Mladá Boleslav would have remained a sleepy community in northern Bohemia but for the fortuitous meeting of a bookseller and a locksmith in 1895. Both keen cyclists, Václavs Klement and Laurin decided to repair, then produce, their own bicycles.
Moving onto motorbikes then cars, the entrepreneur and the technician became successful. After World War I, they teamed up with the Škoda arms manufacturers from Plžen and this now famous Czech brand transformed Mladá Boleslav into an affluent working town.
Similarly, the local football team, FK Mladá Boleslav, would have remained a backwater club but for the recent backing of sponsors Škoda.
Promoted to the top flight for the first time in 2004, Mladá Boleslav made Europe in 2006, shocked Marseille with an injury-time winner and competed in the first of two consecutive UEFA Cup group stages.
Since Marseille, fans from Paris Saint-German, Lyon and Villarreal have all found their way to this thriving but unusual town an hour north-east of Prague. Boleslav is divided into two distinct parts: the original historic settlement of cobbled streets and quaint façades prefaced by a somewhat dreary castle; and the community created around Škoda. The stadium, where Mladá Boleslav have played since 1965, sits near the Škoda factory, surrounded by long rows of brightly coloured residential blocks, connected by nameless thoroughfares. This area, stretching as far as the golf course and the wooded northern suburbs, is also referred to as Mladá Boleslav II.
In other parts of Eastern Europe, such a setting would be rife with crime and a tricky proposition after dark. Not so Mladá Boleslav. With plentiful employment, a successful football club and the modern Mestsky stadion surrounded by training pitches, there’s a sense of civic pride underlined by the team’s regular forays into Europe.
Mladá Boleslav is spic and span. Dull, maybe, but spic and span.
Linking the differing areas of town created by Škoda and King Boleslav II of Bohemia respectively, the avenue of Václava Klementa runs by the stadium, by the Škoda Museum and down to the fringes of the historic centre where football was first played here.
Students formed a team as early as 1901, before a series of closures and mergers saw two sides standing after World War I. Inspired by the then six-time English champions, Aston Villa Mladá Boleslav (‘Astonky’) and Mladoboleslavského SK (‘Mlada’) were the two rival clubs in town.
Aston Villa Mladá Boleslav played at Na Vile, SK on Havličkova close to today’s Mestsky stadion.
Communist reforms after 1948 brought the inevitable forced changes and consolidations. Aston Villa became the snappy Závodní sokolské jednoty Automobilové závody (ZSJ AZNP).
Taking the more familiar titles of Spartak then Škoda, Mladá Boleslav played mainly in the second-flight Czech National Division through the 1970s and 1980s.
In the economic confusion after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the club hitched itself to Slavia Prague, then Bohemians, in nursery arrangements.
A modern-day football operation didn’t really kick into gear until 1995 with the reformation of FK Mladá Boleslav and gradual investment from Škoda. In fact, though you could trace its roots through decades of alterating acronyms – right back, in fact, to Aston Villa – the history of today’s club only really starts then, and the rise from Divize C and the top tier a decade later.
Prague Václav Havel Airport is 74km (46 miles) south-west of Mladá Boleslav. There is no direct public transport between the two.
The Airport Express bus runs to Prague’s main train station, Hlavní nadraží, every 15-30min, journey time 35min, tickets 60Čkr from the driver. Services stop from the airport at 9pm, 10pm from the train station.
Taxi Praha 14 007 (+420 220 414 414) charges about 400Čkr-500Čkr to the station.
Czech rail runs regular services from Prague to Mladá Boleslav. A direct train takes between 1hr 10min and 1hr 30min. Some require a change at Nymburk then a bus. The cheapest online tickets (69Čkr) are for direct services.
Trains arrive at run-down Mladá Boleslav hlavní nadraží, 1km south-west of the town’s historic centre. From there, you have several options. Walking to the Old Town takes about 15min but you’re still a long way from the stadium. A bus is usually waiting to take arrivals to Mladá Boleslav mesto station, by the Škoda Museum and city bus terminus. This is on Václava Klementa, a 10-15min walk to the stadium. There are currently no direct trains between Prague and Mladá Boleslav mesto, hence the bus service.
Alternatively, city bus A runs every 20min (Mon-Fri), every 1hr (Sat & Sun) from outside Boleslav hlavní nadraží to Kaufland, the hypermarket near the stadium, via town. Journey time is 23min. This will introduce you to the byzantine vagaries of the local bus network. A single journey costs 16Čkr, exact change only. Throw your coins into the little box to your right as you board, then press button 1. A little paper receipt comes out of another machine. Even locals touching in with a charge card must collect paper receipts for each journey. The driver won’t respond to protests or any form of cash.
