Zbrojovka Brno 1977-78: The Thirst That Lasts Forever

It has been forty years since Zbrojovka Brno won their first and only league title. In an age of state-sponsored clubs, Zbrojovka’s championship-winning season was an anomaly. Here is the story behind their now famous 1977-78 campaign.

On Monday 12th June 1978, the Zbrojováci travelled in their thousands hoping to witness history.

The permutations were clear: If Zbrojovka Brno could avoid defeat against Spartak Trnava then they would be crowned Czechoslovak champions for the first time in their history. If the unthinkable happened and Zbrojovka were to lose, then the title race would be decided on the final day of the season, when Brno were due to welcome second-placed Dukla Prague to Lužánky.

The match on that Monday evening at the Spartak Stadion in Trnava was an understandably nervy affair. It was settled in the seventy-fourth minute when Petr Janečka scored his thirteenth goal of a breakout campaign, writing his name into Brno folklore and delivering the Czech Republic’s second city their first ever league championship.

However, Zbrojovka Brno’s title-winning season of 1977-78 is an anomaly. The club has not won a major domestic honour since and in recent years, Zbrojovka have been more associated with relegation battles rather than title challenges.

But for one year, they shined bright. This is the story of that year.

The Pendulum

When football in Czechoslovakia resumed after the culmination of World War II, it was clubs from Bohemia, the northern area of the modern-day Czech Republic, that dominated proceedings, carrying on a trend that had been established in the interwar years.

Prague, as the capital of the fledging Czechoslovak nation, was the central hub of sport in the country. And although the popularity and importance of football outside of Prague increased exponentially in the period between the two World Wars, football sides – especially the successful ones – remained concentrated in the capital city and the nearby industrial towns that populated the map of Bohemia.

If we take the 1925 season as the Year Zero for a united Czechoslovak league[1], then it took eight years for a club outside of the northern powerhouse of Bohemia to gain promotion to the Asociační Liga, the top flight, and a further nine years for a Slovak or Moravian team to finish in the top two. Moreover, such as was the dominance of Sparta and Slavia during this era, it was not until 1949, when Sokol NV Bratislava (Slovan Bratislava) finished top, that the Czechoslovak champions came from outside the all-conquering capital.

Although the Prague monopoly was broken, the league title, generally, ended up back in the City of a Thousand Spires. Dukla Prague used their military patronage to their benefit, manufacturing the best club side in Czech history. The Army club governed the domestic scene for the best part of a decade, racking up seven league titles in a decade and, famously, reaching the European Cup semi-finals.

However, as Dukla embarked historic European journey, the balance of power shifted. Between 1966 and 1976, Slovakia’s big two – Slovan Bratislava and Spartak Trnava – instigated something of a hostile takeover.

The seeds of this Slovak uprising were sown at the start of the 1960s. In 1961, Slovan Bratislava gained the full support of the Juraj Dimitrov chemical factory and then, a couple of years later, Spartak Trnava received the backing of the city’s big vehicle manufacturer – and Škoda’s Slovak offshoot -, Trnavské automobilové závody (TAZ). These links with big business and industrial leaders helped, but the ‘tradične’ two also benefited from a truly golden generation of Slovak sporting heroes, who fired the pair towards domestic and continental glory.

When their dominance began to wane, it was time for the Czech dynasties to return. Briefly, Baník Ostrava, a club with a rich mining heritage and working-class ethos, claimed the Czechoslovak crown as their own for a period in the late-1970s and early 1980s and brought success to the industrial hotbed of Silesia. Then, Prague reclaimed its title as the epicentre of Czechoslovak football as Dukla and Bohemians both won titles before Sparta took control and embarked on a decade of domination that would continue until the unified league ceased to exist in 1993.

However, nestled between Slovak supremacy and Silesian success, and Prague’s return as an all-conquering powerhouse, was the Moravian city of Brno’s sole season in the sun. Just when the pendulum was swinging away from Slovakia, through Ostrava and back up to Prague, it passed through Brno. It was a real blink-and-you-miss-it moment; an apt way for a perennially underachieving club in an overlooked city and region to win their first – and to date only – league championship.

Life on the Periphery

There is a long-running joke that Brno is the centre of simplicity within the Czech Republic. Whenever something absurd happens, or whenever somebody does something stupid, you can be assured that those from Prague will make a quick quip about the South Moravian city. It is an often a baseless gag (especially now when the city is home to a thriving artistic and cultural scene) made to get cheap laughs, much in the same way Brits may mock those from Norfolk, or Northerners poke fun at the ‘soft’ Southerners. But if you scratch away at the surface, the jabs hint at Brno’s uneasy standing in the world.

In a historical sense, Prague, and to a lesser extent Bratislava, played host to the Czechoslovak state and the various important institutions that had links to the Communist regime. Other cities, such as Ostrava, Kladno and Trnava, laid claim to mining and other heavy industries that were vital to the nation’s economic and manufacturing output. Brno, however, was a city without a unique selling point: It was not a place where the true political and social elite could call home, nor was it a place that could boast important institutions.

When Moravian autonomy was abolished in 1949, the region lost its already marginal political influence over Czechoslovak affairs. And whilst the city’s engineering heritage was impressive, the Královopolská, Zbrojovka and Zeteor factories paled into economic and social insignificance when compared to those in the industrial heartlands.

In many respects, Brno was happy to be second or third best in any given field and just plod along with what they had – or whatever was bequeathed to them by the powers that be. As Vít Hloušek claimed in his scholarly essay on Moravian politics[2], Brno inhabited the periphery of Czechoslovakia and because of this, it suffered from a lack of a collective or imposed identity.

And for the majority of the club’s existence, the same can be said of Zbrojovka Brno.

Founded as SK Židenice[3] in 1913, the club was the first non-Bohemian outfit to gain promotion to the Czechoslovak First Division (or Asociační Liga as it was then known). After over a decade in the top flight, and finishing as high as third on two separate occasions, Židenice were relegated in 1947.

The same year that the club was demoted, they forged a link with the Zbrojovka ammunitions factory. This saw Židenice become Zbrojovka Židenice Brno, before they dropped Židenice completely from their name in 1951. This brand new association failed to bring about a change of fortunes, however, as by this time the club was floundering in the regionalised third tier.

Stuck in the divisional leagues and with fellow Brno-based sides Rudá hvězda (Red Star) and Spartak KPS gaining promotion to the First Division in the late-1950s and early-1960s, Zbrojovka were the city’s third-best team.

After years spent in the doldrums, the club stumbled across some good fortune when the construction of the colossal Lužánky stadium allowed them to grow in both size and stature. Zbrojovka[4] moved a couple of miles north-west to take up residence in the newly built ground.

