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

Comments (15)
Comment by geobra 2012-05-09 15:03:57

Great article. Sounds like a real football club. We should all be cheering for them tonight. I shall certainly check out the result.

Comment by darrenco 2012-05-09 15:38:24

I hope they stay up. They've consistently got more through the gate than any of the Prague clubs ever since I can remember. Worth pointing out too that it's not that long ago that another Ostrava club, Vitkovice, won one of the last Czechoslovak leagues and got to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.

I also enjoyed singing "Banik on the streets of Birmingham" (to myself at least) when they faced Villa in 1990-91, the first UEFA Cup after the English ban ended.

Comment by Third rate Leszno 2012-05-09 15:53:29

If Bohemians 1905 get relegated (which I hope they don't), does that mean they can play at Dolicek again?

Comment by geobra 2012-05-09 16:24:24

Re my last sentence, no pun intended!

Comment by Janik 2012-05-09 16:24:54

I think Bohemiams are tied to playing at Eden for a number of seasons (?5), regardless of the division they are in. Which, obviously, is a pity.

Comment by sw2boropetrovsk 2012-05-09 20:13:24

Banik are very fondly thought of in Middlesbrough, as they were our opponents in our first ever proper European game (Anglo-Italians & Anglo-Scottishs don't count, like the Fairs Cup) and they brought a load of fans to the Riverside, who performed the sort of choreographed display that you would always dream of seeing from a crack East European set of fans.
Their fans were hospitality personified when we went over for the return leg, and although their ground was a mouldy old dump, it was absolutely fantastic and full of atmosphere. A steward who was showing me where I was meant to be sat - I was fairly refreshed and got separated from my mates - just shrugged as I pointed out a Boro fan and a Banik fan rolling over on top of each other on the floor trading punches as we passed them, then he plonked me in a seat where I was surrounded by Banik fans who spent the whole match passing their hipflaskes to me. I could bore on like this for hours, but I have to mention the the Banik pin badge I swapped with some old gadge when I was there - the pin's as long as a man's thumb and I can't believe I was allowed on a flight with it.
I really hope things work out for them - Ban-ik!

Comment by jameswba 2012-05-09 21:03:22

@geobra, barring a last day mathematical freak, Banik are safe. I'm sorry for Bohemians 1905, another great club, but the North Moravia/Silesia area needs Banik doing well.

@sw2boropetrovsk, you could bore on for longer with those memories as far as I'm concerned. You've got the Bazaly vibe nailed for sure. Weren't friendly fans' matches arranged around that UEFA tie as well?

Comment by sw2boropetrovsk 2012-05-09 22:40:53

Yeah, there were a few games, a guy called Miro did a lot of organising on the Fly Me To The Moon Boro site, and I think a few Boro have gone back over there in the last year or two.

Although the Bazaly is up a hill (and I went up it twice that day) it seems like a great big pit once you're in. As I staggered into it before the match, three biggish middle-aged Banik fans were in front of me and one pointed straight at me - his mate then lifted his scarf off his neck and offered it to me, to swap for the Boro one I was wearing. Which has now made me think for the first time, surely that steward didn't actually think I was a home fan when he plonked me in a seat?

Comment by Janik 2012-05-09 23:45:34

Not suprised that Banik won, really. Slavia have been really poor this season.

The silver lining in the relegation of Bohemians is that plastic Bohemians have imploded, Man United-style, in the last few weeks and look like missing out on promotion. Unless they buy a licence of someone (not exactly unheard of in Czech football), they won't be swapping places.

Comment by geobra 2012-05-10 08:30:25

Biggest crowd of the evening, and of the season, I see.

Comment by santos_l_halper 2012-05-10 16:31:40

I live about 5 minutes from Bohemian's old ground, and the stadium issue is a big one. But in any case, after last night's results, they're pretty much down. They need 3 points against Slavia in the final game, and to make up 3 points and a 12 goals worse goal difference. It doesn't look good. Anyway, we look forward to thrashing the fake Bohemians next season!

Comment by Janik 2012-05-10 18:34:10

Assuming they show up....

Comment by Alex Anderson 2012-05-20 16:18:27

Yeah, thanks for nothing James Baxter - I spent most of my adult life to date telling people that if there was one stadium in the world I had to get to before I died it was the Dimple. When, at age 37, on a rainy November Monday afternoon in Vrsovice, I finally managed it, I felt I could now relax and enjoy life.

Bohemka weren't even playing. But the gates were open and in I waltzed. D'olicek was all mine. I took a lot of photos, framed a few on my wall at home - even have a piece of render which had crumbled off the exterior wall. Thought that was me set for life. Thought I could chill. But nah - now I have to get to Bazaly. Coz it sounds utterly brilliant.

Yeah - thanks a million, James ... hope you're pleased with yourself ...

Comment by jameswba 2012-05-20 21:39:31

Alex, you have to get there all right. And just think how generous the Czech FA have been in giving you that extra year. Let me know when and we'll go together....

You're right about Dolicek, of course. Another magical place.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2012-05-22 10:07:37

Great idea, James - especially as I may be struggling for a Scottish club to watch next season :-)

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