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Eden Arena, European Under-21 Championships – until June 30
For the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic, the hosting of June’s European Under-21 Championships is a prestigious occasion.
Over the course of a fortnight until the final on June 30, four grounds will accommodate this biennial event, two in the provinces and two in Prague itself.
The city’s eternal rivals, Slavia and Sparta, are the hosts, Slavia’s Eden Arena staging the opening match and the final.
The semi-finals, one at Sparta’s Generali Arena, have extra significance, in that the four participants qualify for the Olympic football finals in Brazil next year. If England are one of the final four, there will be a play-off in Olomouc.
Also the stage for the 2013 UEFA Super Cup, Prague is steeped in football history.
Sparta and Slavia first played each other in 1896 a 0-0 draw at the King’s Meadow in front of 121 spectators. 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 then 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 Frantisek Planicka, who appeared nearly 1,000 times for Slavia over nearly two decades.
It all ended after the war. Slavia 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 was stripped of its name, its star players and the 1948 autumn title – still disputed to this day. Slavia also moved from the Letna to a new ground in Vrsovice: otherwise known as 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.
In 1996, Karel Poborsky, Radek Bejbl and Vladimir Smicer led the club to the top of the league. As Frantisek Planicka lay dying in bed, the club took their first title for 50 years on an emotional afternoon in May. 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, Slavia moved into the new Eden in 2008. They then won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
At the same time, the club nearly became bankrupt, and had to sell their shares of the stadium to its new owners. On the pitch, Slavia haven’t finished top three since 2009.
The Eden 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.
It features a four-star hotel, a drive-through hamburger chain and several commercial outlets. With a capacity of 21,000, Eden has also hosted the Czech national team and rock concerts.
Four stands are named North (Severni), South (Jizni), East (Vychodni) and West (Zapadni). Press and VIPs are accommodated in the main West Stand, on U Slavie, home fans in the north end on Vladivostocka. For domestic fixtures, visitors are allocated three sections (119-121) in a corner of the South Stand, through gate 3.
On the ground
To reach Eden, either take metro line A to Namesti Miru then tram 4, 22 or 24; or metro line C to IP Pavlova then tram 6, to the Slavia stop on main Vrsovicka.
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 for league fixtures are set in two categories (Z1 and Z2), according to the opposition. The cheapest are Kc160 behind the goals, the dearest Kc420 in the main Tribuna Vychodni.
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, and he’ll show you historic artefacts such as a Slavia club membership card from 1890 (Kc11,000), a yearbook from 1927 or faded postcards of Pepi Bican in action.
Right by the Slavia tram stop, the Pivnice U Stadionu (Vrsovicka 69) has been there for donkey’s years, today serving cheap Staropramen and sporting Slavia paraphernalia – although the estate agents’ photos in the bar window are an ominous portent.
At the stadium, by the club shop, the Sport Bar Synot Tip offers both draught Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell, a cheap daily menu, and all the betting action any punter could wish for. The walls display great moments from recent Slavia history, such as Vladimir Smicer smiling with trophy-winning in glee.
Also in the stadium complex, you’ll find the contemporary Restaurace Eden Caffé and Schwepps Freestyle Music Bar, both contemporary outlets who attract more upscale custom.