Monday, 21 August 2017

#55 Ďolíček, Bohemians 1905

Bohemians 1905 2 MFK Karviná 1
Saturday 5th August 2017, Czech First League

Just under two years have passed since my first visit to the fine city of Prague. With my newly-retired parents wanting to spread their wings and have a holiday somewhere that isn't Majorca for once, Becky and I suggested the Czech capital would be a safe bet as we know it quite well and could show them around. At the back of my mind also was my personal stretch goal of someday visiting all five of the traditonal professional Prague clubs; Sparta, Slavia, Bohemians, Dukla and Viktoria Žižkov who I'd already visited on my last trip to Prague. My wife Becky had admirably (considering she's not a football fan) accompanied me to the then third division Žižkov but this time my Dad, Roger would be coming along. 

Formed in, you guessed it, 1905 as AFK Vršovice the Klokani (Kangaroos) play in Prague 10 alongside their much larger rivals Slavia Prague. The club has spent most of it's existence hopping between the first and second divisions, winning the first division in 1982/83. Historic low points were their break with sports franchise TJ Bohemians Praha in 1993 which resulted in the company acquiring a third tier team called FC Střížkov Praha 9 and using then to form an imposter club FK Bohemians Prague (Střížkov) in 2005 when the original club, beset with financial problems, were relegated to the third division and forced to sell the rights to their name, reforming thereafter as Bohemians 1905. Confused? You will be. The imposter club quickly rose to the first division as TJ poured the money in but the fans by and large stayed loyal to the original club resulting in their eventual return to the top flight and the new club's decline and dissolution in 2016, triggered many would argue by the 15 point deduction and 6 million koruna fine they received when they refused to play Bohemians 1905 in the league.

Ďolíček has been Bohemians permanent home since 1930, discounting the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons where the first team played at Slavia's Eden Arena and only the B team played at Ďolíček. This arrangement came into place because the ground didn't match first league regulations at the time but the club were able to move back upon relegation in 2012. However they have since returned to the first division and not been asked to move again so I don't know what's up with that. I believe first division rules state that stadiums must be all-seater but Bohemians have a large section of open terracing behind the near goal. I imagine that they let in only enough people to correspond with the number of seats in the ground but don't police people who don't take their seats, which would explain both the fairly paltry capacity of 5000 and the fact that during this opening home fixture with it's 4192 attendance the seats remained sparsely used and the middle terrace was bustling with activity. A lovely two-fingered salute to the control freakery of modern top-level football.

Contrary to most other Czech Republic clubs which tend to be either right-wing or apolitical, Bohemians have developed a noticeably left-wing stance, which can be noted by their anti-fascist flags and stickers and the overpowering smell of weed that hangs over Sector B, the ultras area behind the goal. Despite the relative ramshackle state of the Ďolíček (meaning the Dimple in Czech), the fans are totally dedicated to the modest ground, with even club president and club legend Antionín Paneka remarking:

"Dolicek definitely belongs to this club and Bohemians actually belongs to Dolicek. Everybody involved in football here knows what Dolicek means. If we say 'Dolicek' everyone knows we are talking about Bohemians. If we say 'Bohemians', people automatically think of 'Dolicek'. They belong to each other, like conjoined twins." 

This punk-rock ethos gained them the admiration of the ng of cult clubs St Pauli and they also maintain relationships with Irish club Bohemians FC. The club get their odd "Kangaroos" nickname from an incident that came after a 1927 tour of Australia, where they were presented with two live Kangaroos by their perhaps over gracious hosts. The beasts were promptly donated to Prague zoo but the nickname stuck.

Dad and I caught the tram into Vršovice, the district that Bohemians share with Slavia who are separated from their local rivals by a mere kilometre. It was a particularly hot and sticky morning, the start of an impertinently-timed heatwave in the Czech capital. Needless to say we were in need of a beer after traipsing round the streets for a while. The Czech model of city pubs is quite different to ours and to be honest a little baffling as a pre-match experience. Imagine a small English boutique cafe, full of wooden furniture and houseplants with capacity for no more than 30 but with pumps and fridges instead of burr mills and cakes. It was one of these establishments, just over the road from the stadium, that we dived into about an hour before kick-off.

Now imagine us sat in the corner by the cigarette machine, enjoying our beverages next to some old boys perusing their programmes, whilst on a table less than five meters away home ultras are bellowing club songs at the top of their lungs. A vastly more compact experience than the traditional British pub invasion! Noting my bemused delight at the chants, one of the old boys begins speaking to me in Czech. Judging by his frequent use of the word Slavia, I assume he was telling me what the chants were about but not knowing a single word of Czech I was reduced to smiling and nodding politely. He kept coming back to me though so either he thought I was the smiliest mute in the world or knew I couldn't understand him and didn't care. Either way my Dad spilled his pint all over the man's bag shortly after this so we beat a hasty retreat.

Ďolíček is a stadium of great contrast and charm. Weather-beaten and asymmetrical as anything but certainly not a place you could describe as boring and very welcoming. It's a three-sided stadium with the side behind the far goal currently undeveloped. The main stand to the west is by far the most grand part of the stadium, a covered seated stand with one large tier. Opposite this is a very thin bit of terracing against a haggard stone wall which has had seats bolted to it in the classic Czech Viktoria Žižkov style. This stand is segregated which affords the away supporters a tiny gaggle of seats towards the empty end. 

