Via The Left Bank of the ’90s — Střížkov & Bohemians 1905

When I moved to Prague in the autumn of 2016, I wasn’t sure which football team I wanted to follow. The city gave me plenty of options, with four top flight teams and a famous club languishing in the second tier, along with a plethora of lower league teams. Who should I support? I consulted the wisdom of my friends, with varied results. Should I be a glory hunter and follow Slavia or Sparta, one of the historic big boys? How about Dukla, the old dog investigated back at Dejvická? I remember watching Viktoria Žižkov play in Europe once, so maybe them? The argument was settled by the wise words of my good friend Ash, who pointed out to me that Bohemians 1905 wear green and have a kangaroo for a logo, so the whole discussion was pointless.

The club started life as AFK Vršovice, and you don’t need to be Poirot to work out when the club was established. It came from a local sports club called Kotva, and was one of the many clubs started with the aim of bolstering the Czech ranks, ahead of its ascension to FIFA. AFK Vršovice wore green and white from these early days, although the members likely didn’t wear green and white to their first official meeting at a pub nearby. The club grew in fairly innocuous fashion, until a seemingly random request changed everything. The year was 1927, and the proud nation of Australia wanted a Czech team to come all the way across the world to play a host of games. Slavia and Žižkov presumed that the request was a fake, so the two teams fobbed it off onto Vršovice. The green and whites were more than happy to oblige, but were also aware that no Australian (drunk or sober) would be able to pronounce the team’s name. With that in mind, Bohemians AFK Vršovice was born. Five months after the team left the shores of Europe, it arrived in Australia.

The tour was a great success, both politically and in terms of results. Many Australians had never heard of Czechoslovakia, so Bohemians became ambassadors for the fledgling state. The club won 13 of its 18 games in Australia (along with defeating the British Army in Sri Lanka along the way), and returned to Prague as heroes, heroes with a couple of live kangaroos in tow. The junior bouncers were given to Prague Zoo, and the hopping dog became an integral part of the Bohemians emblem. It remains so to this day.

Bohemians was something of a yo-yo team during Czechoslovakia’s communist years, a yo-yo team that went through a number of nonsensical name changes (including a run as Spartak Praha Stalingrad) before the Bohemians moniker returned for good in 1965. Somehow the team won the Czechoslovak Championship in 1982/83, the goals of Pavel Chaloupka taking them to glory, even though two years prior to the championship win the club’s most famous player had left for Vienna. Antonín Panenka spent most of his career at Bohemians, and yes he is the same dude that the penalty technique is named after. Panenka is the chairman of Bohemians today. The Klokani (Kangaroos) are now a fixture in the top flight, and I am a fixture at every home game (A5, row 12, seat 6).

So what does this have to do with Střížkov? Like many teams, Bohemians fell on hard times in the post-Czechoslovak era. By ‘hard times’ I clearly mean ‘nobody had a clue how to run a football club and the club was flat broke’, and Bohemians were threatened with expulsion (sort of like being banished from town, minus the pitchforks) in 2005. Bohemians was on its last legs, but the fans came together and paid off as much of its debt as possible. This was merely a stay of execution, and things went from bad to worse when the wider TJ Bohemians sports club rented the logo out to FK Střížkov Praha 9, a nothing team in the lower leagues of Czech football. Bohemians added ‘1905’ to its name, to make it clear to everyone that the Vršovice club was the historic one.

Money was poured into the Střížkov team and it soon found itself in the top flight, taking the Bohemians name with it. The fans weren’t buying it (obviously, who could?), so the imposter team was treated with disdain by all and sundry. It survived however, and bounced around the upper Czech divisions until it all came tumbling down in 2010. Four years of litigation came before that, and it was eventually decreed that the Střížkov club could no longer use the Bohemians name. It wasn’t a huge surprise, and the random team from Střížkov who had jumped through the leagues now found itself slowly rotting in the middle of nowhere. So yeah, I’m still finishing this chapter with some sort of graveyard comment. Anyway, BOHEMKA, DO TOHO!

In Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s, John Bills takes the reader on a tour of Prague using the underground network as his guide, from the birth of the city at Vyšehrad through to the Velvet Revolution at Národní Třída and everywhere in between, including blokes who loved orchids and no small amount of executions. This is everything you ever wanted to know about Prague, and then some. The eBook available in our splendid little shop here.

Left Bank eMock

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