Football is, quite literally, the buzz these days, and no less so in Prague, where Czechs are following the 2010 World Cup wholeheartedly, despite their team’s absence from the pitches of South Africa. In the week since the tournament began, one Prague locale in particular stands out as “the” place to watch the games; not just for Praguers, but also for the tens of thousands of foreigners who inhabit the Czech capital. In a special feature for today, Christian Falvey reports from Prague’s epicentre of football fandom, Riegrovy sady.
It’s a fairly nice day – meaning it’s above 20° Celsius and not raining – and I’ve come here to one of city centre Prague’s biggest parks for some of the most reliable entertainment the city has to offer. This is Riegrovy Sady, and several thousand people are going to come through here today, like every day, for an orgy of beer, klobasas and, most importantly, World Cup football. I think it’s fair to say that most young Praguers will be coming here at least a few times this month, and by no means are they all Czechs – not by a long shot.
“...I’m from Scotland. I came for a change of life, to live in a different country, and I know some friends here. Many people say good things about Prague, so that’s why I came here. I’m a World Cup junkie, I really like the World Cup, and I have a break from my work at the moment, so I try to watch as many games as possible. I’ve been here a few times now since it started. If the weather’s good it’s the perfect place...”
Are there some New Zealanders here?
“There definitely are!”
I couldn’t find any here until your team scored. Are you the only Kiwi here that you know of?
“I think I’m the only one, yeah.”
So how happy were you with the game?
“Not really happy with it, but it was a good result in the end; we got away with it. So, all good. Wrapped.”
And do you come here to Riegrovy sady to watch the games often?
“Yeah yeah, yep. It’s the second time I’ve been here now, and I’ll come again tomorrow I think; it’s a good atmosphere. Just chilled out, sitting outside, big screen, beer, klobasa... can’t complain.
Did you expect there to be more Kiwis here?
“I did, I did, but there’s not in the end and I was the only one. I was surprised no one threw anything at me; it was fine....”
Do you live in Prague?
“We are Erasmus students, she has been living here for one year and the rest of us for six months. We love Prague. And I support Brazil!”
Are you supporting someone?
“I would like Slovakia to go quite far in the competition, because it’s their first time.”
But what if Slovakia meets France?
“I would support France.”
If you were at home in France would you be watching the game at home with your family, or in a pub with friends or would you be sitting in some park like this?
“I think I would definitely be at home with friends and family. But here, a lot of foreigners don’t have TVs at home, they have only computers, and that’s not good quality for watching matches, so they come here. But in France I would definitely be at home.”
Citizens of the world galore in Riegrovy sady as the fifth day of World cup games plays out .The Czech Republic is often called an especially homogeneous state – but if you know it via this beer garden, you wouldn’t say that. Prague is a relatively small city, one of roughly a million and a quarter people, but the whole world converges here for business, study and pleasure, and in Riegrovy sady they’re all here netted together over football. Of the Slovaks and New Zealanders, Ivoirians and Portuguese, Brazilians and North Koreans on the screen this day, only the Asians were absent in the park. It seems they were even missed by some, when they scored their one and only goal against Brazil.
You could almost get the impression there are few locals here, but that’s not the case; Czechs just tend to be a bit quieter. One of the main attractions here today was the first ever appearance of the independent Slovak Republic in a World Cup tournament, and Czechs came in droves to cheer on their erstwhile countrymen, some even making first appearances of their own in Riegrovy sady:
Czech: “I don’t think you can ask for my opinion, this is the first time I’ve been here. Actually, I had a friend from Australia like two years ago, and he knew this place from his Australian friends who had lived in Prague longer than he had, so he often went to this place, but I never joined him. And not joking, this is the first time I have ever been here and seen it with my own eyes.”
So you learn some things about your city from foreigners.
“Well I also knew about it from local people, but I prefer calmer places than this one – for me this is too busy; it’s too big for me...”
Slovakia 1 - New Zealand 1, everyone is content, and the Portuguese take the stage against the Ivory Coast.
“I’m from Washington D.C.”
“We are from Ghana.”
How are you enjoying the football?
“I’m enjoying it, man – the beer, beautiful girls – what else can you ask for?”
Do you mean these Portuguese girls?
“Yes, the Portuguese girls playing the foosball over there.”
“Nooooo. Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast is my team. And Ghana is my team too!”
And you are rooting for the Ivory Coast as well?
“Yeah, I’m an African, I’m strongly behind Africa.
So, even though Ghana is in the World Cup, you’re rooting for every African team?
“Exactly, I’m in favour of all African teams. It is our time to take the World Cup. So I need to support Africa.”
And what brings you to Prague? Do you live here?
“Yeah I live here. I’m a student at the Medical Faculty.”
Do you like it in the Czech Republic?
“Yeah, it’s cool. A lot of blonde girls [laughs]. And I think I’m beginning to understand the Czechs, so it’s easier for me to live here. At first I thought Czechs were a bit... kind of unfriendly. But I think they are okay, they are nice people.”
Is Riegrovy sady one of the places that you find Czechs are more friendly? Or when it comes down to football, do you feel like everyone is divided up more?
“When it comes to football, I think everyone is divided, because we all have our teams. But, socially, I think the Czechs are nice. They want to associate with foreigners and know about other cultures, and I’m happy about that.”
So you’re sitting here with a table full of Portuguese rooting for the Ivory Coast, I guess you get along with them pretty well?
“Yeah, we’re friends so there’s not really a problem.”
“Not so far. When Ivory Coast is about to score, the Africans jump, ‘hey!’, and when the Portuguese are about to score they also jump. But we are friends so this cannot divide us. No hard feelings whoever wins.”
And where is your friend here from?
“I’m from Angola. Africa.”
And you’re pulling for the Ivory Coast here today?
“It’s very tricky, very tricky. Because we have a good relationship with Portugal, but I’m still African in the first place. So we’ll see, after the first goal, who I will cheer for.”
So right now you’ve been watching with anxiety for both teams is it?
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. First of all I want to watch good football.”
What are you doing in the Czech Republic?
“I’m studying cinema.”
Do you come here to Riegrovy sady often?
“Yes, I do, actually, because my school is just around the corner, in Polská Street. It’s a good atmosphere here outside when it’s hot, it’s the best place to watch a football match.”
Your friend was saying he’s happy to be able to meet lots of blonde girls here. Do you enjoy the multinational, multiethnic culture here in Riegrovy sady?
“I think the multiracial atmosphere here is not just with the blondes but with everybody, many people from different countries, and it’s a good atmosphere because we can see how the people welcome this African World Cup. Sometimes I’m surprised that a lot of Czech people and foreigners are also supporting the African teams. So we want a good match, and fair play in first place.”
As the nine-hour vuvuzela concert called the 2010 World Cup winds down for the day, the Riegrovy melting pot slowly disassembles. But another smorgasbord of happy visitors will come tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, to share about 3,000 beers and their passion for world-class football in this park in Prague, showing just the kind of global unity that the World Cup is all about.
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