|Information and visiting-experience by (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
When I travelled to
Prague in February, 2004, I expected to arrive at one of the
hockey-hotbeds of the European continent. The Czech Republic always comes up
with great teams at the world championships or the recent Olympics, a ton
of great NHL players have their roots there and Prague, the nation’s
capital, has two of the best teams in the Extraliga, the highest league of
Czech hockey. But were those teams able to meet my expectations?
Not really, it was
not even close. Whoever wants to see good hockey in Prague will wind up at
the home of HS Slavia or HC Sparta Praha. Anyone who ventures there, and
not many do, will see good hockey played on a level that is by no means
worse than in Germany or other good leagues in Europe. The problems arise
with the atmosphere when you’re there, no matter how many homepages on
the internet tell you that hockey is the nation’s favourite sport. They
do a great job of hiding their passion…
The T-Mobile Arena,
home of the HC Sparta Praha, is nothing more than a totally run-down
leftover of the 60s which somehow resembles something one would consider a
multifunctional arena. The only thing that doesn’t look ripe for
demolition is a rather new jumbotron hanging in the dark and cold inside
of the building. You won’t find fan-animations on the screen as in the
US or other places (which is good), instead you get to see commercials for
refrigerators and replays (with the latter being good and the first
becoming annoying really quick).
Not surprisingly the building was not deemed appropriate for the upcoming world championships in the spring of 2004. Even though a new arena is built for that tournament in Praha the T-Mobile seems to remain the home of Sparta, and it surely isn’t a place one would feel home at as a fan.
If you arrive early, as many hockeyfans do (in other countries), you will probably be the staff arrives. One or two ticket windows might be opened but other than that there will be nobody around an hour before a game. The arena itself opened 45 minutes before the opening-faceoff when I went there and no more than 15 people waited to be let in. If you arrive early and see nobody around, an abandoned parking area surrounding the arena and so on don’t question whether you mixed up the dates: this is the way it is in Prague…
There didn’t seem to be any kind of fan tradition when I went there. There was no life in the building when the teams emerged for the warm-ups, there was no atmosphere whatsoever when they came out to play for real half an hour later. Surely the game I attended was not the highlight of the schedule, but it was still a game against the 7th placed team from Vitkovice on a Friday evening. Most fans didn’t arrive until five minutes prior to the opening face-off and in the end about 5-6000 people filled the arena that holds a maximum of 13.000.
But I can understand that no regular visitor arrives too early. The arena is cold (there was no heating and it was rather cold), the concourses are dark, the bowl is even darker, there is trash in the parking lot, the toilets are a mess (the lights above the ice didn’t even get turned on until the game actually started, it was kind of dimmed for the warm-ups) and the food is cheap and bad (while most things in Prague are cheap and great). There are also no fans of the visiting team to sing or howl against; as I had seen it there were about four real Vitkovice fans with a small drum, that was it.
The tickets were priced really friendly for the standards I have gotten used to lately. You had to hand over 110 Kronen for a seat (which we did, an euro was worth 33 Kronen at that time) and 50 for a standing-room ticket (there are just a few standing-room-places behind each goal). I don’t know how the team finances itself; 5000 tickets worth a euro or two just can’t be the main source of income…
cheerleaders had to be paid as well (if you think they're great be sure to
attend a game of AC Sparta Praha, the soccer-division of Sparta Praha, as
well). I am really no fan of cheerleading at all and find it even more
annoying I hockey than in basketball, soccer or football. Nevertheless
there was a large group of cheerleaders more or less constantly dancing on
a Nescafé podium in one of the corners of the arena. By contrast to most
of the stands the podium was lit very well so that the Nescafé-sponsored
stage stood out very well. The cheerleaders also couldn’t bring any life
into the building as the fans were as apathic as I have ever seen. I think
the game could have wound up 10:9 after overtime and most fans wouldn’t
have got out of their seats after a goal. Sure, most people clapped a bit
when a goal was scored (it wasn’t a
great game either, Sparta won 4:1) but overall the building was as dead as
a building can be. There was a small group of hardcore fans in the
standing section of Sparta Prague, but if 20 people who sing a couple of
times throughout the evening are the only ones in the house doing anything
for the atmosphere (maybe even 10 of them had jerseys) it is just gruesome.
The most important question:
should one attend a game or not is not easy to answer. As I lined out
above you won’t miss anything if you miss T-Mobile Arena. On the other
hand the hockey itself isn’t that bad and there are worse ways to spend
an evening than in a building lacking any kind of atmosphere but providing
you with some nice hockey. If you have no other plans and would spend the
evening reading in bed instead, I would recommend you to go (unless you
read a very good book). I would also recommend you to check whether Slavia
Praha has a home-game as well. Their arena is just as bad as Spara’s,
but at least it is way smaller, thus always fuller and seems to energize
the crowd a bit more than this arena, which is the size of a hangar for a
747-400. Don't worry about tickets; the average attendance is no more than
a third of a sellout, I would not expect the building to be packed unless,
well, unless something happens which I can't imagine after my brief stay
When I asked how to get to the
T-Mobile Arena at my hotel they told me to take the underground to "Vitavska"
(line "C") and follow the signs from there on. Surprisingly
there were no such signs, instead the area looked as if it had been
abandoned by mankind for decades as everything seemed to fall apart.
Anyways, step out of the underground, get out your map of Prague and walk
to the nearby "Dukelskych hrdinu" (street), which you follow to
the north. It is a smaller street parallel to the big “Bubenska”,
which won’t deliver you right at the arena. From the underground station
you should not need more than 10 minutes and please make sure not to
arrive too early as there is surely nothing to be missed.
official homepage of Sparta Praha: http://www.hcsparta.cz