The Best Half-Season in Years as Blansko run riot in Divize D.

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We’ve been following our teams (Swansea City, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa) back home for longer than we can remember. Personally, off the top of my head, I can’t even recall The Swans stringing a run of four or five wins together. We’ve had good seasons, we’ve been promoted a few times, we punched above our weight for 7 seasons in the Premier League. However, nothing prepared me for the first half of Divize D with FK Blansko this season.

Following an amateur football team in the Czech Republic comes with a lot of uncertainty. At the end of each half season, you are never sure if you will see the same players lining up after each winter or summer break.  At the end of the 2017/18 season, I spoke to one of our defenders and asked him if he will be with us next season. “Not sure. The club want to sign 8 new players”.    Now, 8 new players is practically a new team…Here we go…

That evening on Instagram, our top scorer and our centre midfielder posted a picture of themselves in t-shirts with the words “Does anyone want us?”

You don’t really need to be Sherlock Holmes or Major Zeman to know it meant big changes were on the way.

In July, I messaged another player (I don’t stalk them, honestly) and asked if there was any news. He told me that our manager had left and he’d been replaced by Tomas Kolouch, a junior coach at Zbrojovka Brno. No further news.

Around that time we were drawn against SK Lisen in the preliminary round of the Czech Cup.. This was followed by news of the first training session of the season. The faces of 2017/18 had been replaced with new names. Dolezal, Minx, Mezlik, Padera, Sedlo, Huska, Traore, Urbancok, Bednar and Tulaydan had joined the club.. So, not 8 new players, but 10.. a new team. This is how it works in the lower leagues over here.

A few nights later, I was out with a friend and naturally the conversation turned to FK Blansko, well okay, it wasn’t natural, the conversation was always going to be about Blansko. A few years ago, that friend had been playing for Tisnov before injury curtailed his fledgling career. At the beginning he went down to the ground to watch his friends play.. Slowly, his friends, all local footballers, were replaced with a team of bigger and better players and with it went his enjoyment. His view is the first eleven should be full of local players. And to be quite frank, I wholeheartedly agree with this. Losing some of the Blansko players, we’ve grown to love was more than a bit concerning and all of us harboured (and still do) doubts whether we would have similar emotions with our new squad of players.

Now it’s 11thNovember and our final game before the 5 month winter break and some of those concerns are no longer ( does that make us glory hunters?) as we put 9 past Velka Bites (fielding four of our former players) and completed our 15thwin from 15 games – scoring 53 goals on the way. That is quite some achievement, so I asked Chris “Wingy” Wing of The Blansko Klobasa a few questions to help review our first half of the season.

First of all, Wingy, I know you’ve been a Middlesboro fan a bit longer than Blansko, so have you ever experienced a start to the season like 2018/19 with Blanners?

Wingy: To be honest, I can’t really remember. I know that in 1973-74 under Jack Charlton, we lost our first home game to Fulham, then we didn’t lose at home for the rest of the season and I think we had a pretty decent start to the following season in Division one as well.

 

What has it been like going to Blansko games, knowing we have the strongest squad in the league? Has there been an expectation that we’ve got the 3 points before a ball has been kicked?

Wingy: Inevitably yes. We are almost too dominant. But I will take it. After the Grmela experience, I am thankful for anything.

For those who don’t know, Grmela, a former top division coach with Zbrojovka Brno, was our manager a couple of seasons back. The most disinterested, unmotivated coach we have ever had. He brought his own players from Zbrojovka B in place of the local players and they had the same attitude to Blansko as our manager. Luckily for us, Znojmo (2ndLeague) came in for him during the winter break and he was off…much to our relief.

How do you feel about players turning up on big money? And with it replacing some of our most loyal and local footballers.

Wingy:  As a fan you feel they won’t have the same feeling for the club, much like in the Grmela era, and for our support, as the local players. And that does seem to be the case with one or two of the current squad. The price you pay for success, I suppose. (Sigh).