Initially, the change of scenery did not do much to improve Zbrojovka’s fortunes. However, shortly after their relocation to Lužánky, the Czechoslovak Interior Ministry decided to reorganise their sporting structures in the city.

In 1962, Rudá hvězda’s footballing arm was disbanded. The state-sponsored club had just won promotion back to the Czechoslovak First League, but their place amongst the elite, like everything else, was to be distributed to Brno’s other sporting entities. By hook or by crook, Zbrojovka would be the main beneficiary.

As well as taking Rudá hvězda’s place in the top flight, Zbrojovka also inherited a glut of players. Amongst those that switched ranks included the prolific forward Karel Lichtnégl, the dual-sport international Vlastimil Bubník, and a young goalkeeper by the name of Ivo Viktor. Yet despite having everything fall into their lap, Brno’s now only major club failed to make it count. And just when Bohemian sides lost their grip on the title and the balance of power swung south, Zbrojovka submissively slipped out of the mainstream consciousness.

After cycling through managers on a regular basis, Zdeněk Hajský was the one to lift Zbrojovka Brno out of the second division in 1971, four years after their relegation from the Czechoslovak First League.

Appointed in 1969, Hajský was a well-liked coach who had a long-standing association with the city. The former Rudá hvězda promoted an attacking philosophy that coaxed the most out of the club’s established forward line. Miroslav Kukla, Ľudovít ‘Fero’ Mikloš and Jiří Sýkora all reached double figures and promotion back to the top flight was secured in style – and with games to spare.

However, Hajský lasted just eighteen months in the Lužánky dugout. After a rocky start to life back in the first division and relegation a real possibility, he was shown the door at Christmas. His replacement, Alfréd Sezemský kept Zbrojovka up, but he too was let go. The departure of Sezemský after half-a-year in charge meant that the club had gone through twelve managers in just twelve years.

But, the appointment of František Havránek would bring about stability, not to mention a change in fortunes.

The House that Havránek Built

Born in Bratislava, 1923, Havránek’s formative years were predominantly spent in the High Tatras, learning and playing in a variety of winter sports. Then, when education became a priority, he moved back to the Slovak capital where he studied the intricacies of business.

However, with the prospect of Slovakia becoming a client state of Nazi Germany, in 1938, Havránek and his family moved north to the central Bohemian town of Sadská. It was here, on the eve of World War II, that Havránek fell into football.

At the end of the war II, he was enlisted to complete his military service and did so in Liberec, a hotbed for alpine sports. Here, he mixed his old love with his new, competing in cross-country skiing events in the winter and playing football for Liberec, Mladá Boleslav and Jablonec, amongst others, during the summer months. In 1954, four years before he officially retired as a player, he started coaching at Jiskra Liberec, one of the precursors to Slovan Liberec.

After spells at Hradec Králové and Slavia Prague, he was given the opportunity to move abroad and joined the Cypriot side EPA Larnaca in 1969. There, he made an immediate impact. In his first season with Enosis Pezoporikou Amol, he won the league title, the club’s first in twenty-four years.

The following season, EPA, as Cypriot champions, were ‘promoted’ to the Greek top flight, the Alpha Ethniki[5]. Unfortunately, like all of their island peers, they struggled when competing with sides from the mainland, finished last and were ultimately relegated. Their entry into the European Cup was similarly one-sided; EPA lost 16-0 on aggregate to the Bundesliga’s best, Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Upon their return to playing in Cyprus in 1971-72, EPA Havránek guided EPA to second – finishing just two points behind champions, AC Omonia – and the semi-finals of the Cypriot Cup. And so, with a healthy reputation from his time spent in the Eastern Mediterranean, Havránek returned to Czechoslovakia a wanted man. Eventually, after some deliberation, he would join Zbrojovka and transform the slumbering Moravian side.

Looking at old photographs of Havránek – with his furious brow, sceptical gaze and a bristly moustache – it is easy to assume that he was an old-school, hard-as-nails taskmaster; somebody who valued hard work and grit over nimble football and neat interplay. It is an assumption that would be completely correct.

Havránek was known for creating disciplined and well-drilled sides, and he instantly ruffled the feathers of a Zbrojvoka squad more used to comparatively more relaxing methods in training. Upon taking the job, he took his new team to the traditional winter retreat of Nové Město na Moravě and subjected everybody to a gruelling pre-season training camp.

With the sun beating down on the Moravian countryside, the squad was sent out on long cross-country runs that tackled the slopes used by skiers in the winter, passed through nearby woodland and tackled terrain that was more sand than soil.

“It was a huge change for us!” exclaimed club captain Rostislav Václavíček back in 2011.

“We always ran….it felt like we were training in the Sahara.”

Although Havránek’s first season at the club was, technically a disappointment – Zbrojovka could only muster a twelfth placed finish and would escape relegation by just two points – there were clear signs of improvement: Brno won more games than they did the previous campaign and, importantly, they conceded fifteen goals fewer.

This trend of slow but steady progression continued. The defence improved year-on-year and the club began to rise away from the threat of relegation and embrace the comforting clutches of mid-table respectability.

It took three years of hard work, but during the 1974-75 season, everything fell into place. After showing gradual improvements in each of the preceding campaigns, Zbrojovka eventually cracked the top four and made it to the quarter-finals of the Czech Cup in what was their most successful season since the 1930s.

Although the following campaign saw the club slip back a place and finish in seventh as Baník Ostrava claimed a surprise championship, there were, yet again, improvements, most noticeably in defence.

That season, though, would be Havránek’s last in Moravia. He left Zbrojovka for the Polish side Ruch Chorzów and Brno, turned to Josef Masopust.

Enter the Knight

In truth, Josef Masopust’s coaching career to this juncture had been fairly ordinary.

With his playing days drawing to a close, the 1962 Ballon d’Or winner was given permission to leave Czechoslovakia and opted to move to Belgium, where he joined the second division outfit Crossing Molenbeek as a player-manager. There, he achieved some success by helping the Brussels-based side gain promotion, but upon his retirement from playing, he returned to the Czechoslovak capital.

By the time Masopust headed back to Prague, Dukla’s invincibility of the 1960’s had been shattered by the emergence of Slovan Bratislava and Spartak Trnava. With Slovakia’s big two sides dominating proceedings and other club’s gaining prominence and a measure of equality, the Army Club were in a rut and slipped to as low as thirteenth in 1970-71.

Masopust returned to the Stadion Juliska in 1973 and oversaw an immediate turnaround in fortunes, turning the side he led to numerous league championships as a player into title-challengers once again. In his first season in charge, Dukla finished second, just two points off Slovan Bratislava, who would wrap up the league and cup double that year.

