Ostrava is not considered, even by those that live there to be on of the most attractive places in the Czech Republic, indeed when I asked about postcards, the reply was along the lines of ‘why?’. It is more of a functioning town than anything else, although with its livelihood in the past dependent on coal mines and a series of heavy industrial plants strung alongside the Ostrava river and while there never was a Czech Margaret Thatcher forcibly closing down industry, it has declined in the Czech republic, much the same as anywhere else in Europe. Still, it is a sizeable town, and has football teams in both the top two divisions of the Czech League. The advantage to me was simple, as the second division team were at home on Friday, with the top division team, Banik Ostrava playing on Saturday. When I originally planned my fixtures, I even found a fourth level team, within the city scheduled to play on Saturday morning. Getting to Ostrava is easy enough, so long as you start in Vienna. Fortunately, after an afternoon game in Klagenfurt, it is still possible to get to Vienna and stop there for a short night.
The rather odd choice of kick off time for the game at Vitkovice was 4.30 p.m. Even without using floodlights, it would have been possible to kick off two hours later, and anyway, lighting was available. One has to wonder if this was a factor in the relatively low crowd of 520. The pitch is within a running track, which is the surrounded most of the way be at least half a dozen steps of terracing. The main stand fills up the entire length of one side, and has a garish selection of colours and patterns for the seats. The name, Mestsky stadion merely means town stadium. It is quite close to Vitkovice station, and also served by trams from the centre of Ostrava. The admission charge was 40 Czech crowns, and I got a little shock in having to pay 20 more for a programme. Up to this point on the tour, I had received free programmes at games in Germany and Austria, none at all in Croatia and Slovenia. If paying half the admission price was a surprise (it would have worked out level, if I had bought a standing ticket for 20), it is not so bad when put into context – £1.30 to get in, and half that for the programme. Still change from £2
The club was formed as SK Slavoj Vitkovice in 1919, and like many clubs in this area of the world, have known many changes in identity, for example they dropped Slavoj in 1922, then added an extra ‘S’to become SSK Vitkovice a year later. In 1952, they took on the name Banik for 5 years, and then underwent 22 years as TJ VZKG Ostrava, without any obvious mention of Vitkovice. In 1979, they settled on the simple TJ Vitkovice, and this heralded (if not immediately), the most successful period of the club’s history. They won the Czechoslovakian League in 1986, and then reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals two years later. In 1994, they almost disappeared into a merger with Karvina, some 30 km awat, spending one season as FC Karvina-Vitkovice. A year later the clubs split apart (both currently in the second division), and Vitkovice took on the fashionable initials and became FC Vitkovice.
The match, against Fotbal Trinec, started in bright sunshine and the home side took the lead right at the end of the first period. The second period was somewhat different. For a start, it was raining heavily, there was a rumble of thunder in the distance, and with the coming of the storm, there was also wind. This was blowing quite notably down the pitch at kick off, and continued to pick up strength. On the far side from me, a number of advertising boards were free standing and were buffeted and moved by the wind. The away team dugout was blown over (empty at the time). Five minutes in, we were treated to the sight of the ball boys running away, being pursued by an advertising hoarding. Missing the ball boys, the hoarding rushed up the terracing where it smashed itself to pieces against a fence. Those (few anyway) of the crowd that had chosen to stand, had by now headed for the cover of the stand, and it was no surprise that the referee called a halt to proceedings just five minutes into the second half. Fortunately for me, storms pass, and the game restarted after ten minutes, and passed off without further incident, except an equalising goal midway through the period.
Before I had arrived in the Czech Republic, an internet search had found a fourth level team called PORUBA with a Saturday morning kick off in the Ostrava area, but I am still a believer in picking up the national sports papers to check fixtures. In this case, they saved me, but showing the fixture as Friday, (17.00) kick off. The journalist (there was only one) at Vitkovice spent some time on his computer checking this for me, but the change was correct. With the main game at Banik at 3 in the afternoon (normally, 5 is more common), I had limited options to find an additional game, but there was a 10.15 kick off at Frydek-Mistek, which was just 30 minutes by train down the Ostrava river valley. This was one level higher than the first choice, but had the disadvantage that the visitors were the ‘B’ team of Zlin, a first division outfit. I know some groundhoppers refuse to have anything to do with any game involving a reserve team, but I have always accepted them, and just preferred to avoid them when I have the choice. I have even ticked the occasional ground for an all reserve match, but my rules would only accept this one a ground where the reserves and first team do not share.
Back in the hotel, I checked the internet again. My original source still had the local game wrong, but other sites, including the Czech FA’s official one had the Friday night time. Search engines could not find a site for Frydek-Mistek’s football club, but the name of the stadium, Stovky resulted in a point on a map just across the road from the railway station, and next to a few other sports facilities. The train arrived at 09.19; but more importantly, I wanted to leave again at 12.27 to be comfortable on returning to Ostrava. This was ideal. Just before the train pulled up in Frydek-Mistek, I could see the stadium in question; old main stand and overgrown terracing. It was only when I actually walked up, that I found out something was wrong. No one was there, except a few athletes training. The athletes could tell me nothing except that this was not the football ground. After a fruitless look around the other facilities yielded no information, I wandered back to the main road, not even certain whether I wanted to turn left or right. After a couple of minutes, I spotted a taxi, and luckily he spotted me hailing from across the road. He understood I wanted the stadium, but did not appear to know about the football club! His first inclination was to take me back to the stadium I had just walked away from, but when I indicated this was not the right one, he told me there was another (in rapidly improving English, it appeared to me). He then took me through the town and into a residential area on the far side. Here I spotted people sporting blue and white scarves, and hence knew that we had it right. Overall, I spent about ten minutes in the taxi, and my bill was only around £3 so it did not take much decision making on my part to ask the driver to return to pick me up at 12 noon.
