Back in the summer, we were asked by a football quarterly in Czech Republic to write about our blog and about why we support an amateur club and not one of the big teams. We handed the task over to Ralph and this is what he has to say.
Oh and the Czech version you can find here – Football Club Cz
Someone once said to me that when you start supporting a football club, you doso not because of the trophies, or a player, or history .You support them because you have found yourself somewhere – you have found a place where you belong. For me, Swansea City will always be that club.
However, when I moved to Brno back in the late 90s, standing on the North Bank was not something I could do every second Saturday, so I had to look for a replacement. At the time, the local team Boby Brno were riding high in the top league, so naturally I found myself at the Luzanky stadium watching the likes of Richard Dostalek, Marek Zubek and Zdenek Valnoha strut their stuff .
Boby Brno became that stand-in. Yet it didn’t feel right- a bit like falling in love with someone who wasn’t your girlfriend. But I went along with it, because she (Swansea in this case, not my girlfriend) was so far away. And that’s how it stayed. We went away together,partied in the Intertoto Cup and the Gambrinua Liga,and I must admit we had fun. It was a fully-blown love affair.
That was until a Friday night under the lights about five years ago. The opponents were Slavia Prague and I looked up at the scoreboard after 76 minutes. The score was 0-0. Now nil-nils can be entertaining games, but not this one. A friend of mine turned to me and said, “You know,nothing has happened in the 76 minutes we’ve been here”. And he was right, not one shot, not one piece of skill to thrill the crowd. Nothing. Nic.
I left and I haven’t been back since. In truth, I had probably been kidding myself for a while – going along to Srbska, just in the hope the fling would spark up again.
By this time, I must admitI had already discovered groundhopping,and one Saturday afternoon decided to hop on a train and see what Blansko had to offer. Blansko is most notable for being close to the Moravian Karst, a protected nature reserve a few kilometres from the town. In the past it was an industrial town of great significance. Today, it’s a shadow of its former self.
It’s also home to FK Blansko, the team I now support.
Now, declaring your loyalty to a smaller club is like a high-stakescard game. It’s like being faced with a deal or bust decision: I could stick to my guns and hope for the best,or keep supporting a big team, for which I had no feelings. Non-league devotees like myself often lead a duplicitous life, in which the team they claim to support, andwho they actually support,can be two vastly different things. I remember a friend of mine at school mulling over replying “Manchester United” if anyone asked whom he supported. “I would feel a bit silly saying Macclesfield Town”. Whenever somebody asks who I support, I get an inevitable look of confusion when I say “FK Blansko”,followed by, “Oh, and have I mentioned I have a blog?”
So, returning to the story. Disillusioned with life as a supporter of Zbrojovka Brno, I decided to reject overpriced tickets, officious stewarding, overzealous policing, political views I disagreed with- and just poor football– and discovered the otherworld.
In this otherworld, I pay 40kc to get in, avoid a queue to get a beer and stand or sit where I like– rather than being confined to a numbered seat. At Udolni,or any other groundwe visit, it’s a place where segregation is unnecessary and where fans like me can just enjoy 90 minutes of football – or 89 with some referees – in perfect peace.
Such is our love for our football teamthat we started a blog named the Blansko Klobasa. We travel all over Moravia (and even further field) visiting towns you don’t often read about in travel guides, all in search of footballing excellence, the perfect beer and the ultimate Czech football snack – the klobasa. And Udolni is place we like to call home.
Over the seasons, we have become familiar faces at Udolni. Fellow supporters welcome us, and we often chat to the players in both Czech and English after a game. We’ve bought scarves, as well asdesigning our ownflag. The players have bought us and friends of the blog shirts. We are on drum duty when Pav, the drum, is working the tannoy. We sing in bothour own languageand inCzech. We drink and be merry and we eat klobasaat nearly every ground we have been to.
And then we write about it.
