FC Petržalka akadémia vs. FK Slovan Ivanka pri Dunaji
Štadión FC Petržalka 1898 / 3. Liga – Bratislava / 29th April 2018
“It’s lovely being back in Bratislava – I’m just glad we’re not playing in Bratislava,” said then Scotland manager Gordon Strachan in an interview before Scotland played Slovakia back in October 2016. Bratislava was the host of one of the darkest nights in Strachan’s career: Artmedia Bratislava 5-0 Celtic.
Strachan had just taken over as Celtic manager in the summer of 2005 with his first task being to navigate Champions League qualifying. The opponents were evidently taken too lightly as Artmedia blew Celtic away at the now demolished Telehné Pole stadium (Artmedia’s actual home was deemed not good enough for UEFA competition). A 4-0 home win at Celtic Park couldn’t rescue the Bhoys: Celtic were out of the Champions League at their first hurdle. Artmedia Bratislava would go on to be only the second ever Slovak team to make the Champions League Group stage, after Košice in 1997 (whose story I briefly told here).
Artmedia Bratislava were a typical rags to riches then back to rags again story. Advertising agency Euro RSCG Artmedia pumped money into the club between 2004-2007 and the club would first win the Slovak Cup (their first ever major trophy) and then the Slovak league in 2005, under the tutelage of Ján Kozák – the current Slovakia manager. After beating Kairat Almaty, Celtic and Partizan Belgrade in the qualifiers, this would take them to the Champions League group stage; their group would contain Inter Milan, Rangers and Porto. The club would finish 3rd in the group, a group competition which included them famously coming from 2-0 down away at Porto to win 3-2. It really was a glorious few years for Artmedia who won the league again in 2008, but were thwarted in the Champions League qualifiers that summer by the mighty Juventus. That would be their last taste of true glamour.
Almost ten years later, I would be watching the same club, except they hadn’t been called Artmedia for a long while and I definitely wasn’t watching European football. Ten years after Artmedia Bratislava’s European adventures, I was watching the same club, now back to their old name of Petržalka, playing at 10.30am in the morning in the Slovak 3rd tier; just two years previous they had been in the 5th tier, but two promotions had got them back to the heady heights of the 3rd division. Of course, there is a story behind the rapid decline but we’ll come to that later.
It was another sunny April morning in Slovakia and I was up at 7am to catch an early Sunday train to Bratislava. It was an early morning call for Slovak 3rd division football.
Before 9am, I was on the banks of the Danube in Bratislava’s plush Eurovea shopping centre. I was not here for some retail therapy, but to indulge in one of my favourite past times: Starbucks. This was also a good stop off to work out my route across the Danube to Petržalka. Initially, my plan was to work out a route on public transport, but google was telling me that a 40 minute walk would do the trick: with over an hour until kick-off and it being a beautiful morning, I thought ‘why not?’
The capitalist environs of a Starbucks were a world away from what I was about to enter. The name Petržalka is synonymous with communism in Central Europe as it is essentially one huge estate of commie tower blocks. In fact, it is generally considered to be the most densely populated area in the whole of central Europe. The area’s history is an interesting one too.
Petržalka was a small, barely populated area south of the Danube with it not even considered a part of neighbouring Bratislava (then called by its Austro-Hungarian name, Pressburg). The turn of the 20th century would see rapid growth in the area. Firstly, it was annexed from Austro-Hungary without much of a fight by the Czechoslovaks in 1919. Then, 20 years later, it was captured by Nazi Germany and the bridge from Bratislava acted as a border bridge between Slovakia and Austria. Petržalka came to be known as Engerau. Towards the end of World War II it became a labour camp for Hungarian Jews, but once the Nazis had been overthrown, Petržalka was reunited with Czechoslovakia and officially came to be a part of Bratislava. It was then it grew into the mega communist tower block estate that stands there today.
Having crossed the newer bridge across the Danube, the armada of tower blocks stood before me. The area really is a maze of tower blocks and I’d only be really skirting the outskirts of the area; I’d not be heading into the denser, more tower-blocked heart of Petržalka. There were all the usual sights of such a place: rusting playgrounds, dingy street bars and of course drunken men shouting at me (to be fair, the guy shouting at me this time seemed to be doing so in a jolly drunk way rather than an angry drunk way).
After zigzagging around tower block after tower block after tower block, I arrived onto Medveďovej, the street which took me to the park area which houses the current shiny home of FC Petržalka Akademia.
Rarely do I used the word ‘shiny’ to describe a Slovak 3rd tier ground, but Petržalka’s ground is certainly a bit different to anything else in the 3rd tier. The stadium only opened in 2012 and became the club’s home during the initial decline of Petržalka. The decline was sparked by their then owner, Ivan Kmotrík, getting frustrated with the club for not being able to attract the attendances he desired and he felt his expenditure deserved. Not being able to make the club a real European stalwart was only leading to one thing: led Kmotrík pulled the plug on the project. More malignantly, he took his money and most of his Petržalka’s players and staff across town to rivals Slovan Bratislava (Kmotrík remains at Slovan Bratislava to this day and he is very much disliked there too to say the very least). Artmedia/Petržalka became unsustainable as a football club and eventually entered the financial mire that led to their demotion to the 5th division.
Now, the stadium, with its plastic pitch, acts as a real community hub to the area. The crowd was a lot larger than any I’ve seen at any Slovak 3rd tier game and off the top of my head any 2nd tier game; in fact, probably a lot of the Slovak top flight clubs too. Many, from oldies to kids, were in the black and white colours of the club with one guy clearly having his Petržalka shirt still in the wash and opting to wear a Newcastle United shirt from the Wonga era instead.
