Panenka scarves is one Canadian’s attempt to document his appreciation of the obvious and not-so-obvious experiences of a life in the Czech Republic. For previous Panenkas, click here.
It’s been a busy month.
Within four days I found myself at two hockey games and a football (soccer) match. I’ve written extensively, almost too extensively, about the hockey recently, but thought I should touch upon the other game in town that’s arguably more popular.
Football is life for a good deal of Czechs across the country and Prague is no exception. They’ve got their own league (Gambrinus Liga) with three teams in the capital. In fact, last season there were five clubs in Prague, though terrible seasons saw two of them relegated.
I have yet to see the Prague Lions (KHL) win a match this year. I’m beginning to think that I’m bad luck. On the other hand, I have yet to see AC Sparta Prague – the team that I was brainwashed by my Czech friends into accepting as the best– lose a match. That trend continued this week. I saw the Lions fall twice, but Sparta win again.
Like I said, it’s been a busy time for Prague sports. With that in mind, I celebrated my Canadian thanksgiving this year in Letná, watching Sparta Prague take on Baník Ostrava with a cold beer in one hand and a klobasa in the other. Not a metaphor.
By far the best thing about watching a football match in Prague, especially when compared to a hockey game, is the atmosphere. Football fans in this city are heads and shoulders above hockey fans when it comes to passion.
Before the game I met a friend of mine for a couple pre-game pivos. While I waited for him near the old town, I heard a sound that isn’t common in Prague – a helicopter.
These matches tend to get a little…smashy…sometimes. Especially when certain opponents are in town. For example, after the Vancouver riots in 2011, I asked a lot of my students if the Czech Republic would ever destroy their own city after a sporting event – the World Championships perhaps. The near unanimous answer was, “No, that would be stupid.” However, most bookended it with, “Though sometimes when Ostrava comes to town they destroy Prague a little bit.”
And how. Ostrava fans making the trip to Prague get a riot police escort from the train station to the stadium. It’s a great sight – it looks like the guys who operate the Death Star strolling along the peripheral of a group of drunken lunatics dressed in blue. The helicopter also monitors the situation from the sky and Letná, the neighbourhood where Sparta plays, fills up with a whole lot of police.
After a couple rounds in the pub with a bunch of purple-clad supporters, we wandered over to the game. A Monday night game against a non-Prague team doesn’t draw the biggest crowd, but 9000 made the trip that night. The stadium smelt like cigarettes for most of the game and our seats were alongside the kotel, or hardcore supporters’ section. These are the serious fans who bring flags, drums, banners, and flares to each and every match. They’ll stand up the entire time, and shout catchy, clever, and occasionally totally offensive chants at the stadium, the players, and the visiting fans on the other side of the pitch. The entire scene is Czech as hell and, while I can’t do it every week, I get such a kick out of doing once or twice a season. It is so damned different than any hockey I’ve ever attended – the passion is cranked up to 11 the entire time. At the half, if your team is up you go for a beer and klobasa and you stand while eating. If your team is down, you smoke and curse until the game starts up again.
My streak of never seeing the home side lose continued, as Sparta shutout the visitors for a 2-0 win. I was even fortunate enough to tape a pretty decent goal off a corner..
I am still light-years away from converting into a football fan. I’ll continue to do this while I’m here because the experience is ridiculous and the atmosphere is the closest thing I can get to Ivor Wynne Stadium. If anything, it just makes me appreciate the speed of hockey a lot more and reminds me why 60 minutes of action will, in my book, always trump 90 minutes of nearly nothing happening.