The Slovak title has gone to the national capital of Bratislava a dozen times since the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993 – but recently two of those three title-winning clubs have folded and now face lower-league ignominy.
Flagship club Slovan Bratislava, champions four times since 2009, remain a major force in the domestic game. Inter Bratislava are currently third flight, their former home of the Štadión Pasienky used by Slovan since 2009.
Ever since, Slovan’s Tehelné pole, once the de facto national stadium, has been under construction. The latest date for reopening is the end of 2017.
Slovan and Inter’s former grounds face each other across the main road of Bajkalská, towards Bratislava airport.
The third team, FC Petržalka, were reformed as FC Petržalka akadémia in 2014. Having won the title in 2005 and 2008, famously beating Celtic 5-0 in the Champions League, Petržalka hit the skids and players left en masse.
Juniors and defectors from the then equally defunct Inter Bratislava donned the black and white of Petržalka but relegation to the third flight was followed by financial collapse.
The club was forced to knock down their stadium across the Danube, where the Aupark mall now stands. They subsequently built a new one close by, the 1,500-capacity Stadium FC Petržalka 1898 at MC Sklodovskej 1.
The date is significant. That year saw the foundation of Petržalka’s predecessors, Pozsonyi Torna Egyesület, who played in the regional Hungarian league. Pozsony is the Hungarian name for Bratislava. Part of Hungary until 1918, the city was then known by everyone else as Preßburg, the German version of its name.
Few cities in Europe have as complex and multilingual a football history as Bratislava. As well as Pozsonyi Torna Egyesület, in the Hungarian era Ligetfalusi Sport Club (shortened to Ligeti SC) also came to the fore.
In 1919, full of independent spirit, mainly Czech residents formed 1.ČsŠK Bratislava at the Pannonia Café. The new club played at Starohajská, the city’s first football ground over the river in Petržalka.
When the Czech league was created in 1925, Slovak clubs weren’t invited. 1.ČsŠK won the inaugural, amateur Slovak title, then four more. The star forward was Štefan Čambal, who moved from Ligeti SC to 1.ČsŠK and was the sole Slovak player in the squad for the Czechoslovak side that reached the 1934 World Cup Final. A year later, 1.ČsŠK joined the professional Czechoslovak league.
In 1939, Slovakia broke away from Czechoslovakia to become a Nazi puppet state. Football clubs were given Germanised names – those in Petržalka became Engerau. Although Bratislava became Preßburg, 1.ČsŠK was renamed as Slovak-only ŠK Bratislava.
The Nazi authorities and slave labour created a new national stadium, the Tehelné pole (‘Brick Field’), in 1940, with a curtain-raiser between ŠK and Hertha Berlin. In November 1942, it staged the last international played by Germany’s national side under the Third Reich, against Slovakia.
After 1945, all changed again. ŠK became Sokol NV then, in 1953, Slovan Bratislava. By then, they had won the recently reunified Czechoslovak league three times. The golden era came in the late 1960s, when Slovan became the first side from Eastern Europe to win a European trophy, the Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1969. Slovan went on to dominate the Slovak league in the early years of independence after 1993.
Inter Bratislava represented the local oil refinery, then called Apollo, from 1940. Bombed by the Allies, the plant was rebuilt and renamed as Slovanaft. ŠK Apollo became Ćervená Hviezda (‘Red Star’) Bratislava and won the Czechoslovak title in 1959.
As AŠK Inter Slovanaft, the Yellow and Blacks won the Slovak title in 2000 and 2001 but the club collapsed less than a decade later. The current FK Inter play in the Bratislava division of the third flight and are based at the Stadium ŠKP Inter Dúbravka in the far north-west of town.
While Inter have gone through 12 name changes, since 1898 Petržalka have had 17 different names. The latest, FC Petržalka akadémia, was adopted in 2014 and features in Slovakia’s sixth flight.
Bratislava Airport is 9km (5.5 miles) north-east of town, connected by trolleybus No.61 every 15-20min (journey time 20min) to the main train station near the city centre. It also passes close to the Štadión Pasienky at Sabinovská. A ticket is €0.90 from the kiosk at the airport or machine by the bus stop. It’s €0.70 for a 15min journey in town, €4.50 for a day ticket, €8.30 for 48 hours. City transport consists of buses, trams, trolleybuses and night buses.
Taxi Slovakia (+421 2 16 505) charges a flat €20 between airport and town.
The Bratislava Tourist Office has a database of hotels on its website.
Near the stadium, the Socialist-era Hotel Dom Športu (Junácka 6, +421 2 4924 9398) has long been due for closure and renovation – 2015 seems to be the year. Actually, it’s no great loss, as several decent hotels are now grouped around the Zimny ice hockey stadium a short walk from the Pasienky. Top of the heap is the new, business-friendly DoubleTree by Hilton Bratislava while the Hotel Echo is a decent three-star.
In town, the Hotel Devin has a spa, pool and views of the Danube. In the centre of things, the Old City Hotel is comfortable and affordable. If you’re on a real budget, then the City Hostel is a converted house on historic Obchodná with singles, doubles, three- and four-bed rooms.
Bratislava is a good party town and affordable with it. As well as most famous Czech brews, you’ll find the excellent Slovak Zlaty Bažant almost everywhere. There are bar hubs around the city centre, such as along Sedlárska, where you’ll find The Dubliner has live music three nights of the week plus TV sports. On the same street, Lochness Scottish Pub concentrates more on the kitchen.
Also downtown, on Obchodná, 1.Slovak Pub is a traditional-looking tavern while KGB is a long-established and popular bar with a Soviet theme. The Pub on Laurenská is the local branch of a successful beer-and-sport bar chain based in Plzen.
Nearer the river, 17’s Bar is a realistic candidate for best spot in town, with an excellent drinks selection, TV when required and heaving of a weekend. Actually on the river, floating nightspot the Tanker Club is also lively on its night.
Finally, if you’ve just arrived or need a quick farewell beer before you head off, the train station is flanked by the Caffe Pressburg, with TV football and Slovan Bratislava iconography.