I previously touched upon the terrace behind the goal, Sektor B, the choice of the more boisterous Klokani. Originally a massive standing terrace, there are now two banks of seating either side of an open middle portion which is (officially or not) used as a standing section. One thing I'd never seen before was the massive metal frame that stands before the terrace. I presume this once supported a fence separating the rowdy fans from the pitch, the kind some will remember from 70s British football and which is still common on the continent and in South America. No fence hangs off the frame today and it's main use was to help the home fans hoist their flags.

The ground's compact surroundings have meant that past redevelopment plans have proven difficult to bring to fruition. This means that most of the amenities in the old parts of the ground are in the open-air, in hut or dingy portaloo format. Just like being at the Rovers! The Czech Republic is one of those countries that allows drinking in the stands and Sektor B is serviced by a little bar on wheels under a pub umbrella. Buying a pint from there will secure you a fancy Bohemians 1905 Plastic Pint Mug With Handle™ which I hung from my pocket between sips like a practical stylish gentleman. The area around the big modern stand is much the same but with a much larger wooden bar and a shed next to the steps to the stand which was spraying a fine mist of cold water into the air. I have no earthly idea what this was in aid of but I did cool myself down by walking through it a few times.

Just before kick-off I finally got to experience something I've wanted to experience since I started groundhopping: a big, mad European ultras display with about half a dozen green flares and a big flag lifted over the crowd, which obviously I couldn't see because I was stood behind it but never mind. The smoke hung thick in the air for a long time afterwards and perhaps vindicating the FA's stance on pyrotechnics, approximately eight people died of consumption on the spot. Happily though, my generously-proportioned asthmatic father survived the sick madness. Perhaps to avoid identification as they performed their disgusting, criminal acts, the flare-bearing ultras wore jaunty woollen balaclavas in the club's colours of green and white, which I thought made them look a bit like members of Pussy Riot.

You'll have to forgive the upcoming match report for being sparing in the minute-to-minute detail you're accustomed to but I was enjoying the atmosphere/beer too much to be paying too much attention. I can say that as you might expect the quality was a lot better than the Czech Third Division fare I'd witnessed at Viktoria Žižkov two years ago. Whilst far from being top-tier European football, due to what I perceived as an over-reliance on the capitalisation of opposition mistakes rather than creativity, the physicality and willingness to get forward kept the match exciting for the whole 90 minutes. 

First to draw blood were the home side as a Bohemians player outran his marker and gathered a well-timed through ball on the right-wing pinging it low into the box for midfielder David Bartek to neatly fire past the keeper in the 30th minute. Karviná hit back just eight minutes later through Tomas Wagner who found himself in the path of a neat pass from another another striker who was facing away from goal. Wagner's shot was half intercepted by Bohemians keeper Tomáš Fryšták but the power of it caused him to fumble it up and over himself and into the net. At this point we learned that a ritual in Czech football (or at least at Bohemians) was to create a swell of noise as your own goalkeeper lines up to take his goal kick, followed by his name rather than "you're shit ahhh!" A nice bit of encouragement for the unlucky Fryšták.

Half-time came around, Dad disappeared for a bit then reappeared with a pair of what I can only describe as deconstructed hot dogs. A large sausage on a paper plate with two bits of bread to the side and two large puddles of ketchup and mustard. Very tasty indeed once reassembled. The pink-haired punk lady who was working the bar at the back of the terrace was having a pretty hard time pouring pints by half time due to a very waste not, want not attitude  from the club which involved filling a cup half way with overly frothy beer, shaking the crap out of the nearly-empty barrel and repeating until you were left with a pint with only the traditional Czech 8 inches of head. This wasn't an issue as I could continue watching the match while this performance went on.

As the second half began and Bohemians began to turn the screw, the home fans started to get into the swing of things chant-wise and Dad and I discovered to our immense delight that one of the chants seemed to be based off Mike Oldfield's Moonlight Shadow. Can't fault the creativity. Again this may have been the alcohol talking but the atmosphere at Bohemians really got to me and I found myself mumbling bullshit along to the Czech language chants that I couldn't hope to understand then bellowing out the handful of words that I had managed to discern like a proper British tourist. Mind you it didn't look like we were the only Brits along for the ride as I spotted a man in a Plymouth Argyle top at one point. Perhaps he was lost. 

With time running out for the home team to net that all-important first win of the season, a particularly frantic and hilarious goal was scored by Milan Jirasek in the 85th minute. The ball was lobbed into the area from the right wing and began bouncing temptingly in front of goal. At first a Bohemians player who was being tightly marked couldn't get a head to it but despite him not connecting with the stray ball at all, none of Karviná's defenders thought to do anything about it as it continued to bounce into acres of space for a gleeful and unmarked Jirasek to run onto and slot past the reach of the opposition keeper. Cue confetti and more flares.

The day was won for Bohemians and their Klokani were on cloud nine, singing and waving their scarfs for about 10 minutes after the final whistle. The last remarkable gesture Czech football had to offer us came at this point as the Bohemians players came and stood in a line in front of their fans and proceeded to do theatre style bows to rapturous applause. What a country, what a league. The connection the fans and the players clearly have at Bohemians is a wonderful thing to behold and it became obvious to me after just one visit why the Klokani are so dedicated to the club and ground, even at times when they both faced very uncertain futures. Another great day out in Prague and other team to add to my ever-growing soft-spot list.

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