Budapest – The Musical

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Many of us have been to Budapest before, it is a stunningly beautiful city famous for its Turkish baths, incredible architecture and my favourite river… At this point I should ask if anybody else has a favourite stretch of water? Friends often laugh when I list off my 5 favourite rivers…Ralph stop…

The purpose of our visit to the Hungarian capital was not to enjoy the baths, but to watch one of Hungary’s most famous football teams while exploring the city in search of good food (klobasa) and of course the local beer.

6.22am and we were off, comfortably positioned in a Czech Railway dining car, where we would stay for the entire 4hr 23mins of the journey south-east. One of the finest (I am keen to avoid using favourite too much) qualities of Czech Railways is the dining car – the service is good and the prices are excellent – highly recommended if you are ever lucky enough to find yourself travelling in the Czech Republic.

Roughly half an hour into the journey and not even in Slovakia we had already ordered our first beer of to go with our equally unhealthy breakfast of ham and eggs. We were also using the time to refresh our knowledge of Hungarian,  very much like the scene in Monty Python with the very same phrasebook. It’s a difficult language to grasp, but we were both determined to refresh our knowledge of the pleasantries.

The train journey from the Czech Republic is one of the nicest is Central Europe, especially when you cross the border into Hungary from Slovakia. While, the Hungarians may be blessed with stunning countryside, they haven’t been so lucky with ticket inspectors, as a couple of young ladies sat behind us in the buffet car found out when the most miserable inspector told them that a mobile phone was not a train ticket (I suppose he’s right there) and charged them an extra 80 euros for not taking the time to read the small print. No matter how much they pleaded with him, he was not going to let them off, unless they promised to give him back Dunajska Streda. I made that last bit up. However, they did leave the train lighter.

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As we approached Budapest Keleti, two things of note happened – First of all, with us keen to settle the bill, we went in search of a buffet car member of staff. It had been a while since we had seen them, but before you call the police, we did find them, all of them, fast asleep in the first class department and I felt awful having to wake them up. Welcome to Ceske Drahy.

The second, and this might give you an insight into life on the road with The Blansko Klobasa, was that Craggy turned to me right as we pulled into Keleti station and said, “maybe, we should turn this trip into a musical”. Now before you laugh, and we’d only had a couple of beers, honest – I thought this was a brilliant idea. Yes, you are all welcome to join us on a trip. We’ll list the bizarre songs that come into our heads later.

At Keleti train station, I made my first mistake of the day by heading over to change some Czech crowns into Hungarian forint. In untypical fashion, I went to the first place I saw.

“Excuse me, could I change some Czech crowns into Hungarian forints, please?”

I handed over the equivalent of about 35 GBP.

The woman behind the counter smiled and took the money and asked a question that took me by surprise.

“How long are you staying in Budapest for?”

Now, I took that as her asking me out on a date, but before we could finalise a night out on the tiles and possibly a life together in the Hungarian capital, I realised that she was encouraging me to change more money, so that she could rip me off a little bit more…The lesson learned here is – don’t change any money at the train station and although they a being extremely friendly, they are not inviting you out for ghoulash.

So, about 5 beers down in commission, we walked out of the terminal and into the bustling centre of Budapest, where we encountered another, and we must final, attempt to get more forint from us. Craggy will have to watch his back while withdrawing money at Budapest cash machines.

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After that final attempt at the cashpoint, we found a cafe happy enough to provide us with our first Hungarian beer of the day, for probably the only time during the trip we were not there for food or alcohol, but to use modern technology called WIFI to locate our hotel, somewhere over the river. Years ago, we’d have picked up a map from tourist information, now we have smartphones to ruin the fun..

“It’s about a 25 minute walk that way” said Craggy, while confidently pointing in the direction of the Danube, my favourite river if I hadn’t mentioned it all. What my travel partner hadn’t mentioned was that the entire journey was uphill.

So across the Chain Bridge we went, and then up and up and up. It was a challenge. While on that journey, we noticed piles of rubbish on the streets, I can’t really explain it, some people were selling junk, some of the residents had left whatever they didn’t need anymore. There was old furniture, pool tables, computers, old televisions, not in organised piles, but it looked like they had just been thrown from the nearest balcony… Could anyone from Budapest tell us why?

