Prague – a vibrant culture of spectacular buildings and beautiful old squares has a lot to offer to anyone who visits this historical city. And to a self claimed footy fanatic like myself, it is one city that I had been looking forward to. Particularly, to watch and experience Eastern European hooliganism in football, even if it was in the modest of forms.
After going through a lengthy process of self denial, my wife was able to convince me to get tickets for the recent game between league leaders Sparta Praha and city dwellers Dukla Praha at the Generali stadium. It wasn’t hard for us foreigners getting to the stadium from the city center as the tram stopped right in front of the stadium.
I can admit that there was a bit of hesitance from my end, considering the Mrs. who wears a Hijab and based on the image portrayed in the media, our experience would not go well with the condescending and egotistical Sparta fans. Spartans have, in the past, displayed stints of extreme menacing and hostility when things are not going their way.
But would that be enough to keep us away from watching the team play, a team braced by the likes of influential Czech footballers, including Čech, Rosický and Nedvěd? Not really. So we walked towards the box office past the ticket hagglers and put our names in the history of accounting books at the Generali. It was then, the one above decided to show his displeasure and make up for all the good weather we were basking in. It did not stop pouring till past second half.
The sight of heavily armed riot police and few on horsebacks in the walkway to the entry point got me excited. Mentally, I started thinking flares and fights. At the same time, being negatively anxious about anything racist geared towards us. As we move on we become very aware of our own abstinence as drunkards stumble into the arena.
But the mind games being played and the internal anxiety was all in vain. Apart from the fact that the restrooms were not quite accessible, everything was a breeze. The synchronized chanting and singing as it rained, various unfurled banners, the mannered hospitality of otherwise “stuck-up” alcohol infused Czechs and the very reason we stopped over for was all worth it.
Sparta showed why they deserved a place at the top of the table with a comfortable 3 – 0 victory over their opponents. Goals came in from Husbauer, Krejci and Dočkal (fantastic individual effort). The game play itself was not all that exciting with sporadic moments of brilliance seen throughout the entire 90 mins. The second half sight of Sparta legend R. Bednar warming up saw the crowd chant his name fanatically and it was good to see him smiling and showing his appreciation.
In the end, there were no flares thrown across the stands, the opposition was quite and hence it was quite lackluster compared to what I had imagined. But that was expected I guess; the same would be different if Sparta was playing Plzen. There was a moment to cherish as the kids sitting around us in their Sparta jerseys where in sync with the tunes of the supporters which led me to imagine someday they will be up there in the stands behind lighting things on fire.
We had great seats (for AED 58) and enjoyed an entertaining game of footy in the most breath taking of all cities in Eastern Europe. Despite the fact that we did not have much in common with the people around us, here we were, cheering right along with them without the feeling of being different.