Slovakia’s motor city of golden football legend

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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 Malatinský 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 Malatinský 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 Malatinský joined in 1941 was TŠS, when Slovakia was a Nazi puppet state. Earning caps for both Slovakia and Czechoslovakia, Malatinský 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 Malatinský 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.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

The nearest airport to Trnava is Bratislava MR Štefánika 47km (29 miles) away. Bus 61 runs every 15-20mins to Bratislava main station (‘Hlavná stanica’, journey time 25mins, €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 30mins, slow 50mins, €2.55).

From Trnava station, it’s a shortish walk to the town centre and stadium. Local buses are run by SAD Trnava.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Affordable, tasty Zlatý 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. Overlooking the square from Hviezdoslavova, Charlie serves lashings of Staropramen as you watch Trnava go by.

Across the square on Hlavná, the Radničná Piváreň pulls no punches with its Pilsner Urquell, best supped on the terrace. As its name suggests, the Spirit Bar on Halenárska specialises in whiskies and vodkas, as well as screening football from the Slovak and English leagues.

On this same side of town, occupying a quiet corner, U Javeho is a handy place to watch the match over a classic Czech beer, with late opening on Friday and Saturday nights.

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, U Právnika is pub, restaurant, sports bar and lodging in one, with a row of screens over the counter and big vats of Krušovice awaiting patrons.

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.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

Trnava Tourist Information has a database of hotels in town. Integral to the mall attached to the stadium, the Hotel Arena offers 18 upper mid-range rooms, three apartments and an executive suite on the top floor, with a jacuzzi on the balcony. Unlike in England, with suites overlooking the pitch, you can watch the match without any hotel flunky coming to pull the curtains across. Free parking, too.

Also close, the 35-room Impiq is a business-friendly four-star with a spa, restaurant and lobby bar, and sleek, contemporary appearance. There are cheaper options too near the City Arena. Easily walkable, the Hotel Phoenix is affordable yet tastefully comfortable, the Hotel Dream alongside is a mid-range lodging with 15 rooms, eight suites and its own restaurant and the London Boutique Hotel has come up a notch since a recent makeover.

Nearby on Jeruzalemská, the simple, wallet-friendly 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.

Alongside, Saint Michael is a welcoming mid-range choice and green-friendly with it – there’s E-bike rental and a EV charging station.

In the same part of town, the Holiday Inn is a candidate for the 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.