Easter weekend has been designated an International break. How good is that. It means that I am off work on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. No need for any holidays from work and hopefully I can travel somewhere to watch Scotland.
Now imagine my horror when, Scotland’s International fixtures were announced for the Thursday and Tuesday. (I must speak to Gordon next time I see him!)
Anyway I managed to get the Thursday off and was able to travel to Prague, for the Scotland game at the Letna stadium. This will be my fourth visit, only 21 behind my good friend Markus.
I arrived at the hostel in Prague, to see some bemused faces. They were clearly talking about me. They said I looked like someone who had stayed here before. I confessed that it was me and I promised to behave on this visit.
My friend Mark arrived and we went to explore the sights of Prague. As usual, the first thing you do is head for the highest point so off we went across the river Vltava and up the Strahov tower.
On the way back we came past the Foreign Embassies probably the safest place to be as armed guards were evident. Or probably not the safest place to be after recent events. The airport in Brussels had been attacked the previous day.
Food was our next thought and a small arts bar looked ideal to me. However the bartender was only interested in finding out what we wanted to drink, rather than expanding on his goulash and bread menu, so we headed elsewhere.
Down the road we found a Czech restaurant where the service was slightly better.
Back in the old town, it was busy with tourists and people dodging in and out of the crowds on their segways.
Mark decided he’d like a go on one. Next thing I know, he’s mastered the thing and has negotiated a price for an hour tour of the city. Oh well.
So we wove in and out of the crowds and back and forth across the river having the sights pointed out to us and explained. Things we learnt…. Segways are fun and now we qualify for a 20% discount if we go on a Segway tour in various European cities.
Prague Castle is the largest in the world and dates back to 870, and covers an area of 70,000 m2
The Tyn Church’s twin towers are not identical. Our guide informed us that the builder’s got it wrong. Folk lore suggests differently and claims they represent the male and female parts of the world. He also stated that the Astronomical clock was no big deal, but it dates from 1410 and is the oldest one of its kind working.
For the Czech’s the Second World War began in 1938, when Hitler declared his intention to claim back Czechoslovakia’s northern and western border regions (Sudetenland). The Czech’s didn’t want to fight neither at this stage did the French or English governments.
The Rudolfonium was used as the setting for one of James Bond’s sniper shots, but it was meant to be elsewhere.
Where you now see the metronome in Letna Park once stood a massive giant statue of Stalin, it was erected in 1955 and destroyed in 1962, once Stalin was denounced by Kruschev. I found out later that the sculptor committed suicide the day before the unveiling.
After that there was time for another meal and a walk over Letna park, in the dark, to the match.
It started off as expected with the Czechs dominating possession and looking like they could carve us open at any second. Against the run of play we broke and scored.
Our play improved and we deservedly held on to win the game with our keeper Allan McGregor awarded man of the match.
With the match over I could have gone back home on Friday, but I decided to explore the Czech Republic.
First stop was Artima Praha, for a 4th division League game . It was memorable not for the 90 minutes, but for the fact that after this goalless draw, the team’s reappeared to contest a penalty shootout, the winners of which gained an extra point. I heard someone in the crowd mention penalties as I talked to some Germans as they left the ground. I took my time leaving and the team’s reappeared for the shoot out. A bizarre site followed as the team and entourage went to celebrate with their six supporters.
Next it was off to Usti nad Labem, 90 minutes from Prague by train. The train followed the River Elbe all the way, so it made for a scenic journey in the early afternoon.
My accommodation was conveniently placed between the train station and the stadium.
Having travelled overnight to get to Prague I took the opportunity to rest for an hour before heading to the stadium.
A crowd of 886 contained a number of Germans and apparently I was spotted, before I saw someone I knew.
I found that the Germans had various plans for the weekend, going to an assortment of different games. No one else was staying in town though!
As a number of chances were missed.I consoled myself with the thought that if someone had told me before I came that the only goal I would see on this trip would be a Scotland winner, then I am sure I would take that.
Now with this thought I was beginning to fight to keep the ball out, leaping in the air to head clearances and diving round the terraces to thwart the attackers. Mission accomplished another 0-0.
Back in to town after the game and it was quiet. I had a meal and then headed back to Pension Duel, where I was beckoned into Bar Tina, by some locals, they seemed friendly enough but I made my excuses and left at 10 as I was due to catch the 06.47 train in the morning.
As I left my accommodation I glanced into Bar Tina, the locals were still there!!
I arrived in Sokolov two hours west of Usti and Labem , in plenty of time for the 10.15 kick off. This is a regular feature of Czech games especially for grounds without floodlights.
