When the pride of Prague football is at stake

As the Czech capital unites in attendance of derby matches, it divides in allegiance

Every year, after the grueling summer break, fans from football teams all over the globe receive their side’s fixtures in preparation for the long season ahead. Anxiety kicks in as fans look to see whether they will endure a tough start, or finish, to the campaign. However, before all that there are certain fixtures that supporters will seek out with great degree of urgency and excitement, the derbies. In Prague, this is no different.

"Throughout the season, the focus is on the derby,” said ex-Sparta Prague player Horst Siegl.

“The papers are full of nothing else for weeks beforehand. The players gear themselves up in a special way for the match, and the atmosphere is genuinely impressive."

Derby matches are a part of football that evokes passion and community to levels that are never quite matched in other fixtures. They can bring jubilation, dejection, tears of happiness as well as tears of joy. They are engulfed in history and have provided many with memories that will last a lifetime. Ironically, derbies bring a city or region together with the sole intention of being as divided as possible.

The Czech Republic is a country that has, over the years, produced some of Europe’s finest football stars including Antonin Panenka, Pavel Nedved and Petr Cech, among others. This is just an example of some of the players who went on to have illustrious careers in world football but all spent time playing the Czech capital. Thus, it would be wrong to assume there is a lack of talent within these derby matches.

Prague is home to five major football teams with four currently plying their trade in the top flight. In a league of only 16 teams this means fans never have to wait long for a derby to come around. The two more recognisable sides in the division are Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague. These teams are currently joined by Dukla Prague and Bohemians 1905 which means Prague will host 12 top flight derby matches throughout the season. While all games are huge matches in contrast to the city, Bohemians and Dukla are relatively recent additions to the First League and are still building rivalries with their new enemies.

Matches such as these are often met with undeserved stigma; ideas of fan violence are a picture painted by those outside of the country to give the impression that all Europeans are rough folk who love a good scrap. However, attend such a match and while, yes, verbal abuse and a crunching tackle will most likely occur throughout the game, this is no different than anywhere else in the world. Recent matches between Bohemians and Dukla have been and gone with no such incidents, purely an entertaining game of football with plenty of endeavour on opposing sides of the stadium and pitch. Don’t be surprised to see fans of either club join together for a friendly pint come the final whistle.

Derby of the Prague „S“

The addition of these two more recent Prague clubs to the league has brought added excitement to the division with fans of said clubs relishing the opportunity to face off against the bigger Prague teams The bigger sides, Sparta and Slavia, have a longstanding history that dates back to the 19th century. It is a derby match known locally as Derby Pražských „S“, the Derby of the Prague „S“. The first traditional derby among the two big Prague clubs took place in March 1896, with the match ending goalless, although Sparta scored a goal, the referee Rossler-Ořovský he subsequently appealed after the match, because under the then rules, both teams had to agree to goals. Slavia additionally disagreed, the goal was not accepted and animosity was born. Since then it is a rivalry that has seen twists and turns in terms of league positions with both clubs enjoying spells of domination, although Sparta tend to have the edge. Sparta have 132 wins compared to Slavia’s 89 wins as of last September.

Originally this rivalry pits the predominantly working class supporters of Sparta against the traditionally more middle class supported team of Slavia. Sparta have earned themselves the title of the more successful club, possessing the most money, which makes the tag of working class somewhat ironic in its current state. What is unequivocally true though is that these clubs do not like each other. Slavia were hated by the Communists due to their connections with the middle class, resulting in Slavia being forced to leave their original home in Letna to find somewhere for a new stadium. The last laugh has been on Slavia’s side since though. The construction of the Eden Arena in 2008, their 21,000 seater stadium, means they now have the biggest ground in the division.

Tensions can rise on derby day and quotes like this from former players help to stir the pot.

"In the weeks leading up to the game, you can feel the tension rising in both camps,” said former Sparta and Slavia player Pavel Horvarth.

“But Sparta's determination to win is much greater than Slavia's."

As fans flock to these matches to cheer their side on, the history lingering in the air always adds a little spice to these fixtures. That, coupled with having bragging rights over your fellow Prague residents, means a tasty encounter is always on the cards. The matches create a buzz around the city and it is hard to overlook such an event, even if you aren’t a true football fan.

With Slavia currently sitting above Sparta in the league it remains to be seen how the title race will pan out. Nonetheless the agonising wait from supporters over the winter period is finally over this weekend and the derbies are already upon us. On Sunday Sparta host Bohemians 1905 where Bohemians will want revenge for the 2-0 loss they endured in the reverse fixture. You can see a full preview for this weekend’s fixtures here.

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