Dukla Prague v Sigma Olomouc
Stadion Juliska / Czech Liga / 30th March 2018
Dukla Prague and the Wirral-based indie band Half Man, Half Biscuit are undoubtedly seeped in the realms of hipsterdom for eternity. This is all thanks to a song off the band’s 1986 debut EP: All I Want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Shirt. Anyone wearing an 80s Dukla away shirt is saluting all things alternative and indie, surely fully aware that only some people will ‘get’ why they are wearing such an obscure football shirt. Admittedly, those Dukla Prague shirts from the 80s in their garish mustard and burgundy colours are actually really beautiful in an unorthodox way. I suppose the next step up from owning a Dukla away shirt is going to watch the Czech club in the flesh. I may not be the owner of a Dukla away shirt, but I can now say I’ve been to watch Dukla Prague play at home (obviously in their less cool home shirts). In fact, it was the photos of the club’s ground that made me want to visit more than the lyrical festive demands of Half Man, Half Biscuit’s song about Christmases with Scalextric and Subbuteo.
For those who read my last blog, you will know that my Friday morning had begun at the 4th tier clash between Meteor Prague and Motorlet Prague. Having watched a decent 2-0 win to the home team unfold there, I was now back in the heart of the Old Town. My last blog ended with me sipping lovely frothy beer in the Old Town, more specifically at U Dvou koček – ‘The Two Cats.’ It was here I met up again with Gibbo and Ollie, after they’d snubbed a morning at 4th tier football for a long lie-in. I encouraged them to try the local U Dvou koček brew, which they also enjoyed, before we set off for the tram.
Through the middle of St. Wenceslas Sqaure we headed and towards the Vitava river, before stopping at Staroměstská to wait for Tram 8 to take us across the river and to the north western city district of Dejvice.
Dejvice is known as a more middle class area of Prague, thanks to the historic lack of industry developed in the area, although it was hard to see anything strikingly upmarket on face value these days. The main landmark is a fine demonstration of communist architecture at its most dazzling with the 88m high Hotel Crown Plaza – a landmark that would make up the backdrop to the ground we’d be visiting shortly.
It’s also not just Dukla who call the Dejvice area their home; Dejvice is home to the largest amateur league in the Czech Republic, the Hanspaulka League. The league began as an 8 team league in the 1970s, but now, almost 50 years later, hosts over 800 teams. A vast array of football indeed is being played on the local pitches, but we were all about Dukla today and so we began the walk up the hill, keeping an eye out for the towering stand I had seen in photos of the ground. Where the hell was it though?
Eventually, after climbing a load of steps, we found ourselves next to a statue of Josef Masupost – Dukla’s most iconic son. Masupost was a midfield general for Dukla and Czechoslovakia and won the Ballon d’Or in 1962; the same year he helped Czechoslovakia get to the World Cup final. In 2003, at UEFA’ s Jubilee celebration, he was voted the greatest Czech player ever. Fair to say, I think he earned his statue next to Dukla’s ground, as it soon became apparent that was where we were – we were right next to the Stadion Juliska.
We followed the outer fencing up a hill and we soon arrived at the main gate into the ground – an entrance located at the very top of this hilly ground. Undoubtedly, one of the most distinct features of the ground was the fact that it is built into a steep hillside. I’m sure an iconic name like Dukla will not like me comparing them to one of Slovakia’s top flight’s least glamorous names, but the ground reminded me instantly of a grander version of Podbrezová’s home; just replace the panoramic views of a shitty Slovak village backdropped with central Slovak valleys with a much more wondrous view of Prague below.
We paid the usual measly price for Czech football and after the briefest of searches from a steward, we were into Stadion Juliska. The first thing we were encountered by? A merchandise hut with all the usual scarves and hats you’d expect and of course there were some 1980s Dukla Prague shirts there too for those that want one for Christmas. Gibbo toyed with the idea of joining the hip and happening Dukla away shirt clan, but was put off by the price – as I imagine many are. Instead, he bought himself a bobble hat (which would become a running theme all weekend) and I got myself a scarf to add to my ever-expanding Euro collection.
Dukla Prague were not just an obscure club name plucked out of thin air by the Wirral indie rockers for their B-side classic; no, Dukla were a real force in football before the 90s. Founded as ATK Praha in 1948, before becoming Dukla Praha in 1956, the club would go on to win the Czechoslovak league 11 times and regularly feature in the European Cup. In fact, during the pre-Champions League era of European’s most elite competition, no team in Czechoslovakia played more games in the European Cup than Dukla.
Like most clubs in the country, Dukla were not just a football club either, but an all-encompassing sports club covering athletics, cycling, rowing and much more. Under communism, the club would eventually become the club of the military with the name ‘Dukla’ being used to honour the fallen Czech soldiers at the 1944 Battle of Dukla Pass (the Eastern frontline between Slovakia and Poland).
The history of the current Dukla Prague is a rather complex one. For one thing, it could be said that this Dukla club isn’t even the Dukla Prague celebrated in the Half Man, Half Biscuit indie anthem. Dukla cut their ties with the military in 1994, but, soon after that, their fortunes faded as they slumped to relegation and eventually ended up in the third tier. This led to a merger with 2nd division FC Příbram and the newly merged team (briefly named Dukla Příbram) continued playing at Dukla’s Stadion Juliska, before moving to Příbram – a town 60km southwest of Prague. So technically, the legal successors to the historic Dukla Prague are 1.FK Příbram, a club who have spent most of the past 10 years in the Czech top flight until relegation last season. In fact, the name ‘Dukla Prague’ completely disappeared from Czech football for 5 years before the lower league FK Dukla Dejvice decided to take up the historic name and become FK Dukla Prague – the club we would be watching today. Just like the Dukla Prague Of yonder times, the ‘new’ Dukla Prague have the same colours and iconic badge (Gibbo: “it looks like three testicles”) as the old Dukla, hence the confusion between which club is which.