There isn’t too much to the ground but it is undoubtedly smart. The only real stand is one of those new, glimmering curving stand (although the wooden bar and toilet areas underneath the unit looked far less modern). But people stood around the three open sides of the ground with most in the open sunshine on one side, but many taking shade on the little terrace behind the goal, where a little bar was too. The only unpopulated side of the ground was the end submerged in trees and foliage, giving the ground a natural backdrop on one side and a typical communist ground backdrop on the other. Interestingly, I noticed the German word for Petržalka ‘Engerau’ was written around the ground and used a lot on the Ultras’ banner.
After a monumental wait to get a drink at the bar at the back of the stand, which eventually prompted someone to sensibly open the smaller food and drinks hut, I headed over to the sunny side of the ground to bask in the glorious weather and what would hopefully be a good game. And it was to be fair. Petržalka are still top of their league and are now on course for a 3rd promotion in 5 years.
It became clear very quickly why Petržalka were top of the league. They were very good and had a young team playing some excellent flowing football. Once again, I was seeing some decent Slovak football – something I’d not see much of in my first 18 months here, but suddenly I’ve been spoiled with in recent weeks in the 2nd and 3r division.
Undoubtedly, the star attraction for Petržalka was no.93 ‘Modric’ – or Lukáš Gašparovič to give him his actual name. His long locks and his stylish control of midfield made him look a dead ringer for Real’s Luka (his hair slightly too pristine to compare him with my beloved Joey Allen). Apparently, he was a Slovan Bratislava youngster and from what I saw on this day, I was surprised he wasn’t playing higher. The way Petržalka are going, they could be back in the top league in 2 seasons time – who knows…
Some of Petržalka’s passing around the box was exceptional and they were creating plenty of openings, but being thwarted by some really last-ditch defending. They created chance after chance, but for all their passing moves, their goal eventually came from a less glitzy routine. A 38th minute corner from the left was tapped in from close range to give the home team the lead.
The away team, Ivanka pri Dunaji, had not even been that bad, but Petržalka had been truly brilliant. No wonder they attract such a decent crowd for this level.
FC Petržalka akadémia 1 – 1 FK Slovan Ivanka pri Dunaji.
The second half began as the first had ended with Petržalka pinging the ball around nicely. However, football does love to deliver a sucker punch and from nowhere the away team delivered their’s. A quick freekick from the halfway line saw the away team edge closer and a simple rolled ball into the box from 20 yards out was scrambled in from close range. Completely against the run of play, it was 1-1 – much to the delight of the small gang of 5 or so Ivanka pri Dunaji fans near me.
Modric seemed to grow in stature in the game – he really was brilliant – and a few times he created openings for the home team, yet they couldn’t take them.
Modric’s mischief-making eventually led to a team-mate getting tripped in the box and a penalty. It was converted perfectly and I was happy for Petržalka. A team playing such fun, attacking football didn’t deserve to not be winning.
The scoring was finished in the 85th minute and it was through hardwork rather than class this time. A high ball was dropping for a defender, when Petržalka’s attacker, Lády, entered Speedy Gonzalez mode and ran straight through, taking the ball from the clumsy defender and then slotted past the keeper. It may have not been ‘classy’, but nonetheless a great goal.
Full-time: FC Petržalka akadémia 3 – 1 FK Slovan Ivanka pri Dunaji.
A thoroughly enjoyable game to watch and well worth the €3 – about €2 more than I’m used to paying at this level.
It was weird leaving a game at 12:30, although it soon dawned on me that I now had a free Sunday afternoon ahead of me in the Slovak capital. There are many, many pubs I love to dwell in in Bratislava, so only one thing for it…to the city!
Having navigated my way back through the Petržalka tower block maze, I found myself back on the banks of the Danube – and when on the banks of the Danube there is only one thing for it: Dunajský pivovar. I like boats and I like breweries, so when the two combine I’m a big fan. It was lovely to sit out on the deck overlooking the Danube and looking out towards Bratislava Castle. The beer is good too.
It still felt rude to go home – I had seen an entertaining game of football after all, which something worth celebrating in Slovakia – so I crossed the UFO Bridge to the Old Town and more specifically Stupavar pub; possibly my favourite brewery bar in Bratislava having first tasted its delights after our trip to Stupava to watch Inter Bratislava. And it was here I met up with Spartak fan and all round good guy Filip. After chatting about whether Spartak would do their usual trick of blowing the league title (they didn’t) and whether Swansea would be relegated (they were), we were in the mood for some football. So we headed to the Irish Pub for the Manchester United v Arsenal game before then watching the second half in Red Lion with some West Ham fans on a stag do.
By late afternoon and with it being a school night after all, I felt it was time to head back to Trnava and call a day on my time in Bratislava and its suburbs. In this part of the world, not many people would believe you if you said, ‘I had a good day out at Petržalka today,’ in fact I think they’d probably assume you were mad. But I really did. Of course, that was largely down to the football on show rather than the views of Petržalka, but it was great to have a wander of a very ‘real’ place and one with such history. And maybe, in a few years, Petržalka will be hosting top flight football again.
Highlights: good new ground, good football, good crowd number, post match beers at Dunajský pivovar and Stupavar.
Low Points: Petrzalka not te best place for prematch beers!
See all my photos from Petržalka here.