Gary Lineker has no need to worry about my defence as my heroics on the terraces inspired both defences to be at their best and grind out yet another 0-0.
From Sokolov, the only sport I could catch later in the day was basketball in Prague at 5.30. I decided to ask the Germans I found at this game where they were going and if they had any room.
So, off I went with them to Tabor (south of Prague) a journey that would take 2 hours 53 minutes. No problem we had 2 hours 55 before the 3pm kick off.
With typical German efficiency we made it with time to spare. I had looked at coming to this ground on my own, but saw that (as the Germans put it) it was in The Forest. A Bohemian in The Forest, this feels like home.
By now I was dreading a goal, chance after chance went begging and then a world class save!
Result. 0-0. Four in a row.
I got dropped off at Tabor train station and had a fascinating ride back entertained by an elderly gentleman who was the keenest member of the Czech walking group and Paulina, an enthusiastic sportsperson who wanted to try everything and take on the world.
The next morning I had a dilemma. Viktoria Žižkov were at home at the same time as Meteor Praha. I have been there twice before and have heard they are to lose their ground shortly. But I headed off to Meteor. I was up early, to make sure I had the right time as clocks spring forward.
The sky was blue and I had time to retrace Mark’s Segway tracks due to his penchant for going through puddles the other day.
As the weather was so good I decided to walk to the ground, it was 6k away and I had one hour. Just enough time.
I arrived just at Meteor’s ground just as a car turned round. Walking up to the ground it was quiet, too quiet. Ok, you don’t get many people in the Czech 4th division, but I have never been the only person at a game!!
There was a hostel next to the ground so I asked if they knew what had happened. They explained that the match would be played at Meteor’s other stadium, and he directed me to one place and then another! He also told me the match would kick off at 11am.
With this vague knowledge I set off to find a football match without really knowing where it was being played or when it kicked off, by foot.
A further 2k and I was near to where I had been directed. Now I was here I could work out that the ground was possibly behind some flats.
Sure enough I heard a whistle. The ground was close by. I thought as I arrived that a penalty was about to be taken, I was mistaken, but my heart sank as I saw the scoreboard read 0-1! I found out that the goal had been scored in the 8th minute. With my presence no further goals were scored.
One of the Germans I met at Usti nad Labem was there and he lamented the fact that things were so easy these days. I have seen a lot of Germans at the games in the Czech Republic, they travel together from one venue to another and check the Internet the night before for the latest information from the club or on forums. He said that it wasn’t as much fun these days, nothing ever went wrong. I just kept quiet.
Finally off to Hradec Kralove for my last trip out from Prague, with my four trips out of the capital I have managed one in each direction.
I sensed that this place was a little different as soon as I arrived. A very German set up outside the station with local busses right outside the station. Then the shops, everything seemed crisp and new. Then I crossed the river and saw the Museum, my first thoughts were Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but apparently it was the work of Jan Kotera a Czech architect.
Then I found the old town, wow.
They think it’s Kralove….it is now!!!
Time to find the stadium, the unusual floodlights caught my attention immediately, and drew me into the Všesportovní stadion.
The stadium is a classic East European ground with the running track and the angular floodlights. Definitely a case of saving the best for last.
There I found the three Germans that had driven me to Tabor yesterday. I enthused over the town, and they acknowledged that it looked nice, as I showed them some photos…. but they were not going to see it.
They had already witnessed a goalless draw that morning. And I told them my story, so still between us we had not seen a goal.
Our hearts were broken on 26 minutes 58 seconds when Filip Zoran finished off a swift counter attack. You have never seen four neutrals so unhappy that a goal had been scored. 501 minutes of watching football without a goal being scored. Ruined!
The match was actually good. It was 3rd against 1st, the penultimate passage of play saw the Znojmo keeper chase and bring down a Hradec Kralove forward when the ball was already upfield, and so ironically the last kick of my footballing weekend was a goal. 3-1 to Hradec Kralove.
I thought about how easy it was for the Germans, and how good that would be to have a bunch of mates you could just get in the car with and drive from venue to venue.
Then I thought of Paulina and the old man, they wouldn’t meet them and share stories. Was it more fun to watch 45 minutes of a 4th Division Czech football match or to find your own way by foot, not knowing if you were going to the right place!!! (OK, that might be in the balance for some, especially as I had already walked 6k before I set off again.) Arriving at the train station in Hradec Kralove, most football supporters would see the bus and jump on it and head straight to the stadium. Me, I ignored everyone there and headed straight to the town centre.
You know what, I think I’ll just carry on being a Bohemian.