Regular readers of my blog will be aware I have two main passions – travel and sport. So, in this new series of blogs I am combining these interests for Travel Goals where I will look at sporting experiences on my travels, starting with a visit this summer to watch AC Sparta Prague.
In England, we like to think our football culture is the best in the world. But in reality, tickets are expensive, fans are quite negative, and you can’t drink on the terraces. At the Generali Arena, home of Sparta Prague, tickets are cheap, everyone gets behind the team, and £1 beer is sold around the stadium.
Our decision to go to the Generali Arena was fairly spontaneous. We were in Prague for five days and wanted something to do before we hit the bars one night – and it just happened there was a game on.
Sparta Prague were playing Holland’s Vitesse Arnhem in a pre-season friendly, so off we went to experience some renowned Eastern European football.
Even for a friendly, 7,000 fans were in good spirits around the ground. We made our way to a ticket office and bought relatively cheap tickets in the family section.
After unsuccessful attempts to tell some Czech friends that they were in our seats, we sat ourselves down for Sparta’s incredibly long club anthem. Luckily, we’d helped ourselves to the first of many 35czk beers on sale in the ground to get through it.
Eventually the game started, but it was the visitors who took an early lead as Linssen headed in a corner and silenced the Sparta crowd.
Even though Vitesse were playing some good stuff and deserved their lead, the atmosphere in the corner was fairly flat and we wanted to see a Sparta win.
Saying that, Sparta’s ultras at the other end of the ground were on their feet throughout. For a friendly, they almost treated it like a practice game for them too.
If that volume and intensity wasn’t even full strength, I can only imagine what a Sparta –Slavia Prague derby is like!
The closest I’ve got to seeing an ultras section at the football is Oldham Athletic’s ‘Athleticos’ – a group of teenagers who try to generate an atmosphere in a crowd of 4,000 old men.
In fact, Sparta’s Ultras make the Athleticos look like the group of young kids in the opposite corner to us, who were having a great time jumping around topless. Actually, these kids were probably more effective.
At half time, we got more beer and a burger from a McDonald’s stall on the concourse. English football really could learn a lot from Sparta.
The game was good, but Sparta needed to improve after the break. Thanks to some half time changes, they did, and as Sparta threatened the crowd responded.
Then, the moment we were waiting for, a Sparta goal. The home side’s standout player, winger Srdjan Plavsic, crossed and the ball was bundled in by Josef Sural for a deserved equaliser.
We were a few beers down at this point, and the home crowd were really getting behind their team which made for a great atmosphere.
In the end, a draw was a fair result, and we made our way back into town in good spirits.
I’m not sure the Sparta fans appreciated our attempts at making our own chants for their team, though. Maybe that wouldn’t have been the best idea for a competitive game, but we only attracted a few funny looks rather than any trouble.
Sparta may not be Prague’s top team any more as Slavia Prague are the current champions of the Czech Republic, but they know how to get behind their team.
Eastern European football has a reputation for being intimidating, but there was nothing more than hints of aggression in the stands – mainly from a man who was clearly a former ultra who spent most of the game staring us down.
As an introduction to European football, Sparta Prague was a good start. A lively atmosphere, cheap tickets, and cheaper beer that you could drink watching the game – what’s not to love?
The football was decent too.
How to get there:
The Generali Arena isn’t far out of the centre of town as the crow flies, but walking there involves climbing the very steep hill through the Letenske sady park. From there, it’s about ten minutes to the ground. Alternatively, the city’s tram system passes the stadium for an easier arrival.
Tickets on the door cost between 170czk and 290czk. We had no problems buying from a ticket office at the ground, but league games may need buying in advance.