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YOU might imagine that the boisterous fans of Bohemians Praha 1905 — downing copious amounts of delicious Czech beer, filling the air with weed smoke and waving flares and toy kangaroos — haven’t a care in the world.
But not long ago they almost didn’t have a club to cheer for. And it’s only their extraordinary devotion, along with the help of the wider football family, that saved the Czech Republic’s left-wing outliers from extinction.
In 2005, their centenary year, FC Bohemians Praha could have disappeared from the football map altogether. Insolvent, relegated to the third tier and facing an opportunist rival using their name, colours and badge, the future looked bleak.
But the fans dug into their own pockets and with help from FC St Pauli fans in Hamburg and Bohemian FC fans in Dublin, they paid off debts and formed a phoenix club, Bohemians Praha 1905.
After many legal struggles, they won the sole right to call themselves Bohemians in the Czech Republic and have battled their way back to the top-flight of Czech football.
People power saved the former champions of Czechoslovakia, and now the Bohemians Supporters Trust owns more than 10 per cent of the club, giving the fans a say in the club’s oversight.
They might only be the third biggest club in Prague after Sparta and Slavia, but Bohemians’ Dolicek Stadium (The Dimple, in English) has become something of a pilgrimage for ground hoppers due to its unique vibes.
The left-wing chants and flags and friendly atmosphere is a stark contrast to the bile coming from right-wing fans who oppose them. The Czech Republic does not have a particularly right-wing population, but what extremists there are are often attracted to football, making Bohemians, the main left-wing club, an attraction for any football fan offended by racist ideology.
The fans here are not interested in rucking though. They just want to have a good time — all the time — with ska, punk, reggae, weed, beer and friendship.
Along with songs like “Kourime travu” (“We smoke grass”), sung to the tune of Roll Out The Barrel, you will see fans waving toy kangaroos, the club’s symbol and mascot.
Back in 1927, when the club was known as Bohemians AFK Vrsovice (Vrsovice being the Prague suburb that houses the Dolicek Stadium), they went on a tour of Australia. They were given two live kangaroos in honour of their visit, which they in turn donated to Prague Zoo.
Ever since, the marsupial has appeared on the club badge and their nickname has been Klokani (kangeroos). No Bohemians match is complete without some kangaroo action on the terraces, along with spectacular choreographies and pyrotechnics.
On the pitch, the club has also distinguished itself. They won the Czechoslovak First League in 1982/3 and qualified for Europe nine times in the ’70s and ’80s. But if their badge and mascot displays a certain whimsical charm, their most famous player eclipsed the roo on the field of play.
Antonin Panenka was a gifted midfielder, with a fine range of passing, and spent most of his career at Bohemians.
In 1976 he represented Czechoslovakia at the European Championships in Yugoslavia.
His country reached the final against West Germany in Belgrade’s Red Star Stadium. Tied at 2-2 after extra-time, the game went to penalties. At 4-3, Uli Hoeness missed for the Germans.
Panenka stepped forward, with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. A successful kick would see them crowned champions of Europe.
As West Germany’s keeper Sepp Maier dived left, Panenka delicately chipped the ball straight into the middle of the goal. His incredible calm under pressure saw him dubbed a poet by one journalist. Pele said he was either a genius or a madman. Whatever, the Bohemian was a European Champion.
Many have adopted the Panenka penalty since, from Zinedine Zidane to Lionel Messi, but there is only one original. And today, Bohemians’ most famous player is president of the club.
Naturally, Bohemians have links with other left-wing clubs. A fan group called Barflies United describe themselves as: “Rude Boys Bohemians & St Pauli Skinheads who love Bohemians 1905, FC St Pauli, beer and fun and hate nazi scum!” You’ll often see St Pauli and Bohemians flags side by side at games.
The Barflies have also hosted a Love Football Hate Racism football tournament in Prague with anti-racist fans from across Europe and during the pandemic have been active, collecting medical supplies and provisions for the elderly and their carers.
The club also maintains its friendship with Bohemian FC in Dublin, whose 2020 away kit was produced in conjunction with Amnesty International and was emblazoned with the legend Refugees Welcome.
Bohemians’ biggest rivals are probably Slavia Prague, whose ground is 1km away from The Dimple, but it is a football rivalry that doesn’t spill over into violence. They both want to win the Vrsovice derby, but they don’t want to fight each other.
For one thing, they share an intense dislike for Sparta Prague, the most successful club in Czech football but one associated with right-wing sympathies and a history of anti-semitic fans.
Apart from Sparta, Bohemians are also opposed to clubs like Banik Ostrava which have fans who revel in offensive right-wing chants and anti-Muslim banners. While Bohemians are not looking for a scrap, their fans will not ignore racist behaviour.
After the glory days of the ’70s and ’80s and the dark days of 2005, the club have revived. They have been in the Czech First League since 2013 and this season finished eighth, qualifying for the Championship round — the post-season competition for final places.
While they didn’t progress beyond the first round, the spirit they showed and the football they played bodes well for the future.
With these unbelievable fans behind them there is a feeling that the club is once more on the verge of achieving something, of making their mark on Czech football again and even returning to European competition.
What a breath of fresh air it would be to see their fun-loving, peaceful, stoner ethos in the stadiums of Europe again.
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