Partizán Bardejov v MŠK Žilina II
Mestský štadión Bardejov / 2. Liga / 21st April 2018
In the weeks and months leading up to my move to Slovakia I must have read dozens of those ‘Ten Places to Visit in Slovakia’ type articles. I’m not sure why I insisted on reading so many, as virtually every article listed pretty much the same places. There was one clear consistency though: the town of Bardejov always sat somewhere in the top 3 places to visit. My own checklist of ‘places to visit in Slovakia’ is nearing its end now and I’ve seen almost all of the places I wanted to see in this beautiful country. Bardejov though, well that has remained unticked off my list for the past 18 months. Until now.
The chief reason as to why Bardejov has remained unchartered by Lost Boyos for so long is basically down to its location. I live in Trnava in the heart of western Slovakia, so fair to say I would have quite a conquest ahead of me to travel the 300km or so to Bardejov in the very north-east of Slovakia and just 20km south of the Polish border. It felt a long way to go for 2nd tier Slovak football at Partizán Bardejov, but this trip was certainly more about visiting the town than the football (the football didn’t prove bad at all though.)
So why is Bardejov so special? Well, it is almost like a town stuck in time and amazingly well-preserved. And basically it is just beautiful. This was a town that dates back to at least the 1300s, when it became rich off trade between Poland and other neighbouring areas due to its location on the main trade route. The town gradually grew through the centuries and much of the old merchant housing that still sit in the main square is the same as those that sat there during the 1700s, thanks various restoration projects helping to maintain them. In 2000 the town gained status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the preserved town square, dominated by the huge 13th century Church of St. Aegidius, acting as the town’s centerpiece. The name of the town is represented in the square by a statued axeman with many believing that the name Bardejov is linked to hatcheting with the Hungarian word ‘bárd’ meaning ‘chopper’; of course, there are many other theories behind the town’s name but we won’t list them all here.
At 6am on this Saturday morning, 7 hours of train journey lay ahead of me, but luckily a large chunk of that consisted of travelling through scenic northern Slovakia and then the iconic Tatras. Also, I’d like to add here that this 7.5 hour, 300km journey across Slovakia cost the equivalent of about £15 – once again showing how embarrassing British rain travel has become. Just saying…anyway…My two train changes were on time too and after the hour-long journey on a local train from Prešov, I finally arrived in a very sunny Bardejov around 1pm.
Bardejov is not a big place at all, but it packs a lot of immense beauty into its historical centre and the square, the centerpiece of the town, was even more beautiful through my own eyes than in the photos I’d seen of it. Despite being a UNESCO site, tourist-wise, the place was fairly sparse and I got the impression that it was like this most of the time. A really sleepy, beautiful ghost town of a place, but it was still quite refreshing to be in a genuine town still untouched by a swarm of tourists. It still feels off the beaten track slightly.
After checking into my hotel, located above a small art gallery on the square, it was time to go explore this eastern Slovak beauty. I did a full lap of the town square, before circling the outer streets. One thing I certainly didn’t expect to find was a Ulička Johna Lennona (‘John Lennon Street’) complete with Beatles-themed cafe with various rocks outside carved with each of the band members’ names and also some of the band’s more celebrated albums. I decided to pay the place a visit in the evening, but I found it sadly closed later.
As I expected, there wasn’t too much life in the bars in town (you don’t really go to Bardejov for the pub scene and the nightlife though). So, rather predictably, I indulged in one of my favourite tourist hobbies: checking out how the shit the local Irish Bar was. Guess what? It was quite shit – but not as shit as others I’d found in Slovakia and at least this one had made the effort to put up at least one or two Irish decorations and even had Guinness on tap (I’m used to remarkably un-Irish Irish pubs in Slovakia). It was a bit hot for Guinness, so I went for a beer. This being east Slovakia, the beer would be the Spiš-made Šariš – the ever-present beer in every bar east of Liptovský Mikuláš.
Bar-wise, there wasn’t too much to sample in the historic square, so after one more beer in a little beer garden (Zlatý Bažant – eurgh) I decided it was probably best I go in search of the football stadium.
Walking the town wall
More town walls
I knew the general direction to the stadium from looking at a map earlier in the day and I assumed that I was properly on course to Partizán Bardejov when I arrived onto a street called Partizánska. But best not to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ and assume too much, so I checked my phone one more time. Lucky I did as I may still be walking to Poland otherwise.
Opposite the town’s large Tesco, there is a small residential area and within this area you will find the home of Partizán Bardejov – surprisingly hidden away amongst the houses considering its main stand is fairly sizable.
