LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Spartak Trnava

First Slovak silverware for White Angels of Trnava

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

One of the great names of the Communist era, Spartak Trnava had struggled to repeat the successes achieved behind the Iron Curtain – until one memorable season in 2017-18 under mercurial coach Nestor El Maestro, who took the White Angels to a first title since Slovak independence in 1993.

During the long campaigns without domestic silverware or European progress, Spartak kept a significant fan base, the largest in the land. A new era was already underway with the opening of the City Arena in 2015, putting Trnava back into the spotlight as Slovakia’s football capital, home of both Spartak and the national side.

One name links two eras, nearly 50 years apart: Anton Malatinský. A tactical genius who led Spartak to untold heights, Malatinský had the stadium named after him in 1998. Recently rebuilt alongside the inevitable shopping mall, this stadium is officially titled ‘City Arena – Štadión Antona Malatinského’, thus venerating the Spartak side who won the national title five times in six seasons from 1968 onwards.

As a player, Trnava-born Malatinský came into the game when Nazi-backed Slovakia had a separate league and national side in World War II. The local club had been formed in 1923, playing at the same City Arena site, first as TŠS, then ŠK, then, after 1939, again as TŠS.

A savvy midfielder, Malatinský also earned national caps, first for Slovakia then, after 1945, for Czechoslovakia. With Communism, the club was forced to undergo the usual worker-friendly name changes – Sokol, Kovosmalt – before Spartak was settled upon in 1953.

Shortly afterwards, a knee injury ended Malatinský’s career. Having already gained coaching experience, he took to the head post straight away, and by 1960 Spartak finished fourth behind Josef Masopust’s Dukla.

Coming back to Trnava in 1963, Malatinský set about creating a side that would beat the likes of Dukla and blaze a path in Europe. First, he discovered a high-scoring midfielder in Ladislav Kuna, and brought him over from his home-town club of Hlohovec. Kuna went on to be manager, then chairman of Spartak, the only domestic club he played for. Then he persuaded prolific international striker Jozef Adamec to return to Trnava from Slovan Bratislava, sealing a decade-long stay and subsequent managerial stints.

But perhaps his master stroke was picking up right-sided defender/midfielder Karol Dobiaš from little-known Baník Handlová. After a decade of Malatinský’s nurturing, Dobiaš would be the only Spartak player in Czechoslovakia’s Euro-winning squad of 1976 – and even score in the final.

Under Malatinský, Spartak won their first league title in 1968 before he fled to Vienna in the tumultuous Prague Spring. In his place came former Slovan coach Ján Hucko, who kept the White Angels in the hunt. With the same squad, Spartak again won the league in 1969 and won through to the semi-final of the European Cup at the first attempt.

Losing 3-0 to Johan Cruyff’s Ajax in Amsterdam, Spartak took Rinus Michels’ side to the wire in Trnava after Kuna put the home side 2-0 up just after half-time. It wasn’t to be. The following season, the toss of a coin saw Galatasaray go through at Spartak’s expense, the last time a European tie was decided in this way.

Malatinský returned in 1971. In the following five years, Spartak won three more titles and twice made the quarter-finals of the European Cup, losing by the odd goal to Brian Clough’s Derby and on penalties to Újpest Dózsa.

Malatinský left in 1976. Spartak never finished top six in the Czechoslovak league again.

A year after his death, Slovakia’s weaker, stand-alone league was created. Since then, Spartak have only finished runners-up, on three occasions, and won the cup, in 1998, a poor return for such a decorated club.

Under Juraj Jarábek, son of a Spartak centre-back in the Malatinský era, the club achieved a third-placed finish in 2014 and fourth- in 2015, beating St Johnstone in the Europa League. Most players of quality, though, tend to be sold on – such as Slovak international Erik Sabo – and managers don’t stick around for long.

Continuation with the past – then chairman Dušan Keketi was a goalkeeper here in the Malatinský era and 2016-17 coach Miroslav Karhan spent 15 years at the club as both a youth and an ageing international – was broken with the arrival of Serbian-born, UK-naturalised Nestor El Maestro. 

The former Nestor Jevtić learned his trade in the UK where he was a student in West Sussex. Changing his name by deed pool, he started out as manager of Haywards Heath before moving back to Europe. The youngest assistant coach in the Bundesliga when he was taken on by Schalke, El Maestro masterminded Spartak’s triumph with his own brother, Nikon, only 24, as his right-hand man.

Also bringing with him swift left-sided Austrian Marvin Egho, El Maestro initially struggled. Then Egho scored a crucial goal or two, most notably a late one that sank DAC in September. The crowd, always vocal, doubled, then tripled in size. The team gelled, bolstered by home-town keeper Martin Vantruba, sturdy midfielder and one-time Austrian international Yasin Pehlivan and steady centre-back Boris Godal.

