It was my first real visit to Bratislava, although I had spend an hour in the main station 6 years ago after coming by train from Warsaw. Boris picked me up and took me to the temporary home of top club Slovan Bratislava at Stadion Pasienky. It was the former home of big local rival Inter Bratislava, one of 2 clubs, the other being MFK Petrzalka, that went bust in recent years and reformed in the 3rd and 5th leagues.
Slovan knocked down their own stadium Tehelne Pole, which is only 300 metres away, and are building a modern 35,000 seater financed by the government at a cost of 80 million euros. www.skslovan.com. I had a meeting arranged with Richard Trutz the Sporting Director. He was a former star player, then a FIFA Referee for a number of years, and now in his current position.www.skslovan.com The Sky Blues. With no local city rivals their nearest is at Spartak Trvana where I am heading later in the day to watch Slovakia v Lithuania in World Cup Russia 2018 qualification. I join a few Lithuanian and Irish fans for the 50 minute train journey and then a 10 minute walk...if only we had gone in the right direction.. to CITY ARENA, actually named after former Russian coach Antona Malatinskeho, whose bronze statue stands in a corner outside the ground.
It's new and brightly lit with Christmas decorations and shops, restaurants and clubs built into the stadium. Outside are volunteers holding large signs showing visitors where their entrance is plus stalls selling souvenir scarves, hats, replica jerseys and tables piled high with bags of nuts. I purchae a double sided Slovak and Lithuania scarf and once inside buy a large beer for 1.5 Euros from a pretty young lady. FC Spartak Trvana-The White Angels- actually play in red and black. www.spartak.sk. Their 19,200 capacity stadium is maybe two thirds full with 300 chanting Lithuanian fans in red, yellow and green at one end.
Slovakia used to play as part of Czechoslovakia for 50 years until they broke away in 1993. They qualified for one FIFA World Cup in 2010 and reached the round of 16 and also for EURO 2016 when they reached the same stage. Their colours are red and blue but at home matches such as tonight they wear all white.and are called Slovensky sokoli -The Falcons. Before kick off a guy has a trained falcon flying around and coming back to his hand,Its not much of a contest against feeble opposition. They are led by Martin Skrtel, now with Fenerbahce, and Vladimir Weiss now in Qatar..www.futbalfsz.sk
They lost here 1-0 to England with Skrttel getting a red card and beat Scotland here 3-0 and lost 1-0 in Slovenia. They blitzed Lithuania with some magic moves and took a well deserved 3-0 half time lead and the fourth 4 minutes from time. By that time I was on my way to the neat new station and time for a donner kebab before the last train back to the capital. Miss it and the next one was not until 4.30 am the next morning.
Boris had told me how the top league was suffering at the gate with only one team in the top tier from the capital and only one in Koscice the second city to the East, MFC Koscice, which is struggling in the second tier. Most other clubs struggle in small towns and small stadiums under 5,000. Despite charging only a Euro or two they can't attract fans or sponsors.
Back in this attractive capital on the River Danube and European capital of culture 2013, surrounded by vineyards, I explore the old town which is hosting a Christmas market and food and wine festival. I enjoy some hot mulled cider while listening to a children's choir and a string quartet. Above the city which is the only capital on the border of two countries..the other being Austria, is a magnificent castle and joining the two sides of the Danube is a modern bridge. In warmer months you can go by boat to both Vienna and Budapest. I arrived at the airport, home to budget airlines, but less than 50 km away is the much bigger Vienna Schwechar Airport