It cost me 20 crowns to enter, and another 5 for the programme. As the programme stall doubled up with a place to bet on the match result, there was a queue for this. Still I managed to get my programme, and have someone searching out a team sheet for me before the game kicked off. Not bad for someone who was completely lost fifteen minutes earlier. The stadium was ideal. No running track, and about six steps of terracing along one side and behind the goal where I entered, plus a main stand that almost completes the other main length. Capacity these days is 5,500. Not a guess, but printed on a photograph of a cup game two years ago when Banik Ostrava lost 2-0 here. Some 30 years ago, near enough 13,000 had somehow squeezed in as another photo in the corridors inside the stand revealed, from the match against Sparta in their only top division season 1975-6. These photos confirmed that despite my Mistek on reading from the internet, this was their stadium, always has been, and as far as the 690 souls at the ground are concerned, always will be.
As for the game, it appeared that Zlin ‘B’, like myself, were slightly disorientated at the start. Had they also had been transported to the wrong ground first? Unlikely, but then a fair coach journey to a 10.15 kick off cannot be good for any team. A ‘B’ team in a league like this has to operate under some constraints, as there cannot be infinite dual registrations or transfers between this team and the ‘A’ side. The result is that it cannot easily include senior players dropped from the first XI, or recovering from injury, but is mainly a development team of youngsters. This was shown by looking down the player’s lists. The oldest visiting player, at 23, was nine months younger than the youngest of the home squad. It took only four minutes for Frydek-Mistek to take the lead, and they added to this once more before half time, and again three minutes into the second half.
If I thought they could run riot from this position, I was wrong. Two minutes later, Zlin were awarded a penalty, put away by forward Martin Bacik. This immediately restored some confidence to the visitors, and changed the face of the game. Bacik scored a second just before the hour mark, and while Zlin were now in command, there were many counter attacking chances for the home side in an open and entertaining game. It was ten minutes to go when Bacik completed his hat-trick in levelling the scores, and chances went missing at both ends in the last period before the referee called an end with the scores still level.
The taxi driver was good, arriving at the ground just before the match finished and then waiting for me. He tried to persuade me to let him drive me into Ostrava, but I turned it down, as I already had a train ticket I do not use the excuse that the charge would be more than money I have in my pocket, as no doubt I would be offered a trip, via the cashpoiint. As it was, there were fans with Banik Ostrava fans getting on the train with me. I therefore followed them when they exited the train and wandered into Ostrava centre. When they all entered a cavernous pub, it was only polite to follow. But after a pint, I was suffering from my nerves again about 90 minutes to kick off; I did not know quite how to get to the ground from here, (the road outside the pub being open to trams only, and I did know that no tram went to the ground, only trolleybuses). Also the supporters in the pub already had tickets, and I did not! So I walk out into the brightness outside. It may be 1.30 on a Saturday aftenoon, but Ostrava city centre is near deserted; it is not hard to understand why the shops all close at midday, and there is just nothing to see or do, except, of course drink and go to the football.
It may have been by chance, but I found the trolley to the ground quickly, it cost 160 crowns, (about £5) for a good seat, and another 20 for the programme. To get there, one needs to cross the river from the city centre, and start climbing the hill. Bazaly stadium is built into the hill with the banks of open seating on the far side from where I entered using this natural slope. There is no track, but still the ends of the stadium are curves, not square and the number of rows reduces as one goes down the hill and around. On the low side, there is a stand the full length of the side, The blue seats opposite me, had the letters FCB picked out, which I felt was dreams above their station, as there was no ‘O’ added. The club was formed in 1922, as SK Slezska Ostrava Slezska being a Czech reference to the region of Silesia, also seen as Slaski on some Polish club names. Indeed, the club has a ‘twin’ club in GKS Katowice, in Polish Silesia, and some supporters wear scarves showing both names. The name Banik was added in 1952, and has been with them ever since. For one season, 1994-5, the club was named as Banik Ostrava Tango. If they had to lose the blue and white colours for this, then they were well and truly Tangoed.
The clubs heydays were in the late seventies, early eighties, when they won the old Czechoslovakian
league title three times, going onto the European Cup quarter finals in 1981, (they have also reached the semi-finals of Cup-Winners Cup). There has been a recent revival in fortunes, with the Czech title won in 2004, and a cup win a year later. The recent run has not brought any international success, with the Champions League qualifier resulting in a heavy defeat against Bayer Leverkusen, and then further indignity when dropping to the UEFA Cup, losing to Middlesbrough. This season, Spartak Moscow saw them out of the UEFA cup at the first hurdle.
As it happened, the visitors, Sigma Olomouc had by far the better of the first half, and I was surprised that it finished scoreless. Banik opened the scoring just before the hour mark, and with Sigma not able to convert their chances, it looked like staying like this until very late in the game. Sigma then had a little luck, when a powerfully shot free kick from Tarcisco Pereira (not a name that sounds Czech), was deflected into the net by home defender Tomas Marek.
And so my three match sojourn into the Czech republic ends in three draws. I am glad to meet two other English hoppers coming through from the game at Karvina when there train passes Ostrava, this gives company for a two hour wait to change trains at Brno before we all head up to Berlin the next day.