A fortnight ago, I celebrated my Pragueversary. I have now lived here for twelve months. To celebrate, I went to watch Bohemians play at home before then heading out for a meal and some drinks with a big gang of friends, old and new, to Pod Lipami, near the ground.
After finishing work up early for the weekend in anticipation of promised good weather (it rained), I walked the short trip from my apartment down to the fanshop in Ďolíček to buy tickets for myself and some friends ahead of Sunday’s late evening kick-off against Sparta Prague. I wasn’t the only one. There’d been a steady stream of people all week as the city built up to another Prague derby.
This was a hugely anticipated game for Bohemians fans. The tickets for the game went on sale a week before the match and by Wednesday, just two hundred tickets were left for the boiler, the standing section behind the goal where we go every week with the ultras. Ďolíček is a small ground with a current maximum official capacity of about 5,000 people. To ensure that fans get their hands on tickets first, to buy them for the game you had to present either your club membership card, your season ticket, or proof of your membership of the club’s co-operative supporter’s trust. And you could only buy a maximum of four tickets. Luckily, I have my season ticket, so I was able to pick some up easily.
The night before, Sparta played Villarreal at home in the second leg of their last-16 tie with the Spanish club in the Europa League. This was what precipitated the move of the game from Saturday to Sunday. The evening kick off, at 6.45pm, was down to the game being televised. Moved kick-off times recently threw a spanner in the works of some footballing plans my friends and I had made. We had hoped to turn an away game into a chance to see the city of Brno. Originally down as a standard Saturday 5pm kick-off, the game was moved to 8.15pm on Friday night, creating a logistical nightmare that prevented us from going.
In a recent Guardian piece, Neil Atkinson, wondered whether or not the sacredness of the Saturday 3pm kick-off in England has its downsides. For most non-Czechs, the tradition in lower league of 10.15am Saturday and Sunday mornings remains utterly perplexing.
But 6.45pm on a Sunday is just strange enough, and certainly late enough to breathe life into what can often be the most depressing part of the weekend – the slow realisation on Sunday evening that tomorrow is Monday, and another week of work lies ahead. But this kick-off time has one positive: it stretches the weekend out just a little bit more. It also gives you all of Friday and Saturday to lick your lips in anticipation of the derby.
In the reverse fixture earlier this year, I wrote about the trip we had to make from Náměstí Republiky to Letná. While this time it was the Sparta fans who crossed the Vltava to meet us down in Vršovice, the atmosphere before and during the game was just as electric.
I sat outside the Kozlovna on Sportovní as usual, drinking a small beer about forty-five minutes before kick-off and waited for my friends to arrive. While sitting, I got chatting to a German man who was a fan of Borussia Monchengladbach, but who, because his partner was visiting friends in Budapest, decided to do a weekend’s groundhopping in Prague and he visited Viktoria Žižkov on Sunday morning before managing to snag a ticket for the Bohemians Sparta derby.
At about twenty past we began queuing up to the get into the ground and finally made it in after bout twenty minutes. It was heaving. After securing a spot, we went to get some beers in, which turned out to be a big mistake. With such big crowds for the game, the usual speed of the drinks stands was greatly slowed, and we missed the first goal that put Bohemians unexpectedly ahead. By the time we got to the taps to order our beers, we promptly asked for two each and resumed our spots. From there we watched an excellent game unfold, one that we both felt Bohemians really should have won. The fans gave their everything throughout the game, with song after song.
We took up a position right in front of the capo for a change and it was a great decision. With Bohemians scoring into the boiler end in the second half, and chasing a win, the atmosphere was sensational. Although a draw was ultimately a disappointment, the game itself was not. The electricity in the air was something special even by the standards of the Ďolíček. In two weeks, it’s the return fixture of the Vršovice derby. It will also be a Sunday and will kick off at 7pm. I am already anticipating a great weekend.
David Toms is a sport historian and author of ‘Soccer in Munster: A Social History, 1877-1937′ published by Cork University Press. Follow on Twitter: @daithitoms