We finally got into the hotel Bi&Bi Panzio, and to my relief without needing climbing equipment, about 3 hrs before kick off. Even though it was a bit of a walk from the Keleti station, it was in a great location and we’d also heard wonderful things about the breakfast. It was also close to the metro line and we had a game to get to. Of course, not before we tried a restaurant recommended to us by the incredibly friendly lady at our hotel reception.

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Trombitás Gösserező was a gem, not the kind of place you would perhaps enter from unwelcoming facade, but a paradise of Hungarian cuisine and beer on the inside. The food did not disappoint and with a belly full, we paid and took various modes of transport before arriving at Budapest Honved’s magnificent stadium.

Arriving 30 minutes before the game might be enough time to get a ticket and find your place in the stadium, but not at Honved. Fans patiently queued well into the first half (apart from two annoying Australian tourists), and the only reason I can think of for waiting in silence without complaint was they knew something we didn’t… That Hungarian football would wait until everybody was safely in the stadium before scoring a goal.

We finally secured our tickets in 32nd minute, after providing I.D and speaking more Hungarian than we’d done in any of our previous visits. The only thing we didn’t understand was probably “Don’t worry about the score, we have asked both teams to pass the ball around in the centre circle until all fans are in the ground”, okay maybe the ticket lady didn’t utter those words, but there were still a healthy number of Honved fans queuing without a care in the world – so we knew the action would wait.

The Hondved stadium should be under UNESCO. It’s sadly been ruined by the plastic seats, but the floodlights are just glorious. For anybody who knows me well, they know that floodlights, rivers and Central European train journeys are up there as my most favourite things ever…

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Beers bought, we positioned ourselves behind the goals and as close to the ultras as possible – I still don’t know how MattLostBoyo finds his way in home end, there must be a talent to obtaining those tickets. Matt?

The game was as you would expect, a bit dull with moments of magic from both teams…The first half went by without much action, but that might have been because we missed the first 35 minutes….aaaahhh. Half-time was spent making sure Honved knew who the Blansko Klobasa were by plastering as many stickers as we could in and around the stadium, while trying to take the perfect photo of the floodlights with our crappy smartphones… The football tourist, hey? Can’t live with them … can’t live without them.

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The second half (a full 45 minutes of action) was entertaining. I actually thought Debrecen were the better team for much of the game and had several chances to score with former QPR and Watford midfielder Daniel Tozser pulling the strings in midfield and second half sub Hyun-Jun Suk running intelligently in attack, they probably should have won the game..but what do we know about football with 85 minutes on the clock scored the only goal we have seen in 360 minutes of Hungarian football, Marton Eppel latching on to a through ball from Kabangu. Against the run of play, but for us it didn’t matter, we just wanted a goal.

With Hungarian football not keen to give us much more, Craggy suggested finding some trendy bars in Pest. By this he meant hipster, where beers are served in bicycle repair shops. Admittedly, it was good place to start, but with none of us in possession of a Raleigh Racer we knew we had to leave after our our only beer and headed for more local climates.

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Those “climates” were a local dive where a local man took an instant shine to our Craggy, offering a leather belt and some perfume for something we are still unsure of. While, we were not in need of something to keep our trousers up or a fragrance that may have been to our advantage, we were in need of beer and the more Hungarian the better. With every sip of beer, came more questions from our new friend.”You like the belt, special price for you my friend”. Sometimes it helps to be the ugly one.

With both of us declining the option of a second beer and bidding farewell to our new friends (which included one who had possibly been sleeping in the same position since our previous visit to Budapest), we made our best decision of the night to find as many local pubs on our way back to the hotel, but not before we had popped next door to Kobe Sausage for what can only be described as a few small sausages in a cone, with lots of sauce. As we were trying to get a photo of this very unique snack, two men approached us..

“Mmmm..klobasa? Is it good?”

“Er…we don’t know, it’s difficult to eat” ( and it was)

“Do you want some cocaine?”

“Er..no thank you” we both replied.

“Grass?”

Well, we declined both, but what impressed us most was that he started on a Class A drug and moved down to something less classy.

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A lot of sauce in an awkward bread cone

Beer stops were made, photos were taken until we arrived in one of our final stops of the evening after being waved away from a tiny bar that had been so welcoming the year or so before. With midnight fast approaching we walked into an empty cafe across the river and a km from our home for the night.