The next season, however, was a chastening experience for both Masopust and Dukla as the Dejvice club slipped down to finish ninth in the Czechoslovak First League and were eliminated from the UEFA Cup that year in brutal fashion, going out after a 5-0 hammering from the Dutch side Twente. Within twelve months of that crushing elimination, Dukla and Masopust would part ways.

Whilst Dukla went back to the future and appointed Jaroslav Vejvoda as manager for the third time, Masopust decided to search for a new challenge. The vacancy at Lužánky came at the right time and the Golden Knight, as he was nicknamed, found his Midas touch down in Moravia.

During Masopust’s first season in charge of Zbrojovka, he led the club to their highest ever points total in a sixteen-team league and the quarter-finals of the Czechoslovak Cup. However, this successful campaign came at a cost.

For all Havránek’s association with sending his squad on SAS-style runs and hammering home the importance of team shape and strong work ethic, the Bratislavan had assembled a side that could be equally proficient when attacking as they were defending.

The most obvious example of Brno’s ruthlessness during Havránek’s tenure came in the early stages of the 1975-76 season when Zbrojovka crushed Trenčín 8-0, a blistering romp that included four goals inside the opening twenty minutes. However, despite being able to cut through opponents, finding the balance between attack and defence was a perennial issue for Havránek and his coaching staff and more often than not, keeping things solid at the back was prioritised over free-flowing football.

To begin with, Josef Masopust also struggled to field a balanced side. Although he quickly found a way to get the most out of the talented Karel Kroupa, Masopust was unable to keep Brno’s normally iron-clad defensive record intact. During his maiden year in Moravia, Zbrojovka shipped forty goals in thirty league games, twelve more than the season before. Despite improvements in the final third, Zbrojovka ended up with more in common, statistically, with mid-table sides such as Škoda Plzeň than they did the title winners that year: Dukla Prague.

To remedy this, Masopust made a handful of astute signings in the summer of 1977. These new faces would ultimately provide the impetuous that the club would need to go on and make history, though not all of them were well received at the time.

The marquee signing was Karel Dvořák, who joined Zbrojovka, along with his younger brother Jiří, from Dukla. A well-respected centre-back, who had amassed a glut of accolades during his career thus far, the elder Dvořák brother made his debut for the Army Club in 1969 before becoming a first-team regular in the early 1970s. His signing – albeit a year later than hoped – was a real coup; something that today’s media would call a true ‘statement of intent. However, at the time, Dvořák’s switch was barely recognised, only garnering a throwaway sentence when the national, state-run press previewed the upcoming season.

Another to join that summer was Jan Kopenec, though the signing of the veteran winger was met with a fair amount of trepidation from Brno’s senior management, hinting at a sometimes fractious between board and coach.

Kopenec was somebody who the Zbrojováci knew extremely well. The diligent winger had made his debut for the club almost a decade prior and was almost immediately courted by Dukla Prague and then-coach Bohumil Musil after a handful of games at senior level. After just four games for Zbrojovka, Kopenec opted to go north to the capital, a move that would prove to be disastrous. With Josef Nedorost, Stanislav Štrunc and Milan Hudec all ahead of him in the pecking order, Kopenec was limited to just five league appearances in two seasons and in 1969, he returned to Moravia with his military service complete but his football career somewhat stunted.

A good servant if nothing else, Kopenec stayed with Zbrojovka during their barren years, racking up appearance after appearance without achieving any sort of personal reward or honour. But as the team gradually improved under František Havránek, he found it harder and harder to break into the starting eleven and in 1975, he left for LIAZ Jablonec.

By the summer of 1977, he was beginning to question his long-term future in football. After two unhappy years in the Czech northeast, he had started to plan for a return to Moravia, eyeing up an opportunity to join KPS, a small club from the Královo Pole district of Brno that had just topped the Moravian-Silesian section of the Czechoslovak fourth division. But Masopust had other ideas

During his ill-fated stint with Dukla, Kopenec would often room with Masopust before games, forging a strong relationship that would ultimately revitalise the former’s career. in the face of opposition from above, Masopust was well aware of the winger’s strengths and pushed for his signature, knowing that Kopenec’s mixture of guile and graft was something that could help him bridge Havránek’s foundations with his own, more attacking ideas.

And so, thanks to the signings of Kopenec, Dvořák, and a few others, Masopust put together the final few pieces of the jigsaw – not that anybody seemed to notice.

Like all the best stories of surprise title victors, Zbrojovka Brno were an unfancied outfit at the start of the 1977-78 season. Their fourth-place finish in the previous campaign was widely viewed as being the glass ceiling for a club that could not compete with the bigger, more illustrious sides from Prague or Bratislava.

Despite an encouraging preseason run, a sports columnist for Rudé právo, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, proclaimed that Zbrojovka were expected to put in “good performances,” during the season ahead. Masopust himself simply wished that his side would “play good football.”

It seems that for all those concerned, ‘good’ was the vanilla adjective of choice to describe Zbrojovka. They were a ‘good’ side, but not a great one. They could play ‘good’ football and attract ‘good’ crowds, but they were not as good as Slovan Bratislava, Slavia Prague and the defending champions, Dukla Prague

Attack! Attack!

The weather for Zbrojovka Brno’s season opener against Škoda Plzeň was horrendous. Contemporary reports paint a picture of a Moravian monsoon but in spite of the deluge, Brno racked up a comfortable win on home mud with their emblematic forward Karel Kroupa scoring twice in a 3-1 victory.

If you stop a person in the streets of Brno and ask them to name somebody who is synonymous with Zbrojovka, the likelihood is that they will give you one response: Karel Kroupa.

Growing up, Kroupa, like many others, had flittered between football and ice hockey during his youth. But come his teenage years, Kroupa had decided to focus on football and was beginning to make a name for himself with Sokol Bosonohy, a small club in west Brno.

A move to Spartak KPS Brno followed and then, approaching his twentieth birthday, he joined Dukla Tábor in the 2.liga. By the age of twenty-one and with an impressive goals-to-games ratio to his name, he had some of the biggest clubs in Czechoslovakia vying for his signature. There was concrete interest from Sparta but Kroupa opted to return to his hometown and signed with Zbrojovka. The rest, as they say, is history.

The bustling striker scored 118 goals in the Czechoslovak top flight over the span of eleven seasons, walked home with the Golden Boot on two occasions (1977-78 and 1978-79), and featured for Czechoslovakia at a time when striking options appeared to be limitless. He even helped the team out in the early-1990s when their very existence seemed to be in doubt when the club’s traditional backers bailed and left the club with a financial black hole.

