LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Slavia Prague

Chinese bring good fortune to the Fortuna Arena

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Revived in the 1990s, thrice title winners 2019-2021 and based at a modern, multi-purpose arena, Slavia Prague are one of the great names of pre-war European football.

On March 29 1896, Sparta and Slavia first played each other in a 0-0 draw at the King’s Meadow in front of 121 paying customers. Four days earlier, Slavia had first worn their red-and-white halved shirts, with the red five-pointed star badge, a symbol of Czech nationalism. Prague was ruled by Habsburg Vienna. Slavia was a Czech-language society of literature, sport and debate.

Up until the war, the duo monopolised the championship. They each won the Mitropa Cup, a forerunner of the European Cup, and provided the bulk of the Czechoslovak team that so nearly won the World Cup of 1934. The Czech captain was goalkeeper František Plánička, who appeared nearly 1,000 times for Slavia over nearly two decades.

Eden Arena mural/Peterjon Cresswell

It all came to an end after the war. Slavia had won their 13th title in 1947, with legendary Pepi Bican leading the line, before the new Communist authorities came down hard on these university-educated intellectuals. The club were stripped of its name, its star players and the 1948 autumn title – still disputed to this day. 

Half the squad went to the newly formed army side, ATK, later renamed Dukla, the new force in the Czech game. Slavia also moved from the Letná to a new ground in Vršovice: Eden. Its famous main wooden stand was transported across town.

Slavia later got back their name and top-flight status, even gaining the better of Sparta in the Derby S fixture. Slavia players honoured the student demonstrations of 1989 with a pre-match show of support.

Iris Hotel Eden café/Peterjon Cresswell

Czech-American Boris Korbel took over Slavia but had left by the time Karel Poborský, Radek Bejbl and Vladimír Šmicer led the club to the top of the league. As František Plánicka lay dying in bed, the club took their first title for 50 years on an emotional afternoon in May 1996. A month later, these players took the Czech team to the final of Euro 96.

Behind the scenes, though, chaos reigned, with changes of ownership and a prolonged battle to rebuild the rickety Eden. Eventually, after a number of ground shares, part-ownership by a Chinese conglomerate allowed Slavia to move into a new Eden in 2008. With goals from Tomáš Necid, the club won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.

An impressive win over Ajax saw Slavia make the Champions League group stage for the first time in 2008 when a 7-0 tonking by Arsenal was tempered by a narrow defeat in the subsequent UEFA Cup to Tottenham. 

Eden Arena/Peterjon Cresswell

Two more campaigns in the Europa League led to clashes with Ajax, Hamburg and Valencia before ownership and financial struggles meant an exodus of key players, and mediocre league finishes. All changed in 2016 when the Chinese raised their ownership to just under 100%. Shares then went to the Sinobo Group in 2018, Slavia’s stadium duly renamed.

Goals from the consistently prolific Milan Škoda helped push Slavia back up the table, just pipping holders Viktoria Plzeň to the title in 2017. Runners-up in 2018, Slavia took the title back in 2019, with stellar performances from player of the season, young midfielder Tomáš Souček. 

A rare run in the Europa League also showcased his talents, Slavia overcoming Sevilla 4-3 in extra-time that saw three goals and heart-stopping action. The Prague side then pushed eventual winners Chelsea close in the quarter-finals, the Slavia team taking a bow to travelling fans after Petr Ševčík grabbing two goals in four minutes to bring an impossible result agonisingly close.

Eden Arena/Peterjon Cresswell

Brushing past Cluj in the 2019-20 Champions League play-off round, Slavia came up against Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Internazionale in a glamour group, Inter requiring a stoppage-time equaliser to prevent a historic win for the Czechs in Milan. Slavia succeeded in holding on to Ševčík but not to Souček, who duly went to West Ham while his former teammates performed heroics in Europe.

Leaving Bayer Leverkusen and Nice in their wake in the Europa League group stage, Senegalese teenager Abdallah Sima scoring home and away against the Frenchmen, Slavia shocked Leicester with a 2-0 win at the King Power Stadium, Sima again on the scoresheet. 

Sima was man of the match in a brutal Round of 16 game at Rangers, a bad-tempered tie mitigated by two superb goals from Romanian international Nicolae Stanciu but attention from English clubs distracted the promising African striker. 

Slavia Prague shop/Peterjon Cresswell

Red-carded early on in a routine league fixture with Opava, Sima was substituted in Slavia’s fortunate draw at Arsenal in the Europa League quarter-final, then benched for the fateful home leg, settled by three goals from the Gunners in six minutes. Sima then failed to recapture his Slavia form across the Channel.