I agree. At the moment we are not too sure of the direction of the club, how much money is being invested and where the investors see the club in the next 5 years. We saw this with AFK Tisnov last season, who were in exactly the same position with the same players, that once the money ran\n out – the players left and Tisnov resigned from Divize D. I  suppose all we are looking for is just a little bit of loyalty from this group and with it I am sure the league title will follow.

So, providing we keep the same the same crop of player, what are you hopes and expectations for the season?

Wingy:  Promotion surely. With this much of a lead, we would have to seriously tank it to not go up. We can’t expect to keep the 100 percent record forever, but it’s nice while it lasts. I hope we don’t lose some key players and I hope to get to some away days (Rosice or Bystrc)

If we keep hold of the squad (I heard a rumour that Dominik Urbancok is off), I can’t see us failing to go up or losing too many points in the last 15 games. I would love us to go unbeaten – but teams will now be raising their game to beat us..

Who has been our player of the season so far?

Wingy : Inevitably, got to be Dominik Smerda. What a great talent this boy has and is surely destined for higher things, if he wants it.

Oh, this is probably the first one we disagree on. I rate Dominik very highly (as I do Tomas Feik), but I have to give my P.O.S to David Bednar – he’s been absolutely outstanding in every game he plays and has scored 13 goals in 15 games from midfield. Special mention to Radek Mezlik who has marshalled the defence extremely well, especially when Jiri Huska disappears upfront for parts of the game.

What’s been your favourite game?

Wingy : Was tempted to say the 9-0 against Velka Bites, but would have to go for the 4-0 at home to Rosice. Good entertaining game and the best atmosphere this season.

Loved the Rosice game, mainly because they have the best support in the league and always our games are always entertaining. However, I am going for Novy Sady away. We beat them 7-0 and could have had another seven goals if we’d not taken our foot off the gas. The home crowd seemed to appreciate the quality of our play by applauding the substitutions of Bednar and Traore in the 62ndminute. It was also at this point that I knew we’d go into the winter break with 45 points.

What’s been the best trip this season?

Wingy : Not applicable. Haven’t made any of the away games so far…

It’s a massive shame that, Wingy. This is such a tough one to answer as all trips have been memorable in one way or other. I enjoyed Bzenec as we spent the morning in the lovely town of Uherske Hradiste at a wine festival and walked out to the Jarosov Brewery. Zdar away was also fun for the celebration with the players and finding that the town now has a brewery and  good one at that..Lanzhot for stumbling across the archaelogical site at Pohansko and the bunkers built on the Austrian border for fear on invasion.. But, I am going for Polna. Now I have been to the town several times, but this time I had an few hours to walk around and boy was I not disappointed. Great result against a difficult team too.

 

Best away pub?

Well, seeing as though only I can answer this – I am going to give it to the Rebel pub  in Havlickuv Brod. Definitely the best goulash I have ever paid for and served with a 11 degree Rebel.Perfect.

 

Best Away Ground?

I am sure my choice will be different come the end of the season as we have Humpolec and Bystrc to come, but at the moment it has to be Lanzhot. Terracing behind the goal is rarity in this league, so to stand on an open terrace in glorious sunshine for 90 minutes was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Who has been the best team we have faced?

Wingy: Difficult to say, as we have been so dominant. Would probably go for Tasovice (although maybe my sight was impaired by the blinding yellow kit….)

I will say Lanzhot, but I am not too sure if they are the best team or the most difficult team we’ve played against. It’s rare to see such partisan crowds in this division, but the 690 making noise for the full 90 minutes were definitely their 12thman.  I am really surprised to see them sitting mid-table as we could easily have lost that game.

 

Has their been a season low for you?

Wingy: Only relative of course. But probably the 1-0 against Strany. Poor performance against an awful team. The showboating against Tasovice was also annoying.

I can’t think of one. I was also a tad annoyed at the showboating against Tasovice, we could easily have lost that game too, if it weren’t for some excellent goalkeeping from Martin Dolezal.

Re the showboating, I have come to accept it now as you can see the players are enjoying themselves.

