Stories and pictures of the beautiful game.
FK Bohemians Praha vs. FC FASTAV Zlín – 2:1 (2:0)
May 17, 2013 | attendance: 273 | pictures
Viktoria Žižkov vs. Bohemians Praha 1905 – 2:0 (2:0)
May 20, 2013 | attendance: 3,482 | pictures
Imagine Arsenal London going bankrupt and being in debt beyond repair, willing to accept anything that would alleviate their dire situation. Now think that, say, third league club Leyton Orient came along to buy their name and the logo with the cannon to continue as Arsenal London. However, with tremendous effort and a bit of luck the original Arsenal eventually gets saved by fan donations and an investor. The debt is paid off and there is sound financing to get through the next season, and to rebuild the club and its operations in a sustainable way. The fans obviously stick with their original beloved club and do everything they can to get it back on track. However, there are still formerly Leyton Orient, now playing as Arsenal London and refusing to change their name or logo back, which is inevitably creating a bit of conflict.
Kangaroo wars in Prague
Sounds impossible? Not in another European capital: in Prague, “Bohemians Praha 1905” are in exactly that situation. The Czechoslovakian champions of 1983 had a bit of a downward spiral at the beginning of the new millennium. After years of mismanagement, the club was at the brink of extinction and had to stop playing in the midst of the 2004/05 season in second league. The liquidator had no assets to bargain with, so via a license agreement, FC Střížkov Praha 9 was able to use the club’s name and kangaroo logo. But the original Bohemians were saved after all (in the way described above) and the license agreement eventually lapsed, but Střížkov kept using name and logo anyway. Needless to say, a bitter argument broke out between the original club who is now called “Bohemians Praha 1905” and the “fake” one who call themselves “FK Bohemians Praha”.
Throughout the coming years, this argument bore a few rather ridiculous episodes: one of those occurred in the 2009/10 season in first league, where, “FK” refused to play “1905” in the second leg, and were penalized with a 20 point deduction as well as a hefty fine. “FK” showed the league the finger, refused to pay the fine and got relegated to third league. Talk about pride.
The conflict never really subsided and flared up again this season, as both teams play in second league and already faced off on the first game day at “1905”. “FK” even showed up, the game ended scoreless. Though, if it had been up to the Czech football association, this fixture would not have been played at all. They had ruled they would only accept one team named “Bohemians” in the league, and that it would have to be the team most strongly connected to the original club – which was “1905” in their view, and a Czech court had also awarded them the sole rights to use the words “Bohemians Praha” in a football context last year. “FK” still did not budge and were expelled from the league, but allowed to play, thanks to a successful appeal at a civil court. After losing their case in September 2012, the club appealed again, prolonging the process once more. Talk about stubbornness.
Talk about history
You really wonder what motivates the “fake” Bohemians’ executives to act the way they do. Granted, the kangaroo is a pretty cute and – under normal circumstances – unique logo to have. But it only makes sense if it lines up with your history, if you actually earned it. And “Bohemians 1905” did just that through very hard work: Back in 1926, the Czechoslovakian national team was invited by the Australian FA to play a few games in Australia but refused, as did Slavia Praha and Viktoria Žižkov.
A small club from the Prague district of Vršovice finally heeded the call in 1927 and represented Czechoslovakia in the Antipodes. However, “AFK Vršovice” was too hard for Australians to memorize or pronounce, so they just played under the name “Bohemians”. By the end of their two-month road show that covered 11 cities, they had really left their mark, winning 15 out of 20 games (two ties, three losses, 94:50 goals). Their opponents included several regional squads but also the Australian national team. Quite an achievement for a squad of only 16 players that didn’t even have time to recover from 23 days of sea travel before their first match.
As a token of gratitude, the Australian government gave them a pair of live kangaroos for the Czechoslovakian president. The animals ended up in a zoo, but the journey had such an impact on the club’s identity that they not only kept the name “Bohemians”, but embedded the kangaroo into their logo, and the fans call themselves “Klokani” (Czech for kangaroos). Talk about history.
Facts and artifacts of that journey are explained in great detail in the club’s very own museum at their home ground Stadion Ďolíček. I visited them in 2011 for a pre-season friendly and was impressed by the atmosphere the 1,112 “Klokani” created with their variety of chants throughout and a bit of pyro after the match. But let’s get back to the present:
FK Bohemians Praha vs. FC FASTAV Zlín – 2:1 (2:0), att. 273
As this 2012/13 season is coming to a close, I got the opportunity to also take a peak at the “fake” Bohemians who play in the Střížkov district at Stadion SK Prosek (capacity: 2,600). After failing to win their last six games, “FK” were only six points ahead of the relegation zone. They faced FC FASTAV Zlín who hadn’t lost in seven games and could have moved from 5th to 3rd with a win. However, at no point during the game did it become obvious how far apart those teams were in the table – “FK” scored twice in the first half, controlled the game, defended well. They lost focus 10 minutes before the end, but Zlín’s lone goal did not turn the tide anymore.