A taxi might also be waiting outside the station – if not, a phone number is given on a sign by the main entrance staircase. Add +420 if you’re using a foreign mobile. You can also try Taxi MB (+420 608 435 626).
For the stadium from the Old Town, you’ll need a bus or a taxi – it’s at least a 20min walk.
The commercial pull of Škoda means that even though Mladá Boleslav lacks high-end business accommodation, all the hotels, even lowly ones, charge more than their equivalent would in, say, Liberec. Prices drop slightly at weekends.
The closest accommodation to the stadium, literally 300 metres from the main entrance across a mini-roundabout, is the Hotel Forman. Handy but basic, it has fixed prices at Čkr999/single, Čkr1,100/double – that’s without tax, and without breakfast. In-room WiFi is a plus, though. The receptionist is off-site, so it’s a case of arranging a time for check-in, carried out in pidgin English.
North of the stadium, towards the leafy outskirts but still walking distance to the match, the Hotel Plaza is more mid-range than its four-star status suggests, but comfortable nonetheless, with its own Mexican restaurant and Nejen café.
The nearby Hotel Osvit opened more recently, and also caters to a business clientele visiting Škoda.
On the city side of the stadium and still only a stroll away, the Pension Šejda offers homely comfort, breakfast in rustic surroundings and even a pool in the back garden.
On the stadium side of town, Hotel Trumf provides mid-range lodging with a restaurant.
On the main square of Staromestské námestí, historic, characterful Zlaty kohout is probably the best lodging in town, with a traditional, evening-only pub/restaurant too. Friendly staff another plus. Favoured by former Czech presidents and has-been Scottish rock bands. Opposite, the Hotel Venec is in serious need of a refit, ditto its Brooklyn nightspot.
Only accessible through Havelsky Park by the roundabout at námestí Miru, quiet, affordable Penzion Ve Skalici has its own bar/restaurant where breakfast is served, and a courtyard garden. On the other side of the park, the Hotel La Romantica is a more unusual find, cut into the rocks and designed by an eco-architect. An in-house sauna and decent restaurant puts it on a par with the best accommodation in town.
By the ice-hockey arena, the Hotel Zimní Stadion is the kind of old-school lodging found at many sports facilities around the Czech Republic – cheap and basic.
At the castle end of the Old Town, the Hotel U Hradu is currently undergoing a revamp but is still open for business – expect a decent breakfast with your comfortable, mid-range accommodation.
Almost perversely for a historic town in Bohemia, Mladá Boleslav has relatively few pubs or bars. Locals tend to drink in ‘sports bars’, betting shops that sell beer, while the significant expat community hang out at the golf club or upscale establishments out of town.
On main Staromestské námestí, apart from the restaurant at the Zlaty kohout hotel, and cafés opposite, the only drinking spot is the music-focused Blues Café, not a bad little spot if there’s a bit of a crowd.
The main bar strip is what locals refer to as Jičínská and maps refer to as třída Tomáše Garrigue Masaryka. A five-minute stroll from the roundabout at námestí Miru, you first pass one of those sports bars, TGM 1077, before you arrive at four busy venues. First up, Pizzeria Diverso is not just an Italian restaurant but a convivial terrace drinkerie. Next door, opened in 2017, the No.10 Restaurant & Bar is a quality choice, contemporary and comfortable, its walls decorated with original images of Bowie, Amy and that crazy guy from Radiohead. Inside is for tucking into steaks, burgers and curries, while the terrace is for sipping wine and knocking back beers. Like the Diverso, and the adjoining Sport Bar X, it has a TV.
Next door, Crazy calls itself a ‘cocktail and sport bar’, a place for cheap(ish) mixed drinks in a diner-style atmosphere, with a screen at the back.
The only real pub in town is the wonderful U-Turn, so-called because it sits on a sharp bend near the Hotel U Hradu. Lived-in to the point of scuffed, it encourages serious drinking and conspiratorial chatter. Smokers can enjoy the panoramic view from the little terrace, and each creaking floor is accessed by steep, steep stairs. Occasional live music includes folk-punk from Cape Town and Maradona jazz.
Locals dress up for the only nightspot in town, Slunce, handily located near the terrace venues of Jičínská.