Plzeň, Thrills and Bellyaches
Viktoria Plzeň 4-1 Viktoria Zizkov (23:10:11)
The last match of the 2011 EFW Oktoberfest and the chance to out with a bang. As we were based in Prague we could have opened our city maps and headed down Easy Street to Slavia Prague, but where is the thrill in that? Especially as Slavia's ground was sold to me as the Czech equivalent of Southampton's St Mary's Stadium. Yawn. The alternative was trip to Plzeň; a city known worldwide for its Pilsener beer and pronounced 'Pilsen' which would just about justify a weak Happy Mondays related headline for this piece. It wasn't such a hard decision.
The passengers on the train that chugged south west - on what proved to be a four can journey - from the Czech capital to Plzeň were in, and mostly full of, high spirits. A dozen or so Zizkov fans drunk their own body weight in bottles of lord knows what, and to pass the time on our behalf, King Stoffers entertained the assembled troops with some traditional Bavarian folk songs which brought the house down, as usual. It was all too much for our entertainments manager and Royal Antwerp legend, Hans Bressinck, who dived for cover into a carriage full of jovial and welcoming German women. Our Viktoria Festival was already in full swing.
Views from the train: On the 90-minute ride from Praha to Plzeň the view was mostly young German women (from left, Iulia, Monika, Steffi and "Wick"). On the way back it was mostly the local paramilitary "policie" - there were a few running battles between the Plzeň and Žižkov ultras post-match. The girls were far more cheerful. Fun fact: Three of them are kindergarten nurses and "Wick" is a professional cow and pig inseminator. (That's a verbal warning. Ed)
The local police didn't quite know what to make of it all. They were expecting the Zizkov fans, who were shepherded out of the station with a small escort for their own safety. But behind them were forty or so EFWers. I'm banning black coats next year because despite the fact we loathe hooliganism, we do look like an unruly mob, sometimes. Not to worry on this occasion. Our Czech speaking friend, Iain Thomson, put the police's minds at rest by whispering in their shell that we were all about beers and floodlights as opposed to pavement dancing. Bemused, they let us pass and march merrily on down the road to the pub.
Situated just across the road from the Města Plzně Stadium is a sizable micro brewery. Instead of refusing us entry, the owners opened up an additional room upstairs to accommodate the EFW masses and served up frothing pints of Lotr beer to our table at twenty minute intervals. We have a resident beer expert on these trips in the form of Liverpool fan, Andy Walker. His verdict on this ale, uniquely brewed using boiling copper pans shoved into a tiled stove before being cooled in a 160 year old spray cooler and left to ferment in oak vats? “It's alright” he beamed.
Getting horní: The exterior of the FC Viktoria Plzeň main stand; the only bit not in the process of being rebuilt. Inset left, there is "Horní" section especially for Hans Bressinck and to help this along there are even shexy gurlsh, although you have to buy a VIP ticket to meet them.
Fill yer face: Top, the "Spiraly" stand - it's like flatty but more spiral-shaped. (Written warning. Ed.) Bottom, a big, spicy sausage with a slice of bread and lots and lots of mustard is also available. Fun fact: The word "Pilsner", as in beer, is derived from Plzeň.
After parting with £5 for match tickets (easily the most expensive of the weekend, but then these chaps are Champions League material) we spent probably a bit too long marvelling at world's tallest floodlight which, tragically, is about to be unceremoniously hauled down and shipped to a floodlight graveyard. It's akin to a LUXury version of the Blackpool Tower. There were more than one, but they're being dumped in favour of some sad looking toothpicks. It's all part of of the rebuilding of the ground which is being done to meet the demands of UEFA suits. No team competing in UEFA competitions are allowed to play in a football ground with any character, and so this place is being standardised to look like every other ground in Europe. Boo. Hiss.
I purchased no items from the club shop. Why? Because everything they had came in the colours of Crystal Palace. If I hadn't been so childish, my preferred items would have been the Viktoria Plzeň mens trouser braces (mens trouser braces!) and a box of cigars in a club presentation box. Smoking.
The first half was a turgid affair. Four days earlier, Plzeň had been lording it up in the Champions League group stages in front of 87,000 in the Camp Nou. Here, in front of two empty stands, and with no Lionel Messi to show off in front of, it must have felt like a huge come down. And it showed. Not to fear though because we had the worlds best mobile scoreboard to entertain us...
Left blank for your scoreboard: No jumbotron yet but they have got a truck with a scoreboard on it. Turned out the truck was double-sided, the back often being viewed by as many as two people. Fun fact: Because they aren't quite up to spec yet, Plzeň must play their Champions' League games at the Stadion Eden/Synot Tip Arena in Prague.
Stairmasters: Fans risk exposure to reach the upper tiers. Right, the token match shot showing the lack of seating in the new stands.
Stand back from the edge of platform 2 - football cliché fast approaching: this was a game of two halves. The second half raced by quicker than a human eye. Suddenly, Plzeň had style, a groovy style, and a midfield trio that just wouldn't stop. Goals rained down like Argentina '78 confetti. Four for the home team, not including their three (three!) disallowed goals and, in return, all Zizkov could offer was a solitary consolation effort which did produce some comedy gold when, in a health and safety nightmare, their fans came steaming down their terrace before launching themselves into the 12 foot netting preventing them from launching missiles onto the pitch. Priceless.
Bobble hats off to the Plzeň ultras. On paper 'La la, la la la la laaaa, Vik-tor-iaaa' doesn't sound like the most inspiring terrace ditty. But in the top right hand corner of the main stand the choreographic display that accompanied the song was one of the best I'd ever seen. They split into two groups; dancing one way and then that, up, tiddly, up, up and then down, tiddly, down, down; throwing scarves aloft, pulling their trousers braces.... it went on for an age. Full ultra points to them. Turns out they have lessons every Tuesday night across the road in the brewery*. *Might not actually be true.
Suitably Kafka-esque: A belching chimney and a sinister watchtower loom over the stadion. Fun fact: It's actually a former water tower dating from 1532.
Worth a flutter: The game continues beneath a lovely Crystal Palace flag (You're fired. Ed.)
Worth a shout: Top, the cappo di tutti cappi marshals the happy Plzeň ultras. Bottom, the famous Plzeň Flag Man, together with his, er, flag. (I'm calling security. Ed.)
After, ahem, the thought of joyriding the scoreboard across the lush turf has passed. We opted for the safer option of a mini EFW pitch invasion for kicks before returning to another micro brewery, closer to the station, connected to a brewery museum. My favourite exhibits were the pints of beer which, again, kept on arriving at our table in return for £1.20. Dreamy. So that was the 2011 EFW Oktoberfest: 45 people, 7 games, 31 goals, beers and giggles shared over four days with English, Scots, Czechs, Slovakians, Polish, Belgians, An Israeli, Norwegians and Germans. That's what EFW is all about. This is what we stand for and I love it.
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Thanks to Mills for his photographic skills, Thomson for his unrivaled logistical prowess, Stoffl and Fuller for everything and to each and everyone of you who pitched up along the way to make this trip a huge success.