My Second Team: Bohemians 1905
For a new series on The Two Unfortunates, we asked a range of regular and new contributors to provide their testimonies of supporting a ‘second’ or ‘other’ team. On first glance, such behaviour might seem to denote the epitome of glory hunting plasticity and a Janus-like tendency to hedge one’s bets in the most cynical way possible. However, the truth is that personal circumstances – a change of job, home, a marriage, relationship or even a widening of one’s taste – has led many football fans to favour more than one club at a time.
First up, staunch Preston North End supporter Jo Breen treats us to a tale of the forces that led Bohemians 1905 to jostle for her attention alongside PNE. Jo is the woman behind new Czech cultural blog, Czechophile. Further posts will appear over the next few weeks.
In 1996 I decided to take on a second team in the form of Oxford United. Their ground was far easier for me to get to than Preston’s and they were riding high in the then Division 1 with superstars like Matt Elliott and Joey Beauchamp in the squad. For a while I watched the men in yellow almost as much as I watched Preston. Fast forward four years or so to a wet February night at the Manor when I found myself on the away end cheering wildly as North End’s Mickey Appleton put a fourth goal past the hapless United defence. It was clear that my love for my second team lay in tatters and I needed to find a new second team. Preferably one that was never going to meet Preston North End competitively.
A holiday in Prague later that year looked set to offer some solutions. We went to watch Sparta and I tried half-heartedly to adopt the team. The football was cheap and you could take beer on the terraces, so these were big pluses. But Sparta failed to provide the requisite ramshackleness I needed from a team. The following Sunday morning though fell for a new second team. Bohemians Prague played at a tatty old ground in a dreary suburb, they were hovering in unfashionable mid-table obscurity and, to cap it all, they had a kangaroo on their club badge (a hangover from a tour of Australia in the 1920s when they represented Bohemia — hence the name). This was a lot more my style and I went back to England proudly sporting my green and white kangaroo scarf.
It wasn’t just Bohemians that had captured my imagination. Prague itself had cast a spell on me and two years later I was back, this time armed with some rudimentary Czech and some vague instructions to meet a man called Michal who would ensure we got on the fan’s coach to an away match in Jablonec. Michal, apparently, was a large bald man, so he proved somewhat difficult to locate at a Czech football ground where pretty much everyone fits this description. Locate him we did though and he advised us to get on the less beaten up of the two buses parked outside the stadium — the other one was apparently intended for the hooligans.
The hooligans were in good form that match and the police were heavy-handed with their truncheons, so I spent the entire first half envisaging my bruised body being returned to the UK in a zinc-lined coffin. Around about half time though I realised that the crowd was delineated very much along hooligan/non-hooligan lines and that the non-hooligans seemed to be watching the match oblivious to the fighting to our right, so I did the same and settled down to watch the second half. We lost 2-0.
That evening back in Prague we headed off the bus and into a bar next to the Bohemians ground. It was here that we met and exchanged contact details with other Bohemians fans, one of whom has been a firm friend ever since. This paved the way to further trips to see Bohemians both home and away.
Before I went to see them I wasn’t aware that Bohemians laid claim to the kind of ‘punk’ territory occupied by Hamburg’s St Pauli, a team they regard as a sister club (along with just about every club that wears green and white — practically every other Bohemians fan has Celtic as a second club). On match days the B stand smells strongly of dope and you can sometimes feel a little out of place if you don’t have several tattoos or piercings (though I took my sexagenarian dad to a game once and he seemed to like it well enough). I once asked my friend Patrik, ‘so, if Sparta are the apparatchiks’ team of choice, Dukla is the army club and Slavia are the students’ club what are Bohemians?’ to which his eloquent reply was simply ‘underground’.
In October 2004 I watched Bohemians at home to Kunovice and then a week later away at Hradec Krà¡lovà©. Just seven games later all trace of Bohemians was wiped from the Czech league and their points were annulled. Financial irregularities within the club saw the team effectively go under. There would be no more matches that season and I experienced vicariously the trauma of losing a football team. As I was living in a different country the whole story unfolded for me in a rather haphazard way, filtrated through partially-understood websites and emails exchanged in Pidgin English and Czech.
The period without Bohemians seemed at the time to be excruciatingly long and my green and white friends moped around without purpose while weeds invaded the ÄolàÄek stadium. It surprises me now to look back and discover that this seemingly interminable time in the wilderness lasted just eight months. In the intervening time Bohemians fans had put their hands in their own pockets and organised concerts and other fund-raising events to raise enough money to buy their team out. The club re-emerged in the summer under the new moniker of Bohemians 1905, since their name and club identity had been lost in a legal wrangle that would drag on for a few more years.
In 2008 I moved to Prague and found somewhere to live during the winter break. Once I’d settled in I set out the following Saturday with my map to locate the Bohemians ground and almost wept for joy when I found out it was just 10 minutes’ walk away (by contrast I’ve never lived closer than 100 miles from Deepdale so North End matches are always an odyssey).
For the rest of the season I went to almost every match and had the dubious honour of learning several hundred ways in which to slag off the referee in a foreign language. I was also there to see Bohemka relegated at Ostrava and, as I was to find out back in England in 2011, watching your second team get relegated is unsurprisingly nowhere near as tough as watching it happen to your first.
The next season I showed my loyalty to my second club in a way that I never have to my first and bought a season ticket. What can I say? The ground was just around the corner and the ticket was super cheap, it was a no-brainer. Rather than faff around on the web or on the other end of a phone line it seemed that the best way to get hold of a season ticket seemed to be to tell work I’d be in late and hot foot it down to the stadium one morning to buy season ticket. I wandered into the main stand, said hello to a couple of players and then found my way to an office to announce that I wanted a season ticket. As they sorted this out I marvelled at how the walls were green, the carpet was green, the ring binders were green, the chairs were green and all the other stationery was green. I had no idea so much green stuff could be bought on the open market. I drew the conclusion that in an ideal world every potential season ticket holder should sit in an office decked out in their team’s colours while they wait for a friendly official to make them personally a season ticket and my whole experience just served to help me love Bohemians that little bit more.
After two years in Prague I returned to the UK and to watching Preston North End. Although I support Bohemians I have to say that I never experienced with them that gut-wrenching feeling I get when North End are hanging onto a precarious lead or chasing a goal and I was surprised to find how much I’d missed it. Still more, I’d missed that feeling of utter euphoria you get when North End win. Second teams are great, but in terms of making you feel ill with excitement they really just don’t cut the mustard. They do, however, give you extra options when buying a toothbrush (or similar every day item). I’m a reasonable person and I can now accept plumping for a green and white toothbrush when I’m out shopping rather than throwing a tantrum if they don’t have the requisite navy and white one in stock.