And so – rather predictably – when the Zbrojováci went to the ballot box in 2013 to determine who should be crowned the club’s greatest ever player, they unsurprisingly voted for pane Brno, Karel Kroupa.

Kroupa’s brace on opening day set the tone for the season. He would go on to score a further eighteen times and win the Czechoslovak Golden Boot in the process. But the standout player at Lužánky that August afternoon was a teenager making his debut in the red of Zbrojvoka, Petr Janečka.

Janečka, then just nineteen, already had an impressive resume before joining Brno in the summer of 1977. Born in Gottwaldov (known today as Zlín) in November 1957, Janečka joined his local side at the age of ten and his talent was evident, even at such a young age. He was promoted well above his years and would often be in competition with those two or even three years older than him, but he always stood out. After helping Gottwaldov claim that national youth title in 1974, he was promoted to the senior side.

Two years later, his nineteen-goal haul helped the southeast Moravian side claim one of Czechoslovakia’s regional third division titles, catapulting him to the attention of Zbrojovka’s management in the process.

The teenager was initially taken on trial by and was given the chance to impress during Brno’s Intertoto Cup campaign. It took just a handful of games for him to win over the club’s management. His performances against Östers, Austria Salzburg and Aalborg, not only saw him earn a permanent move Zbrojovka, but they saw him nail down a place in the first-team for the start of the domestic league season.

Against Plzeň, Janečka was electric. It took him thirty-five minutes to score on his debut in the Czechoslovak First League and followed that goal up by winning a second-half penalty that was converted by Kroupa. Given the weather conditions that afternoon, it would be fair to say that he took to his new surroundings like the proverbial duck to water.

After their opening-day victory, Zbrojovka were in a confident mood ahead of their second league game of the season, away at the newly promoted Dukla Banská Bystrica. Although the Slovak outfit had won their opening tie (a 2-1 win away at Žilina), they were not expected to pose a serious threat to Masopust’s side.

For whatever reason, Masopust opted to move away from his trusted 4-3-3 for the trip to central Slovakia. With the pair of Libor Došek and Josef Pospíšil coming in to replace Karel Jarůšek and Jan Kopenec, Brno lined up in something akin to a narrow 4-4-2 at Na Štiavničkách.

The change of formation did not work, and those pre-match predictions went out of the window as early as ten minutes into the game when the hosts took an early lead through Ivan Šimček. Although Vítězslav Kotásek equalised almost immediately, Šimček’s second goal, scored just after the half-hour mark, would prove to be the difference. Masopust and Zbrojovka returned home with plenty to think about.

After that brief dalliance with a different formation, Masopust returned to type for the next tie, a mouth-watering clash with a Lokomotíva Košice side that had scored and shipped goals by the carriage load the season before. Back in their customary 4-3-3, lead by the trio of Janečka, Kroupa and Kopenec, Brno routed Lokomotíva. The front three all scored as Zbrojovka put five past a shell-shocked Stanislav Seman, while simultaneously limiting the normally prolific Ladislav Józsa and company to just one in reply. It was a breathtaking performance; a dominant display that set the scene for the next four months.

With Kroupa, Kopenec and Janečka firing on all cylinders, Brno put together a twelve game unbeaten streak that saw them put three past Sparta Prague, four past Žilina, Tatran Prešov and Spartak Trnava, and five past preseason favourites Slavia Prague. During that dominant run, they won eight and drew four, scored thirty-four goals and conceded ten. Come the beginning of December, Brno sat atop of the table, three points clear of Dukla Prague.

After the 5-2 defeat of Slavia in late October, Rudé právo finally came to their senses and started to talk about Zbrojovka as being a legitimate contender for the league title. In their piece that praised the free-flowing side from Moravia, the paper rhetorically asked ‘Who Can Stop Zbrojovka?’ As fate would have it, Masopust’s old club would be the ones to answer that question.

In the final game before the Czechoslovak league entered its customary winter break, Zbrojovka headed up to the capital to face their nearest challengers. Despite the weather being near freezing (it was mid-December after all), Prague was red hot in anticipation. A bumper crowd, boosted by a large contingent of travelling Moravians, descended on the Stadion Juliska to watch this top-of-the-table clash.

It was a game that needed no hype and those who attended that bitingly cold December evening witnessed a ‘rapid, forceful and attacking’ encounter that was billed by the morning papers as being the perfect advert for Czechoslovak football.

Dukla Prague started the better side and took the lead inside twenty minutes. However, Ivan Bilský’s opener served as a wake-up call for the visitors, As Zbrojovka’s midfield three of Vitezslav Kotásek, Karel Jarůšek, and Josef Pešice grew into the game, Brno began to dictate proceedings. Petr Janečka levelled the tie and it was the away side who ended the first half in the ascendency.

The second half began with both sides playing at a break-neck speed and fashioning a number of good chances. However, the game turned in the seventieth minute when Miroslav Bureš replaced the injured Karel Kroupa in attack. Without the totemic presence of their number nine, Brno lost a vital outlet.

Smelling blood, Dukla went in for the kill: Two goals in the final ten minutes, one each from Luděk Macela and Stanislav Pelc, ended Brno’s unbeaten twelve-match unbeaten streak.

Despite the defeat, Zbrojovka Brno were top at Christmas. And with thirty-nine goals to their name, they had the most potent attack in the country, For arguably the first time in the club’s history, they were the team to beat.

The Fear

When the league resumed the following February, Zbrojovka Brno came out of the blocks hard and fast. For the second time that season, Masopust’s men put three past Plzeň and then followed that up with a 4-0 win over Dukla Banská Bystrica, some measure of revenge for the defeat in the reverse fixture back in August. Brno looked unstoppable. But then came the month of March.

On the first Sunday of March 1978, a then-record crowd of 25,000 crammed into the elliptical bowl of the Štadión Lokomotívy v Čermeli to witness Lokomotiva Košice take on the league leaders. The reverse fixture had been a whitewash for Brno, but this time, the tie would be a cagey affair that went against the grain for two sides with a penchant for attacking football.

Although Lokomotiva sat third in the table at kick-off, four points behind Zbrojovka, and boasted one of the league’s best forwards in Ladislav Józsa, and the European Championship winner Jozef Moder – not to mention a young Ján Kozák – the eastern Slovak side entered the game on a poor run of form. Since returning to competitive action after the long winter break, Lokomotiva scraped a draw against an under-performing Sparta Prague before putting in a listless performance against a poor Žilina side that was destined for relegation.

