Slovakia plays ‘national sport’ with stadium

Tehelne Pole - overgrown, crumbling wreck

Observers of European club or international football must have noticed that something isn’t quite right in Bratislava – the capital of the Slovak Republic, and EU member since 2004.  This week, the Slovak Football Association (SFZ) has thrown another massive spanner in the works of Slovan, Bratislava’s main club.

Almost all the stories we have posted related to either Slovan Bratislava or the Slovak National Team have featured an inevitable, almost unavoidable mention of the substandard nature of the Pasienky stadium,  the ‘temporary’ home of football in Bratislava.  Pasienky is situated in the shadows of Tehelne Pole, historical and spiritual home of the National Team and Slovan Bratislava and so undesirable is it for fans and players alike, that the National team have taken to playing most of their games elsewhere – in Zilina, or even in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Tehelne Pole has been closed since the end of the 2009 season, the bulldozers were scheduled to get to work in early 2010, preparing the site for the ‘new Tehelne Pole’ which would double up as a National Stadium for Slovakia to be proud of.  The reality is that Tehlne Pole still hasn’t been touched, the condition of the stadium is deteriorating with each passing month, and the funds set aside for the project have long since disappeared, initially reallocated to help flood victims in the East of the country, then apparently not being replaced through change of government priorities.  All this is happening right before the eyes of the fans who adore the place and just less than 100m from the Zimny Stadion, the spectacular, ultra-modern ice-hockey arena which is nearing completion ahead of the 2011 World Championships.

No wonder Slovan fans are staying away from home games this season and the numbers speak for themselves.  I had been wondering when the capital club would record their first sub-1000 attendance of the season and that happened just this week when just 602 (six hundred and two) people turned up for the cup 1/4 final 2nd leg tie against 2nd Division Spartak Myjava.  For comparison 2,200 attended the 1st leg at the Myjava stadium which is little more than a field with a fence around it, in a town some 30 times smaller than Bratislava.

Slovan will have been relieved to have won that match 2-0 but this is hardly impressive against amateur opposition and their recent league record is a better reflection on the current state of affairs.  5 matches without a win and 314 minutes without scoring a goal leave Slovan in 5th place, with a worrying gap opening up to the 4th place you’d think they’d need to scrape next season’s European qualification.  The fickle nature of the average fan doesn’t help the situation and Slovan find themselves in the proverbial viscous circle with attendances dropping along with their league position.  If results don’t go their way this weekend, both DAC and Zlate Moravce could overtake them and going into the winter break in 7th place would be unacceptable for one of Slovakia’s biggest clubs.  On paper they do have the players (Salata at the back is the only domestic based regular starter for the Slovakia, and Filip Sebo also scored recently against Bosnia to mention just two), but if they fail to secure European qualification this season, one wonders where they destiny of the club may lie.

The dire situation at Slovan has been compounded by the announcement this week that the city of Bratislava have come to an agreement with the SFZ to provide the land for the new National Stadium on the other side of the Danube river, in Petrzalka no less!  No detailed plans have been released yet, but the stadium is expected to have a capacity of around 25,000 and meet all UEFA/FIFA standards for Champions League and International matches [one wonders who will be playing Champions League there].  It appears as though the government have finally realised that Slovakia cannot go on without a National Stadium although we have heard various ‘announcements’ before and I must admit I do concur with the ‘believe it when I see it’ attitude that seems to be coming out in some quarters.

In principle I have no objections whatsoever to a green-field project for the National stadium [my apartment is even situated in Petrzalka] but the point here is what happens to Tehelne Pole and more importantly what happens to Slovan Bratislava?!  Perhaps opinion of those not favouring Slovan will be that they deserve everything they get after Ivan Kmotrik, the former owner of Petrzalka moved there and took most of the good players with him much to Petrzalka’s demise [another vacated stadium and relegation to the 1st Division].  However, the Slovan fans are shocked and highly concerned by this development and it is hard to imagine them travelling to Petrzalka for anything other than a cross-city derby if the newly named FC Petrzalka 1898 do manage to claw themselves back into the Top League of Slovak football.

A Slovan board member has come out with a somewhat desperate and unstructured statement that “as a marketing expert” he understands that Slovan belong at Tehelne Pole and no other option is acceptable.  If the government and SFZ support really does move elsewhere, it seems that Slovan’s board have no other option other than to take care of Tehelne Pole themselves.  Maybe this is the ‘simplification of the situation’ which will provide incentive they need to get the ball-rolling.   If only there was a bit more of a constructive campaign from the fans rather than just staying away and complaining.

Whatever happens [and this story will surely have many more chapters], the Bratislava football merry-go-round continues to revolve. One very realistic conclusion could be that we may not be so far away from another cross-city ‘shift of power’ between Slovan and Petrzalka.  However, I will offer another [very-optimistic] conclusion; while it will definitely take us a while to get there, perhaps Bratislava might eventually end up with 2 decent stadiums and 2 decent football teams – we can but hope!

By Dan Richardson, BritskiBelasi

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