Boby Brno Unistav 1-2 Slavia Prague, 1. česká fotbalová liga (24.02.1995), Stadion Za Lužánkami, Brno (Attendance: 34,770)
With the Velvet Revolution in full swing and the Czechoslovak state drifting towards dissolution, Zbrojovka Brno suffered something of an identity crisis. The ‘Zbrojovka’ prefix had been in place since 1968, and that name had stuck through both the club’s good times and the bad, gracing the scoreboards of the European Cup and the old Czechoslovak second division one and the same.
However in 1991, with the club again relegated to the second tier Českomoravská fotbalová liga, owner Lubomír Hrstka cut history aside and rebranded the outfit Boby Brno. Although the change was done for reasons of vanity and self-promotion, the moniker was an apt one for a side that had struggled since the league success of 1977-78.
In the seasons that followed, Brno gradually slipped down the table and were ultimately relegated in 1983, just five years after the club became the champions of Czechoslovakia. In 1985, Brno topped the regionalised second division but were denied promotion after being found guilty of attempting to bribe Dynamo České Budějovice defender Josef Jodl. As luck would have it, České Budějovice finished second and went up in Brno’s place. The club then settled in the second tier, finishing no lower than fifth, before becoming something of a yo-yo side as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s.
The sliding metaphor fits well in the years after the name change too. Boby Brno would win promotion before going on to finish eighth in the final season of a unified Czechoslovak First Division, and then twelfth, third, eighth, fourth and tenth in an independent Czech league. Managers came and went as well, with Hrstka constantly keeping relations between himself and the coaching staff extremely frosty at all times. During these years, he averaged a coaching change a season as results failed to meet his lofty, often inflated, expectations.
Yet for all the upheaval behind the scenes, another change of name (to Boby Brno Unistav after Hrstka signed a commercial agreement with a national building firm) and the fluctuating results, the Brnaci turned out in their droves to support their team. During the early-to-mid-1990s, attendances in the tens of thousands were a regular occurrence.
In October 1996, the biggest crowd of all, 44,120, congregated on the Stadion Za Lužánkami terraces to see Brno host Slavia Prague. With the success of Euro 1996 fresh in the memory and Brno leading the way in the league, there was plenty of optimism floating around that autumn afternoon. Just a month prior, over 35,000 people had turned up to see Brno demolish local rivals Drnovice 4-1, a staggering attendance when you consider that Drnovice were, in essence, a village side.
But while the pre-match talk was about title challenges, the game itself was a drab 1-1 draw and a month later, Brno, after a further succession of dour displays, were fourth. By Christmas, Brno sat sixth and all that chatter about winning the league felt a bit silly, not to mention premature. To make things worse, Drnovice were third and just a point off first.
However, back in February 1995, things were different. With the 1994-95 campaign at its halfway point, Slavia sat atop the table on 34 points with Viktoria Žižkov second, two points behind their Prague neighbours. Brno were tied for third with Slovan Liberec, three points further back. But the sixteenth game of the season, the first one back after the three-month-long winter break, pitted Slavia against Brno at Lužánky. If Brno could win, they would certainly be part of the mix going forward.
Slavia Prague were, by far and away, the team to beat at the time. The Prague side could count on the likes of former QPR goalkeeper Jan Stejskal, established international Jan Suchopárek in the centre of a formidable back three and a hugely talented crop of twenty-somethings, including the trio Radek Bejbl, Patrik Berger and Vladimír Šmicer, all of whom were turning heads both at home and abroad.
Sešívaní had been defeated just once all season, though that loss to České Budějovice can easily be explained away: The south Bohemians arrived at Eden with the sole intention of kicking their illustrious opponent off the park. Seven bookings, one red card and two goals, scored against the run of play, later, they headed south with the points. Slavia left covered in bruises.
Brno, in comparison, had lost twice at this stage, with both defeats coming away from the fortress Lužánky. The first was to Slavia, on the opening day of the season, and then to Jablonec in the middle of October. But sandwiched between those two losses, the south Moravians had memorably beaten Sparta Prague 3-1 and drawn with both Slovan Liberec and Viktoria Žižkov. The 0-0 draw with Žižkov was especially significant as it was the first time that the Prague 3 side had failed to find the back of the net in the league. After 15 games, Jiří Kotrba’s team had scored 40 goals and boasted the best attack in the division by some distance. Only Brno had managed to blunt their potent tip.
