One of the most successful sides in the Czech Republic over the past decade or so, FK Mladá Boleslav owe their recently earned status to Dušan Uhrin and Škoda cars.
Since a first promotion to the top flight in 2004, one has provided coaching expertise, the other wherewithal. Uhrin, son of the much travelled manager of the same name, came back to the Mladá Boleslav fold in June 2017 and is now aiming for a first league title for the club from the motor city.
Since 2004, Mladá Boleslav have finished six times in the top four and won two Czech Cups. Throw in eight European campaigns, victories over Marseille and Palermo, and draws against Paris Saint-Germain and Rapid Bucharest, and you have quite a rise from Bohemian football obscurity to the international stage.
Before 2004, clubs in Mladá Boleslav had never risen above the second flight at best. After a student team was formed in 1901, then one by local fans of Aston Villa in 1919, football in the city was tied to the patronage of the main Škoda car factory for which Mladá Boleslav was famous.
During Communism, this meant teams such as TJ AŠ Mladá Boleslav (‘AŠ’ being ‘Auto Škoda’) competing against the likes of Viktoria Žižkov and Slovan Liberec in the 1.ČNFL, the same level as its Slovak counterpart, one down from the top Czechoslovak league of Duklas, Spartas and Slovan Bratislavas.
A Czech Cup final appearance in 1978, and 2-1 aggregate defeat to Baník Ostrava, was the closest the club came to actual silverware.
Although the political and economic changes of 1989, followed by the Velvet Divorce from Slovakia, left a weaker independent Czech league, it left a financial gap as Škoda became gradually privatised and linked to Volkswagen.
As for the club, Mladá Boleslav first signed a nursery agreement with Slavia Prague then Bohemians.
By the time a new entity, FK Mladá Boleslav, was formed in 1995, over in Prague, Dušan Uhrin Jr was already on this third coaching job. As Mladá Boleslav moved from the fourth-flight Divize C to the third Česká fotbalová liga, to the 2.liga, so Uhrin gained more experience.
His last two postings before coming to Boleslav in 2004 were at Bohemians and Slavia. Having won the Czech Second Division under Milan Bokša, whose previous experience had been working under Josef Masopust for Indonesia’s Olympic team, Mladá Boleslav looked to a younger coach for the challenge of elite football.
Nearly relegated in their debut top-flight season, the club kept faith in Uhrin Jr, a decision that paid dividends when a team captained by later Czech international and Reading midfielder Marek Matejovsky pipped Slavia to runners-up spot on goal difference in 2006.
In the subsequent European campaign, Marseille underestimated the little-known Czech side. Late strikes from former Sparta forward Radim Holub and Tomáš Sedláček overturned the visitors’ away goal advantage and sent Mladá Boleslav to the group stage of the UEFA Cup. Gaining three draws in four games, the Škoda side were hardly disgraced – nor a year later, when Boleslav reversed an injury-time home defeat to Palermo to a shoot-out win in Sicily. Future Napoli star Edinson Cavani missed Palermo’s first kick, Holub, Matejovsky and Sedláček made no mistake for the unfancied Czechs.
Uhrin had already been lured to Timisoara and Matejovsky would soon be heading to the Madejski.
Boleslav trod water for a couple of seasons, winning a first Czech Cup in 2011, on penalties over Olomouc.
In Europe, the Czechs lacked the fire of the Uhrin era, a 3-0 defeat at Larnaca particularly galling. Coaches came and went, team captain Marek Kulič was approaching retirement.
The club rehired cup-winning manager Ladislav Minár, but remained inconsistent until bringing in Karel Jarolím halfway through the 2013-14 campaign. A title-winning coach with Slavia Prague and Slovan Bratislava, Jarolím took Boleslav to third place, then to another Czech Cup in 2016.
With Jarolím taking the national job, Boleslav kept in the hunt until first persuading back Matejovsky from Sparta Prague then Uhrin from Slavia.
Under his returning stewardship, Mladá Boleslav will be looking to Jan Chramosta and former refugee, Khartoum-born Golgol Mebrahtu for goals.
Neat, compact and extremely blue, the Mestsky Stadion near the Škoda factory has been the main venue for the city’s football team since 1965.
Improved and modernised in recent years, the Mestsky is an all-seater, all-covered 5,000-capacity ground with stands on three sides and the action up close.
Home sector G is at the far end of the Západní Tribuna (West Stand) closest to the empty end. Away fans (‘Fanoušci hosté’) are placed in facing sector N, sometimes L-N, in the Vychodní (East) Tribuna. The club shop and offices are behind the steep-sided south end, Jižní Tribuna.
Average crowds are in the 3,300 mark – surprisingly low given recent successes and the proximity of Prague.
The Mestsky Stadion has its own bus stop near the Občerstvení U Stadionu bar – but services are so infrequent, particularly at weekends, it’s hardly worth listing them.
More practical is the Kaufland stop by the hypermarket, served by bus A from the main train station and main square of Staromestské námestí (Mon-Fri every 20min, Sat & Sun every 30min).
The stadium is also walking distance from the city’s main bus station and, alongside it, Mladá Boleslav mesto train stop, currently served by special buses from the main station, hlavní nadraží, south-west of town. Turn right onto the main avenue of Václava Klementa then left at U Stadionu.
Advance tickets are sold from the Fan Shop (Tue & Thur 1pm-4pm) behind the South Stand, Jižní Tribuna, to your right as you come in from the main entrance. There are no online sales.
On match days, the ticket windows open at the main entrance on U Stadionu.
Prices vary according to opposition, but usually are an across-the-board Čkr150, Čkr200 for Sparta, Slavia and Plžen, Čkr100 for a lowly visitor or game in the early rounds of the cup.
There are discounts for seniors and youngsters between 6 and 18. Under 5s get in free. Everything is cash-only.
The Fan Shop (Tue & Thur 1pm-4pm, match days) behind the South Stand stocks pennants, baseball caps, stickers, keyrings, scarves and, once prevalent across the terraces of Czechoslovakia, trumpetky, Central European forerunner of the vuvuzela.
The retail and fast-food hub around the Olympic Centrum bowling alley contains the Steak House, currently closed for renovation, and the Sport Bar Ráj (Krátká 904), a real football haunt. Covered in scarves and iconography, mainly from the Czech Republic, Poland and England, the Ráj is a large, cheap, down-at-heel bar with a betting station in one corner and a front terrace for smokers. Ráj (‘Paradise’) refers to this area of Bohemia, known as Česky ráj.
On U Stadionu, a more comfortable option, with food, is provided by the Restaurace Start. Neat to the point of swish, it offers slow-roasted beef shoulder, pork chops and turkey breast in the Čkr190 range, plus Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell beers. You’ll pay less for a half-litre of Svijany or Kozel at the nearby Sportbar U Stadionu, another betting dungeon for shabbier gamblers.
A stand-alone hut near the stadium entrance, the Občerstvení U Stadionu is a modest outlet for Holba beer from Hanušovice, hence the splashes of green inside and out. There’s just enough room for a large tap of the stuff, three tables and a barman, who also serves those on the outdoor tables from his little window.
If you’re staying at one of the two hotels north of the stadium, it may be worth calling into U Kvakoše on Havličkova, definitely one of the nicer types of betting bars. Sport-beaming TVs dot its large, pleasant interior, and there’s a front terrace too.
At the ground itself, the main outlet is the Club Gol Občerstvení whose handy terrace occupies a corner of the club offices, to the left as you approach the stadium via the main entrance. Grilled meat (Čkr70) and sausage (Čkr50) accompany the beers. There’s more of same at a smaller stand at the home fans’ end of the Západní Tribuna.