If I were to pick one disappointment, it is seeing our former captain, Jakub Splichal, sidelined. The heartbeat of the team last year, it’s a shame to see him as a bit part player this season. In my opinion, he’s a better defender than Jiri Huska and deserves a place in the team.

Just to finish off, I thought I would ask Wingy a couple of general questions about Blansko and Czech Football.

Who your cult hero at the club?

Wingy:  Difficult to choose between 1. Honza Trtilek 2. Petr Gromsky and 3. Standa Pisek. I think I’d go for Standa, for the hilarious own-goals.

Oh, Standa is a good call, as I am sure he loved us as much as we loved him. I am tempted to say Pavel the Drummer, miss him when he’s not around, when he is around he usually picks an argument with someone either on the pitch or in the stand.

What do you like and dislike about Czech football?

Wingy : Like – it has an old-school feel to it that British football sometimes loses. Dislike – corruption.

I like that Czech football is still affordable for everyone. You can buy a beer for a reasonable price and enjoy it while watching a game of football. I am also fond of kickoffs throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. For a groundhopper for myself, I love watching a game at 10.15 in the morning and then making it for an afternoon match too.

Like you, Wingy, I dislike corruption. I also hate the racism that seems to have planted itself at Czech football stadiums. Of course, I know it’s not just here, but we need the Czech FA to admit there is a problem to do anything about it.

If you could change one thing about Blansko, what would it be?

Wingy: Bring back Standa Pisek!!

I would continue to clear the weeds and long grass, so we can see the terracing at Udolni again. And…more fans. The players deserve a bit of support..sometimes I get the feeling we are at a theatre..not a football ground.

 
 
Thanks Wingy and here’s to hopefully another 15 wins in the second half of the season. 
 
COME ON BLANSKO!

Our Favourite Stadiums of 2019.

In the world of social media and with it being the end of the calendar year, we’ve been seeing many “top ten” or “top nine” posts, so with a four hour train journey back to Brno from the mountains, we thought that we would compile our favourite grounds of 2019.. Okay, I am sure you would have guessed what this post was about by the title above.

2019 took us to some wonderful places, we’ve seen some great football matches and a lot of awful games too, so without further ado here are our football stadiums of the year. They are in no particular order. Happy New Year everyone.

  1. Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion, Budapest.

Back in November and meeting up  for reunion with former work colleagues, I took the opportunity to visit the newly built  Hidekuti Nandor stadium in the Hungarian capital. I am not a huge fan of modern stadia, however this has a certain charm to it.

 

 

 

2. NTC Poprad football stadium, Poprad, Slovakia.

We’ve put this in our favourites, not because of the actual stadium, but because of the view behind. Slovak football is not always the most entertaining to watch and as the game I was there to see was particularly boring, I found myself looking out at the beautiful Tatra mountains in the background for 73 minutes of the match.

 

 

3. Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark, Leipzig.

As mentioned above, we are not huge fans of modern football stadiums, so it’s pleasing to see this beaut on the outskirts of the city.

 

 

 

4.Stadion v Hájku, Bucovice.

One of the wonderful things about Czech football is the season in the lower leagues goes well into June and to quell the tedium of  one summer afternoon in Brno, I decided to take a trip out to Bucovice, a small town about 30km away, I was not disappointed. How many grounds have nicely trimmed hedges in between the dugouts..? I know who gets my vote for groundsman of the year.

 

5. Štadión KFC Komárno, Komarno.

Komarno is a town on the banks of the river Danube, separating Slovakia from neighbouring Hungary and it’s home to the weirdest terracing I have ever seen..This goes in into our top 15 because of the terracing.. just take a look below. The capacity of the ground is 13,000, but I am not quite sure it would pass a safety check should they ever be in a position to fill the stadium.

 

6. Ynys Park, Ton Pentre.

Living abroad I don’t get the opportunity to watch the Welsh league very often, so in December I was so happy to finally get to Ynys Park, the home of Ton Pentre FC. Another traditional old ground with a beautiful view, this goes in our favourites, not only for the ground, but for the welcome we received and for serving tea in a mug.

