Czech football: More than an American sporting event

Czeching In

It figures that the Czech football league is named the Gambrinus Liga. Gambrinus is one of the top three brews in Prague, next to Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen. Gambrinus is the less bitter, lighter cousin of Pilsner. Strange then, that at a football match between Sparta (a northern neighborhood of Prague) and Brno (a city in the south of the Czech Republic), not a single spectator drank beer. Sparta faced Brno last Monday in a regular league match in Stadium AC Sparta, a standard Czech stadium in the suburb of Letn , located right across the river from Old Town and the Jewish Quarter of Prague. The stadium was two-fifths full, a meager crowd that was outnumbered by the throng of policemen in riot gear, on call should an intra-national brawl break out; Brno fans are known to be a violent, aggressive type. Sure enough, a posse of about 100 Brno fans were clustered at the far end of the stadium, chanting and throwing matter around the bleachers whenever a call went against them. But beer is the last thing on these people's minds. Evidently everyone wants to stay focused on the play-by-play of the game. The crowd is mostly quiet during play, concentrating on the activity on the field, and erupting into cheers only when the situation calls for it. It's hard to tell just how many people are there, because when a Spartan makes a good play, the stadium erupts into a cacophonous chant of "Sparta! Sparta! Sparta!" Though it doesn't look like there's more than a couple thousand people there, one group of fans waves a giant Spartan flag, consisting of the indigenous colors of red (for Europe), yellow (for reasons unknown) and blue (for the royal city of Prague). Football in the Czech Republic is a no-frills event. Sparta has a cheerleading squad, but they were remarkably subdued. "They're doing aerobics class over there," remarked my friend Kristin, who was a cheerleader in high school. She said that the moves they were doing were considered substandard for competition in the United States, even for teenagers. They had some nifty moves, but I had to agree. They were pretty and sparkly, but even I could perform their moves, with or without blue and red spandex. The Spartan club was founded in 1893, and has enjoyed intermittent success since then, winning the Central European Cup in 1927, 1935, 1964-67 and multiple times in the 1980s. Since then, the club has been a major supplier of players to the Czech national team, which competes against international powers like London and Madrid. A Czech football game is, in short, a well-behaved but energetic evening. It brings out the best of the Czechs - their enthusiasm and good nature in the spirit of the Gambrinus Liga, but without the Gambrinus. And, appropriately, Sparta pulled off a 1-0 victory over Brno, which sent the cheerleaders into extra-high kicks and the crowd into effusive, but sober, chants.

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