Synthetic Supporter? A retro-fitted journey to far-off Dukla Prague

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Euro jaunts, Fan Culture, Half Man Half Biscuit
Tags: ,

“There was one of the gang who had (insert whatever you like),
And because of that he thought he was better than you .”

Now I’m not one of those abitrary arbiters of fashion who dogmatically declare that “no grown man should ever be seen in public in a replica football top unless they are, actually, playing football”.   I’ve been known to wear such an item while doing other sport, too.  But I do think that anyone over the age of (let’s say) thirty needs a very good excuse, and I do think that your synthetic shirts can make you look like a bit of a synthetic supporter, especially if the sponsor is a huge faraway corporate entity and you’ve spent forty quid to become a shiny walking advertisement for some American financial institution or some Middle Eastern airline.

Standards Corrupted - a peacock and his replica away shirt

One good excuse, of course, is that your shirt can be a prompt to start conversations with like-minded individuals (or, indeed, abuse from unlike-minded ones). For example I may bump into fellow FC St. Pauli sympathisers, when I wear one of their famous brown and white tops at a gig or down the pub, and St. Pauli sympathisers will invariably be people worth talking to. Likewise,  if I wear my Dukla Prague away shirt, I may get talking to some of the most tasteful human beings alive.  No, I don’t mean Czech football fans, lovely though most of them surely are, but about the devotees of the world’s greatest alternative rock ‘n’ roll outfit, the “four lads who shook the Wirral”, Half Man Half Biscuit. One of HMHB’s best-known early tunes is the Scaletrix-and-Subbuteo-themed classic “All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”,  so of course it became natural that the “Toffs” vintage football shirt company would see a market and that the nostalgic punters would, from the mid-nineties onwards, lap them up at about £35 a  pop, plus P&P.

Claire's standard-issue Dukla Prague Away Shirt

I’m certainly not implying in any way that the owners of such DPAKs, who include my own dear beloved herself, are sheep. Nor am I saying that you won’t find some outstanding HMHB band t-shirt designs on their merchandising stall at gigs, or even here on that there interweb. It’s only around 5% of the audience at the gigs who wear a DPAK, and anyway various alternatives are available for the rebels amongst them – particularly as, from time to time,

Home kit for your birthday, darling?

vintage Dukla Prague home shirts will pop up on the internet masquerading as away shirts. Some HMHB gig-goers wear these burgundy and gold (rather than gold and burgundy), tops unknowingly,  but woe betide any clever clogs who might bump into them during the gig and might drunkenly deride them for their apparent ignorance. It may in fact turn out that some Biscuiteers are wearing the home shirts ironically, and some as a statement of independence in their dress sense, thank you very much. You might even earn yourself an embittered smack, if it turns out that he (or she) asked for a DPAK just like yours for Xmas, but someone had, in all innocence, given him (or her) this DPHK instead.

Another familiar face at HMHB gigs is always seen sporting  his vintage “Toffs” Honved

Teenage Armchair Wear?

top, in celebration of that other early Biscuits  classic , “I was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan”. This familiar face in the moshpit has, naturally, become known to his peers as ‘The Galloping Major” (that’s probably Ferenc Puskas to you).

It was also natural that, the first time that I had the chance to follow Liverpool FC to the Czech Republic, back in October 2000 when we were drawn to play Slovan Liberec in the UEFA Cup, I should feel compelled to seek out an actual, contemporary Dukla Prague Away Kit. Not just a Dukla Prague shirt, but the whole kit, and in fact I found it relatively easily that time.  The manager of the Sparta Prague shop in the historic tourist area  near the Charles Bridge had become so accustomed to half-pissed English tourists coming in and asking, half-jokingly, for a Dukla Prague Away Kit, that he had actually started to stock such items. For the equivalent of about twelve pounds I acquired the full DPAK that I have now worn at HMHB gigs for over a decade: shorts, socks and all.  I’ve only ever encountered  one other Biscuitista with the same shirt at a gig, and he told me that he too purchased it, about ten years ago, from the exact same shop in Prague.

The Sparta Prague shop, near the historic Charles Bridge

When I returned to Prague a few years later, by the way, in about 2005, the same shop was only stocking a retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours – the previous English-speaking manager had now departed, and the reasons why crazy English tourists would ask, and even the facts of exactly what they might ask for, were now lost in a haze of Czech whispers.

"Are you sure it's not this one you want?" If I had a Czech Koruna for every time I was offered one of these ...

At that time there wasn’t even a football club called FK Dukla Prague any more, as the ailing club had been “saved” (ahem) by a businessman (oh dear), who had merged them with his own club, FK Marila Pribram, and had moved them about 30 miles outside Prague. A two-hour tram and bus journey took me all the way there, but there was no club shop at the stadium, and nowhere in the rather bleak town of Pribram was selling any sort of home or away kit that day (incidentally, it shows how much I have in common with my lovely partner Claire that she had made the same pilgrimage from Prague to Pribram, for exactly the same reasons,  at around that time too, before I even knew her!)

***********************************

That obscure object of my desire ... still.