 

7. Stadion na Údolní, Blansko

We couldn’t possibly make list  without including our second home. At the beginning of the season, money was made available to strengthen the playing squad and to tidy up Udolni. Gone are the wooden benches in the main stand, but we have seen a return of the grassy terracing that has been missing for many years and that for us is money well spent.

 

 

8. Sportovní areál, Drnovice

Built in the heart of the village of Drnovice, this stadium has hosted top league, European and international football matches. It has sadly fallen into a state of disrepair , but the history of 1990s Czech football is there for us all to see.

 

 

9. Stadion U Tržiště, Velké Meziříčí.

This is a personal favourite of mine, not necessarily for the actual ground, but I love a 10.15 k.o and FC Velké Meziříčí always kick off early Sunday morning. In addition to the early start there’s a pub next to the ground that does a lovely pint of the local brew.

 

10. Earlsmead Stadium, South Harrow.

My first game back in Britain this Christmas was Harrow Borough v Merthyr Town and although the result didn’t go the way of The Martyrs, it was a brilliant day. Highlight was the Merthyr away following who filled the clubhouse with cuddly toys for the Grenfell appeal. There is some genuine solidarity in non-league football and the people we me met on the day are exactly the reason why we love football so much.

 

 

 

11. Fotbalovy Stadion Loren, Kutna Hora.

Another wonky terrace, another 10.15k.o and another ground serving a local beer. It’s much the same as Velké Meziříčí really. However, Kutna Hora is a little prettier and is always a good day out.

 

12. Stadion Na Šlajsi, Lanžhot.

It’s very rare in Divize D to find a club with partizan support, well in our experience anyway. You get the odd chant, the angry man shouting at the referee, but to hear a crowd sing and shout for 90 minutes is something  very unusual. Step forward the fans of FK Lanzhot, it’s good to have you in the fourth tier.

 

13.Stadion pod Přehradou, Bystrc

Just like Udolni, we couldn’t create a list of favourite stadiums without including Dosta Bystrc. It’s a Sunday afternoon of pure pleasure.

 

14.Všesportovní stadion,Hradec Králové.

This could easily have been AS Trencin’s ground as we are adding this purely for the “lollipops”. The most spectacular floodlights in football.

 

15.  Stadion DuklaHavířov.

Outside of the top tier of Czech football, you don’t often see a ground with four sides. And just because of that, MFK Havirov is without doubt my favourite ground in this country.

Brewery of the Month – September

Pivovar Kamenice – 2 náměstí Československé armády, 394 70 Kamenice nad Lipou

Whilst on tour across the Czech Republic this year we had one particular stop in mind – Kamenice nad Lipou. The small town lies in the stunning region of Vysočina, not far from Pelhřimov. Now, if you look up the town on Wikipedia it will tell you the most important sight is the castle. However, we can tell you that there is also a very impressive brewery there…

The castle

After tasting the fine beer back in Brno we quickly determined that a trip to Kamenice was necessary. The brewery itself is vast and imposing. Located in the centre of the town close to the castle, the building was reconstructed after many years of inactivity: the beer finally began flowing again in 2016 – the first time since 1947.

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We made the first of of two stops on the way to Ceske Budejovice, picking up a couple of bottles for the trip and taking some photos of the grand interior. On the way back we opted to sit in the expansive beer garden and soak up the summer sun with a perfect 12 degree lager. We also ordered the goulash, which while visually as spectacular as the brewery itself, didn’t quite have the bite you want from a Czech-style goulash. For the lager though, it is hard to find a brewery that rivals it.

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That’s your Lanžhot

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Student: What are you doing this weekend?

Craggy: Going to Lanžhot.

Student: Why? There is nothing there.

Oh, how wrong could you be…

Last time my student and I had this very same conversation was about a forthcoming trip to the Slovak town of Myjava. That time he had been right, but our next trip was to be a completely different experience. One of the best things about a new season in the 4th tier of Czech football is anticipating the new arrivals to the league. This gives us the opportunity to go boldly in to the unknown; and in to pubs that others dare not tread. One such opportunity came early this year as Blansko’s second game of the season was away to Lanžhot, a small town resting on the Slovak border, and a reasonable walk away from everyone’s favourite train interchange of Břeclav.