Slavia, meanwhile, set all kinds of records on their way to a third straight title that season, ending 2020-21 unbeaten in the league, stretching their defeat-free run to 46 games including the previous campaign. They also won more points and scored more goals than anyone before in the Czech league. 

Huge credit for this achievement should go to coach Jindřich Trpišovský, whose goalkeeping career was cut short, and who waited tables at Prague’s Esplanade Hotel in order to train local youth teams. Barely scratching a living as assistant coach at Viktoria Žižkov, Trpišovský then did an impressive job at Slovan Liberec before being snapped up by Slavia’s Chinese ownership and transforming the team from 2017 onwards.

Slavia Prague shop/Peterjon Cresswell

A 1-0 defeat at Sparta (where else?) ended Slavia’s unbeaten league run in October 2021, the champions down to ten men before half-time, and would eventually cede their crown to Plzeň. 

In Europe, goals from young Nigerian striker Yira Sor dispatched Fenerbahçe and LASK Linz in the Conference League, and swung a ding-dong game at Feyenoord in favour of the Czech visitors. Slavia then failed to qualify for the semi-final in front of a full house at the Sinobo Stadium, the Dutch punishing defensive mistakes to win 3-1.

Plzeň took the upper hand in the title race in 2022-23 when the six-pointer at home to Slavia turned on a penalty two minutes in, Brazilian defender shown the red card for a clumsy tussle in the box. Five golden years into his tenure, Trpišovský will have turned down many an offer to coach elsewhere.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Eden, aka the Eden Arena, aka the Sinobo Stadium and, since 2022, the Fortuna Arena, is a modern-day, multi-purpose venue light years away from the old ground with a wooden stand that stood here until as late as the 1990s.

Slavia had originally played at the Letná, moving to drab Vršovice in south-east Prague in the 1950s. By the 1970s, and certainly after 1985 (no-smoking notices used to read ‘Remember Bradford!’), the need to modernise was paramount.

Slavia used the impersonal Strahov athletics stadium while funds were being raised to rebuild Eden, a long-running saga elongated by a five-year construction project that ended in 2008.

First backed by betting firm Synot Tip, the new arena today features a four-star hotel, a drive-through hamburger chain and several commercial outlets. It was here that Bayern Munich beat Chelsea in the 2013 Super Cup, a late, late equalising goal from Javi Martínez taking the game to penalties.

With a capacity of 19,370, Eden also reguarly hosts the Czech national team, concerts by Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen and Depeche Mode, and was used by Bohemians as their home ground for five seasons.

Four stands are named North (Severní), South (Jižní), East (Východní) and West (Západní). Press and VIPs are accommodated in the main West Stand, on U Slávie, home fans in the North end on Vladivostocká. Visitors are allocated three sections (119-121) in a corner of the South Stand, through gate 3.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

To reach Eden, either take metro line A to Náměstí Miru then tram 4, 22 or 24; or metro line C to IP Pavlova then tram 6, to the Slavia stop on main Vršovická.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The main ticket offices (Mon, Tue, thur 9am-noon, 1pm-5.30pm, Wed 1pm-7pm, Fri 9am-noon, 1pm-4pm and from 9am or noon on match days depending on kick-off time) are by Gates 2 and 4, at diagonal corners of the stadium. 

Ticket prices are set in two categories (Z1 and Z2), according to the opposition. The cheapest are Kč160/€6.70 behind the goals, the dearest Kč420/€17.60 in the main Tribuna Východní. There are also online sales via Ticket Portal.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

On the same side of the stadium as the hotel, the club shop FANzone (Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 10am-6pm, Thur 10am-7pm), hides rare treasures amid the red-and-white shirts and scarves for the North Stand. 

Ask the assistant nicely, and he might show you historic artefacts such as a Slavia club membership card from 1890 (Kč11,000/€460), a yearbook from 1927 or faded postcards of Pepi Bican in action.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Right by the Slavia tramstop, the Pivnice U Stadionu (Vršovická 69) has been there for donkey’s years, today serving Staropramen at Kč35/€1.50 a pint and sporting Slavia paraphernalia around the tiny interior. On match days, everyone stands outside.

At the stadium, the café/restaurant Hotel Iris Eden displays archive Slavia shots and is also used as a pre- and post-match haunt, and on warmer days they put out a popular beer tent, with queues for sausages and Krušovice.

By the club shop, the first-floor Sport Bar Synot Tip offers both draught Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell, a daily menu and all the betting action any punter could wish for. The walls display great moments from recent Slavia history, such as Vladimír Šmicer smiling with trophy-winning in glee.

Many also head across the footbridge to the shopping centre, and the terrace of the Pizzeria Cantonata on the first floor, overlooking the crowds milling around the stadium across the road.

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