Petr Janečka was the breakout player of the 1977-78 season, with his thirteen goals going a long way to help Zbrojovka Brno towards their first ever league title. The winger went on to have a fantastic career but life after football has not been kind.
On March 3rd 1982, Petr Janečka silenced São Paulo’s vast Estádio do Morumbi.
Over 100,000 people – some figures have the attendance down as high 107,060 – had taken their place to see Brazil take on Czechoslovakia in a friendly fixture that was acting as a quasi-World Cup warm-up tie for the two nations.
After a goalless first forty-five minutes, Brazil went ahead early in the second half through Zico’s scruffy, goalline tap-in. It was a lead that the home side never looked like losing. That was until the tireless Janečka, who was in the midst of his most successful league campaign to date, received a pass from Jan Berger on the edge of the Brazilian penalty area and let fly. His right-footed shot fizzed past a diving Waldir Peres, striking the inside of the post on its way to the finding the bottom corner like a laser-guided missile finds its target. The cheers, jeers and whistles that had buzzed around the ground throughout the game evaporated into the inky night sky.
It was if somebody had turned the volume down just long enough for everybody to hear Juan Daniel Cardellino blow for full-time.
That strike was Janečka’s third in as many games for Czechoslovakia and although he would go on to play in the World Cup later that year, that goal was arguably his best moment in the red shirt of his country. It is a goal that is still talked about to this day, some thirty-five years on from that March night in São Paulo’s. And for good reason too.
Sadly, when people talk about Petr Janečka today, they do not just wax lyrical about his twenty-yard missile in the Morumbi, his breakout season with Zbrojovka Brno or his exploits in the green-and-white of Bohemians.
In retirement, the once tricky and skilful winger has lived on the streets, spent time in prison, suffered from alcoholism and has been renounced by his family. His tale is an unfortunate and stark reminder that everybody is fallible and that safety nets often only go so far.
For all Janečka’s success on the football field, his playing career could have been so much better. For somebody who represented his country in the World Cup, won domestic titles and had the chance to play regularly in Europe, that statement might seem to be hyperbolic. But it isn’t for Janečka, it is not as for the majority of his career, he was plagued by gastrointestinal problems.
At times, the complaints and complications were manageable. On other occasions, they were not. He was forced to sit out the 1980 Olympic Games after contracting stomach ulcers and when they returned eighteen months later, he was sidelined for the better part of a full league season. And then there were the physical injuries picked up on up the pitch. By no means the tallest, and naturally slight of frame, the wear and tear of the battles with those who were bigger and stronger caused his body to break down quicker, leading him to call it a day at the age of thirty-three.
Football, as we know, is a ruthless business. It is an industry where people can go from zero to hero and back again the blink of an eye. But today’s professionals – at least those at the top – can earn enough in a career to set their family up for generations. And if they suffer an injury, they can rely on scores of medical staff and access to state-of-the-art medical facilities to help their recovery. In the late 1970s and 1980s, things were very different – especially in the Communist Czechoslovakia where all players were technically amateurs.
Not that Janečka believes football owes him anything. If we take the interviews he has given in recent years at face value, the impression is football can help, but the sport and those associated with it is not the silver bullet he needs. Perhaps state intervention – not to mention support – is.
When he brought the curtain down on his career, Petr Janečka made the transition from player to coach and returned home to Gottwaldov (Zlín). Back at the club where he made his senior debut, he started working with the youth teams and, by all accounts, he was a popular coach that commanded the respect of his pupils. When interviewed last year, Vlastimil Vidlička, the former Zlín and Sparta Prague fullback who trained under Janečka, recalled a good-natured yet competitive coach, who got on well with everybody both on and off the pitch.
However, under the surface, things were already starting to take a turn for the worse and the relationship between the club and Janečka quickly soured. “We noticed it,” Vidlička said, “it was explained to us [that he had] some personal problems.”
The story about his departure from Zlín is shrouded in mystery, with both parties pointing the finger of blame at each other. Janečka has claimed that he was dismissed after an argument with the club’s hierarchy over money and equipment; others say that his habit of frequenting pubs made the relationship between club and coach untenable. Whatever the true reason, it was evident that he was already on a downward path.
Although not the wildest of footballers during his playing career, he was known to enjoy a beer or two after a game. He was by no means alone in this practice, though once his playing days were over he started to spend more and more time drinking, slowly falling into a vicious cycle. With easy access to betting machines, bookmakers and booze, he inadvertently found the perfect recipe for disaster. Over time, he lost everything: His home, his marriage, his family, his money.
Twenty-five years after playing in the 1982 World Cup finals, Petr Janečka was homeless. Zlín’s transport hubs provided refuge; 24-hour petrol stations and public sports centres gave him the facilities to shower, and supermarkets gave him the real estate to beg for money that would eventually be spent on procuring alcohol and cigarettes. He had become a faceless individual, living life on the streets and off the grid, and pleading for loose change.
His former teammates tried to contact him. And thanks to the help of Zlín’s police force and a targetted campaign led by the local media, he was found and later invited to an event to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Zbrojovka Brno’s title-winning season.
“For a moment, we were in contact,” Janečka told Zbrojvoka’s website. “But I had nothing. No shoes. [Nothing] to wear. I used to go to charity shops where I occasionally took something,” he admitted.
Too ashamed to attend, he skipped the function and later that year, he hit rock bottom.
After drinking heavily, he got behind the wheel of his car and hit a pedestrian. Although there were no serious injuries (Janečka clipped the passerby with his wing mirror), he was hauled down to the police station where he tested well over the legal limit. Whilst awaiting trial, he contemplated suicide.
In January 2009, the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes visited a detention centre in Brno and spoke Janečka. The resulting interview revealed a man of contradictions, a man who simultaneously spoke positively and negatively about his upcoming release. On one hand, it would allow him to reconnect with his old friends in Karel Jarušek and Josef Mazura, he said. But on the other, he bemoaned his poor physical state, dependencies and sluggishness of the state’s support systems, seemingly acknowledging that nothing would change.
Four years after his release, he was playing football once again. Billed as a star attraction amongst many, he turned out in a number of exhibition games in the Czech Republic. Although haggard and showing the signs of years of addiction, physically, he looked in good shape.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Recent sightings and reports show him as gaunt as ever. He still has that signature twinkle in his eye, especially when he has the opportunity to talk about his glory days with Zbrojovka and Bohemians. But as soon as the topic of conversations switches to his plight, that sparkle vanished to reveal a man who is ill at ease with everything.
There have been positive moments in recent years – he briefly reappeared at Zlín’s Stadion Letna to watch a league game against Slovan Liberec – but there have been plenty of negative stories too. In 2015, Blesk, interviewed him and he admitted that he was still struggling to get by yet was frequenting dive bars all the same.
And, not to mention, Karel Jarůšek went public with a tale of disappointment. A group of former Zbrojovka players had found work for their former teammate but were ultimately let down.
People still want to help and still care about his well-being, no matter how far under the radar he flies. “You see what life is like. I play tennis, golf and football, and I have a beautiful [family],” Ladislav Vízek, Janečka’s one-time rival for the right-wing berth for the Czechoslovak national team, said. “Petr? I’m afraid he has no help and how it will all end.”
But how does Petr Janečka view things? When asked about his future, he gave a bleak answer: “I live from day to day.”
Header picture: Thomas Griffiths