Saturday afternoon. When I discovered a nice guest house in Smižany, an adjoining village to Spišská Nová Ves, that would give me a room for €12 for the night, I knew a groundhopping/castlehopping weekender was on the horizon for me.
Getting to Spišská Nová Ves for a 13:30 kick-off had it’s one main drawback: the town is over 300km and a 4 hour train journey away from my Trnava home. With the way train times were working out, that meant a 6.27am departure time from Trnava. Grim on a Saturday morning, but luckily the train journey to east Slovakia is one of many beautiful sights and scenes to enjoy.
Passed towns like Trenčín, Žilina and Ružemberok we headed and then the mountains of the Low Tatras and the High Tatras, until shortly before 11am we pulled into Spišska Nová Ves. Immediately on my arrival I began walking away from the town and towards Smižany. The walk began through a rather drab industrial part of town, which featured the longest wait I’ve ever endured at a rail crossing; they seem to play things ultra-safe in Slovakia, as the gates came down 5 minutes before the train passed. But, eventually, I headed through the residential streets of Smižany and found my humble little guesthouse. Despite the 25 minute walk from town, it was perfect for the measly €12.
By the time I had checked in and all that stuff, it was midday and I couldn’t be arsed walking back into town, so I got the hotel lady to book me a taxi. It proved an awkward journey as my taxi driver spoke incessantly to me, even though I made it clear very quickly that I didn’t understand him. His talking was soundtracked by rather bizarre folk music.
After another long pause at the rail coursing, I arrived into the centre of Spišská Nová Ves. The town had a gathering of fairly grandiose buildings through the middle, but otherwise the town was a bit on the bland side to be honest. The name Spišská Nová Ves translates as ‘Spiš’ new village’ (‘Spiš’ being the name of the region around the High Tatras) – there is certainly not much ‘new’ about it these days, as the town is a very historical one. It’s a mish-mash of history with its lens-shaped town square typical of medieval towns, although there are gothic era structures, classical style architecture (like the town hall) and of course more communist era buildings. One type of building I was struggling to find open though was a pub and after rather aimlessly wandering around the town for a while (admittedly with the aim of seeing more of the town), I decided to head towards the football ground.
The football ground was easy to find as 1) the ground is close to the centre and 2) the PA system was ridiculously loud and just walking towards the music from the town centre took my right to the ground. However, there were still 40 minutes to go until kick-off and so I headed for the Corgoň sign indicating that there was a shitty little bar on the street near the ground. Indeed it was small and shitty, but the locals were all content with one man performing a bizarre dance to the folk music playing on the radio as he headed to the bar. As always in such a place, beer prices dropped below the €1 mark, although all the locals were on borovička; undoubtedly, it was the famous local style, Spišská Borovička.
Back down the street I headed to the football ground, paid my €3 entry and headed into the home of FK NOVES Spišská Nová Ves. ‘Typical Slovak ground’ was the only way to describe it. The ground is built into a grassy bowl structure with the vast majority of the ground consisting of curving concrete terraces that ended at the main stand on the far side. As per usual in these sort of Slovak towns, the football ground is backdropped by tower blocks, although the more pleasant sight of the main church could be made out here too.
Less typical traits of Slovak grounds occurred when I arrived at the little food/drink hatch. The usual beer of choice at Slovak football grounds is Corgoň – an inoffensive yet unspectacular beer that sponsored the Slovak top flight a few years ago. Here though, in a maverick move for Slovak football, they had local IPA on tap! Brilliant! And only €1,50 too. It took about ten minutes to pour for some reason and it was one of the frothiest beers I’ve seen, but it was very good. After the lengthy pouring time and repeated apologies from the barman, by the time I headed up the grassy banking to the terrace the teams were already out.
