THE BLANSKO KLOBASA

 

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 Trips

 

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.

 

The Fans

 

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 Chants

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making the most of Presov time in East Slovakia

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A free weekend upon us and a long one at that, I began to toy with idea of seeing East Slovakia again. It had been a while since we’d seen each other, so toy no further – I went ahead and booked myself on the midnight sleeper train out of Olomouc.

I am big fan of a train with a bed – last September I had met up with my Wales away companion, Glen ,for 14hr trip from Bucharest to Chisinau to watch our international team. This time it also includes a Wales side: the u19s were/are playing in the Slovakia Cup – any opportunity to watch Wales in Central Europe and I am there.. this time with Trnava-dwelling Matt LostBoyo.

The six hour journey ended early. Difficulty sleeping and a bit of early morning research gave me the option of disembarking at Poprad station and getting a 5,30 bus to Spissky Podhradie, a pretty town sitting beneath the beautiful Spissky Hrad, the 6th largest castle on the planet and a world heritage site.

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Everything was going according to plan, the SAD bus took me on 50 minute journey right to the foot of the hill I needed to hike. The only hiccup was that I knew I would be the only soul up there so early in the morning, and I was unsure whether the castle keeper (do they still exist?) would let me in. Undeterred, I began the climb and as I reached the top I saw the gates open – result. Of course, my excitement of having the whole place to myself was short-lived as I was greeted by the angriest Slovak in the history of Slovakia…
“What are you doing here?” she barked at me.
I walked a bit further pretending not to hear/understand her.
She raised her voice a bit more, probably waking the sleepy village below. At this point she took my arm and lead me back to gate, pointing aggressively at a sign with the opening hours. I wonder if that’s how it worked with the castle back in the 12th century.
“We’d love to commence battle now, but unfortunately the castle is closed until 9.00am. Could you come back a bit later?” pointing the attacking army in the direction of the nearest cafe…

I went into charm offensive – actually replace that with begging. I begged her to let me in for 10 minutes to have a look around and to take some photos. “Mrs Castle keeper, I have travelled overnight just to see this castle. Please, 10 minutes just to get a view from the tower…” Another couple of minutes of explaining my need to get in and suddenly I saw a chink in her armour.
“Ahh, you are not Czech?”
“No, I am from Wales”.
“Come on in, would you like a cup of tea?” Well, she didn’t offer me a cuppa, I made that bit up, but not being from a neighbouring country had gained me access to a castle well worthy of making it into UNESCO. She did follow me around for the entire tour, but I got a “hello” in English when we said goodbye.

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Whenever I am lucky enough to visit the region, I always try and fit in as much as possible. However, if I described the trip in detail, you would nod off before I got to the end of the first day. What I can tell you is that when you are next over here, go to Levoca. It’s a beautiful town with both Gothic and renaissance architecture dominating the main square.

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My first game of the weekend was a relegation battle between Tatran Presov and ZP Sport Podbrezova in the top flight. I had hoped the game would be played in the (I think) oldest stadium in Slovakia, but Presov are currently exiled 40 miles away in Poprad at the newest stadium in Slovakia. Disappointed, well not that much, I had lunch in Kezmarok and spent a couple of prematch hours in Poprad’s two breweries, which are both within walking distance from each other on the main drag. Now, at this point I don’t want to be critical, but it’s been noticeable that on previous trips to the region the customer service, although friendly, has been incredibly slow. I discussed this with a friend of mine recently and she described it as relaxed. My tip is, if you are in a rush, order your food and drink and get the bill. It’s not a rant, it’s an observation, honest. And I am sure we will review one of the breweries in the next month or so.

To the game… well, the quality was poor. The highlight of the game was the stadium, the backdrop is stunning and I often caught myself gazing at the High Tatra mountains rather than watching two teams struggle to play the game. Podbrezova took the lead in the 21st minute. However, I can’t really tell you whether it was against the run of play as there wasn’t much “play” to speak of. The handful of Tatran ultras banged their drum, sang a few songs to try and raise the performance of their team, but I can not recall the side creating a single chance until the 90th minute when they equalised through their substitute, a lanky defender named Maduka Udeh. Thrown up front as very much a last throw of the dice, Udeh somehow got on the end of a cross to head home with his first touch of the ball. The ref, probably aware I had a train to catch, blew his whistle not too long after. I swear he gave me a nod to say “take the train and head east, my friend” – And head east I did.