Zbrojovka entered that game as clear favourites – but left beaten and almost broken. In a weekend full of interesting sporting stories – not least of all Dukla’s impressive 4-0 romp over fellow Prague side Bohemians – Monday morning’s back pages were filled with reports of Brno’s defeat. On paper, the 1-0 scoreline in favour of Lokomotiva gave the impression of a tight game that was decided by a solitary goal; a tie that although close, could have ended differently. The reality, though, was the opposite. Loky were utterly dominant.

Part of the reasoning behind Zbrojovka’s dire display was the absence of Rostislav Václavíček in the heart of defence. The makeshift centre-back pairing of Karel Dvořák with Josef Pospíšil had to contend with attack after attack after attack as Kosice’s free-flowing side hit clicked and hit top gear. Ladislav Józsa, flanked by the trio of Dušan Ujhely, Ján Kozák and Ľudovít Žitnár, tore through an unusually soft centre to pepper the league leader’s goal. It was one-way traffic and, you imagine, on another day, Košice’s on-field dominance would have seen the scoreboard read 4- or even 5-nil. Instead, Lokomotiva found Zbrojvoka’s goalkeeper, Josef Hron, in outstanding form.

The only goal of the game came from the penalty spot, with Jozef Móder being the one to convert from twelve yards and finally find a way the spider-like Hron.

The result sent shockwaves through Zbrojovka’s squad. Just like the first meeting between the two sides earlier that season – when Brno steamrollered Lokomotiva 5-1 on home turf – the fixture set a precedent. Whereas after the initial tie, Brno went on an impressive run of form, this time they started to stutter – especially whenever they left the safe confines of south Moravia.

Importantly, though, that defeat at the Štadión Lokomotívy v Čermeli signalled a change of tact that would deliver Brno its first – and only – league title. It was time for the defence to take centre stage.

A Sporting Cliché

Thirty years on from Brno’s coronation, the south Moravian edition of Dnes ran a series of articles and interviews focusing Zbrojovka’s historic title-winning season. Rather amusingly, by speaking with both players, coaches and fans, the feature highlighted the importance of perspective.

“The team was now complete,” Karel Kroupa recalled, playing up the importance of Josef Masopust’s influence on the side. “{But] it was not just about myself or Janečka,” he added in a self-congratulatory tone, “it was [also] about the midfield of Josef Pešice, Karel Jarůšek and Vítězslav Kotásek,”

Perhaps predictably, Kroupa had opted to highlight the role of the goal scorers and creators within the team. His boss, however, had a different view.

Although Josef Masopust touched on unlocking Zbrojovka’s attacking potential, he was quick to praise the foundations left by František Havránek. And after that crushing defeat to Lokomotiva Košice, Masopust was quick to change tact and rely on the blueprint of his predecessor. From mid-March onwards, defence became the best form of attack.

Of course, everything is relative. Prior to this point, Zbrojovka’s usual back four, the ‘grandfather’ of the squad, Rostislav Václavíček, Josef Mazura, the experienced Karel Dvořák, and Jan Klimeš, had conceded just nineteen times in twenty games. Yet with a third of the season left to play, with their more attack-minded teammates beginning to struggle to break down dogged opposition -and Dukla Prague breathing down their necks – they somehow managed to improve on already solid record. And they did so under both collective and individual pressure: left-back Jan Klimeš would be axed after a tired performance, with his replacement Jindřich Svoboda himself only lasting a couple of games before being dropped. Eventually, Jaroslav Petrtýl would claim the number three jersey as the season entered its final stages. Masopust and his assistants Viliam Padúch and František Harašta clearly were not afraid of swinging the axe.

But before the league title would be secured, there would be the occasional wobble that threatened everything.

After rebounding from that defeat to Lokomotíva Košice with a victory over Intern Bratislava, Brno were faced with a quick turnaround before they made the relatively short trip to Trenčín. However, with just four days between games, Zbrojovka again struggled and slipped to a 1-0 defeat in the Váh River valley. The loss left Brno in a precarious position: Dukla Prague were just a point behind while a point further back were Lokomotiva Košice, who had just walloped Slovan Bratislava 5-0 and were now undoubtedly the league’s form side.

With ten games left, the title race was most well and truly on.

As the leaders, all of the pressure was on Zbrojovka. A 4-0 victory over Teplice indicated that a return to pre-Christmas form was imminent, but that comprehensive win proved to be something of a false dawn as subsequent performances varied massively.

A four-game stretch through April and May almost proved to be terminal for the club’s chances of claiming a first-ever league championship.

On paper, Zbrojovka’s run of games against Sparta Prague, Žilina, Slavia Prague and Tatran Prešov was relatively easy on the eye. Sparta were treading water lower half of the table, Žilina were the worst team in the division by some distance and Tatran Prešov were a solid mid-table side, albeit one with a porous back line. Only Brno’s trip to the capital to face Slavia looked to be especially tricky, though Zbrojovka had just thrashed Teplice, a side with a similar record to that of the sewn-ones. However, during these four fixtures, Brno could only muster five points, with their sole win come against bottom side Žilina, and that was by a solitary goal in what was described as being a very poor game.

This stretch was characterised not by the cascade of goals scored by the likes of Kroupa and company, but instead by the defensive resilience and sheer determination shown by Václavíček, Dvořák and the rest of the defensive unit.

Match reports in Rudé Pravo describe games in which a save from Hron was just as important as a goal from Kroupa. About how a tackle from Václavíček or Dvořák helped change the course of the tie in the same manner that a darting run from Janečka or a clever pass from Jarůšek did. As the commonly held footballing belief goes, defences win championships. Masopust, turning to the foundations bequeathed to him by Havránek, was finding that out first-hand.

At the end of the season, Zbrojovka had conceded just twenty-five goals in thirty league games. It was the best defensive record by a Czechoslovak club in the top flight since Anton Malatinský masterminded Spartak Trnava’s final league win five years previously. To this day, no Zbrojovka backline has been as driven, as resolute and as good as the vintage of 1977-78. When it mattered the most, the back four, helped drive Brno towards the title.

And behind that defence was arguably the most under-appreciated member of that championship-winning squad; somebody who crucially kept four successive clean sheets during the run-in. Josef Hron.

One Season Wonders?

Josef Hron is a record holder. His 247 top flight league appearances for Zbrojovka Brno is a club record for a goalkeeper, as his impressive tally of 74 clean sheets. But despite his standing as an all-time great in the Czech Republic’s second city, his legacy – at least of all when discussing the team of 1977-78 – is often marginalised in favour of the bigger names; your Kroupa’s, Václavíček’s and Janečka’s.