When I was asked to write this piece, I wasn’t sure if it would be of any interest to anyone outside of the gates of Udolni. I meangirlfriends, friendsandwork colleagues who support Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United often snigger when we tell them that we spent Sunday watching Blansko away at Zdar. “Why?” is often the follow-up question. To a degree, I understand the bemusement, but to us it’s a proper love affair and hopefully we can tell you we yearn for more Blansko home and away days.
You may have noticed that I am using “we” instead of “I”,as The Blansko Klobasais very much a joint effort. Although I can go off to Havirov for a 10.15 kick-off on a Sunday morningon my own, the fun comes when we are a small band of intrepid Klobasa.
As these words should be about lower league Czech football and what we enjoy, maybe I should just get on with that and stop babbling on about us. Belonging. But I digress. Here are some of the things that make supporting Blansko so special.
The fixture list becomes like a map, so the moment it is released we start planning and plotting away days. Following Blansko or just groundhopping in Czech Republic has taken us down a coal mine in Petkoviceandaround the chateau gardens ofKromeriz. We’ve taken an early morning bus to Lednice, in order to walk on a nature trail to Breclav,and enjoyed a Gulas festival in Mikulov- as well as many more strange and wonderful places.
I suppose what we are trying to convey is how beautiful this country is,and,thanks to Cesky Drahy, we have seen more than we could ever have imagined. As much as we enjoy watching the games, football gives an excuse to explore.
The Occasional Brilliant But Slightly Overweight Footballer
You would be forgiven for thinking that great footballers play in top leagues and ,of course,it would be silly of me to say that the greatest Czech footballer I have ever seen is not Tomas Rosicky. However, while watching games all over the country, I occasionally watch a footballer that may have eaten a lot of klobasa, but stands out because, boy,can he play.
I am sure we have all observed a player like this; slightly rotund and,on occasions,barracked by the away fans (there aren’t many away fans in lower league Czech football), but only until he controls a high looping ball by stunning it dead. In addition to this,there are the passes, he can spray a ball left and right, hit a 50yrd pass right into the path of any of his forwards.He is simply worth the 40kc to get in on his own.
So, when people ask mewho is the best Czech footballer I have ever seen. “Have you ever heard of David Cupak or Lukas Matyska or even Honza Trtilek?” is usually my questionin turn. And naturally they respond with a shake of the head.
Take Lukas Matyska as one of the example, I am sure some fans would call him a bit lazy, he spends his time hogging the touchline, he definitely spent a bit of time recharging his energy by eating some of Bystrc’s finest klobasa, but give him the ball and he can play. He’s the Maradona of the lower leagues. He can shoot dribble, cross and he can definitely eat.
Football is for the likes of everyone and so it should be. A local football club can connect people from all walks of life, and at Blansko at away grounds, we have met many good people and many eccentrics. I was once told that the supporters who travel on the bus with the players are often only interested in the opportunity to do something different rather than watch a game of football.
However, these are the fans that are there atevery match.
Then there are the local eccentrics, whowill be recognised by nearly everyone at the game. Some might even know his name. We’ve got one at Blansko, who we have nicknamed “Angry man”. He comesin after half time (it’s free to get in), always carries the same plastic bag, always sits in the same place and then proceeds to berate the referee for the whole of the second half. He is either a former professional referee or is just infatuated with the man in the middle.
Every club has one. At Trebic we met a Hungarian lorry driver named Zoltan, who told us in a mixture of his native tongue, Czech and the only words of English he knew that he was a reformed alcoholic and insisted on taking us to the bar, mid-match, to prove it.
Although this is not so much about the eccentricity of supporters, but more about one trip, where I had gone to the bathroom at an away game, it might have been Bzenec only to come back to one of us surrounded by locals poking him. At the time I was the chief translator, so after a quick chat with the group stood around my friend, I found out that they just couldn’t believe they had a foreign supporter at their ground. Slivovice all round.
There are many of them and,of course,they are all welcome. Football is really for everyone.
