Slovakia’s third largest city of Žilina is home to its second most successful football club since independence in 1993. MŠK Žilina won six titles in ten years between 2002 and 2012, reaching the group stages of the Champions League and former UEFA Cup on one occasion each.
The Yellow-Greens also made three cup finals in a row, winning one, in the double year of 2012.
But MŠK, then just ŠK Žilina, were twice Slovak champions in the 1920s, when only Czech teams were allowed to compete in the Czechoslovak league.
Never able to assert their authority as compatriots Slovan Bratislava and Spartak Trnava could over the big teams from Prague, Žilina became a big player in the independent Slovak league.
To their advantage has been the all-seater Štadión pod Dubnom, built in 1941 after Slovakia had gained a limited amount of autonomy. Recently, with the rebuilding of the main stadiums in Bratislava and Trnava, Žilina has become the de facto home for the Slovak national side.
The ground is also being used for AS Trencín’s home tie with Hull in the Europa League – 2014-15 was the first time since 2006-07 that Žilina weren’t involved in Europe.
The stadium stands the other side of the train station, in a riverside sports complex that also includes the Garmin Aréna for ice hockey, equally popular and successful here.
The nearest international airport to Žilina is 9km (5.5 miles) north-east of the capital of Bratislava. There is currently no direct public transport to Žilina. Trolleybus No.61 runs past the Slovan stadium, through town to Bratislava’s train station. Buses run every 15-20min and take 25min to reach the station, tickets €0.90, valid 60min. A taxi should cost around €20 – Airport Taxi Bratislava (+421 903 718 787) is as good as any. Most firms also quote a price (€45-€50) to and from Vienna Airport. A dozen Blaguss buses a day run from Vienna Airport to Bratislava SNP Bridge (€7.20, €12 return, 45min journey time) in town.
Žilina is 200km (124 miles) from Bratislava. From Bratislava’s main station, hlavná stanica, a train (every 2hrs, 2hr 15-45min) costs €9.
Near the stadium, the Holiday Inn is the best hotel in town, with a gym, pool, jacuzzi and tennis court. Its Aquarium Bar by the lobby is handy pre- and post-match.
Displaying its opening date of 1910 on its stylish façade, the Hotel Grand Žilina offers sauna and watery relaxation. There are also budget rooms at the GMK Centrum, by Zilina’s main square, with its own restaurant.
Affordable Czech and Slovak beer abounds. On the main square of Mariánske námestie, your first port of call should be the Guinness Pub. Genuinely pub-like, with scarf evidence of Chelsea’s visit in 2010, otherwise decked out in old Slovak beer ads, the GP also features a terrace overlooking the square and a restaurant upstairs. Football on TV, too.
Just off the main square, Gladiator (Sladkovicova 164/3) is another pub-like venue with an excellent choice of beers (Edelweiss, Starobrno, two types of Zlaty Bažant) and TV football. The Zina Sport Bar (MR Štefánika 988/12) pumps out loud music but otherwise lacks atmosphere.
Nearer the station, the courtyard Fan Café (Narodná 18) is a simple basement bar with mounted Slovak shirts surrounding the TV focused on football action. Opposite the station, the Krčma u Žilinca is an age-old Žilina fans’ pub, yellow-and-green on the outside, brown and smoky on the inside. Old photos of Žilina complement the MSK scarves.
For after-hours entertainment, live-music clubs include the recommended SMERR.