Three’s a crowd

Johanna Breen explains a battle of names, colours and mascots following the bankruptcy of one of Prague's most popular clubs

Observers of the Czech Republic’s Gambrinus Liga will have noticed that two clubs in the Czech league’s top division lay claim to remarkably similar green kangaroo logos and both go by the name of Bohemians.

The Bohemians name came about in 1927, when a team representing Bohemia undertook a tour of Australia. As a token of friendship the European visitors were presented with a kangaroo which was subsequently given to Prague zoo. The team (based in the city’s Vršovice suburb) became known as Bohemians Praha and a kangaroo emblem became its badge.

Bohemians’ fortunes peaked in the 1970s and 80s with appearances in the UEFA Cup and a league title in 1982-83. But five years ago the club became embroiled in financial problems and ceased to exist. With the club gone, its name was left drifting around in the ether for a few months, creating an awful lot of grey in a subsequent argument that should be completely black and white.

Following the bankruptcy of the original Bohemians, chairman Michal Vejsada got involved with a lower league team in the suburb of Střížkov. Lacking any kind of footballing pedigree, the club was encouraged to lease the name and logo of TJ Bohemians Prague – a centralised club for swimming, gymnastics, hockey and other sports that had always existed harmoniously alongside the original football club.

Meanwhile, faced with the disintegration of Bohemians Praha, fans clubbed together and in 2005 reformed the club under the name of Bohemians 1905. Starting off in the third division the team continued to play at the ramshackle Ďoliček stadium, frequently getting gates of around 7,000 – support bettered only by big boys like Sparta, Slavia and Sigma Olomouc.

Střížkov’s lease of the name has now run out and a court has ruled that the fans’ club, Bohemians 1905, should hold the entitlement to the name and logo. However, Střížkov continue to use both. Further muddying the waters, Michal Vejsada has now left Střížkov to found FC Bohemians Praha a.s. – supposedly a resurrection of the original club. Moreover, he lays claim to promotions achieved by Bohemians 1905 and any monies generated by the sale of players – in particular the sale of Jan Morávek, who went to Schalke for CZK 80 million (£2.8m).

The Czech league has encouraged negotiations between the three Bohemians to try to lead them to a compromise, but as yet none has been reached. Bohemians 1905 fans refuse to acknowledge the Střížkov club’s claim on the Bohemians name and insist on referring to them as Střížkov. The teams met in 2005-06 in the third division and this season they come face-to-face in the top flight where both teams face an ugly battle for survival amongst the Czech elite.

All this contributed to a strange day in October last year when Bohemians 1905 fans travelled across the city to watch their team playing away against the other Bohemians. Clad in their yellow away colours, 3,000 Bohemians 1905 fans marched through Prague to protest against the Střížkov club’s use of the name. The game itself took place in front of 4,414 spectators, with home fans representing just a tiny fraction of this.

On the pitch, things took on a surreal aspect as Bohemians 1905 fans watched a kangaroo mascot parade around on the pitch before a team filed on wearing their green and white striped home kit. Yet neither the mascot or the team were representing their club. On sale at the merchandising stall were exactly the same goods Bohemians 1905 fans used to buy five years ago when they supported Bohemians Praha. When fans opened their programmes they discovered a front page thanking the Střížkov fans for “supporting the truth”.

The Czech media devoted airtime and column inches to the debate, which soared out of control as the Střížkov Bohemians first mooted their intention not to play the match at all, before relenting and deciding instead to charge away fans three times as much as they normally charge for entrance. Bohemians 1905 fans were further frustrated by the fact that refreshment stalls in the ground were not accessible to them

The two clubs next meet at Bohemians 1905’s ground on April 11. All matches between the two clubs thus far have resulted in draws. The fans will no doubt be hoping to break the deadlock both on and off the pitch.

From WSC 278 April 2010