Whilst not a title decider by any means, the game between Brno and Slavia had massive implications. Earlier that day, both Žižkov and Liberec had suffered surprising defeats against sides rooted in the lower half, Hradec Králové and Viktoria Plzeň respectively. It meant that come kick-off that a Slavia win would see them extend their lead to five points while a Brno victory would blow the title race wide open, dragging the hosts and Sparta Prague into the equation. And so, on the evening of February 24th, 1995, 34,770 people – a then Czech record – descended on Lužánky to see Brno’s biggest league game in years.
Arguably, there has been none bigger for the club in the two fruitless decades that have followed.
Both teams lined up in a 3-5-2, something of the default formation for Czech sides at the time, and were both, arguably, at full strength after three months off during the bleak winter months. The only noticeable absentee was that of Patrik Berger, who did not feature at all in the tie.
Starting XI: Luboš Přibyl; Viliam Vidumský, Petr Maléř, Petr Křivánek; Petr Kocman, Pavel Holomek (←56′), Richard Dostálek, Zdeněk Valnoha, Pavel Kobykla (←59′); Marcel Cupák, René Wagner
Substitutes: Lambert Šmíd (→56′) Marek Zúbek (→59′)
Starting XI: Jan Stejskal; Martin Pěnička, Jan Suchopárek, Tomáš Hunal; Jiří Lerch, Ondrej Krištofík, Daniel Šmejkal, Radek Bejbl, Pavel Novotný; Roman Hogen (←46′), Ivo Knoflíček
Substitutes: Vladimír Šmicer (→46′), Jiří Vávra (→72′)
The First Half
With Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’, that most traditional of Czech pre-match football songs, blaring out across the P.A system and plumes of red and blue smoke filling the sky, the game got underway. Almost immediately, Radek Bejbl clattered into René Wagner just outside the centre. Looking back at the challenge through today’s lenses, it was a yellow card. Back then, it warranted nothing more than Miroslav Maurer, the referee, having a quiet word with the Slavia midfielder while Wagner laid prone on the floor. How times change
From the resulting free-kick, Marcel Cupák picked the ball up, ghosted past some blue shirts before finding the miraculously fit again Wagner. Wagner, however, lost possession with his first real touch of the game. It would be one of those off days for the highly-rated forward.
The opening stages were poor, to say the least. With the Lužánky pitch in a terrible state, both sides went direct to try and create openings in the opposition defence, to little effect. The first successful attempt at route one football came towards the ten-minute mark when a long ball forward from the back bypassed Brno’s midfield and caught their back three extremely lopsided. Bejbl, breaking beyond Richard Dostálek and Petr Maléř, ran onto the ball, only to blaze a left-footed shot high and wide.
As the game progressed, both sides settled down and were seemingly content in allowing each other sustained periods of possession. Ultimately, though, despite the two teams stringing together some nice moves, neither Brno nor Slavia looked like they were willing – or able – to break the deadlock. A Daniel Smejkal corner, flicked on by Pavel Novotný, should have led to a chance. But Bejbl misjudged the situation and ended up charging towards the sidelines in an attempt to retain possession rather than driving straight at Luboš Přibyl’s goal. That moment summarised the game’s opening quarter: promising in parts but ultimately lacking in any distinctive qualities.
However, that potential opening provided a spark that the match sorely needed. The near-35,000 strong crowd started to find its voice and with cheers and jeers raining down from the stands, Slavia and Brno began to trade counter-attacks. Bejbl’s miscue had injected a sense of urgency into proceedings.
As the two teams went backwards and forwards, the game broke down into something akin to schoolyard football. Amidst the chaos, Brno attempted to capitalise. After another hopeful punt downfield, Ondrej Krištofík and Martin Pěnička, two of Slavia’s central midfielders, found themselves covering the right-back area. Wingback Jiří Lerch had ventured too far forward and had got caught out of position, leaving his teammates to track back and turn into auxiliary defenders. The pair dallied, both attempting the cover space and ended up putting each other under pressure, which resulted in Krištofík panicking and, comically, falling over.
Krištofík’s ill-timed slip allowed René Wagner a sight at goal and the Brno forward’ shot was parried away by Jan Stejskal, setting off a scramble in the Slavia penalty area. In the resulting melee, Marcel Cupák tried his luck but his shot clipped a body on the way through and flew narrowly wide with Stejskal beaten.