We arrived in Břeclav with the summer sun rising slowly above us. Slightly disoriented from the heat of the train carriage we walked in circles before finding ourselves somewhat fortuitously on a dusty old trail heading in to the forest nearby.

It was not long before we came to an old looking pub sitting idly by the path. Normally, we go busting into any pub we see, no questions asked, but there was a sleepy stillness resting over this one despite the chalkboards being placed outside. We rang an old, bronze bell that hung in the doorway, but no one answered. We could hear murmurings somewhere from an open window and so paced around the pub earnestly, but delicately. We rang once more and finally a woman came down to greet us, bidding us inside and asking, cheerfully ‘can you not see we’re open?’.

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We sat inside the old wooden hut with a cold lager and drank happily with the landlady, before saying our goodbyes and heading back on to the road and deeper in to the forest. For a little while the road was quiet and the air still, but after some time we could see a few people up ahead and what turned out to be the archaeological site at Pohansko.

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From there we came across the first of several bunkers placed among the trees (just some of the many that were constructed between the wars by the Czechoslovak government due to the prospect of invasion). Before us was an large expansive, dry field leading up to early 19th century castle of Pohansko. This area offers up even more archaeological sites, revealing sections of the early medieval site that was situated here in the 9th century, and which was one the largest medieval strongholds in central Europe.

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The Pohansko Castle itself sits majestically at the top of the field, with it’s light-coloured walls shining brightly on a sunny afternoon. Luckily for us it also has at least three bars which you can swiftly grab a beer in a plastic cup to accompany you for the next part of the walk. We took a moment for a couple of photos before heading even further in to the forest.

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One thing that soon struck us was that some of the most recognisable trees here are given characters. Signs are posted in front of several, detailing their given names and characteristics. A nice touch we thought.

Out in the open, before dehydration took us and left us dead among the sunflower fields, we made it in to the small town of Lanžhot. Before us, like a mirage through fading eyes, was a pub, decorated in the flowery blue motifs familiar to this part of the world. We entered in search of sustenance.

Landlord: Can’t you read?

Ralph: Sorry?

Landlord: Members only. You want to drink. Drink outside.

And thus is the result of the smoking ban. He wasn’t unpleasant. Just rather direct.

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We had our beers and headed to another pub for some fantastic goulash soup. On each table was a plastic fly swatter, just in case you wanted to bash any flies, or your drunk mates. After some soup and some bashing we made our way to the Lanžhot stadium.

Stadion Na Šlajsi, the home of TJ Sokol Lanžhot is one of the biggest in the league, with a main stand and three terraced sides, we were quite excited to see it and by the size of the crowd (690) we weren’t the only ones. The home side were promoted to the 4th tier of Czech football for the first time since 1959, so this was obviously a big day for the locals.

And the crowd contributed so much to the game, cheering on every attack the home side had. It’s so rare that we see such a partizan crowd in the league, that I think both of us enjoyed it.

The first half was of course controlled by us, which is not surprising considering the spine of our team, Dolezel, Mezlik and Buchta have over 400 league games experience between them. However, the clear cut chances were created by Lanzhot. A header just wide and a shot which skimmed the bar were enough to keep the home fans excited and also sent us towards the bar. Half-time 0-0.

The second 45 went much the same as the first, with the home side attacking with purpose, but with no end product and with Blansko continuing to run the midfield, it was no surprise that we finally opened the scoring with 11 minutes remaining through the impressive Dominik Urbančok – who weaved his way between two defenders before hitting home from just inside the box. 1-0 Blansko and game over. We spent the last ten minutes controlling position and offering the Lanzhot no way back. Our second win of the season.

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So a positive and exciting exploration between two towns close to the border was topped off by some thrilling 4th tier football. If ever we needed confirmation of why we do what we do – this was it.

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