Bohemians 1905 1 Jakubčovice 1 (03/09/2006)
Prague’s third team, ignoring Dukla, unmissed and long since packed up and departed to Pribram up the road (and since reformed anew and in the Czech Div 2), are Bohemians Praha. I should perhaps declare that I have an interest in Bohemians, lest my description of them seem decidedly rose-tinted.
I’d first noticed Bohemians Praha in the 1980s. They’d played a UEFA Cup tie against Tottenham, and what I remembered was that while almost all other games “behind the Iron Curtain” took place in soulless windswept ovals, the Bohemians v Spurs tie took place in the ground the size of a shoebox. The fans were so close that when Bohemians scored their fans could just reach through the fence and shake the goal net in celebration.
I’d thought no more of the club or the ground until I bought Simon Inglis’ excellent “Football Grounds of Europe”, and it rekindled memories as he referred to its character-filled name of “The Dimple”, and described it as a cubbyhole of ground that was “inadequate but loveable.”
Again, I thought little of it for the next decade or so, until that first to Prague mentioned in my Slavia v Slovan Liberec write up. With time to spare I’d gone out to the Dimple, just over ½ a mile south of Viktoria Zizkov (and about the same distance west of Slavia’s Eden). Approaching the ground from the hill to the north, the first time I saw the stubby floodlights, looking low enough for Peter Crouch to change the bulbs without needing a ladder, I felt a surprising sense of almost giddy excitement. I wasn’t sure why, but the ground itself had a real charm to it. Purely from a structural point of view, this Dimple was no beauty spot, but with trees lining the home end, and apartments seemingly closing off what would have otherwise been a tatty narrow side terrace, it was just one of those grounds where the total was far greater than the sum of the parts.
From then I took a casual interest in the fortunes of the club. Back then they were one of the better Czech teams, but my timing was a jinx as they were about to embark on the downward slope of the biggest rollercoaster of their existence. In short, they lost their main sponsor and got taken over. Then taken over again. And again. And again, several more times. Each owner seemed worse than the last, either more incompetent or more untrustworthy, and often both. Just over three years later Bohemians were bottom of the Czech 2nd division, no longer playing at their home ground, making do with a squad full of almost nothing but youth players, and staring oblivion in the face. A last attempt at being saved ended when the new owner turned out to not have the money he’d promised, and 100 years of football in this corner of Prague came to an end.
A fan had other ideas though. He had the idea of setting up a new club, democratically run, to take over the Bohemians name. There was a problem. The Czech FA accepted he was serious, but to take over the old Bohemians’ place (in the 3rd Division) he’d have to pay a fine of the equivalent of £60,000 to the Czech FA, owed because the club did not fulfil its fixtures. If they didn’t, the new club would have to start at parks level, eight divisions down. To avoid this, the idea was that fans would buy shares in this new club for 1000Kc each, roughly £25, and raise the money. It still seemed a big ask, but the total was passed with ease, including a £100 donation from a certain quarter of Berkshire.
The new club kicked off in 2005/6 in the third division, back home at The Dimple, setting new crowd records for the division, pulling around 10 times the average. The fairytale didn’t seem to be having quite the ending as expected, but in the end it wasn’t grim. Despite not quite finishing top to clinch promotion, they eventually got up by buying a 2nd tier licence from one of many 2nd tier clubs willing to sell.
The eBay like nature of their first promotion may not have been the stuff of dreams, but the second season was more like it. Eleven wins from the last 15 games saw Bohemians recover from a disappointing position at the winter break, to clinching promotion back to the Czech top division, along with neighbours Viktoria Zizkov, with a game to spare, They recorded the second highest average crowds in the country in the process.
Unfortunately it was during the less assured first half of the season that I was able make my first, and so far only, visit to the club I partly own (albeit a tiny fraction) to see a game.
It was early September. Although 2nd division games were on, all top division games were off as it was an international weekend, so there was no prospect of seeing another match. Prague was swarming with Welsh supporters, with Wales playing the Czechs in Teplice that weekend, and their presence as they encamped around Wenceslas Square assured that you didn’t hear too much Czech being spoken in the region.