“Are you still open?” I enquired

“Well, we would like to close, but you can have a small beer if you promise to drink it in 25 minutes” The barmaid responded.

She had obviously no idea of who we were, or maybe just thought we had already had one too many.

Then something strange happened, the music changed to mixture of late 80s classics and her colleague came in from the cold. Now, they no longer wanted us to leave, they were locking us in and asking us  if we wanted a shot… this all to a Simple Minds soundtrack. We accepted their offer of a palinka, but we weren’t too sure about them locking us in…It was a bit of a turnaround and one we were not expecting. Suspecting they now wanted a bit more than to dance to Tiffany’s “I think we’re alone now”, we downed the shots, thanked them politely for their hospitality and asked them to unlock the door and let us out. It was a very bizarre moment and one that completely took us by surprise.

We tried other bars on the way up to the hill, finding a Croatian pub open to provide us with one final beer and a nightcap. Budapest we love you.

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Our second day started with the most incredible breakfast we’ve had on our travels, service with a smile and a meal that was worth hotel fee on its own. Follow the link to Bi&Bi Panzio here, it’s worth every single forint.

The Sunday was spent in typical Klobasa style, taking in the sights of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, while finding watering holes to quench our thirst.  In our opinion there’s nothing better than seeing the sights of such a spectacular city, while tasting the local beverages and cuisine.

As we were on the Buda side, we made the short walk up to the castle, past the Matthias church, where like every other tourist in Budapest we stopped for photos – before slowly walking down the hill to the Chain Bridge, to the cities second most popular place for selfies. One too many selfie stick for us and we headed straight to our first beer stop. The rest of the day was pretty much the same, sightseeing and Soproni drinking.

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Around 3.00pm we found ourselves, quite by chance, just outside Keleti Train Station and with two hours to kill and feeling a tad peckish, we found another great Hungarian restaurant, Huszár étterem, on one of the side streets.

“Welcome, Welcome to Budapest”

And I suppose , even though we on our way out of Budapest, the people, the food, the palinka, the beer had made it such a great trip that we knew we’d be back for more.

As Craggy so often says when he likes a place…

“I could live here”

Viva Budapest. Viva Soproni. Viva Palinki.

Craggy: and what about the setlist for the musical, I can hear you asking? Well, this is the rather inexplicable, and somewhat embarrassing setlist that we sang all weekend:

Driftwood by Travis (You’re driftwood floating down the Danube. Can also be artistically applied to suit the names of Blansko players flying down the left wing)

Summer Son by Texas (Really painful one, this one)

Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds (sounds even better after about 15 beers)

I Think We’re Alone Now by Tiffany (don’t ask…)

Cocaine Blues by Johnny Cash

Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode

Don’t You Want Me by The Human League (Sang by the guy in the bar offering himself to Craggy)

Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi (Which Craggy was doing)

Freelove on the Freelove Freeway by Ricky Gervais

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Ralph and his favourite river

Our Top Ten Pubs in Brno for 2017

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In January last year we published a post on our favourite top ten pubs in Brno, which generated a lot of discussion and opened up more options of pubs for the Klobasa to visit – and indeed we did. So, following on from the popularity of that article, and following up on a few suggestions, we have returned with a new top ten. Whilst one or two of the absolute best have retained their place in our list for 2017, we have added a few new surprises for consideration.

We have chosen these 10 based on quality of beer, range of beers snacks, service, and general atmosphere.

Once again, these are merely our personal favourites, and wait with bated breath for our readers to inform us on our mistakes, errors and unbelievable admissions.

In no particular order, the Blansko Klobasa’s top ten pubs in Brno 2017…

Zastavka – Úvoz 78

Zastavka is the automatic go-to place of the Blansko Klobasa, and it is fair to say we are now locals. This bar serves one of the best pints in Brno, and an extended, ever-changing list of beers ensures endless reasons to return. The accompanying beer snacks include the infamous karbos, which are freshly made and offered to those lucky enough to be there in the mid evening. All snacks are made to perfection and are served by some of the most attentive staff in the city.

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U Tekutého chleba – Moravské nám. 755/14A

U Tekutého chleba is our most central pub on this list and probably one of the most recently opened. A no-frills pub, running on the policy of a variety of often-changing beers, it gains its popularity by consistently offering new things to try. There is both standing and seating areas, no-smoking, and a screen to watch the sports, if you so wish.

