9 May ~ Fotbal, by folk legend and Banik Ostrava supporter Jaromir Nohavica, must be one of the finest songs about watching the game ever written. "One beer goes down… and then another," sings Nohavica of the pre-match build-up. But you suspect he and his fellow Banik fans will have been in need of something stronger this season, as their team has spent much of it in the relegation places of the Gambrinus Liga, Czech Republic's top-tier. That Banik retain a fighting chance of staying up is partly down to the even poorer form of Viktoria Zizkov, whom they defeated 3-1 in a crucial fixture on April 28, and the spring freefall of Bohemians 1905.
Otherwise, even when playing well, Banik have kept finding innovative ways to avoid victory. It is a tendency they seem to be putting behind them, though, and three points in tonight's final home fixture of the season, against Slavia Prague, may be enough to ensure survival.
Poor form has not been Banik's only problem. They are thought to be around Kc10 million (£330,000) in debt, a situation deemed so serious that the "Let's Save Banik" campaign was set up in the winter. The players have been among those contributing to the fund, jointly volunteering Kc500,000 as an apology for one of their more abject defeats, 4-1 away to Dukla Prague.
Question marks also surround Bazaly stadium, the club's home ground since 1959. Bazaly is located halfway up a hill as the historical region of Silesia, most of which is in Poland, climbs away from the River Ostravice, the natural border with Moravia (which forms most of the eastern third of the Czech Republic). It is one of the most distinctive of the region's communist-era stadiums and is also central to Banik's identity as a Silesian club.
The club was founded by poor local miners ("banik" means "miner") in 1922 as SK Slezska (Silesian) Ostrava, yet their local authority has been pressuring them to sell up and move to the former FC Vitkovice stadium, on the Moravian side of the city.
New ownership, in the shape of SMK Reality Invest, who bought a 59 per cent stake in Banik in February, offers hope that these issues may be resolved. SMK have also purchased Bazaly, theoretically ensuring that it will stay out of authority hands for a while yet. But the ground has failed to meet the Czech football association's grading criteria.
Its licence to stage games, originally due to expire this year, has been extended for another 12 months, but redevelopment is needed urgently. The plans the new owners have commissioned for this, which incorporate sweeping roofs and luxurious skyboxes, strike you as somewhat at odds with Ostrava's unpretentious image. In any case, they are largely dependent on the avoidance of relegation and the paying-off of the debt.
Ostrava, unsurprisingly for a working-class city once reliant on heavy industry, is perhaps the only place in the Czech Republic where football really seems to matter. Banik won the federal Czechoslovak league three times between 1976 and 1981, and the Czech league as recently as 2004. They reached the European Cup-Winners Cup semi-final in 1979 and, more recently, have met the likes of Aston Villa and Middlesbrough in European competition.
Their fans still travel to away matches in far greater numbers than those of any other Czech club, and will no doubt create an intimidating atmosphere for the Slavia game this evening. They will not be counting on help or sympathy from their metropolitan visitors, but will demand that their own side rises to the occasion. If the team avoids relegation, you can bet that Nohavica will be among those raising a glass in celebration. James Baxter