The Rite of Spring

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The modern Czech Republic is made up largely of two provinces – Bohemia and Moravia. Bohemia has beer, Moravia has wine. In a country where accents are rarely different, the accents in Bohemia and Moravia are noticeably so. This weekend the mid-season winter break ended here in Czech Republic and I took the opportunity to go to an away game outside of Prague to see Bohemians take on SK Sigma Olomouc.

Olomouc is the sixth largest city in the Czech Republic, with a population of over 100,000. The historic capital of the Moravian region, the beautiful city centre is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is also a part of the Czech industrial heartland, a fact acknowledged in the club name. Founded in 1919 as FK Hejčín Olomouc, the club has gone through several name changes since but the Sigma name has been a part of the name since 1966. Sigma is an engineering company who have been attached to the club in some way or another for the past fifty years.

It has been about two full months since I was last at a Bohemians game and I was excited about this trip. I was excited because of the return of football and the chance to see Moravia for the first time. The Bohemians fans who travelled, around 330 in all – according to one fansite the best Bohemians outing to Olomouc since 2009 – left Prague’s main station at 10.24.

Myself and my girlfriend went a little earlier, at 9.43 in order to have more time to take in the city of Olomouc. When we arrived we found ourselves at a bit of a loss emerging out away from the main hall of the train station and with a giant Clarion Hotel looming down in this heavily concrete landscape. We bought a day ticket for the tram, a cheap 46-, Kč. We took the tram a few stops to Náměsí Republiky and walked towards the famous Náměstí Horní (Upper Square) where you can find the spectacular Holy Trinity Column – a baroque monstrosity built in the first half of the eighteenth century. In the square there is also an astronomical clock not unlike that in Prague but with decidedly more contemporary figures of workers and scientists adorning it and not the twelve apostles. The original clock was destroyed in the Second World War and the new version designed from the late 40s to the early 1950s was done in the socialist realist style.

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After getting the run around for lunch before we finally found somewhere to eat and have a pre-match beer we went on our way to the ground and had one more drink outside the beautiful, if slightly surreal, Andrův Stadion in a bar called Gól which was packed with Bohemians fans.

There was a slightly jarring moment when we got into the stands. A fan standing next to us raised his arm in a Nazi salute and was shouting Sieg Heil. What on earth the context of this was it was difficult to tell but even if directed at the opposition it was in extremely poor taste. This nasty gesture – whatever prompted it – made myself and my girlfriend feel deeply uncomfortable for much of the rest of the game. Shorn of apparent context it was hard to know how to interpret this. Bohemians is a largely progressive club but is far from perfect.

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Indeed, anti-semitism is perhaps one of the last acceptable taboos. Slavia, Bohemians local rivals have long had the title of Jewish club but this is largely misplaced and based on a story revolving an insured exhibition game played against West Ham in 1922. The only truly Jewish club in Prague was DFC Prag, a club founded in 1896 by German Jewish students then studying at Charles University. The club played as part of the German league structure and this continued after the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, through the first Czechoslovak Republic and on into the rise of Nazi Germany. The club were members of the Sudeten Gauliga division which they won as late as 1937 before the club’s Jewishness became a problem and the team was merged with another in 1940. This dissolved the DFC Prag club and along with its Jewish heritage. Slavia’s apparent Jewishness means that it is not uncommon to hear anti-semitic chanting agains them by opposition fans. This is not restricted to their fiercest rivals of Sparta either. Back during the Vršovice derby which I wrote about for this site before, the chant of “Jude! Jude!” could be heard at various points throughout the game.

This ugly incident notwithstanding, the game was an enjoyable one. The first half was predictably sluggish but remarkably Bohemians went in 1-0 up at the break. Sigma Olomouc came flying out of the traps in the second half scoring two goals in quick succession. Most of the play though came from Bohemians in what was a decidedly more interesting second half. Bohemians get their just reward with an equaliser from Acosta in the 69th minute. Despite a serious effort to push on to win the game, the season-long issue of finishing off a game and converting momentum into goals saw both teams leave the extraordinary Andrův with a point a piece.

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Our adventure was far from over. Heading back to the train station we were aiming to get the 19.21 train back to Prague – the same one on which most Bohemians fans were travelling. It had been a long day and it was made a little longer by a thirty-minute delay to the arrival of our train from Poland. This was fine but for the fact that the platform was now full of many worse for wear fans after a day of serious drinking; many seemed to be making up for the lack of football these past two months. Not a huge problem in itself, except that Sparta Prague were also on an away day in the town of Zlín. As they made their way from Zlín back to Prague they stopped at the Olomouc station to collect passengers. Had there been no delay they would not have seen the three-hundred strong Bohemians fans on the platform. Things did not work out that way. A variety of clashes and skirmishes across the two platforms took place for about fifteen minutes, with the riot police acting as escort getting heavy-handed with some fans who decided to go one more than just shouting abuse and get stuck in physically to rival fans. The atmosphere was extremely tense but we stayed well clear of harm’s way. Everyone was bundled eventually back onto their respective trains and we finally, at the late hour of half-past ten made it back to Vršovice. Spring had sprung.

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