Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Abandoned: Strahov Stadium

6th August 2017

I'd like to apologise to my loyal readers (hi Mum) for the lack of activity over the last few weeks. I'm still getting into the swing of the new job and after watching Rovers slump to a disappointing 3-2 defeat at home to bottom of the league Oldham Athletic yesterday I decided I couldn't be arsed to go anywhere tonight. Until such a time as I manage to drag myself out of my sleep-deprived hovel, I hope to keep you occupied with the tale of how I dragged my whole family to look around an abandoned Soviet-era stadium on our summer holiday.

Actually to say Strahov is abandoned is somewhat disingenuous as it's currently the training ground of Czech First League side Sparta Prague. Although the vast majority of the stadium is pretty decrepit nowadays, boring twats like myself will appreciate the fact that it's still standing due to it's colourful history. Strahov first came into being in 1926 as a relatively modest wooden construction designed by Alois Dryák. The stands were made concrete in 1932 and the whole stadium was greatly expanded between the years of 1948 and 1975 into the 220,000 capacity behemoth we see today. If one were to be cynical, one might attribute the building of what remains to this day the largest stadium in the world (dwarfing the similarly ridiculous Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea) to the frantic desire of the newly-installed communist government to impress the rest of the world with it's willy-shrivelling massiveness.

The most alien aspect of the stadium to the Western European mind is the fact that it was built not to host sports of any kind. Instead Strahov was host to displays of mass synchronised gymnastics known as Sokol (or Spartakiad under Soviet rule) which played a massive part in the development of Czech nationalism and could apparently draw in huge crowds in those wild pre-television days. Another noteworthy use of the ground was an American Football match that was played on the 28th of September 1945 between two US army units that had helped liberate the country from the Nazis just months prior. This game was watched by 40,000 Praguers and ended with the 94th Infantry Division beating the XXII Corps 6-0, whatever that translates to in yank rugby.

The stadium has also played host to motor racing meets and large concerts in the more modern era but these days is totally dedicated to the training of Sparta Prague, one of the cities 'big two' clubs along with rivals Slavia Prague. This means that the absurdly huge turf has been split into 9 (nine) pitches of varying lengths, some of which I gather host youth and reserve fixtures from time to time. On the inside the pristine, modern training facilities look completely strange encased by the crumbling stands and terraces that tower over them in all directions and it's almost incomprehensible that they exist from the outside.

When you approach the ground from the outside it truly does look abandoned, despite it being obviously a very notable part of the cityscape. The rain-darkened brutalist lumps of stone that jut out into the surrounding streets are covered in graffiti in a lot of places and there are a lot of smashed windows, making it a favourite haunt for urban explorers. There are a few parts of the concourses that appear to have been recolonised by modern Prague, I saw a few gyms with Lycra-clad people going in and out. While I was leaving, a coachload of female athletes, possibly Sparta Women, arrived at the stadium to meet with waiting family members, which I took as my cue to leave.

A truly strange and unique mixture of forgotten relic from a long gone world and much-loved community asset, I would suggest taking a look at Strahov if you're in the area because who knows how long it'll be there. I also recommend checking out some of the awesome urban exploration reports online as I've really not done the place justice with my 20 minute wander.

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