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I spent the evening in Kosice – the largest town in the East and with one of the largest central drags in Europe. Hlavna Ulica (translation “the main street”) is a bustle of activity with the people of Kosice taking up residence in many of the street bars, restaurants and cafes. I decided to take a left at the cathedral and find Golem, one of the three breweries in the city. Worth a visit, if you are ever in the area.

Sad to stay, I didn’t get much of chance to explore the city… the lack of sleep on the overnight train and possibly one too many beers meant I was in bed just a few minutes after midnight. A great day out.

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Brewery of the Month – July

While we are of course bound to the finesse of Czech brewing traditions, we do enjoy trips across borders to see what’s brewing in other lands. With a free weekend ahead of us we decided to travel to Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava to see how many breweries we could manage, and to give you our second Slovak brewery post this year.

In fact, we actually managed 5 breweries but our first stop was our priority – we wanted to spend some of the warm summer day sat on the calm lull of the Danube (Ralph’s favourite river), at the Dunajský pivovar.

The most immediately striking thing about the Dunajský pivovar is simply that it is on a boat. Sitting on the deck, enjoying the morning sun with a fresh lager brewed on the flow of one of Europe’s most stunning rivers, is a gratifying experience. We did try to pick the perfect table but were immediately asked to move as there were only two of us and it was a big table. So we were shifted to a small table round the corner. No problem – we were still sat staring at the river and city before us.

Introduced in 2014 by it’s older brother, the Patrónsky pivovar, the Dunajský brewery sits on the Petržalka side of Bratislava, and doubles up as a ‘botel’. It also has a restaurant offering taditional food. We were only here for the beer though, and as neither of us are fans of the ‘tmavy’ (dark) beer we went for the standard 11,5 degree lager instead. Although perhaps not the best beer in the city, it certainly wasn’t bad, and a cold brew was certainly much welcomed on this fine summer’s day. The restaurant itself is a bit posh for our simple tastes, and the service was a relaxed pace, but the atmosphere of the Danube is second to none.

Brewery of the month – June

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Lanius Brewery – Mierové námestie 20, 911 01 Trenčín, Slovakia

A couple of months ago, I was on a jaunt around Slovakia and decided to make my journey to Senec (to watch Wales U19s!!) a little bit easier, I took a 4hr train from Kosice to Trencin. Now, it’s a town I know well – I’ve been to the Pohoda music festival a few times, it’s got the greatest football floodlights in the country, Klub Luc is where it’s at for evening entertainment and the castle, built on top of a steep rock is one of the finest in Europe… To add to that, it now has a brewery and Lanius is June’s pivovar of the month.

They brew their various kinds of beer at house number 20 on the main square, naming the brewery after the first owner of the house, a certain Thomas Lanius, who lived there in 1649…I am not sure if it’s any coincidence, but Lanius is Latin for Butcher.. and old Tom was indeed a butcher… What are the chances…

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To provide more background to breweries in the town, there was a time in 17th century when Trencin had 40 breweries, many of them private. Now for a size of the city, that seems a few too many and with the onset of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, these were replaced by large-scale production in the modern breweries close by. By the end of the century, the last brewer had brewed his last beer in Trencin…until Lanuis produced their first beer in 2014.

After taking in the AS Trencin v Zilina game, I made my way straight to bar for some beer and nosh and I was not disappointed. Lanius usually have a selection of beers on tap and an excellent choice of food on the menu. Conservatively, I went for the 12 degree Bohemian Lager, but in hindsight I should have gone for the tasting tray as previously in the day someone had recommended their Mandarina IPA…there is always a next time.

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As with all Microbreries the prices are a little bit more than the euro you could pay for a Corgon or Saris, but there’s a lot of love that goes into making craft ales and Lanius have added that to their various beers. So, if you are in Trencin and looking for a nice place to spend the evening, we highly recommend a visit to the brewery and grab some food if you feeling a bit peckish. You won’t be disappointed.

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