So, fast forward six more years to 2011, and at long last Liverpool have been drawn in Prague  again, this time to play Sparta over two legs in the Europa League. FK Dukla Prague, meanwhile,  have been reformed as a new club, have returned to their historic home stadium and have marched back up through the leagues. Looks like they’ll get promotion back to the top division this year. And the big news from the fashion point of view is that, like Liverpool themselves, Dukla now play in a splendid Adidas-designed outfit. You see, my old Czech DPAK is getting a bit threadbare after a decade of moshpits, a decade of beer and a decade of late-night post-gig curries. I must admit I’ve even played football in it from time to time, so I definitely need a relacement, but online I’ve only been able to find last year’s Dukla kit. Yes, they have the three stripes. but the home version of that one is an unattractive all-burgundy and the away version an even worse all-white, both a far cry from the classic retro away colours. This season, by contrast, photos from their home matches show them sporting the classic gold of the away kit, with red trim and the three stripes and all – I want that one.

So off I trek northwards on the tram, and up the hill to the Juliska stadium. It’s a pity it’s still the winter break, which goes on till early March, so no chance of seeing any match action. I clamber in over a fence on the wooded hillside behind the main stand, and have a good nosey around. Here are some pictures.

The Juliska Stadium still doubles as the army’s national athletics stadium. Athletes are hurdling round the track and on the pitch itself, the Czech Republic’s next generation of Fatima Whitbreads are practising their javelin throwing -that’s one way of keeping intruders like me off the pitch I suppose. But this Czech army sports complex includes neighbouring artificial pitches too,  so when I say there was no

What he got for Xmas was a Dukla Prague training top

actual football action, well I did manage to spy on a training session and a youth team practice match. One of the youngsters speaks English. “Where can I buy stuff like that?” I point and ask him about his kit when the training session finishes. He doesn’t know. There’s no club shop here. The club gives them their gear, he says, and skips off before the strange bloke with the camera can ask any more daft questions.

As I leave, I pass a bemused security guard, probably wondering how I got in. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t speak English, so I use a bit of sign language and he scribbles down an address, which takes me on  another two-hour jouney the next day – two more trams and a bus, taking me to the  door of a warehouse at the foot of the hills on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. Just when I’m starting to worry that maybe the security guard was in league with a ruthless mafia gang of human traffickers, that this is their lair and that my kidneys will soon be en route as spare parts for some ailing eastern oligarch, the door opens and it turns out that it’s the headquarters of the firm that does Dukla’s online shop for them.

I feel like I’m going round in circles – huge two-hour-long circles, as I’ve already tried and failed to get the current Dukla shirt from this same company via the internet. They’re not really even a shop, and they so rarely get an actual bodily visitor that they have to switch on the cash register when I arrive. They do  show me plenty more reproduction retro memorabilia, but I’ve already seen it all on the internet of course. As they’ve gone to the trouble of switching things on for me, I feel like I have to buy some badges and a scarf. In terms of Dukla shirts, their wares are ironically just the same sort of vintage cotton home and away shirts sold by our Toffs in the UK.  But do they sell the current shiny synthetic Adidas replica first team shirt ? “No, ” I’m told emphatically. “Nobody wants this; they have so few supporters compared to Sparta, or Slavia, or Bohemians Prague.”

The majority time of our time on away Euro trips tends, of course, to be spent absorbing the local culture, i.e. in the local bars. But this time it felt like most of my valuable drinking time was wasted on public transport – good job it’s cheap over there, but then so is the beer that I’m not getting to drink anything like enough of ! The previous evening, one of the Bohemians Prague Ultras has given me the addresses of two more sports shops that might be able to help, so there are yet more tram journeys, north and east again, and I feel like I’m getting to know Prague really well.  But everywhere I go, I find only that same retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours.

How many times do I have to mime that no, I'm after the actual kit? Like the ones they wear on the pitch....

So again I didn’t get what I came to Prague for, but at least Kenny Dalglish’s depleted Liverpool team did. It may have been Kenny’s first match back in Europe for 26 years, but he seemed to come looking for a boring goalless draw, and that’s exactly what he got. Did I mention, by the way, that I came on this trip to Prague without a match ticket, and never had any serious intention of going to this match at a minimum rip-off ticket price of SIXTY QUID ?!!  Sixty f*cking quid – and that was the same for the poor old home fans as well, coming out of their winter break hibernation to watch a stultifying crap nil-nil for SIXTY QUID OR MORE!!  The return leg in Liverpool cost about twenty quid, and I remember that the Liberec match over here in 2000 cost us about a tenner. So I sensibly watched this match with other ticketless Reds in a lively city centre bar, and I duly got my whole trip paid for too, when my bet on the predictable 0-0 scoreline came in. Perhaps I’ll leave it to Half Man Half Biscuit’s own lyrics to sum things up better than I ever could: “The results of my life are a string of nil-nils”, as they sang in their great 2005 song “Depressed Beyond Tablets.”

A big “Děkuji” (thank you) too by the way to Martin, the old mate from the Bohemians 1905 Ultras who put me up in his flat and so made this trip such a cheap one – the only way I could have afforded it, in fact.

POSTSCRIPT – Autumn 2011.  When Dukla did indeed get their promotion back to the big time, they sorted out their online shop with another company, one that did actually decide it might be a good idea to stock some of the current first team shirts. So of course I made immediate enquiries by e-mail. They wanted the equivalent of forty quid plus another seventeen pounds for P&P!! So I would have liked to be the first person wearing one of these little beauties at a HMHB gig, but I guess that honour may now have to go to somebody rather richer…err.

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Comments
  1. Jimbles says:

    Nice tale, intriguing and informative. I’m heading to Prague on Friday an had planned a pilgrimage upto Dukla (mainly for getting a cotton home shirt) but after reading this ill know not to bother takin my wallet. Do you by any chance happen to remember the address of the sports shops you visited that stocked them ? Cheers pal. Jimbles

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