When reflecting on the title-winning campaign, Karel Kroupa mentioned his fellow strikers and those with the creative spark that allowed him to reach twenty goals for the season. Josef Masopust talked about the systems that he inherited from František Havránek, and Karel Dvořák waxed lyrical about his fellow centre-back, Rostislav Václavíček. Nobody went into detail about the person who wore number one.

Born and raised in Pelhřimov, Hron joined Zbrojovka Brno in the summer of 1973 after fielding interest from a number of clubs, most noticeably Dukla Hraničář České Budějovice, Vlašim and Jablonec. With competition for places fierce, Hron initially spent time within the Moravian side’s youth system as, Villiam Padúch, Ľubomír Páleník and Rudolf Pelikán all shared senior goaltending duties. The following season, however, saw Padúch retire and Pelikán moved down the divisions to join the fourth tier Modeta Jihlava. Hron was now the club’s number two.

Ľubomír Páleník started 1974-75 as František Havránek’s first choice, though it was common knowledge that the Slovak was eyeing a return home sooner rather than later, This uncomfortable situation allowed Hron the chance to permanently oust Páleník between the sticks. It was an opportunity that Hron failed to take.

On his league debut, against a lowly Nitra side, Hron conceded four times and was a hauled off at the break. What should have been one of the proudest moments of his career turned out to be a day to forget.

“I was looking forward to the match, but it turned out quite badly,” the legendary goalkeeper told both Zbrojvoka’s official website and the newspaper Denik rather matter-of-factly. “For 35 minutes everything was good and them I conceded four times. That was unbelievable and at half time, Havránek got me out of there.”

After that disappointment, Hron went back to playing second fiddle to Páleník. But a few weeks later, the Slovak fell ill and he was, once again, was given the gloves. This time, against Inter Bratislava, he kept a clean sheet and followed that performance up with a strong showing against Dukla Prague. From that game onwards, Josef Hron would be Zbrojovka Brno’s number one for the next eight years. He would win the league and claim records, but he would never quite be seen as an integral part of the club’s success.

In a similar manner, Hron’s evident ability failed to see him winning numerous international caps, unlike his contemporaries in the Zbrojovka team. Despite being the first choice goalkeeper in a successful Brno side for the best part of a decade, Hron could not force his way into national team contention. Initially, the Pelhřimov-born goalkeeper found his path blocked by Dukla Prague’s peerless Ivo Viktor and Slovan Bratislava’s long-standing servant, Alexander Vencel. When that pairing entered international retirement, Hron was faced with a new generation of contenders, those being Viktor’s successor, Jaroslav Netolička, Zdeněk Hruška of Bohemians and Baník Ostrava’s Pavol Michalík. All of those had the chance to represent their country. Hron did not.

It was a similar story for many of Hron’s colleagues at Zbrojovka. For all their exploits in leading Brno to the league title and their relative longevity towards at top of the Czechoslovak football pyramid, many of the championship-winning side are barely remembered on a national level. One primary explanation of this situation is the simple fact that the majority of this squad, no matter their talent, were able to progress and become mainstays of the Czechoslovak national team. This is especially strange as in 1978, Czechoslovakia were struggling and some fresh impetus was needed to reverse a poor series of results.

On June 20th 1976, Antonín Panenka made history. His audacious penalty to win the European Championship led to one French journalist to dub him a poet. Sepp Maier, on the other hand, would probably describe the famous midfield maestro as a horror writer; the kind of writer whose short stories induce nightmares for days and weeks on end. Those following events back in Czechoslovakia would probably state that he was the master of euphoria-inducing novels pluck straight out of the mind of Prague’s most optimistic daydreamer.

Although Czechoslovakia were outsiders as they headed to Yugoslavia for the four-team tournament, Panenka’s penalty was the end of a remarkable eighteen game unbeaten[6] run in which they defeated the traditional powerhouses of England and the USSR in qualifying, before going on beat both the Netherlands and West Germany in the semi-final and final respectively. Yet that devilishly delightful dink from twelve yards, for all its artistic beauty, was a fitting final chapter to an unlikely tale of success and overachievement as the reigning European champions slumped and, surprisingly, failed to make the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

With the national team in transition and Brno flying high towards the top of the Czechoslovak league pyramid, Moravia, you imagine, would have been one of the first ports-of-call for then manager Václav Ježek. Unfortunately, neither he nor coaching staff appeared to take much notice of Zbrojovka’s exploits.

A small, select group were given chances. At best these opportunities could be described as fleeting: Karel Jarůšek had a small run of games but departed the setup prior to the 1980 European Championships when Jozef Vengloš opted to take a young midfield to Italy for the final tournament. And despite having all the talent in the world and having youth on his side, even Petr Janečka would not make an impact for his country until he moved up north in the early 1980s.

Karel Kroupa was, of course, the exception – though even his international career failed to live up to its potential. Between 1976 and 1980, Kroupa scored 70 league goals and was, by some distance, Czechoslovakia’s most consistent and feared forward. For all his clinical ability on a domestic level, one miss haunted his international career and seemingly led successive coaches to question his potency against Europe’s best defences.

That miss came against the USSR in a qualifier for the 1976 European Championships. After being brought on early in the game to replace an injured Ladislav Petráš, Kroupa was gifted the freedom of Bratislava’s Tehelné pole stadium by a rather wayward Soviet defence and found himself with only Aleksandr Prokhorov to beat. But instead of burying the chance, Kroupa fluffed his lines.

In interviews after the event, Brno’s legendary number nine was quick to blame a horrible pitch for his miss, something which is not outside of the realms of plausibility. But in that moment Václav Ježek had seen enough: There was not to be a second chance for the Zbrojovka forward and the attacking quartet of Dušan Galis, Zdeněk Nehoda, Ladislav Petráš and the veteran František Veselý to Yugoslavia.

From then on, no matter the man in charge of the national team, Kroupa was primarily reduced to playing the role of the supporting figures of the squad member and the substitute.

Some in that Zbrojovka squad received token caps before being cast into the wilderness by either Ježek or Vengloš. Others never received such derisory chance. Josef Mazura, Jindřich Svoboda and Rostislav Václavíček did win gold in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but that was as part of a distinctly second-string Czechoslovakia side that was missing many of its biggest stars.

From Športová to Náměstí Svobody

Zbrojovka Brno secured the title in the penultimate game of the season, a potentially tricky away tie to the five-time champions Spartak Trnava. Such was the expectation and excitement for the match that thousands of people made the short trip from Moravia to western Slovakia. Some sources say 8,000, others put the travelling support closer to 10,000. But whatever the number, Brno seemingly decamped to Trnava for the day.

