I knew I would see some European football while studying abroad. Now, I haven’t seen any of the big-name club teams, such as Barcelona and Munich, and I won’t make it to London to catch an EPL game (sorry, Ed). I have, however, seen four Czech games – two Euro 2016 qualifiers, one league game, and one Europa game – at three different stadiums and in two different Czech cities. A quick recap of the matches:
2 Czech Republic – 1 Netherlands: 9 Sep 2014, Generali Arena, Prague
This was far and away the greatest sporting event I have been too. I knew then and there that my study abroad experienced peaked the second night.
2 Czech Republic – 1 Iceland: 16 Nov 2014, Doosan Arena, Plzen
The game itself was exciting, but the adventure of actually attending the game was even more thrilling. Doug and I bought a one-way train ticket to Plzen five hours before kickoff without tickets and a plan of how to get home. Luckily, we met a Czech fan on the train, and he helped us buy tickets. Similar to the Dutch game, the Czechs won because of another hilarious defensive error from their opponents. Everything worked out too perfectly.
1 Slavia Praha – 1 Hradec Kralove: 23 Nov 2014, Eden Arena, Prague
I had an open Sunday night last weekend, so I ventured to Slavia’s beautiful and relatively new stadium to watch a Czech league tilt. The stadium was far from full, but the Slavia fans, who all sat together behind a goal, were out of control. Because of their constant singing, dancing and screaming, they made a half-empty stadium feel full. While some fans celebrate goals by cheering, clapping, and high-fiving friends, Salvia and Kralove fans chose to light flares instead. So that was something.
0 Sparta Praha – 0 SSC Napoli (Italy): 27 Nov 2014 Generali Arena, Prague
Napoli, currently third in the Serie A and sporting world-class stars, such as Higuaín and Hamšík, is the best club team that visited Prague this fall. My friends and I had great seats; close but not too close to the rowdy Sparta fans. The Sparta fans were the best fans I witnessed, but, as I will soon mention, had some serious flaws. The game, however, was dull. Some scoreless games can still be exciting, but this was not one of them. The freezing-cold weather didn’t help either.
I have heard, read and watched many different things about European football, so I had certain expectations on the culture surrounding football when I arrived in Prague. Four games later, I am now able to assess my expectations:
Expectation: Czech fans would be rowdy, yet tolerant
Result: Not exactly
I almost wrote a post only on this — and still might – because of how shocked I was at the Sparta fans’ racism. I had a hard time cheering for Sparta after what happened to some of my friends at the game. A group of us wanted to get to the stadium early, so we arrived before a second group. At halftime, our other friends had still not shown up. Maybe their Thanksgiving dinner went late? Nope. They were forced to sit in other seats, because this section was too dangerous for Indians and Eastern Asians, they were told by stadium security. How bad could it be, I thought. After I heard that fans had already spat on and thrown cigarettes at my friends, we were all disgusted. What a disgrace.
Expectation: The fans would create an incredible atmosphere
A crazy crowd for European soccer games? No kidding. But seeing the craziness in person is totally different than watching YouTube videos. What makes football fandom so unique is the unparalleled tension that football creates. Fans spend the whole game singing, cheering, clapping, but most importantly waiting; waiting for that one moment that can totally turn a game on its head.
Expectation: National games would have a wilder atmosphere though
What I didn’t expect, however, is how much more intense club fandom is compared to national team fandom. That is the case in the Czech Republic, at least. While national team fans are certainly into the games, the club games have a much more raucous energy. Oh, and then there are flares, which, I’m sorry, are both dangerous and cool. Both club games featured multiple flares in the crowd.
Expectation: All Czech stadiums would be old and beat up
Result: Some are, but not all
I imagined Czech stadiums would be these small, beat stadiums, and two – Generali and Hoosen – met my expectations. They were both tight, and on top of the fields, creating an intimate atmosphere. I assumed all Czech stadiums would fit this mold. Slavia’s Eden Arena, however, is both gorgeous and modern. I can’t imagine it being too different than a new MLS stadium. In fact, it was almost too nice, for me at least. For some reason, I just love the atmosphere that older stadiums produce.
Expectation: Czechs love their football
Result: Not quite
Ok, so of course the Czech Republic isn’t like Brazil where everyone bleeds football. Still I’ve been disappointed with the overall lack of fandom. When I go out to watch either European qualifiers or Champions League fixtures, I always end up at an Irish pub. Don’t get me wrong, these Irish bars are quite fun, but I didn’t realize there would be practically no Czech options. The most disheartening games have been the two away qualifiers that the Czech national team has played since I have been here. Both times a few friends and I tried to find a good place to watch with Czech fans, but have been disappointed each time. I’m probably just naïve, but I’ve asked around and found nothing.
Expectation: Scalping tickets would be manageable
Result: Spot on
Scalping tickets has a certain thrill aspect regardless of what game you are buying tickets for. Buying tickets from people who speak little or no English is a different ball game, however. I anticipated it would be tricky but doable before coming to Prague, and both times my friends and I had little difficulty getting tickets when we needed to.
Expectation: The Czech National Team would be all right, but nothing too special
Result: I was wrong, but there’s no way I’m alone
My friends and I must be good luck charms, because the Czech national team has been on fire sense we have been here. The Czechs have surprised many, including their fans, I’m sure, and lead their table through four games of qualification. I’m expecting someone from the Czech Football Association to give me a call, asking me to stay here longer.
Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:
Trying on some traditional Vietnamese garb in Prague. Wait what? I’ll elaborate on this in my next post.