The more important question to me was what kind of fans would go see a “fake” team play, and I noticed that mainly locals dropped by, seniors and families alike. There was even a very nice playground for the offspring, with a top notch view of the pitch – the overall setting and the relaxed atmosphere were similar to many amateur teams in Prague. The only atmospheric highlight came from a brass band. However, what seemed cute and original at the beginning got a bit tedious over time, as not only did those five chaps add their musical comment to basically everything that happened on the pitch, they also didn’t have that many songs in their portfolio.
Viktoria Žižkov vs. Bohemians Praha 1905 – 2:0 (2:0), att. 3,482
A few days later I saw the “real” “Bohemians 1905” play away at Stadion Viktoria (capacity: 5,600) which is close to Prague’s central train station and has an urban charm, as you can easily see the residential buildings nearby and – in the distance – even the TV tower. The ground is football-specific, compact and you are close to the action which makes it one of my favorite stadiums in Prague.
Viktoria and “1905” both got relegated from first league last season, and while Viktoria are currently in midfield, “1905” could almost bag promotion with a win tonight. Whether or not the game would actually kick off was not so certain – a tabloid mentioned the probability of Žižkov’s players protesting against not having been paid for a while, and a rare TV match seemed a good opportunity to do so. As the club’s financial problems are no secret, it seemed probable, though Viktoria’s Richard Kalod later denied that there was any substance to those rumors. He was also the one to head home Viktoria’s early lead eight minutes into the match. An own goal ten minutes later sealed “1905’s” fate. Žižkov defended well, played with a lot of heart and made it impossible for the “1905” attackers to create any danger during the rest of the game. Their promotion party will have to wait a bit.
That did not delay the party in the stands – which was more interesting than the action on the pitch anyway. During my last visit to Stadion Viktoria in November 2011, the visiting fans of 1.FC Slovácko were the only ones singing and chanting all the way through. Today both fan groups created a fantastic atmosphere that exceeded the expectations of this derby. At the beginning, Viktoria’s Ultras raised a large banner that read “110 let” in celebration of the club’s 110th birthday. The banner was raised again at the end of the match while a small display of fireworks shot off into the Prague night sky. The home fans were also periodically singing and had prepared a bit of eye candy every once in a while, like waving flags or a large number of red-and-white balloons.
The “Klokani” outnumbered the home fans greatly. Some Viktoria fans would not even come because they knew the “1905” fans would sit and sing in all sections of the ground. Which was true: not only did they fill up most of the away end, green-and-white scarves and jerseys could also be seen all around. Except for the Žižkov Ultra section where a sign pointed out that “Bohemians” fan gear would not be allowed. Viktoria’s fans are used to being outnumbered at their ground for derbies, though: not too long ago, Slavia Praha celebrated a championship at Stadion Viktoria, drawing legions of Slavia fans along.
Today, the “Klokani” lived up to their reputation: they sang throughout the match despite the early Viktoria goals, and brought a decent amount of flares along. The fire department was well prepared – firefighters were positioned alongside the entire block and kept quite busy during the second half. Security also had to step in when about a dozen “1905” fans did not want to accept the arrest of one of their own. Fists, feet, beer cups and more flares were flying during the heated argument towards the end of the match. Last but not least, the visitors displayed a large banner at the beginning that filled their entire block. It read: “Prague is the Klokani, Sparta, Slavia, Dukla and Žižkov – but never Střížkov!” Which brings us back to the “fake” Bohemians.
Why not restart as FC Střížkov?
Legally, the question which team earns the right to bear the name “Bohemians” might still be in limbo, pending yet another court decision. On the pitch, “1905” clearly won the battle and (after having won their match the weekend after the derby) will play in first league again next season. They will likely be able to play at their home ground again – the fans are donating money these days so the club might be able to afford the required undersoil heating. But more importantly, the football fans of Prague have decided: this season, “1905” attract 10 times as many spectators on average (close to 3,600) as “FK” (about 400), which raises the question what benefits the managers at Střížkov see in their stubbornness that even got the club relegated before. Obviously pride is one side of it, but – surprise surprise – money is most likely another powerful one. It seems “FK” want quench as much out of the situation as possible, probably strong-arming “1905” into paying some sort of fee to end the quarrel and withdraw their claim.
A kangaroo on their crest alone won’t give them fame and glory, and it would seem a better strategy to re-brand as FC Střížkov. This would give the club the opportunity to start a new legacy in which they would not be hated for being a “fake” something, but one that is based on their own traditions, history and anecdotes. This way, they could build a committed fan base (that might still frolic on its playground today) and thus contribute to the football culture of Prague – in a unique way. After all, you wouldn’t take a Leyton Orient camouflaged as Arsenal seriously, would you?
For the full gallery of both games and more pictures or videos of football in Prague, Berlin, London or other places, check out: www.facebook.com/GroundhoppingEtc