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Garage Pub – Travinky

We are still not sure if this bar actually has a name, but the owner, an artist, has turned his garage into a no frills bar serving our favourite beer, Policka. It made our top ten for the welcome from everyone. A local pub for local people, you are guaranteed a friendly welcome from the owner and his wife, if you can find it.

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U Dvou přátel – Tábor 25

This is a big favourite of ours, it’s just simply a brilliant bar with a carefully chosen selection of beer and ales and you can line your stomach with some of the classic beer snacks we are always banging on about. U Dvou Pratel is an upbeat place, the scene of some great music and a place to grab a beer and learn a bit about what’s inside the glass.

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Zubatá Žába – Jungmannova 1146/33

The ‘Toothy Frog’ is a Policka-serving pub situated in the Královo Pole district of the city. With excellent beer and a cozy atmosphere Zubata Zaba remains one of the top picks for the Blansko Klobasa. It is also close to one or two other Klobasa picks, which makes it ideal for the favourite Blansko Klobasa pub crawl.

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U Sajmona pod Hájkem – Botanická 608/28

Another new entry to our top ten, U Sajmona serves up a great glass of Chotebor not too far from our place of work. We’ve always had a great welcome and highly recommend trying some of the traditional Czech dishes with your beer.

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U MíčeStaňkova 15

It’s hard to say anything bad about U Mice – it’s opposite our office, it serves Policka. A popular place with the Brnaci and it’s not difficult to see why. Last year we recommended the cheese balls, so this time round we heartily suggest trying the roast beef sandwich.

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Lokálek – Kotlářská 265/5

Lokalek is tucked away just off Konecneho Namesti and is quite often frequented by fans of Kometa and Zbrojovka, the local sports teams. There’s a always a game on the telly and recommend any of the the beers they have on tap.

Srdcovka – Poděbradova 716/12

Srdcovka is definitely a pub with atmosphere. Laying deep inside a dark basement, the pub offers a decent few beers and a lot of classic rock music. You can also get your range of classic peer snacks to go with it. The owner is often on hand to help you with your choice of pivo.

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Schrott – Křenová 291/10

Designed with an industrialised interior, Schrott offers something a little different and is our only pub behind Brno’s central train station. A little detour under the railway bridge is worth it though, as Schrott offers an atmospheric drinking experience and a wide range of drinks. The hermelin ain’t bad either.

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Honourable mentions:

It is worth mentioning these as they are some pubs that are certainly worthy of a top ten list but narrowly missed out on ours for various reasons. Last year U Bomby was suggested to us, and while it serves excellent beer, we’re not too sure about the atmosphere on the occasions we’ve been there. Pomaly Bar was on our last year’s top 10 list but has narrowly missed out this year. Blahovka and U Capa are old favourites, especially if you like Pilsner. Zelena Kocka has a great choice of beer and some decent snacks if you want somewhere more central. The Starobrno Brewery, too, is worth visiting if you have never been before. Finally, we would like to suggest a tram ride to the pub at the FC Dosta Bystrc stadium for somewhere nice to sit in the sun on the warmers days. It is a favourite Sunday trip for the Blansko Klobasa.

The Hunt for Pav the Drummer

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“Right, I will show you round Blansko during the winter break. It would be nice if there was a bit of snow.. it will make the place a bit more picturesque” Those were the words of Wingy, a resident of town for the last 23 years after deciding to swap a cushy job in a London office for life as an English teacher in South Moravia. Blansko needs snow to make a trip worthwhile.

Chris (Wingy) is probably the main reason, why we started following the local football team. A few years ago, we started going and such was the welcome from everybody at the club, we found ourselves spending more time at Udolni and beyond.. Now, one of the friendliest of friendly faces was Pavel the Drummer, the only regular Blansko Ultra at the time. You could guarantee that at every game, home or away, Pavel would be there, with his drum. Then back in November, after a few matches on tannoy duty, he disappeared. We know that sounds dramatic,  but we were genuinely concerned and nobody at the club knew of his whereabouts.