Spartak went through February and March unbeaten. Facing Slovan at home in April, they held on for a 1-0 win, El Maestro standing on the roof of the dugout to celebrate with fans. Trnava went into the last game, with DAC, knowing that win would be enough to end a 45-year title drought. Within six minutes, DAC had gone a man down and Godal had converted the penalty. More red cards followed before Egho put the game, and the title, beyond anyone else’s reach.

While the Ultras Spartak lived up to their Italian name, El Maestro was being coveted by several clubs. Leaving for Sofia, he was replaced by Czech Radoslav Látal, who led Trnava to wins over Zrinjski Mostar and Legia Warsaw in the Champions League before extra-time defeat to Red Star Belgrade in Slovakia.

Form dipped, Látal gave way to his compatriot Michal Ščasný, whose Spartak side won the Slovak cup on penalties against Žilina after a 3-3 draw in Nitra.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The ‘City Arena – Štadión Antona Malatinského’ was opened in August 2015 after a complete rebuild, the adjoining shopping mall factored into the overall cost of €79 million.

Nearly €30 million of that was spent on the stadium itself, named after the legendary coach of long-term tenants Spartak Trnava, Anton Malatinský.

Spartak, and their various antecedents – TŠS, ŠK, Sokol, Kovosmalt – have been based here since the early 1920s. The neighbouring street is still called Športová, decades later.

The change is in the layout of the stadium. The main stand is no longer the West (Západná tribúna, entrances A and B) on Športová but the East Stand (Východná tribúna, entrance G) nearest the City Arena mall, to cater for VIPs. 

Home fans occupy the North Stand (Severná tribúna) nearest the pedestrianised street of Dolné bašty, entrance H, while away fans (‘Hostia’) are allocated one half of the South Stand (Južná tribúna) on Kollárova, nearest the train station, sectors 15-17 and 46-48, through entrances C and D.

Overall capacity is 19,200.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The stadium is an easy 10min walk from Trnava station. As you exit, walk over the footbridge to the right, then veer right again onto Kollárova and keep walking until you get to Športová on your left.

There’s also bus stop, Spartakovská, at the Kollárova/Športová junction, for line two stops from the train station – but the service is half-hourly at best, hourly on a Sunday.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

There are ticket offices all round the ground – at least one opens Mon & Wed 4pm-6pm, plus Fri & Sat according to the match schedule, plus match days.

For Spartak games, prices are set at €7 in the lower tiers behind each goal, €9 everywhere else apart from the best €12 ‘leather’ seats in the West Stand (Západná tribúna). There are various deals in the business seats, €15-€20 without catering, €48 with catering. Children up to 1 metre tall enter free, children from 1 metre to 12 years old are half-price.

For international matches, the Slovak FA deals with ticket distribution. For major opposition, availability will be tight – tickets usually go on sale about a month before the match online at Ticket Portal and through the FA. Depending on the opposition, prices can be set as high as €58 for the best seats in the East and West Stands (Východná/Západná tribúna), €28 behind the goals in the North and South Stands (Severná/Južná tribúna).

Sales on the day for international fixtures are highly unlikely unless the opposition is particularly weak.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Spartak Fanshop (Mon-Sat 9.30am-5pm, match days at least 30mins before & after the game) on pedestrianised Dolné bašty behind the home North Stand stocks retro tracksuit tops, red-and-black jester hats and flags to stick on the outside of your car, all bearing the badge of Spartak.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

On the Kollárova side of the ground, nearest the train station and the away end, the cabin-like Irish Pub proffers Guinness, Budvar and Pilsner Urquell in a dark, wooden interior.

With the sad closure of the Spartak-themed Central Pub at the corner of Múzejné námestie and Halenárska, the only other choice before the various options in the City Arena mall is the ice-hockey bar attached to the indoor arena on Hlobká, Hokejka

Although quite bare inside – hockey fans aren’t too fussy – it serves Krušovice and rarely found Bradáč Rainbow Warrior on draught, as well as all kinds of grilled meats.

Within the City Arena mall are two suitable pre-match outlets: the Kavarieň Stará Trnava, with framed shirts and autographed photos of Spartak legends invited to pop in; and the Piváreň Bokovka, a contemporary bar/restaurant with an industrial but smart feel and, most of all, several kinds of Budvar beer including the rare Cvikl straight from the barrel. Both venues are on the first floor. 

If these two are busy pre-match, the Arena Café also serves beer. The lobby bar of the Hotel Arena does its best to look chic while its café has a terrace looking out onto the street.

CITY

AWAY DAYS