The visitors quickly learnt their lesson and opted to retreat and regain their composure – not to mention their positioning. This move nullified the game once again but the switch to a more conservative approach was ultimately beneficial. Despite rarely venturing out of their half, Slavia were able to keep Brno at arm’s length once again: They had been stung once and they were not about to be caught out a second time. The first half then drifted towards to an uneventful conclusion.
This was by no means a classic.
The Second Half
As the sun set and dipped below the horizon, causing the Moravian sky to turn first an inky blue and then black, the second half began. During the break, Miroslav Beránek made a substitution, bringing on Vladimír Šmicer for the anonymous Roman Hogen. It was a straight switch, one forward for another.
With a sense of immediacy that was missing in the first half, the visitors went on the offensive and won a free kick about twenty yards from goal. With the crowd jeering, Brno’s players stood around and looked bemused as to how their opponents had managed to work their way into such a position so quickly. Collectively, Boby were still in the changing rooms tucking into their orange slices.
The blame game and collective finger-pointing lasted barely a couple of second as those in red quickly formed a wall and starred down Slavia’s trio of Daniel Šmejkal, Jiří Lerch and Jan Suchopárek, all who stood, menacingly, over the ball.
Šmejkal made his move first, running over the ball and darting down the left. Brno’s wall didn’t buy the dummy run and stayed united, watching carefully as Lerch backed away, leaving Suchopárek free to take the set piece.
For a split second, it looked as if Suchopárek’s effort was destined to find the back of the net. As the Slavia defender stuck the ball with his instep, Luboš Přibyl moved, minutely, to his right. That little stutter step seemed to be his undoing. But despite appearing to be stranded in the centre of the goal, the longstanding Brno goalkeeper managed to react and push Suchopárek’s shot fractionally over the crossbar.
Přibyl’s next action would be to pick the ball out of his net. After managing to deal with the resulting corner, Brno invited Slavia to mount another attack and this time they paid the price. First Ondrej Krištofík and then Ivo Knoflíček danced and darted their way forward, with Knoflíček working himself into some space down the right flank. After leaving Petr Křivánek in a heap on the floor, the mullet-haired forward floated in a cross towards the back post. Jiří Lerch arrived unmarked and headed the visitors into the lead.
Brno were shell-shocked. The hosts attempted to make immediate amends for their poor start to the second half but were embarrassing poor in possession and resorted to optimistic long balls forward. One such hoof downfield allowed Slavia to build an attack, with Knoflíček again attempting to exploit the left-hand side of the Brno defence. Křivánek, however, had learnt his lesson from Knoflíček’s last piece of trickery. He stood tall, matched the Slavia player stride for stride and managed to block Knoflíček’s shot at goal.
As the ball bounced clear, it seemed to everybody that the immediate danger had evaporated into the night sky. Pavel Kobylka picked up the loose ball and he was given the time to turn and weigh up his options. Despite having all the time in the world, he dithered long enough to allow Vladimír Šmicer to close him down. Now under pressure, the long-standing Brno defender panicked and played an inexcusable square ball across the penalty area more in hope than expectation. With not a red shirt in sight, the ball ended up at the feet of Pavel Novotný, who took one touch to control and a second to fire past Přibyl. Kobylka – and Brno – had imploded. In that three minutes spell, the Moravian side’s title chance had all but gone up in smoke.
Or had it?
At the restart, Brno bequeathed possession straight back to Slavia, much to the chagrin of an already despondent crowd. But after an errant long ball from the league-leaders drifted out of play for a throw-in, the home side put together their best attacking move of the match fl. After some neat interplay from Wagner and Dostálek, Brno were deep in Slavia territory. And then visitors inexplicitly switched off.
Wagner, sensing an opening read the situation perfectly. He made a diagonal run through the right channel, in behind the Slavia defence and Petr Kocman, seeing his teammate hurtling down the line, sent the ball towards him. Tomáš Hunal was the first one in a blue to react, but as Wagner raced by him and cut inside, the only thing he could do was grab a hold of his opponent’s jersey and concede a free kick at the edge of the area.
As Slavia ambled into position to defend the set piece, Wagner whipped the ball across the face of the goal. Four blue shirts jointly threw themselves towards the near post in a bid to nullify Petr Křivánek, leaving the unmarked Petr Maléř free in the centre to head in his second goal of the season.
There had been three goals in five mad minutes and a game that had appeared to be dead and buried 120 seconds earlier now had a new leaf of life. And the crowd, quietened by those two Slavia goals, roared once more.
