I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was to get to see my first European football match in Prague. Bad scheduling luck on past trips kept me from seeing PSG in Paris or Inter or AC Milan in Italy. I’ve also had a whole host of missed opportunities in Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. This trip finally delivered. My first match was AC Sparta Praha playing FC Baník Ostrava.
Best. Cultural. Experience. Ever! Can you tell how excited I am from the picture below?
I’ve been to my share of sporting events and each and every one holds a special place in my heart. The only Nordiques game I got to with my Dad, my first Monday Night Football game, sitting in the upper deck for a San Francisco Giants game watching boats out in the bay, a Canada-USA world championship hockey game – all awesome! And all surpassed by this soccer game in Prague. Why?
Heavily armed riot police in the subway station and on the walk to the stadium? Oh yes! I didn’t get photos of it, but a supporters website sure did. And people think it’s rough going to a Philadelphia Eagles game…
Continual singing and chanting throughout the game with the supporter sections trying to one up each other? We had that. Just listen to the crowd in this video I shot.
Fans lighting things on fire? Never been so glad to be in a concrete structure. Seriously, the fire brigade showed up right after I took this photo and the fans below the inferno got the #&*(#@ out of the way when the burning banners fell on them.
A mascot? (I not so secretly love sports mascots). Check!
A pint of delicious pilsner for less than $2 Canadian at a stadium? Oh yeah!
We did actually get to see a soccer match as well, though truth be told, sometimes it was hard to focus on the play with so much energy in the stadium. The coordinated chanting and singing, banners being unfurled, dances, smoke bombs and flares…. it was a two hour assault on the senses. As for the match, here are the teams lined up for introductions just before the opening kick:
The game about to get underway:
At the half, the game was level at 1-1. Sparta held the balance of play, but an own goal gave the visitors the early lead. Sparta’s Hušbauer had a tap in goal on a broken play to even the match in the 37th minute. Taking a quick breather from the first 45, here we are from our seats with the pitch behind us. This photo was taken by a friendly Spaniard sitting in front of us for the game:
Back underway in the second half with Sparta attacking the goal closest to us. It was remarkable to see such high level soccer up close. The talent with the ball was breathtaking:
Early in the second half, Sparta began to pull away to the delight of the home crowd. Here’s the start of a celebration immediately after they went up 2-1 on a goal in the 64th minute:
And what’s a goal celebration without a little dancing? The goal scorer, Costa, leads the dancing in front of us:
Another Hušbauer goal to make it 3-1 had Sparta comfortably in the lead and had the visiting fans a tad quieter. Here is Sparta setting up a free kick which would end up being a beautiful goal by Konaté to round out the scoring. Sparta fans were deliriously happy and getting close to lighting the stadium on fire:
After the ball was rifled into the net on that free kick, the smoke bombs started hitting the field. I actually felt a bit sorry for the Baník Ostrava keeper and his personal safety:
I really would have a hard time naming anything I’ve done on my travels that has been as unabashedly fun as going to this game. I laughed, I sang, I feared for my safety a couple of times (not really, but the riot police will make anyone a bit more alert). I loved the six year old behind us in his Sparta jersey singing along to all the supporter chants and imagine someday he’ll be in the upper deck behind the goal lighting things on fire. We had great seats (they were only $12 Canadian!) and got a thoroughly entertaining match to watch on a beautiful summer evening. Most of all, I felt initially like I was at something completely foreign, and by the end, I wished I could stay in Prague another few weeks to cheer on Sparta a couple more times (SPARTA! clap-clap-clap SPARTA!) It may have taken me a long time to catch a match in Europe, but it was so worth the wait!