Fan power breathes new life into Bohemians

08-08-2005

Every Czech football fan remembers Antonin Panenka's decisive penalty kick against Germany to win the 1976 European Championship. Many of these fans also supported the team Panenka played with for many years - Bohemians Football Club, which was one of the top teams in this country in the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, like many clubs in the harsh economic climate of the post-communist era, Bohemians went bust in this, their centenary year. But determined fans have - against all odds - saved the club from extinction.

The new incarnation of Bohemians football club had their first home match on Sunday. Cries of "At zije Bohemka!" or "Long live Bohemians" emanated from a huge crowd at the team's cramped stadium in the Prague suburb of Vrsovice.

This football chant was especially poignant yesterday, as the fans were cheering their club, after it had come back from back from the very brink.

Despite having an illustrious history, Bohemians football club went bankrupt earlier this year after more than a decade of mismanagement.

But instead of letting their club die, Bohemians' supporters - inspired by the examples of other clubs in similar situations such as Wimbledon and Chesterfield in England - organized their own collection to help pay off the club's debts. Antonin Jelinek of the Bohemians supporters association says the club is a big part of his life, which made him determined to save it:

"I actually live just next to the stadium. I can see the stadium from my windows and from my balcony. Ever since I able to look over the edge of the balcony I was supporting Bohemians. I would have been around five years old."

Altogether, the fans managed to collect the huge sum of three million Czech crowns to get the club back on its feet. It was a major effort on their part, but it is something Antonin Jelinek feels is worthwhile given the club's history:

"The club is a hundred years old. It was founded in 1905. It has a very rich history. In the 1980s in particular, we regularly played in Europe - in the UEFA cup and the predecessor to the Champions League - where we met very strong teams like Ajax Amsterdam and Tottenham Hotspur. We have had bad times since then, but the fans are fantastic and have kept supporting the team. Bohemians' fans are really extraordinary."

Finally, after several turbulent years, things are looking up for Bohemians. The team has now been renamed and although it has to start again in the lowest division of the Czech league, nearly seven and a half thousand fans turned out to cheer their team for their first match of the season. Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek, who claims to be a Bohemians supporter, was also in attendance.

Antonin Jelinek, like many other Bohemians followers, is hopeful that the club can be back challenging for major honours in the near future:

"We are currently in the third division in the Czech Republic. Some people say we'll be the there for a couple of years, but I hope we'll only spend one season there. I really hope we wil get promoted to higher leagues, because this is where Bohemians belong... forever..."

08-08-2005