So, we decided, while on a tour of Blansko, to print off a picture of our drummer and ask the locals if they had seen this man…

A few days before the trip, Wingy pulled out with a serious bout of manflu, leaving the rest of us to wander round the town, taking in the sights and of course enjoying a few beers. First stop was the new allweather football pitch (needed to confirm our place in MSFL) and 90 minutes of football. Blansko were hosting Bohunice, a team from Brno playing a couple of tiers down from us. For us, it was a chance to see our two new signings and to be quite honest to watch a live game of football.. something we’d been missing.

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It was cold, very, very cold, definitely the coldest game we had ever been to (colder than Boundary Park)..we lasted 80 minutes before heading for the warmth of a local pub. Not even a hip flask full of homemade slivovice could keep us there for the entire game and we left the moment our new striker, Jindra Stehlik, scored our 6th goal.

Now,for the first time in the short life of the Blansko Klobasa, we vlogged our trip with a Polaroid Cube and the story of our trip is below.. With none of us being at all good on camera, we ask you to go a bit easy on us…

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Milan Pacanda – Lost and Found

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It’s 8.30 on a Sunday morning, I am on a train and my groundhop today is to see Vicemilice in the 8th tier of the Czech Football League. It’s been on my bucket list for a while. In addition to this I am going to watch a 38 year factory worker, by the name of Milan Pacanda play football. I am not even sure you even care.

 The chances are that most of you have never heard of Milan Pacanda, he could have been a name in European football, up there with the Nedveds, Poborskys and Bergers of Czech Football fame – he once played at Old Trafford in a Champions League game, oh and in a successful Intertoto Cup run for Brno, but that is about as big as it got for Pacanda. It could have been so, so different.

In 1999, two years after making his debut for ‘hometown club’ Boby Brno, Pacanda was riding on the crest of the wave. He’d started the season extremely well, playing just behind the striker in an improving Brno team and scoring for fun. Scouts would turn up wherever ‘Paci’ (pronounced Patsy) played.

Such was his reputation in the game that Bologna had agreed terms with the young striker, then disaster struck.

After putting his side in front  away at Zizkov, he went for a ball with Viktoria defender Jan Zakopal, a player he’d played with at junior level for Czech national team, it was a ball that only one man could win and Zakopal knew that, so knowing he would come off second best made a decision which would change the course of Pacanda’s career – he went for the striker’s knee  destroying the ligaments and putting a bright career on hold. To this day, Zakopal (English translation ‘to bury’) insists he went for the ball, but those of us there see it completely differently. It was a horrendous challenge.

The following winter after five months of treatment, Paci made his first attempt to comeback only to damage his knee in his very first training session, putting him out of action for a further year. It was at this time he sank into despair, possibly depression,  finding solace in the casinos and bars of Brno and with it an addiction to fruit machines and alcohol. In addition to this he purchased an expensive car on credit and promptly crashed it while drunk, damaging his shoulder.

With a huge debt hanging over him he was pulled from the mire by his mentor and football father Karel Jarusek, who invited the footballer to move into his family home. I believe, but it is still unclear to me, that his agent cleared Pacanda’s debt. It was also at this moment they asked him if he wanted a second chance. Apparently, the footballer without saying a word just nodded. Jarusek brought in a strict regime and  with it a curfew. He trained hard and was allowed just one night out a week, on a Friday, but had return to Jarusek’s home by 10pm.

A year and a half at that disastrous afternoon at Zizkov, Paci returned to the pitch with two pins in his knee and a slight limp as he ran. The coach at the time, Pavel Tobias, brought him back slowly and it wasn’t until the following season that he began to make the starting eleven.

He stayed at Brno for a further 3 seasons, forming a fantastic partnership with Libor Dosek. The goals returned and helping his team to rise up the league and reach the semi-finals of the now defunct Intertoto Cup. Off the pitch things were also a little better, although not without incident. I particularly remember an incident after one home match – Pacanda and teammates, drinking after a draw with Sigma Olomouc, celebrated by smashing up a billboard outside a restaurant causing 20,000kc worth of damage. While his teammates faced the music, Milan disappeared for a couple of days, missing training. He was dropped for the next match.

Although there were times off the pitch where we saw the old demons returning, 2004 was a great year for the footballer. He married his childhood sweetheart Denisa and in the summer of that year secured 650,00o Euro move to Czech giants Sparta Praha.