Another confusing element of Dukla Prague is their stadium, the Stadion Juliska. It has all the hallmarks of a ground which should be derided: relatively small crowds, a running track and a stand that feels a long way from the action. However, I’m going to go out there and say that there is just something about the ground that makes it one of my favourite grounds I’ve been to on the continent and certainly my favourite that I’ve been to in the Czech top flight (I think Břeclav still may just hold the crown for my favourite in the whole Czech Republic).
The ground very much has that very ‘communist athletics stadium’ vibe to it, but this also weirdly works in its favour. The main stand built into the hill feels monumental when you are stood at the top of it; the sort of concourse area atop the stand feels more like a viewing platform of northern Prague rather than a place to watch a game of football. Ultimately, I loved this though, even if the action did feel a long way down below. Of course there are the superb traditional floodlights too. The rest of the ground is largely just open terracing, which was fine on such a pleasant spring evening in Prague.
We were more than happy to stay at the top of the stand for the first half as Dukla came out in their slightly less iconic home shirts and Sigma Olomouc in their red away shirts.
Back in February I headed to the beautiful town of Olomouc and watched Sigma Olomouc triumph 1-0 over Slovácko in a dire game in freezing weather. On this Friday evening, it was not only the weather that was better than the first time I’d seen Olomouc play, but the game was significantly better too. I’d even go on to say that it was a brilliant game.
As we drank away at our Gambrinus and ate our klobása, the game was a tight but lively encounter and the first goal wouldn’t come until the 27th minute. I saw the cross go into the box, I saw the Dukla attacker connect with the looping header, but I wouldn’t see the ball go into the net. This was thanks to the viewing platform at the top poking out just enough and with enough people on it to obscure my view of the goal. The cheer around the ground confirmed that Dukla had taken the lead.
In a rather strange turn of events, Olomouc’s equaliser was weirdly similar to the one goal they had scored against Slovácko weeks earlier. All looked under control as the Dukla goalie received a backpass, before he suddenly just passed it straight to an onrushing Olomouc attacker who scored into a half empty net. This was Jakub Řezníček’s first goal of the day, but not his last.
As the half headed towards its end, we then decided to make the long walk down from the top of the stand to the bottom , so we could take some more photos of that colossal stand. We then just assumed that we could stride over to the open terrace where there was a few smaller gatherings of fans. But, nope, some jobsworth steward was having none of it. Despite nobody giving the singlest of shits, he kept insisting, “Journalists…” I then tried to explain that we were journalists but he was having none of that either. Even when we told him that we just wanted to go in the corner just 15 yards away and take a photo, he was still denying us. After discussing running past him, we opted against it, as there was actually a good game happening (a change for me to see one) and I didn’t fancy a Czech banning order or anything. Instead, we spent the end of the first half watching the game in front of the small band of Ultras in the main stand.
Half-time: Dukla Prague 1 – 1 Sigma Olomouc.
For the second half, we undertook the Olympian task of climbing back up to the top of the stand for more beer. The second half would bring much more entertainment and goals.
It didn’t take long into the second half for Olomouc to take the lead with a well-placed tap-in at the near post – again it was Řezníček with the goal. There was still more in Řezníček’s tank too.
In the 68th minute, Řezníček grabbed his hatrick with his 3rd looking ridiculously simple. A floated corner towards the near post found his head and with little challenge on him, he guided his header into the far corner. 3-1 to Olomouc and it looked game over for Dukla. Or was it…
Minutes later, Dukla earned themselves a freekick from 20 yards. As Olomouc assembled a wall not fitting of the name, Ondřej Kušnír curled a soft freekick right through the middle of it and past a surprised keeper. 3-2 and game on.
We now very much had our Dukla hats on (Gibbo literally did) and we tried to cheer the team on to an equaliser. But, they pushed and pushed, yet that 3rd never came for them.
Full-time: Dukla Prague 2 – 3 Sigma Olomouc.
At the final whistle, we finally, with no silly stewards to gauntlet past, headed for the open terrace to take some photos. My camera is a pretty shoddy battered little thing now and I am certainly no pro behind a camera anyway, but I was particularly pleased with the photo I got of the stand under the floodlights. Such a great stand with the word ‘DUKLA’ looking imperious across the middle of it.
As we left the ground, Gibbo decided he wanted another memento from his trip and so he asked the one remaining steward could he take a match poster from the wall. The steward looked slightly bemused, but shrugged his shoulders to indicate, ‘ why not?’ I spotted another lone poster, so i decided to take a memento too. I actually thought I lost my poster over the course of the weekend, but found it scrunched up in the bottom of my bags days after I’d arrived back home to Slovakia; it is now up for all to see in my flat.
It wasn’t too long before we were back near the Old Town and we completed a mini pub crawl towards the main square. In one pub we even got to watch Milan Baroš on TV scoring for Baník Ostrava, as we reminisced about his exploits in the Premier League for Liverpool, Villa and Pompey. With an early train to Dresden in the morning, we decided not to hang about too late and sensibly call it an early night to keep ourselves fresh for exploits in East Germany the next day.
Dukla had been brilliant and along with the earlier morning trip to Meteor Prague, I’d had an awesome day of football. Prague really is a brilliant city for football…well it is just a brilliant city really.
Highlights: easy to get to, cheap entry/food/drink, great main stand with great stand, great floodlights, awesome game.
Low Points: jobsworth stewards
See all my photos from Dukla Prague here.