Waterford, where I was born and grew up, was famous chiefly for one thing: Waterford Crystal. The glass factory as it was locally known was founded in 1948 in the city by two Czech men: Karel Bačik and Miroslav Havel. Bačik had owned a factory in Czechoslovakia when the political events of February 1948 overtook the country and communism was declared by Klement Gottwald and his supporters in the Czech cabinet following the capitulation of the president Edvard Beneš. While this development would have huge local, national and international significance in terms of politics, it would also, in a roundabout fashion, thanks to the arrival of Bačik and Havel, completely change my home town.
While both of these Czech men would go on to establish an internationally-recognised luxury brand, the Czech glass industry was nationalised under the Sklo Union (Glass Union). With spring now firmly in the air, I went to my first home game since the end of the winter break to watch Bohemians play Teplice, twelfth in the table, one place below us on goal difference. Teplice was founded at the end of the Second World War, and they are known by the nickname Skláři (glassblowers). From 1966 until 1991 they were in fact known as Sklo Union Teplice. The club, following the Velvet Revolution, has been sponsored by Belgian-based glass giant Glaverbel, part of the AGC Europe group of glass manufacturers, maintaining its historic links with the industry of the Czech lands.
As has become tradition, myself, and my two friends took ourselves to the local Kozel pub across the street from the ground on Sportovní to enjoy a few pre-match pints and some food. After getting fed and watered we made our way to the ground in time for the kick-off. There was another big display this week with lots of green smoke bombs, while one fan climbed onto the scoreboard/roof of the main bar in the home end to set off some flairs. On the display was a dark tunnel and (translating from the Czech) words to the effect that the light at the end of the tunnel was becoming clearer.
The idea of a home ground, rooted in the locality, is a huge part of footballing culture. The Czech national anthem, Kde Domov Můj, ‘Where is my Home?’ is all about place and belonging. The banner drop at the Teplice game was a reference to the hopes that the issue of Bohemians lease of the Ďolíček, their home ground, would continue pending the outcome of a local government decision. The club has called this place home for many many years, going right back to the 1930s, when local Vršovice big-wig Zdenek Danner contributed to the building of a grandstand which was completed in 1932. In its opening game it played host to some 18,000 spectators. But, falling victim to aerial bombing in 1945, the various reconstructions have seen this capacity much reduced. Maximum capacity these days is around the 5,000 mark.
With the exception of two seasons, 2010/11 and 2011/12, this has been Bohemians’ stadium. For those two seasons, in financial difficulty, like now, they played their games at local rvials, SK Slavia Prague in Eden. However, the club’s home seems to be in jeopardy once more. The ground is valued at some 134 million Kc, (or roughly €4.95 million). In comparison, the money Bohemians pay to rent the ground is a pittance. The lease as it currently stands will only run to June, and as Bohemians make their application for their license for the coming season, which has been turned down on the basis that they cannot guarantee that they’ll have a home, the light that fans thought they saw at the end of the tunnel while playing Teplice seems to be fading fast.
On the pitch, things are going well enough but as I noted at the start of the season, there is still a problem with finishing teams off. In the game against Teplice, Bohemians led for much of the game before conceding a goal with the last kick of the game, turning a fine 3-point victory into a deeply disappointing 1-1 draw. There was nothing only stunned silence at the ground when Teplice equalized in the 94th minute of that game.
Since then, Bohemians played away at Viktoria Plzen, league leaders, and lost 2-0. This was at least not the potential embarrassment it might have been. But now, as Bohemians prepare for their next home game against FK Slovácko, the question on everyone’s lips will be not just about how the team will perform but where will they be playing come next season?
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