Wenceslas Square dedication to curious architecture was again visible, this time with a strange display of toilets and other bathroom fixtures suspended from poles. An exhibit from my previous visit, a large pair of splayed women’s legs with knickers round the ankles, was no longer there though. Although many complain the area is plagued by British tourists, the Welsh weren’t too bad, although their habit of thinking the opening bars of “Ring of Fire” constitute a football song grated after a while.
I could hardly avoid them, having hired an apartment in the area for a few days. It was adequate, but had the world’s most dingy view from its one window, and the sign asking to enter and leave the apartment quietly was rather hopeless given that the only way to shut the front door was to slam it so hard that the walls shook. It was however almost directly opposite a sports bar where women in low-cut tops serve cheap beer and food as you watch sports – in my case England v Andorra.
Handily, The Dimple can be reached by a tram from the centre, going right past the southern end of the ground, whose appearance is perhaps best glossed over. Mainly the ground looks OK from the outside. A sign featuring a large green kangaroo, a symbol of the club since brings some kangaroos back to Prague after a trip to Australia, stood over the main entrance on the corner. A tatty bar backed onto the ground at that end. Even without knowing Czech, I could understand enough of the sign outside to tell that the owner had seen he could make a bit of trade by letting patrons drink of his roof, where they’d get an unimpeded view of proceedings. The wooden terracing behind, which once let fans cling to the goal nets, was long gone, leaving a rather untidy gap.
Deciding to splash out, I went for the top seats in the house, which worked out at about £2. A season ticket would cost less than the price of 1 match at the Madejski. Beer was also 1/7th of the price, and food cheaper by similar margins, although they did insist in that curious Central European way of serving hot dogs in buns that were in no way intended or fit for the purpose. With a programme also costing about 20p, it would be theoretically possible for me to find a budget flight to Prague and see a match ther,e more cheaply than it is for me to watch a match at the Madejski.
Putting such thoughts aside, I went on a tour of the bits of the ground that were open, which meant two sides that day. No spectators seemed to be allowed on the flat area behind the far goal, but although the far touchline was still out of bounds, building work was clearly in place to turn the narrow terrace into a very narrow few rows of uncovered seats.
In the far corner of this side, the temporary tarpaulin wall of the builders had been tugged down and a few heads would make a Chad like appearance over it throughout the game. What appeared to be a VIP area was cordoned off behind the main stand. Either there were no VIPs present today, or the thrill of sitting at what appeared to be cheap garden furniture didn’t appeal on this threateningly damp afternoon.
I took my seat in the main stand, towards the centre. All the seats were benches in a steep stand that looked bigger than its 3000 capacity. A guard rail ran in front of each row of seats, reminiscent of a cheap fairground ride, and you almost waited for it to shut down and hold you in place.
The 5600 fans there that day were able to fill the ground rather more than they would have done if all four sides had been open, but I suspect the terrace might have been fuller had it not been decidedly wet that day. The front of the terrace was liberally decked with banners to the green & white cause. As always, these often shouldn’t be thought about too deeply, but either “Piš-Piš Klan” means something in Czech, or the local beer has undesirable side-effects.
The game was decent enough, but rather frustrating. In the main, Bohemians attacked and Jakubčovice defended with determination. I tried to place the standard against the 2nd tier football in England I was used to. It was difficult. To be honest I think both teams would have struggled on this day’s showing, but their level of technique was undoubtedly better, with the exception of one or two centre-backs who looked like they’d escaped from Stockport County. They could out-pass most in the Championship, but seemed to lack the match guile to make use of that better technique. It mattered not, as I got quite into the game, despite the drizzle that fell.
Out of the blue Jakubčovice took the lead. A free-kick from 20 yards was curled up and over the wall, and the scorer ran towards the away fans, more or a travelling reconnaissance party than travelling army, and celebrated. Given how stoutly they’d defended 0-0, this was hardly good news.
It took until the second half to draw level. After a few wasted chances, a good bit of unselfish play deep in the area allowed Bohemians to nod in the equaliser. With Jakubčovice going down to 10 men it was all set for a Bohemians winner, but it was not to be. With The Dimple’s stubby floodlights gone – completely gone and not replaced – and dark clouds overhead, a gloom descended to reflect the mood that it wasn’t going to be one of those days. One last scramble, with the ball hitting the post and rolling across the line was as near as Bohemians came to a winner. They, and I, would have to settle for a point.