Nearly 50 years after the visit of Johan Cruyff’s Ajax for a European Cup semi-final, Trnava is once again an international football hub thanks to the €28-million reconstruction of the Štadión Antona Malatinského.
Named after the master coach who created the Spartak Trnava side that won five Czechoslovak titles in six seasons and took Ajax to the wire, the stadium reopened under the commercial co-title of the City Arena in 2015.
Given the seemingly interminable delays to the rebuilding of Slovan’s Tehelné Pole ground in Bratislava, the Anton Malatinsky Stadium soon become Slovakia’s national arena. A pre-Euro visit by Northern Ireland attracted a crowd of 18,000, just short of overall capacity – in 2015-16, Spartak attracted nearly three times the Slovak league average of 2,400, Slovan Bratislava included.
And this a club that hadn’t won a league title since the Malatinsky era of the early 1970s. More than 40 years on, Trnava remains the heartland of football in Slovakia.
A merger of Šk Čechie and ČšŠk created a single Trnava club in 1923, shortly after the city became part of the newly created Czechoslovakia. Before this, as Nagyszombat, Trnava was part of Hungary – unlike in nearby Bratislava, there are no records of any clubs being formed under Habsburg rule, although the game was quick to develop almost everywhere else in Greater Hungary. Again, unlike Bratislava, Trnava was always a defiantly Slovak stronghold. Under 50km (30 miles) from today’s capital, Spartak’s clash with Slovan is close enough to be called a derby.
Industrialised before Communism, Trnava was affected but not ruined by the post-war change of régime – it remains today a quiet community of pretty churches and old town walls, with distinct echoes of Socialism.
Starting out as Rapid, Spartak became Spartak after Stalin’s death in 1953 – this after a short period as Kovosmalt (‘Metal Enamel’) Trnava.
The club Trnava-born Malatinsky joined in 1941 was TŠS, when Slovakia was a Nazi puppet state. Earning caps for both Slovakia and Czechoslovakia, Malatinsky skipped away to Vienna during the Prague Spring year of 1968 but had enough political clout to return in 1971.
He lived out a quiet retirement until his death, 30 days before modern Slovak independence in 1992.
Initially, Spartak made little headway. Two runners-up spots in a league won by the likes of Ružomberok and 1.FC Košice, and a solitary Slovak cup, were all the Bili Andeli (‘White Angels’) had to show for more than 20 years in a weaker domestic set-up.
Bars around the ground still displayed images from the Malatinsky era, fans still turned up in healthy numbers and Spartak still hated Slovan.
It just required a stellar coach, Nestor El Maestro, for Trnava to win a memorable title in 2018. Spartak’s form dipped, although they managed to qualify for Europe by winning the Slovak cup on penalties over Žilina.
The nearest airport to Trnava is Bratislava MR Štefánika 47km (29 miles) away. Bus No.61 runs every 15-20min to Bratislava main station (‘Hlavná stanica’, journey time 25min, €0.90). Bus stop and ticket machine are to the far right as you exit the airport terminal.
The airport is 9km (5.5 miles) north-east of the capital. Taxi Slovakia quotes €20 to Bratislava station and €48 all the way to Trnava. Trnava-based Eurotaxi (+421 911/+421 915 then 655 882) quotes €28 back to the airport.
There are trains roughly every hour to Trnava (fast 30min, slow 50min, €2.55).
From Trnava station, it’s a shortish walk to the town centre and stadium. Local buses are run by SAD Trnava.
The best hotel in town is also the closest to the stadium. The 35-room Impiq is a business-friendly four-star with a spa, restaurant and lobby bar, and sleek, contemporary appearance.
There are other lodgings near the City Arena. The nearest is the Penzión Panorama, comprising ten standard rooms and a sauna and jacuzzi. Also easily walkable, the Hotel Dream is a mid-range lodging with 15 rooms, eight suites and its own restaurant. Alongside, the smaller Hotel London is similar in price and appearance.
Nearby, the Hotel Premier is more modest but has a bar, gym and sauna.
Elsewhere in town, on Jeruzalemská, the wallet-friendly, simple Penzión Holiday has a pleasant back terrace for breakfast while a few houses down, the Patriot is more ambitious, with a quality restaurant that belies the hotel’s three-star status.
In the same part of town, the Holiday Inn is the other candidate for best hotel in town, with a large spa area, two restaurants, two bars and a gym.
Close to the station, so also convenient for the stadium, the Hotel Sheyly’s has a winning combination of large, cheap rooms and a retro-themed cocktail bar – plus a handy location.
Affordable, tasty Zlaty Bažant beer can be found all over Trnava – when open-air performances are staged all summer on the main square of Trojičné námestie, there’s a great big van of the stuff.
The best and most imaginative bar in town is the excellent Partizáni, a retro-themed bar/restaurant that fills several rooms of an old house on námestie SNP with vintage posters and tastefully placed junk. TV football is scheduled among the party nights, and the food is decent. There’s table football, too.
Nearby, closer to the station, Grand Beer Pezinská (Andreja Žarnova 8) is another great find, an old-school pub with a sunny beer garden, where rarer Slovak and Czech brews are served.
On a quiet corner in the old town, U Javeho is a handy place to watch the match over a classic Czech beer, with late opening on Friday and Saturday nights.
As its name suggests, the Spirit Bar specialises in whiskies and vodkas, as well as screening football from the Slovak and English leagues.