There was a steady flow of fans heading to the ground and there was a decent turnout from the small town for the evening’s game; no doubt, you’ll see many empty seats in my photos, but please remember that I have been watching football in Slovakia for 18 months now and my standards regarding what makes a ‘decent turnout’ have plummeted drastically.
The ground is certainly of a good standard for the Slovak 2nd tier with one large main stand and two of those newer stands which I’ve recently dubbed ‘comma stands’ (due to the shape). For my €2,50, I was free to wander the whole ground and I started at the little beer stall in the shadow of the stand; of course, it was Šariš once again.
It wasn’t long before the teams were out, so I started the game sitting in the shade of the main stand. Last time I’d seen Žilina II play (it was away at Nové Mesto nad Váhom) it was a energy-sapping dull 0-0 draw. Not today though. For the second weekend in a row, I was about to witness a fairly entertaining 2nd tier game.
Bardejov seemed to have a really young team, but all of them seemed technically a lot better than other Slovak teams I’d seen at this level. They passed it around nicely, although Žilina II looked to counter a lot.
Eventually, Bardejov deservedly broke the deadlock with a 20 yard smash that flew in. Joy for the gang of Ultras in the far corner.
As Bardejov continued to press for a second, I found entertainment in the stand in the form of the gentlemen sitting across from me. A clearly inebriated old chap, who looked a sort of mix between Sir Alf Ramsay and Brian Clough, was patrolling his row and vehemently gesticulating his thoughts and opinions towards the players below, as if he had the footballing expertise of the two aforementioned football managerial greats. He had passionate fits towards many an unsuspecting fan in the stand, but luckily I escaped such a spitty rant.
As the half approached its end, I circled to the other side of the ground to take some photos. Obviously I wanted my usual thumbs up photo, so I asked a middle-aged couple in the stand behind the goal. The man looked terrified of my camera and promptly gestured to his wife to take the photo. He went all backseat driver and began instructing her how to take it, then stating, “She…worker. Me….manager,” before laughing frantically. It was a bit weird.
Literally seconds after the photo had been taken, we looked on as a scramble in the box ensued yards away from us. Eventually, the ball bobbled to a Žilina player to smash home from close range. Both husband and wife stared at me angrily, as if through some photographic voodoo I had caused the undeserved Žilina equaliser.
Half-time: Partizán Bardejov 1 – 1 Žilina II.
Watching such football in the heat is hungry work, so during the break I headed back to the beer stall, where there was the very strong and distinctive smell of klobása now emanating. It seems others were hungry too, as the queue went well into the car park and I only got my klobása just as the whistle for the second half was sounding.
Having played so well in the first half, I found myself really rooting for Bardejov in the second half. They grabbed their deserved second from a cross from the left which led to a goalmouth scramble and eventual goal.
Bardejov seemed to get even better when they introduced a new right-winger from the bench: Emanuel Sarki – a Nigerian-born Haitian international footballer. His career had actually begun as a youth footballer at Chelsea followed by spells in Belgium, then at Wisła Kraków and then at AEL Limassol, before he arrived at Bardejov. He could shift down the wing to say the least.
In the final moments of the game, it was Sarki who created the final goal. A bursting run down the right left everyone eating his dust and his low cross into the box was perfect for the Bardejov striker to smash home. Bardejov had won it with that.
Full-time: Partizán Bardejov 3 – 1 Žilina II.
A good game and a good home win – of course, celebrated with the players performing the usual post-match hurrah ritual in front of the small group of Ultras.
Although it was far from volatile cauldron of noise, the football ground had still proved to be the noisiest part of town and I soon found myself back in the rather deserted town square. By the time I re-emerged from my hotel an hour later, the square was literally silent and not another soul could be seen on the square. It was a serene feeling in the dark square.
Again, Bardejov is not a place you go for nightlife. I started in a small bar which felt more like your grandmother’s living room than a bar. I didn’t hang around long and went for a nighttime wander of the town. I barely saw another soul.
Predictably, I ended up back at the Irish Pub, where it seemed half the town were partying. I stayed for a couple of Šariš before I thought I may as well call it a night. Like the town itself, I felt sleepy.
As mentioned at the start, football was secondary for me on my trip to Bardejov. However, the ground and quality of football had really surprised me, so it didn’t prove to be a crappy aside from the town after all. But saying that, the town really is a marvel and its main square area is incomparably beautiful next to others in Slovakia. If for whatever reason you find yourself in north-east Slovakia, then Bardejov is a must visit – don’t be shy about calling into Partizán Bardejov either.
Highlights: love that train journey, Bardejov is beautiful, main square, decent football ground, good football on show, good klobása.
Low Points: maybe a little too quiet for me at times
See all my photos from Bardejov here.