As the terraces cheered and flares let off plumes of red and white smoke, the hosts began to believe. Whereas they appeared defeated moments earlier, that Petr Maléř goal had lit a fire in their eyes. Every person in Slavia’s blue away kit was harried; every ball was chased, even if it was a lost cause; every second in possession had a purpose. Nothing summed up this newfound belief more than when Dostálek and Kocman ran a good twenty yards to avoid conceding a throw-in, kept the ball in play and then cheekily bounced the ball off a blue shirt to win Brno a throw of their own deep in Slavia territory.
Seconds later, it should have been 2-2. Straight from the throw-in, Dostálek was hauled down and Zbrojovka had a free-kick about thirty-five yards out. Substitute Lambert Šmíd delivered the ball in from deep and it was flicked on by Petr Křivánek, whose header by design or by sheer fluke, somehow, picked out René Wagner. With the goal at his mercy, the Brno forward steadied himself and drew his right leg back. But at that moment, Martin Pěnička stuck out a toe and prodded the ball out for a corner. Wagner collapsed in a heap, half claiming for a penalty, half-aware that a gilt-edged chance had gone begging.
And that was that. Or so it seemed. For the next ten minutes, the game became bogged down in a congested midfield battle. Neither side seemed especially willing to push the issue, conscious that one wrong move could change the complexion of the tie completely. But with fifteen minutes to go, Brno fashioned another glorious chance.
A free-kick close to the halfway line afforded the home side a chance to pile forwards in numbers once more and Wagner the opportunity to yet again tease Slavia’s defence from a dead ball situation. His deep diagonal ball bypassed the glut of blue shirts that had congregated towards the near post and drifted, ominously, towards the head of the onrushing Marek Zúbek. Although the location of the free kick was different, the execution was the same. Slavia, it seemed, did not live and learn. Luckily for the league-leaders, Zúbek’s diving header was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Jan Stejskal.
As the clock counted down, Brno swarmed forward in numbers but were unable to truly trouble the Slavia defence, let alone Stejskal’s goal. As Zbrojovka continued to push players forward in search of a dramatic equaliser, Slavia saw their opportunity to put the game beyond doubt. A few cautious forays forward on the counter were nothing more than a time-wasting exercise but they served as a cursory warning, one that was not heeded by the increasingly desperate hosts.
After an aimless long ball forward by Richard Dostálek easily dealt with by the Slavia back line, Radek Bejbl broke forward, skipped past one lacklustre challenge and bore down on Zbrojovka’s centre-back pairing of Petr Maléř and Viliam Vidumský. Maléř went to ground and scythed down Bejbl with a reckless challenge that in today’s game would have warranted a straight red but in the mid-1990s, drew only a yellow. Jan Suchopárek’s subsequent free-kick thundered off the underside of the bar and bounced clear with Luboš Přibyl well beaten. Moments later, Miroslav Maurer blew the final whistle as the television crew showed just how close Suchopárek’s venomous free-kick had been to crossing the line.
The defeat ended Brno’s outside hopes of the title. Though amidst the disappointment of dropping out of contention for a first league championship since 1978, Brno did go on to enjoy one of their best seasons ever. The points tally of fifty-four has only been bettered once – coincidentally during Petr Uličný’s second spell as manager in 2007-08 – whilst the third-place finish is the best that Brno has ever managed in an independent Czech league. As too are the statistics relating to the attack and defence. Simply put, the vintage of 1994-95 is the best that Brno had seen in nearly twenty years. There’s an argument to be made too that this side is superior to the team that finished four in 2008 too.
The following season, things started badly as the club fell back down to earth with a bump. A poor showing in the Intertoto Cup was compounded by an early – and shock – second-round exit from the Czech Cup and things were not much better in the league either, as Brno started with the campaign with three successive defeats. Things did improve, but from the outset, the entire team was fighting an uphill battle and their eventual eighth-place finish was a credible result.
Years of bobbing up and down the table followed, as too did a cyclic approach to management before Brno settled down to fixture in the bottom half of the league.
As for Slavia Prague and the 1994-95 season, they, somehow, finished second behind Sparta. Despite having a comfortable points advantage with ten games left, they faltered as their city rivals racked up victory after victory. Sparta ended the season with ten straight victories and their second successive Czech league title.
Although Zbrojvoka Brno would attract more people to Lužánky in the seasons that followed, this was the defining game of the mid-1990s for the south Moravians. It was the perfect mixture of occasion, context and, ultimately, defeat, that perfectly encapsulates the Czech Republic’s biggest underachievers.
Header picture: Tatratank