The rest of the weekend’s fixtures were inconsequential squibs that failed to capture the imagination of the football viewing public. With two games left to play, only Zbrojovka Brno and Dukla Prague could win the title and all eyes were on Zbrojvoka’s trip to Trnava. Although Dukla could secure their second league championship in a row, they were reliant on their Moravian counterparts falling to a team that had the 12th best home record in a 16 team division. The silverware was Zbrojovka’s to lose.

Dukla Prague did their bit to keep the title race alive and put on a show as they stuffed the already relegated Žilina 7-0. But despite the best efforts of Stanislav Pelc and company, an estimated 500 people bothered to turn up to the Stadion Juliska. Official attendances, as reported by Rudé právo were not much better. Just 800 watched a must-win game for Inter Bratislava and whilst today a tie between Plzeň and Sparta Prague is guaranteed to be played out in front of a capacity crowd, on the 12th June 1978, it attracted an audience of just over 1,000. Baník Ostrava versus Tatran Prešov had the second-biggest crowd of the weekend as around 3,000 headed to the Bazaly to watch an inconsequential tie between two mid-table sides. All eyes, it seems, were fixed on events in Trnava.

After dominating the Czechoslovak First league in the late=1960s and early-1970s under the stewardship of the legendary Anton Malatinský, Spartak had regressed into a middle-of-the-road side that had flirted with relegation the season the before. Although strong defensively and especially tough to beat on their own patch, Trnava were anaemic in attack. Heading into this game with Zbrojovka, their record of 24 goals in 28 games was by far the worst in the division.

So, of course, when the champions-elect came to town, that poor forward line sprung into life.

The tie started off at a frenetic pace. Zbrojovka were obviously desperate to score an early goal to help calm their nerves and get one hand on the major honour that had eluded the club for so many years. The hosts, meanwhile, were eager to gatecrash any potential party that the Moravian’s were planning and were also eyeing up an opportunity to end the season undefeated at home. Both Hron and his counterpart in the Spartak goal, Dušan Kekéti, were called into action numerous occasions as game swung one way and then the other for what seemed like an eternity. It was like a frantic game of tennis with the ball bounding from penalty box to penalty box, with both goalkeepers doing their best to return a barrage of shots from the baseline.

Somehow, at halftime, the score was 0-0.

Whatever happened in Prague, Masopust and the rest of the Zbrojovka Brno side knew that a draw that evening would secure them a first-ever league title. A defeat would set up a final day decider against Dukla, an outcome that nobody in the dressing room particularly wanted. And so, faced with an opponent that was playing above themselves and threatening Josef Hron’s goal on a regular basis, they opted to batten down the hatches, dig deep and secure the point that they needed.

Playing for the draw, though, is always a dangerous move. True to form, that often-used cliché almost became a reality when Trnava started the second half well and went straight for the jugular. Brno were rocking as Michal Gašparík, Ladislav Kuna and Milan Zvarík all went close to breaking the deadlock. Hron, however, was equal to everything that was thrown at him, pulling off save after save in what would be one of the most memorable performances of his illustrious career.

Alongside Hron, Rudé Pravo also made a concerted effort to sing the praises of Karel Dvořák, who is described as stifling a number of attacks almost single-handedly. If Dvořák did not stop you dead in your tracks, then Hron, the undoubted man-of-the-match would. It was that kind of evening for Spartak Trnava’s forward line.

Common football parlance is that playing for the draw is an often risky and generally dangerous move. And true to form, that often-used cliché almost became reality when Spartak started the second half quickly and went straight for Zbrojovka’s jugular. Brno were rocking, as Michal Gašparík, Ladislav Kuna and Milan Zvarík all went close to breaking the deadlock in quick succession. Hron, though, was more than a match for whatever was thrown at him, pulling off save after save in what would be one of the most memorable performances of his distinguished career.

In the crowd that evening, there must have been a thousand different emotions circulating around the stands and terraces. As the game wore on and the home side peppered Hron’s goal with shot after shot, the optimism and hope that was present at the opening whistle had surely given way to stomach-churning nervousness and sheer terror. All that fear that Zbrojovka were about to stumble at the second-to-last hurdle evaporated in the 74th minute when Petr Janečka broke forward and scored,

Zbrojovka Brno were the champions of Czechoslovakia.

The team’s celebrations began in earnest on the bus back to Brno. As they neared their final destination, the bus driver took the entire squad on an impromptu detour through the Moravian city’s historic city centre that passed by the Church of St. Thomas, went straight across the main square, náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square), before promptly stopping outside a bar. The players piled out and, to the surprise of nobody, the party continued throughout the night.

And so onto the final day of the season, when Dukla would come to town. Even before Zbrojvoka had wrapped up the league title, the Zbrojováci had snapped up the 40,000 tickets that had been made available for sale. Such was the demand that an extra 5,000 tickets were released. These went almost in an instant, with reports telling of an endless queue of people turning the city centre into a pedestrian-only zone. Monday 19th June 1978 had effectively become a public holiday in Brno

With the title already secured, there was little need for Zbrojovka Brno to put on a performance against Dukla Prague. With the champagne on ice, they could have quite easily gone through the motions, counting down the minutes until the final whistle blew and their celebrations could begin once more. But, with a capacity crowd (and then some) crammed onto Lužánky‘s concrete terraces and making a raucous atmosphere, the idea of phoning it in was barely considered.

Just like their first encounter back in December, there was little to separate the two sides. Both teams pushed forward, eager to make a statement in their final fixture and lay down a marker for the next campaign. Another instant classic appeared to be on the cards.

As the first half wore on, the away side grew into the tie and started to dominate the midfield battle. But for all Dukla’s territorial advantage, it was hosts who went closest to scoring when Petr Janečka rattled the crossbar.

The game turned just after the hour mark when Karel Jarůšek was hauled down in the Dukla penalty area, prompting referee Vojtech Christov to point immediately to the spot. In front of 45,000 people, Karel Kroupa had the chance to put Zbrojovka ahead and make an emphatic statement. The crowd, hushed in their silence, waited with baited breath.

Standing opposite Kroupa was Zdeněk Sork. Sork, just 18 at the time, was Dukla Prague’s reserve goalkeeper who was making only his second senior appearance for the Army side, deputising for an injured Jaroslav Netolička. It was the soon soon-to-be-crowned Golden Boot winner versus stand-in from twelve yards. Surprisingly, neither emerged victorious.

Sork moved to his right, Kroupa went the other way….and could only watch dumbfounded as his shot struck the inside of the post and bounced clear. The woodwork was hell-bent on denying Brno the perfect end to the season.

