Sunday morning in Prague, walking through the trendy Vršovice neighbourhood with it’s nice coffee shops, filled with fashionable well dressed couples and families who are all enjoying a bit of brunch on this sunny but cold morning. While a nice warm coffee accompanied by a tasty wee croissant is extremely tempting, we have a different destination in mind.
Northwards and over the hill from Vršovice, to a point just east of the main Railway Station serving the city is the neighbourhood of Žižkov. The art deco buildings and apartment blocks, with trendy cafes and shops are replaced by slightly more shabby, less chic facades. Many blocks are in need of a bit of TLC, while others are completely boarded up awaiting renovation. This is an area of Prague yet to be fully gentrified.
Our ultimate destination was the FK Viktoria Stadion, where we planned to watch the home team Viktoria Žižkov play the newly formed Olympia Prague in the Czech Second League (second tier of Czech football).
With tickets purchased that morning, via the refreshingly intuitive Viktoria Žižkov website for the princely sum of £2 each we approached the stadium (£3 for seats in the Main Stand). The stadium is carved into the hillside to the south, with offices to the west, apartment blocks, a high street style area to the north and club car park to the east. After the standard frisking by security guards and scanning of our e-tickets on my mobile phone we entered the stadium. A modern, fabricated stand stood behind the goals with it’s skeleton exposed. Beneath this stood a wooden hut and picnic benches where fans could enjoy coffees, beers (at 10.15am) and of course klobasas as a match-day snack.
We wandered round to where we had purchased seats, opposite the Main Stand. This was an older concrete construction with backless seats basically screwed down onto concrete steps. In most cases, fans stood towards the back of the stand – the relatively low attendance allowed for a degree of informality in seating arrangements. The stand opposite was seated, including the VIP area behind the dugouts. A small band of Ultras, complete with old school rattle and a drum did their best to make noise from the eastern stand above the wooden kiosk while a solitary official stood in the western end in order to collect and return any stray footballs which ended up missing the target.
Notwithstanding the 10.15am kick off a decent crowd turned up to watch 2 teams who have been struggling in the league this season, nearer to the bottom than the top of the table. The TV cameras had turned up to show the game live, which also made the attendance quite impressive. Added to this, Olympia Prague are newly formed – formerly Olympia Hradec Králové they won promotion to this league last season. But a variety of factors, including issues with their stadium and a rival team in the same league whom they did not wish to ground-share with meant that the decision was taken to relocate the whole club to Prague. On the evidence of our experience, they did not relocate many of their fans. All of the above added to the impressiveness of the size of the crowd in attendance.
The game kicked off and Žižkov immediately went on the attack, progressing up the right hand side. With the ball moving into the penalty box an innocuous looking coming together resulted in the referee pointing to the penalty spot. Captain Miroslav Podrazký duely converted, notwithstanding some seemingly counter-productive chanting from his own fans. 1-0 Žižkov .
The early goal had clearly instilled confidence into the Žižkov side and they proceeded to dominate the first half. Down the right hand side in particular they continued to make forays into the Olympia box. Some exceptional passing moves down both wings led to the creation of 3 clear cut chances, which the Olympia Keeper Stejskal did brilliantly to stop on all occasions.
The standard of football on show was very good for large parts of the first half, contradicting the apparently lower league football as well as the price tag for tickets. On the whole, first touches were classy, movement off the ball and the range on passing on show was all of a very good standard. However, there were some signs of this being a lower level of football – one moment in particular was where the ball was cleared towards the halfway line where the Olympia Centre Half Milan Misun mis-controlled the ball and rather than composing himself then bringing it back down he proceeded to simply hook the ball over his own head and out for a throw in. A slightly surreal moment which didn’t quite match up with the otherwise high standard.
During the first half, we became aware of the left sided player for Olympia – Bernardo Frizoni. The first thing we noted upon reviewing the matchday programme and then the internet on our phones was that he is Brazilian. Wearing number 10 and in a yellow jersey we were expecting big things. Throughout the first half we could hear him moaning at his teammates, mostly in English, and also arguing about wanting to take free kicks and set pieces – even from within his own half.
Into the second half and our optimism and interest in Frizoni was justified. Olympia exerted a bit of pressure at the beginning of the half and forced a corner. This was played in and partially cleared out to the left hand side. Frizoni took possession of the ball, dipped his shoulder as if to go on the outside before cutting back onto his (weaker) right foot. Rather than attempt a cross with his right, Frizoni then executed a perfect “Rabona” move, swinging his left foot round the back of his right leg and crossing the ball in. The cross came to nothing and Frizoni trotted back into position. This moment of skill didn’t seem to generate any reaction from much of the crowd, apart from myself and my fellow thefootballblether author @velvetsoccer, we turned to each other and expressed our astonishment that we had just seen a Brazilian number 10, wearing yellow, execute an extraordinary moment of skill in performing a Rabona cross – all on a Sunday morning in the Czech Second League. Absolutely marvellous.
The remainder of the second half didn’t generate much more excitement, Žižkov weren’t able to match the intensity and dominance so evident in the first half, while despite a strong start to the second period Olympia never really looked like offering much in the way of creating an equaliser. The frustration of this was clearly getting to our man Frizoni who for no apparent reason was shunted out the the right by his manager when another player was subbed – the only reason we could assume was that the manager (sharing that opposite left touchline) was exasperated with the constant moaning!! It’s not just in the top leagues that you find temperamental footballers.
Full time blew on what was a largely entertaining game. The small band of Ultras, who never stopped making noise for the entirety of the game, applauded their players off the pitch. For around £2 a ticket, plus another £3 for a klobasa and a coffee admittedly (how often does your half time snack cost more than the ticket?), the game represented brilliant value for a Sunday morning. The standard of football was great, the stadium cosy, facilities welcoming and accessibility in terms of tickets and location really top quality. This is all without mentioning a Brazilian number 10 performing Rabonas – what more can I say!!
More on Czech football: Czech First League – Mid Season Review ; Panenka and Klobasa – Bohemians Praha 1905 v FK Dukla Praha