His start at Letna was a good one. Under the leadership of Frantisek Straka, he bagged 6 goals in his first 7 games, forming a prolific partnership with Tomas Jun. But the wheels fell off when the coach was sacked and replaced with Jaroslav Hrebik who demanded discipline and order from all his players. Pacanda only ever really listened to two people and Hrebik was not one of them. He soon found himself out of the team and back on the fruit machines and his life began to turn sour. In 2005, he was sent on loan to to Tirol Innsbruck, where he continued to score and rescued the team from what seemed like a certain relegation. Even though he was a popular player with the Austrian side, he found himself back in Czech Republic. For Pacanda, it was the beginning of the end.

He returned to Brno for the start of the 2006 season, however in 3 seasons was to make only 30 appearances for the club,spending part of the time at Zlin and half a season in Kazakhstan. But even during his time abroad, rumours of his growing debt continued to do the rounds.

Pacanda, now becoming a footballing nomad, he signed for Znojmo ,in the MSFL, and things started to look up, he employed a personal coach, shed a few pounds and began the season in fine form. Sadly, another injury, followed by missed training sessions, forced the hand of the club’s management… One rumour was that he would only turn up at the club when he needed money…

“At the beginning of the season he helped us immensely, he looked like a great promise. But gradually his attitude ceased to fulfill our expectations. I am afraid that in the spring he probably will not be with us,” said coach Bohumil Smrček.

“We could only keep  Pacanda if he managed to put his personal life in order and we were at the time willing to help. Unfortunately he does not appreciate the efforts of the club management. Therefore, we have to let him go” said President 1. SC Znojmo Ota Withers.

In an attempt to clear his mounting debt and with collectors regularly calling round for a chat, he moved to East Slovakian team, FK Bodva Moldova, newly promoted to the second tier. Again, the season began promisingly and he was even made captain, but at the end of 2010/11 Pacanda was again without a team.

Surprisingly, his agent managed to persuade newly promoted Znojmo to give him another  chance in the second league. He once again got himself fit and started to impress, notably scoring a brace against Sparta’s reserve team. But the return was again shortlived and the old ‘Paci” appeared and then Milan Pacanda disappeared again, before finding a home at Slovan Rosice and back in the arms of Karel Jarusek.

It was during his time at Rosice, that rumours started to circle about his mental state. I read an article where he bravely admitted suffering from depression and even more worryingly about suicidal thoughts.

In an interview with Czech football magazine Hattrick, Pacanda recalled the moment he was at his lowest.

“I was standing on the tracks and wondering if I should lie down and wait for the next train”

“I was fucked,” he said openly. “But now I take it as a lesson for future life and I feel I am over the worst of it”.

As somebody who loved watching Milan Pacanda play football, I was saddened to hear of him talk about mental health issues that have affected him, but at the same time I’m so pleased he’s been brave enough to talk about it. Not enough of us are able to do that.

I arrived at the Vicemilice pitch  about 15 minutes before kick off (I am not too sure I could call it a stadium) and the first person I was to bump into was Milan, who was chatting away to one of the local fans, while enjoying a prematch cigarette. He eyed me with suspicion (everyone does) as I am sure he knows all the regular faces. I am not too sure why, but I avoided making eye-contact as not to arouse any further interest and made my way to the bar.

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A few minutes later, I heard one of the supporters say that Vicemilice were in trouble, Paci didn’t want to play, he was complaining of a bad back. Naturally, it was just prematch talk and  Pacanda took to the field after the shortest warm up in the history of warm ups. A couple of stretches,  an individual crossbar challenge, which he managed at the first attempt and then another cigarette before lining up with his teammates.

I won’t bore you too much longer with details of the game, only to tell you of two Milan Pacanda moments which sum up the talent of the man.. In the first half, he picked up the ball just inside the away team’s half. Heavily marked, he dragged the ball away from two opponents and played a stunning through ball for the opening goal.  You never lose it, do you?

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In the second half, he scored his only goal of the game, latching on to a pass from midfield he lobbed the goalkeeper from 25yards, another piece of skill, which would further show the quality he has.

Somebody once said of the player that if Pele belongs in a museum then Pacanda belongs on football pitch.  And with Paci breaking into a huge smile after his goal, you would find it difficult with that.

Welcome back, Paci.

 

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