Ten minutes later, Stanislav Pelc scored for the visitors. Miroslav Gajdůšek played a perfect pass through to Pelc who, surrounded by a swarm of red shirts, controlled the ball with his first touch, and sent two Zbrojovka defenders the wrong way with his second. For a split second, after working into a pocket of space inside the area, the chance seemed to have vanished as Pelc lost his footing. But despite slipping and falling to the ground, the wily forward managed to stick out a boot and prod the ball past a stricken Josef Hron.

Ultimately, the goal would be meaningless. It did little temper the spirits of those in attendance and it had no impact whatsoever on the title race. Dukla may have won – and defeated Zbrojovka both home and away as a result – but it was Brno who were the champions of Czechoslovakia. As soon as the full-time whistle went, the celebrations began once again.

Epilogue: That Thirst That Lasts Forever

When náměstí Svobody underwent a massive redevelopment project in 2006, Brno’s city council asked the public to come up with ideas to help create a new, modern landmark that would stand as a counter piece to the historic buildings and the early-Baroque plague column that have adorned the square for centuries. The pair of Ladislav Kuba and Tomáš Pilař put forward the winning design – a fountain engraved with extracts from the work of Moravia’s most famous literary figure, the poet Jan Skácel.

One such poem that is engraved on one of the fountains, Poslední žízeň, contains a closing stanza that, loosely translated, reads:

And how years have since passed?
It’s hard to believe,
Yet still the flinty rock tastes of sulphur,
The thirst that lasts forever.

Those four lines perfectly encapsulate Zbrojvoka Brno’s barren existence since the club’s glory days, some forty years ago.

The following season, Dukla Prague and Baník Ostrava served up a title race for the ages. Only goal difference could separate Dukla and Baník come the end of a frenetic 19779-79 campaign, with Dukla’s free-scoring triumvirate of Miroslav Gajdůšek, Zdeněk Nehoda and Ladislav Vízek ultimately proving to be the difference for the Army-backed club.

Zbrojvoka finished a distant third, six points off the runaway top two. Although it was, in many respects, a credible title defence, backed up with some positive results in the European Cup, it proved to be the beginning of the end for Masopust’s side.

Brno went the 1978-79 campaign unbeaten at home, with the Lužánky becoming an impenetrable fortress that nobody enjoyed visiting. But away from home, they were a completely different beast. Whenever they left Moravia, subpar performances seemed to follow. Perhaps most embarrassingly of all was a 4-2 loss to bottom-of-the-table Teplice, which was compounded by a 2-1 defeat at the hands of ZŤS Košice, a result made worse given that Brno had hammered ZŤS 6-1 on home soil.

The season after, Brno finished second and beat Standard Liège en-route to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, but this proved to be the squad’s last hurrah. For all the positives of the 1979-80 campaign, there were plenty of negatives: The defence was leaking goals on a regular basis, defeats were becoming as common as victories and that travel sickness was still evident for all to see.

Unlike Dukla and handful of other Czech clubs at the time with explicit links to key government departments or important industrial entities, it was hard for Brno to secure the necessary replacements to improve their squad. Karel Kroupa continued to score for fun and Petr Janečka improved with every game, yet others failed to replicate the heroic exploits of 1977-78. Many of them had peaked together and were now ageing together.

Josef Masopust left Brno at the end of the 1979-80 season to take over the reins at the Belgian second division side KSC Hasselt. A year later, Rostislav Václavíček and Jan Kopenec departed:  Václavíček followed Masopust to Belgium while Kopenec joined Frýdek-Mistek, before hopping around the lower leagues with Slušovice and Blansko.  Karel Dvořák dropped down the divisions too, joining the fourth tier side TJ Žďas Zdar nad Sazavou as age caught up with him, as it did many of his title-winning teammates.

Petr Janečka, who seemingly had the world at his feet after a blistering debut season, suffered stomach problems that took a career-changing toll on his body. Even Mr Brno, Karel Kroupa, explored the feasibility of a move abroad and came close to joining AEK Athens, only to see the authorities kybosh the proposed deal.

By this time, Brno were in freefall. Their slide down the table reached its nadir in 1983 when they finished fifteenth and were duly relegated to the Czechoslovak second division. Not even a sixteen goal season from Petr Janečka could save them. Looking to retain his place in the Czechoslovak national side, Janečka left for Bohemians Prague. Five years after being crowned champions, Zbrojovka were now a second rank outfit.

It took six seasons for the club to earn promotion back to the First Division. But by the time they ascended from the second division as champions, the world was a different place. The Berlin Wall had fallen, Sparta Prague were established as the dominant force in domestic football as the ‘old’ powers waned and the nation was a few short months away from the Velvet Revolution.

Other clubs took to this new world quickly. The Prague ‘S’ clubs embraced commercialism quicker than others; small, village outfits such as Drnovice and Lázně Bohdaneč took advantage of the patronage of self-made millionaires to be promoted beyond their station, and others, infamously, used the darker side of capitalism to gain an advantage. Brno, however, remained somewhat stagnant, despite having a wealthy, free-spending and dubious owner in Lubomír Hrstka, a man once described as being a megalomaniac.

Since the formation of the Czech Republic, Zbrojovka, under a plethora of guises (Boby Brno, Stavo Artikel Brno and 1.FC Brno) have, by-and-large, been mediocre. A third-place finish at the culmination of the 1994-95 season remains their best ever finish in an independent Czech league, a statistic that is unlikely to change in the near future.

Twenty years ago, a game between Brno and Slavia Prague drew an official attendance of 44,120. A number of those there that day were probably brought up on tales of the Zbrojovka Brno side that conquered Czechoslovakia, believing that one day they too would witness the city and its football team drink from the fountain of success. Today, the average crowd is less than 5,000 and the faithful, as thirsty as they may be, will likely have to wait.

Footnotes

[1] A Regions Cup of sorts had taken place previously where the ‘best’ clubs from different administrative districts played each other in a knockout competition

[2] Hlousek, Vit. 2015. From region to nation and back again: Moravian parties’ rhetoric and politics in the course of time. Annual of Language and Politics and Politics of Language (December 2015)

[3] Židenice is a cadastral district of Brno that lies on the eastern banks of the Svitava

[4] Between 1956 and 1968, the club was known as Spartak (ZJŠ) Brno. For the sake of clarity and continuity, I have referred to them as Zbrojovka.

[5] Between 1967 and 1974, the Cypriot champions were invited to participate in the Alpha Ethniki.

[6] In an interview with UEFA, Antonin Panenka claimed it was a twenty-two game unbeaten run, though this figure probably includes two Olympic Qualifiers against East Germany and an unofficial or exhibition match that isn’t present on the official records.

  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd

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