During that beer wait, the ground had rapidly filled up. It was virtually empty when I arrived 15 minutes before kick-off, but now there was a queue of people coming. It had very suddenly taken a cold turn and so maybe the locals were trying to embrace the warmth of their homes and bars until the last-minute before kick-off. Weirdly, not one person on the terrace stood beyond the one but last step of the concrete terracing. Again, it was noticeable how very few were on the beer and how most cradled small glasses of borovička.
I’d seen Spišská Nová Ves play at my local Spartak Trnava a few weeks earlier in a midweek cup game one Wednesday evening. Despite Spartak being the best team in Slovakia currently and eventually beating Spišská Nová Ves 3-0, the away team gave a decent account of themselves. Anyway, they’d start with a bang here, as they took the lead in the 5th minute. An absolute piledriver from 25 yards flew past the keeper much to the joy of the home fans.
From there on, the game was an even, yet fairly feisty affair. The home team were arguably better, but what was to be the first of many atrocious refereeing decisions went against them. A fluid counterattacking passing move from a couple of Bardejov’s more silky, younger players led to a burst into the box. A great tackle from a retreating defender stopped that though and played resume…well, we thought it would. Somehow the ref gave a penalty and vitriol poured down from the terraces. The players urged the ref to speak to the linesman, who seemed to say it wasn’t a penalty. But, even after consultation with his assistant, the ref stubbornly stuck to his decision. Minutes after giving the penalty, up-stepped the Bardejov player to convert it and make it 1-1.
The rest of the half involved a series of staggeringly bizarre referee decisions – all against the home team – and a lot of abusive language aimed at the main in the middle from the terraces. Maybe a half-time break would help the ref remember how to officiate a game of football properly.
Half-time: FK NOVES Spišská Nová Ves 1 – 1 Partizan Bardejov.
During half-time, I discovered that you could actually find a bar within the building behind the stand. This was needed as it was already bitterly cold at 2.30pm in Spišská Nová Ves. Maybe I should have switched to the borovička to keep me warm. Of course, I was still going to stick to the IPA – IPA at football does not happen often for me, especially over here in central Europe.
It seemed the referee still hadn’t learned the rules of football during the break and more and more abuse came his way from the home fans. It genuinely was almost as if he had come from Bardejov and wanted to prove his bias. When a home team player made a tackle and wasn’t penalised for it, the ground cheered ironically, as loud as they had for their earlier goal.
Once the ref had mellowed a bit, it may have become fairer, but it certainly became duller to watch. And as the cold set-in further, I began to wish for the game to end. It would end in style at least.
In the 88th minute, SNV earned themselves a corner. A good ball in resulted in a scramble, which eventually fell to the captain to fire in from close range. Cue joyous celebrations, which I felt were possibly further accentuated after the home players had felt repeatedly done over by the ref all game. A pile-on ensued behind the goals with players from the bench sprinting to join the pile too. Scenes. After the referee’s horror show, I was happy for SNV too.
Full-time: FK NOVES Spišská Nová Ves 1 – 1 Partizan Bardejov.
Not a thrilling game, but a great ending. Back into town to see if I could find any joy in Spišská Nová Ves.
On my wander of the town earlier, I had found no real interesting-looking bars and the internet told me there were no craft ale bars, so I decided to do something different: a bar crawl of all the crappy bars from one side of the town centre to the other. Šariš beer reigns king in this part of Slovakia with it being brewed in nearby Prešov, so every bar seemed to be selling that particular brew and only that brew. Again, it’s a decent beer without being life-changing.
From the dark confines of the Green Bar I began, through to a cosier place off the main street, where the smiley, giggly barmaid wanted to tell anyone that’d listen that there was a foreigner in the bar; her direct pointing at me made me feel like an exotic creature.
The next bar was slightly more upmarket and I spent most of the time sitting at the bar talking to the barmaid, who hailed from Spišska Nová Ves, but had spent a while living in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She didn’t sound particularly happy to be back in Spišska Nová Ves having lived around other parts of Slovakia too and her review of her hometown was rather scathing to say the least.