The Blansko Klobasa were once described bya fellow blogger as a walking musical and we’d like to take that as compliment. We miss the originality of a song and a chant that often comes from an English, Welsh or Scottish football stadium. This is not criticism of Czech football fans;it’s just we hear the same chants up and down the country.
At Blansko, we have borrowed melodies from opera, musicals, rock bands – some are easy,some are complex. A lot of time there are spontaneous creations, but always in good humour. To give you an example, whenever a player goes down injured (which happens fairly often in Czech football) we sing “Bad Medicine” by Bon Jovi.
“He’s down, he needs bad medicine/Sasa the physio is what he needs”. All good natured,unless the player is more seriously injured.
The locals often give us a bemused look when webellow away in English and,of course,we sing in Czech too-although our accents usually bring chuckles from the old guys around us.
Football chants are an integral part of the game, almost ritual, and have brought us closer to everyone at the club.
Visiting Football Grounds
When I was back living in the UK, catching a glimpse of floodlights of a football ground from a train, car or bus was one of my main loves. Czech football has them too. I could talk for hours about the lollipops at Hradec Kralove. However, I know I am digressing,as in lower leagues you very rarely see them, well apart from at Slavia Kromeriz.The only stadium with floodlights..well, where we have managed to see Blansko play.
What nonleague Czech football does have is great football stands.There’s a great thrill in taking in the uniqueness and architectural nuances of main stands up and down the country. I once spent most of the game studying the old wooden stand at Slovan Podebrady,and even now I am amazed at the beauty of Meteor Prague’s grandstand.If it’s not under UNESCO,it should be. Then there’s the stand at MFK Breclav, which has been built on top of a roof. There are literally hundreds of eye poppingly beautiful non-league grounds that make the awayday experience culturally wonderful.
My personal favourite,though,is MFK Havirov’s Stadion Dukla-a ground covering all four sides of the football pitch is a rarity in the fourth tier of Czech football,and it’s a wonderful place to watch a football match on a Sunday morning.
Football Games and Results
Football matches at the top level is a results business,and,as I mentioned earlier,the entertainment is often replaced by a team holding out for a 1-0 away win by putting 10 men behind the ball. Well, not in the football we watch.Amateur footballers play the game for the same reason we watch it – entertainment. Even if the team is losing 3-0 with 10 minutes to play, you can still see the effort and belief from the team. Watching games that end 5-4, 3-2or 7-3 makes any trip worthwhile. Even if it’s Blansko on the receiving end of the that thumping, we always know we’ve been entertained.
The Football Snack
Back home the traditional football snack is a pie; here in the Czech Republic it’s the klobasa. The familiar smell of onions from catering vans at UK football stadiumshas now been replaced with the aroma of grilled sausage. The people that work behind the grill take great pride in their food and a half-time beer and sausage is definitely a ritual of the Czech game.
On occasions you see a local speciality, like at HFK Olomouc, where smoked mackerel is the food of choice for local fans. At Dosta Bystrc you often see the local ultras tasting homemade chutney and snacksat half-time.
Kojetin was the most interesting,where uponenquiring what kind of meat was on the barbecue, I was told “kocka, vole” by the toothless “catering manager”. Of course, we were later told that it was pork, but by that time our appetite had gone.
Having sampled the local klobasa up and down the country, our favourite is a very spicy sausage at Breclav – washed down with a local beer, Kanec.
And there you have it. Reading this,I am sure you will think we are bit mad, but we will all tell you that it’s like falling in love with the game again. When at the top level of the game in any country in the world you are just a customer or the seat number on your ticket; in thelower reaches of Czech football, you are anything but that – there’s a welcome for us all.
Give it a try.
And finally, the camaraderie of the Klobasa is what makes following a team so enjoyable . My brother once mentioned that the trips and the sheer fun that we have actually transcends the game in some ways. The friendship, humour and warmth we have received and given make groundhopping a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. Now when is Humpolec away?