In January 2016, the football world turned its attention to Ostrava for the first time since the glory days of flagship club Baník in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The reason, though, was a sombre one: the funeral of Pavel Srníček, the locally born former Newcastle, Sheffield Wednesday and Baník goalkeeper who had suffered a cardiac arrest while jogging in his native city. He was only 47.
Srníček had grown up when his home-town club was at its height. Czechoslovak champions three times in five years, ‘Baníček’ also made a European semi-final under legendary manager Evžen Hadamczik.
With Baník unbeaten at home for nearly five years, the Communist authorities persuaded the passionate young manager to prepare the Czech Olympic team for the Games of 1984. When the Eastern bloc countries boycotted Los Angeles, the stress proved too much. Hadamczik hanged himself shortly afterwards. He was 44. Today Ostrava hosts an annual youth tournament in his name.
His name, in fact, and origins, reflect the patchwork history of this industrial hub east of Moravia, tucked under the Polish border. This is Silesia, a continuation of its Polish counterpart, once part of Prussia – Hadamczik is buried in his native Kravare, still with a significant German-speaking population.
Ostrava is proud of its industrial heritage. Its biggest tourist attraction used to be a coal mine, coking works and iron foundry while its botanic garden derives a sub-tropical micro-climate from smouldering colliery waste beneath the surface. Baník, meanwhile, means ‘Miner’.
The club was, in fact, founded by miners – as SK Slezská (‘Silesian’) Ostrava in 1922. It was initially the poor relation in a local rivalry with Slovan Ostrava, struggling along in a makeshift ground in the mining suburb of Kamenec. By 1934, having moved to a better venue at Stará střelnice, Slezská were able to compete for the first time as a professional club in the Moravian-Silesian division. Crowds grew – 5,400 for the derby with Slovan in 1935.
As Slovan faded, a new local rival appeared: Vítkovice. A works team for the steel factory that has shaped Ostrava’s economic destiny since the 19th century, Vítkovice represented the Moravian side of town, Slezská the Silesian. Founded as SK Slavoj in 1919, they folded and reemerged three years later as simply SK Vítkovice. With the club gaining prominence, in the late 1930s a new stadium was opened: the Mestsky.
As Železničáři (‘Steelworkers’), Vítkovice made the top flight in 1950, enjoying the favour of the ruling Communist authorities who had star forward Josef Bican briefly transferred from the frowned-upon bourgeois team of Slavia Prague. Vítkovice duly finished fourth.
Sokol, Baník, TJ, Vítkovice underwent similar forced name changes as their city rivals, who moved from the cinder pitch at Stará střelnice to their long-term home of Bazaly in 1959. It stands on the east bank of the narrow Ostravice river, in the Silesian part of the city. At the same time, Slezská were now called Baník Ostrava, a name that stuck then resounded around Europe.
Both local sides also enjoyed domestic success before Silesia’s industrial decline, Baník under Hadamczik, Vítkovice as title-winners shortly afterwards.
Post-Communist Ostrava has not been particularly kind to either. Baník have long underachieved and currently look certs for a first relegation from the top flight since 1966.
As for Vítkovice, they were declared bankrupt in 2012 and returned as MFK in 2012. Currently the blue and whites are aiming for promotion from the third-flight Moravian-Silesian League. They still play at the 15,000-capacity Mestsky stadion – where Baník moved in 2015, the Bazaly no longer of sufficient comfort and safety to host top-flight football. Like Baník, its future is unclear.
Ostrava’s Leoš Janáček Airport, 37km (23 miles) south-west of town, is currently used for Ryanair services from London Stansted, internal flights from Prague and seasonal charters.
Two bus lines run from the terminus to town. The 910333 (every 1-2hrs, not late morning) calls at the Mestsky stadion before the central transport hub of ÚAN 45min away. The infrequent 820150 from Zlín takes a different, quicker route, 35min, to Ostrava ÚAN. Each requires a ticket from the driver, around Kč40.
Ostrava airport also has its own rail stop (Mošnov, Ostrava airport) by the departure hall. An infrequent train sets off for the city’s main station, Ostrava hlavní nádraží (hl.n.; 30min journey time, Kč50) – some go on to Bohumín so make sure you alight at Ostrava.
City Taxi Ostrava (+420 737 770 155) charges about Kč650-Kč700 from the airport to town.
Prague Airport is 400km (250 miles) from Ostrava. Czech rail offers combined tickets for the hourly bus to Prague main station then train to Ostrava (total journey time 4hr 20min), overall price Kč549.
Ostrava public transport consists of trams, buses and trolleybuses. Single tickets are Kč14-Kč20, 24hr Kč80.
Right by the Mestsky stadion, the Clarion Congress Ostrava is a business-friendly conference hotel catering to visitors to events at the ČEZ Arena also next door. A spa, pool and two restaurants mean that many never leave its environs.
The best choice out here west of town is Zámek Zábřeh, a four-star hotel created in a historic château, with its own microbrewery, vaulted dining hall and wine cellar.
Apart from this, there’s little else to keep you in the Vítkovice suburbs and you’re better off with a room in the city centre.
The Mercure Ostrava Center is ideally located on Českobratrská right in town. A new four-star with a gym, bar and restaurant, it’s also handy for the station and nightlife vortex.
The venerable, mid-range Hotel Brioni is right on bar-lined Stodolní, ideal after a night out but not for a quiet stay. With a history dating back over a century, it also offers apartments and airport transfers (€22). Close by but more basic, the Bonum has seven plain rooms, four of them singles. In-house restaurant Pod Klenbami is its main attraction – along with location and affordability.
Nightlife centres on the pedestrianised, downtown street of Stodolní, crammed with bars, pubs and clubs. You should expect anything and everything: one building is shared by a strip club, a casino and perhaps the world’s most incongruous vegan restaurant.
It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago this was a wasteland on the edge of the city centre. The vision of one businessman and astute investment have transformed it a huge bar hub whose fame has spread throughout the Czech Republic and beyond. So many parties visit from nearby Poland the street has its own Polish-language website.
There’s also a fairly random mix of street food and restaurants offering anything from Portuguese to Bulgarian fare. Beers include local Ostravar and Radegast.
The city also has a couple of microbreweries. One is the homely Hobit club on Příovzská, by the stop for the No.104 trolleybus to Baník’s base at the Bazaly stadium. It’s part of a nationwide network of specialist beer pubs, a kind of Czech version of CAMRA, and thus favours conversation over TV sport.