One of the most fun bars in Bratislava is definitely Zbrojnoš and so when seeing a bar/restaurant with the same name here (I don’t think there was a link between them) I decided that was the place to go. It’s underground, cavernous demeanour was cool, but the fact I could have steak, chips and beer for around €8 was the clincher.
It was 8pm by the time I’d finished my ‘crap bar pub crawl’ (although none of the bars really proved that crap) and so I decided to head back to the hotel and visit the large bar near there. However, by the time I’d got back to my hotel and showered, I decided I was done for the day and really couldn’t be arsed with another pub. Hotel room and Netflix it was for me, ready to get up early the next morning for the main event of the weekend. The town was as dull as expected and the football not exactly edge-of-the-seat stuff either, but it was 100% worth going just for what awaited me the next day.
I was at Spišská Nová Ves bus station by 7.30am the next morning. After two 20 minute bus journeys through the Spiš Hills backdropped by the High Tatras and a bus change in the historic town of Levoča, we went down another hill and there it was: standing utterly imperious over the villages and land below was Špis Castle. I was still 10-15 minutes drive away from the castle but it already looked…well, wow.
The castle stands above the village of Spišské Podhradie and it was here I arrived at 8.30am, the castle now dominating over the village below. Coffees were enjoyed in the village before I began the 30 minute walk up to the castle. I arrived at the gate just before the 10am opening time, the same time as a two-person film crew who were filming at the castle as it was the last day it was open before closing until March for winter. This film crew would ambush me shortly after and so somewhere out there is footage of me on Slovak local news stumbling through an interview (in English) saying generic, dull comments like “It’s a really beautiful castle,” and “I’ve never seen anything like it…”
I’m not sure a lowly word such as ‘beautiful’ can do the castle justice, although it is a sort of brutal beauty. I’ll let my photos do the talking (and check out the individual album dedicated to it at the bottom). The castle, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built-in the 12th century by the Hungarians who ruled over the land at the time. This was a castle built not for beauty, but for defense battle and war. It’s battle-hardened existence has left the ruined castle with a now powerful, majestic demeanour. It is believed to be the 6th biggest castle in the world and as you walk around it it certainly feels it. Again, I’ll let the photos do the talking.
By early afternoon, after a quick stop in a Spišské Podhradie pub, I was back on the bus. As I’d have to change buses in Levoča, I thought it would be rude not to have a wander of there, as the town itself is also a UNESCO world heritage site. To be honest, the famous walled town of Levoča didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but it was still very interesting nonetheless; although also a bit eerie as I seemed to be the only soul walking the streets. The historic town is famed for its varied and interesting architecture from its past and remains one of the most visited Slovak towns by tourists. But, within the hour, I was at the bus stop and on my way back to Spišská Nová Ves, before setting off on the train back to the west.
A fun weekend all round. Although the football ground at Spišská Nová Ves was nothing innovative by Slovak standards, I do still love a good, concrete bowl ground. The game was fairly dull too, but I’m glad the home team pulled off the win in the end, after the ref’s shambles all game. However, I imagine like many who visit Spišská Nová Ves, the real highlight was leaving Spišská Nová Ves for its surrounding attractions.
If you are ever in that part of Slovakia you MUST visit Spiš Castle. I’m going to go as far to say that it is my favourite castle I’ve ever visited (and that is a big shout from a Welshman). Throw in the fact that you can complete a UNESCO site double too by visiting Levoča and you’ve got yourself a good trip. Just don’t expect anything quite as enriching if you go watch the local football. However, maybe next time I’ll go watch Spišské Podhradie, whose ground I found right at the foot of the hill leading up to Špis Castle. Now that will make for one magnificent football ground backdrop.
Highlights: train journey east is always fun, cheap food, drink, football, great first goal for SNV, late winner, Spiš Castle, Levoča.
Low Points: Spišská Nová Ves is a bit meh, awful referee.
See all my photos of Spišská Nová Ves here.