Tales from Suburban Bohemia: Czech Football
This post originally appeared on Stumpy Moose on 25 March, 2002, and was migrated to PraguePig.com on 23 May, 2019.
I’ve been leading a double life.
In the weeks that I’ve been writing this column there’s been a part of my life I’ve managed to keep separate from Stumpy Moose: football.
When I first began working as a journalist in Prague, it was exclusively as a sports reporter. If you don’t speak Czech it’s not an easy way to make a living so eventually I was tempted over to the greener, duller pastures of business journalism. I often regret the decision.
I’m still involved in football, though: I run a Czech and Slovak football e-mail list and I also freelance on a semi-regular basis for a couple of British football magazines, When Saturday Comes and World Soccer.
I’m not entirely sure that I’d have ever come to Prague if the Czech Republic hadn’t done so well at Euro 96. I got swept along in the excitement of the Czechs’ unlikely progress to the final, and the next thing you know I’m getting off the Eurolines coach on a grim November morning at Zelivskeho bus station.
I’m still a little bitter. Life here has its highpoints but there’s been nothing in the past five years to match Karel Poborsky’s glorious goal against Portugal in the quarterfinals. I’ve been had.
Football here is different. The emphasis is on the participant rather than the spectator. Crowds are low. At Viktoria Zizkov, one of the four top-flight clubs in Prague, it’s sometimes a struggle to stay awake.
Czech football doesn’t get the deluge of media coverage the Premiership gets back home. There’s no Czech equivalent of Gabby Logan, which can only be a good thing.
In one of the few concessions to showbiz seen at Prague’s football grounds, a man in a moth-eaten kangaroo costume leads Bohemians Praha onto the pitch then spends most of the game with his costume’s head under his arm glaring at the crowd.
Despite the lack of glamour, the Czechs have a strange knack of producing great players and successful teams. Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have a better record in the World Cup and the European Championships than England. Not bad for a country that started with a population of 15 million and was trimmed down to 10 million in 1993.
The Sparta-Slavia derby stands at the heart of Czech football.
The two big Prague teams dominate the national game. Sparta Praha have always been more successful but Slavia Praha have much cooler jerseys.
Historically, Slavia are the team of middle-class intellectuals, though you’d be hard pressed to recognise that out on the terraces.
While Sparta dirty their hands with the vulgar business of actually winning trophies, Slavia are more concerned with the aesthetics of the game. In 1996, Slavia won the league for the first time in over 50 years, but since then it’s been Sparta all the way.
I’ve always found Slavia a friendlier place than Sparta. But then, I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a middle-class intellectual.
Sparta are the team of the working classes. Their fans are the salt of the earth, the common clay of Prague. You know… morons.
Not that I’m biased or anything. I’m a journalist.