By far the most successful Czech side of the modern era, Sparta Prague have dominated the domestic game but been unable to make in-roads in Europe as star names are constantly being sold to the West. Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Pavel Nedved all made their names at the Letná.
The 36-time Czech champions, most recently crowned in 2014, were founded as Kralovske Vonobrady, or King’s Vineyard, in 1893. They became AC Sparta a year later. The eternal rivalry between Sparta and Slavia, the ‘Derby S’ began in 1896 with a friendly match whose result is still disputed to this day.
Attracting working-class support, Sparta earned the nickname ‘Zelezná’, or ‘Iron’ Sparta, because of their fighting qualities. This earned them a string of Czech titles between the wars, plus successful participation in the Mitropa Cup, forerunner of today’s European competitions. The star of the day was inside-forward Oldrich Nejedly, top scorer for finalists Czechoslovakia at the 1934 World Cup.
When the post-war Communist authorities insisted in renaming the club Sparta Bratrstvi, then Spartak Sokolovo, supporters still called their club Sparta, and the name was officially recognised in 1965. The club won the title that same year, driven by star midfielder Andrej Kvasnák.
Dipping in and out of form, Sparta enjoyed consistent success in the free market economy after 1989. Owned first by Petr Mach, then by the entrepreneurial Rezes family, Sparta were able to nurture or purchase the best footballing talent in the country. Title winners throughout the 1990s, Sparta made the European Cup semi-final group in 1992 and the Champions League on regular occasions from 1996 onwards.
Although influential coach, former team captain Jozef Chovanec, later left to take over the Czech national side, the players he moulded continued to dominate at home and make progress abroad, Sparta making the second group stage of the Champions League in 1999/2000.
A run of ten championships in 13 seasons came to an end in 2007, although goals from Ivorian Wilfried Bony helped Sparta to another title in 2010. In 2014, it was Czech Josef Husbauer who provided the goals, and Tomas Vaclik, now of FC Basel, who stopped them. Both also played a prominent role in the cup final. Husbauer scored an equalising penalty well into stoppage time against Plzen, then converting his spot-kick in the shoot-out, while Vaclik produced the decisive save that saw Sparta do the double for the first time since 2007.
In 2015-16, a run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League included an impressive win over Lazio to land a plum tie with Villarreal.
The Generali Arena is known by all as the Letná, after the adjacent park and playing field where Sparta first played in the 1890s.
Set near a bend in the Vltava river just north of Prague city centre, the Letná saw modest stands erected as games with Slavia became bigger crowd-pullers. It also played host to the great Czech team between the wars, but all was to a terrible fire in 1934, including Sparta’s already considerable haul of trophies, two months before Nejedly and company made the World Cup final that year.
Rebuilt four years later, the Letná continued to host Sparta games to the post-war European era, but by the 1970s its limitations were clear to see. The authorities hired local architect Kyril Mandel, famed for designing other sporting venues in town, to come up with the perfect football stadium.
Built to Mandel’s specifications as four neat, enclosed stands, the Letná offers a clear view of the action to home, away and neutral spectator alike. Intimate, too, with plenty of natural light, the Letná became all-seated in the 1990s, and would soon assume the role of Czech national stadium. A capacity of 20,000 is generally more than enough to suit the modest needs of Czech domestic football – yet small enough to generate atmosphere.
Home fans gather behind the south goal along Milady Horákové, through Gate 1A, particularly in sectors D45-D49 and H37-H38. Away fans are diagonally opposite, through Gate 5, in sectors H85-H86 and D91-D94. Gates 2 and 3 lead to neutral spots along the touchline, Gate 1 to the VIP and press seats.
Either take green metro line A to Hradcanská, then walk for ten minutes along Milady Horákové, or take trams Nos.1, 8, 25 or 26 that run the length of this street between Hradcanská and Vlatavská on red metro line A.
The main ticket office is the Zákaznicke Centrum (Mon, Tue, Thur 9am-noon, 1pm-5.30pm, Wed 9am-noon, 1pm-7pm, Fri 9am-noon, 1pm-4pm, match days) on the nearest side of Milady Horákové to Hradcanská metro station. Tickets are also available at Football Mania (Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm) on Perlová, Nike Prague at Na Prikope 859/22 (daily 10am-8pm) and via Ticket Portal.
Seat prices are cheap, even when raised for European games. Tickets (Kc130-Kc400) for league matches go on sale the week before the game.
The Sparta Fotball Fan Shop (Mon noon-6pm, Tue-Fri 9am-6pm, match days) stands by Gate 1, where Milady Horákové meets U Sparty. With a cabinet of fame featuring great former stars on one wall, here you’ll find full retro Sparta kits (Kc1,390), Sparta jigsaws and Sparta toasters, as well as copy of the club’s foundation charter.
Sparta shirts and souvenirs can also be found at Nike Prague, Na Prikope 859/22 (daily 10am-8pm).
Going for a pre-match drink before a Sparta game depends on which direction you’re travelling. If you’re coming via Hradcanská metro, then each side of the station are the old-style Restaurace Dejvická filled with vintage beer signs, and the more standard Restaurace Hradcanská over the main road.
Towards the Vltavská end, the Letná at Jireckova 18 is a trendy café while, nearer to Vltavská, the simple Sport Bar offers beer and betting. Further along, Vycep Zelezná Sparta (Mon-Thur, Sun 3pm-4am, Fri, Sat 3pm-5am) is filled with wooden-framed images depicting Sparta history, including the 1909 team and the Letná in the 1920s. Judging by the scarves, visiting fans have come from Glentoran, Brynas IF and Perugia. You’ll find it on the corner of Sternberkova and Dukelskych hrdinu.