Anyone turning up at Bohemians 1905’s Ďolíček stadium on a whim to see the opening game of the season would understandably have been confused. On paying their 90Kč (£3) for their ticket on the gate, they would have seen that Bohemians were playing “Hosté”, or guests. And the electronic scoreboard above the terrace wouldn’t have helped: it too advertised today’s opponents as Hosté. As the teams trotted out, Bohemians in their famous green and white stripes, we could see the opposition in their away kit of yellow shirts and black shorts, which just happens to also be the away colours of Bohemians. Strange? Not really, until one considers that the guests also play their home games in green and white stripes. And are also called Bohemians. And have the same kangaroo club badge…
A dull 0-0 draw wasn’t the start that Bohemians 1905 wanted as they hope for immediate promotion back to the Czech Gambrinus Liga, the game enlivened only by a baffling sending off for the guests. Still, at least this time the other Bohemians, from the Prague district of Střížkov (let’s call them that from now on), actually turned up for the game. The last time the two clubs played each other, on a beautiful April afternoon in 2010 in the Prague district of Vršovice, the sun came out but, unfortunately, Střížkov didn’t. The team refused to take to the pitch and an announcement over the Tannoy revealed that the visiting players feared for their safety, and even questioned the very legitimacy of the existence of Bohemians 1905, an infuriating and frustrating piece of brinkmanship that, in the end, merely served to confirm the already-inevitable relegation of Střížkov – the club was later deducted twenty (later reduced to fifteen) points, and thereby finished bottom of the table with one solitary point to their name (a position in which they would have finished anyway, even with the extra points).
So why the no-show, the controversy, and the confusion? In this tale of corruption, greed, and incompetence, only one thing is clear – that nothing is really clear. The two Bohemians (well, actually there are three, but more of that later) continue to pursue their right to the name and identity of Bohemians through the media and the courts, a situation that has been allowed to drag on since 2005. Unfortunately, though, an end to this unedifying spectacle still seems far off.
For the people of Vršovice, Bohemians 1905 will always be the real Bohemians. This respected old club is fiercely supported, and those of us who keep an eye out for the results of German club St. Pauli for political reasons might do well to look up Bohemians if hoping to see a game whilst on a stag weekend in Prague. Aside from attracting some of the most vociferous and loyal fans in the country, Bohemians supporters also tend to hold anti-fascist and anti-establishment views, and whilst smoking a cigarette and supping on a Gambrinus beer on the terraces, you’re unlikely to be troubled by a steward if you also want to, ahem, smoke something a little less legal.
The club’s most successful period came in the 1980s, reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and claiming their only league title in 1983, shortly after the departure of their most famous former player, Antonín Panenka, now the club’s president. Since then, the Kangaroos (Klokani) have divided their time between the top two divisions, occasionally daring to venture into the top half of the first division, even finishing a heady fourth in 1990 and 2002.
However, the club’s history has also been marked by the occasional financial crisis, essentially self-inflicted, severely hampering the club’s ability to build on any success achieved. For example, towards the end of the communist regime and after the departure of league-winning manager Tomáš Pospíchal in 1987, the club was singled out by the authorities and found guilty of financial mismanagement, despite other clubs being guilty of similar offences. It’s not clear why Bohemians were singled out for punishment. Perhaps their success simply annoyed the establishment, and they had to be dealt with. And dealt with they were.
Fast forward to a new millennium, but a familiar story. Existing and accumulating debts were compounded by rumours of money disappearing into the pockets of then-owner Michal Vejsada, and the club went bankrupt, leaving Bohemians’ loyal fans in limbo. To further complicate matters, Karel Kapr, owner of the aforementioned F. C. Střížkov, leased the name “Bohemians” from TJ Bohemians Praha, a sports and athletics club based in the city. Predictably, fans of the original Bohemians baulked at the idea of supporting a displanted club. After setting up a new club, Bohemians 1905, with the help of fans of St. Pauli in Germany and Dublin’s Bohemians, the new club secured the old Ďolíček stadium for home games. 1905, it must be pointed out, retain the original club licence, and is considered by supporters, officials, and players of other clubs to be the moral successors of the original Bohemians. Crucially, the Czech FA has also supported its claim.
With me so far? Good. Unfortunately, there’s more. Did I mention that there are actually three Bohemians laying claim to the name and achievements of the original club? Former owner Vejsada soon established Bohemians Praha a.s., a club that still technically exists but which has recently been excluded from the Czech league structure. Furthermore, after the 2009 transfer of Jan Morávek (now at Augsburg) from 1905 to Schalke 04 for almost £3m, both Bohemians Praha and Bohemians Praha a.s. demanded the transfer fee.
However, it recently appeared that the conflict and confusion suffered by the long-suffering fans of Bohemians 1905 might be about to come to an end. Miroslav Pelta, head of the Czech FA, and the Czech courts have ruled that Bohemians Praha (Střížkov) must stop using the Bohemians name as of February 2013. It is to Pelta’s credit that someone at the top of Czech football has made any significant progress in ending the dispute. Despite this decision, nobody really comes out of the rigmarole with much, if any, credit. But it also means that – fingers crossed – by the time the two main protagonists meet again in the league, in June, the game will be contested between Bohemians 1905 and plain old Střížkov. Furthermore, at the time of writing, 1905 sit top of the second division and look good value to secure promotion back to the top flight, despite indifferent recent form, so maybe things are finally looking up. Unfortunately, though, the case is likely to continue to drag through the courts, as claim and counter-claim are made by the protagonists. Given the recent convoluted history of one of Prague’s most famous and respected old clubs, nobody should bet on anything just yet.
Charlie Robinson teaches philosophy at the Metropolitan University in Prague. He can be contacted at email@example.com.