My third journey to Blšany was really something else. I remember it well, because it changed my life.
It was Monday, 21st June 1999.
I woke up just after six, ate breakfast at home and checked my bag three times to make sure I had my football boots. Our old Škoda was parked in front of the house, motor running. I wouldn’t get my driving license for quite some time yet, and I didn’t know any of my teammates; my parents had to drive me.
After that, I would get to Blšany on my own: I would wait at the terminal station of tram number 1 in Plzeň, overflowing bag over my shoulder, and the guys who had a car rented from the club would pick me up. Every day, for two years.
But the first time… The first time was peculiar. Binding. Nervous. I kept thinking: “What is waiting for me there? How are they going to take a schoolboy? What will coach Beránek say? Will I fit in? Will I be able to keep up? And how do I address the older, more seasoned players?”
So many questions I got no answer to, I had to just go and get into it. My parents hug me, saying: “Fingers crossed, Petr, and good luck!” and then I’m in the narrow hallway, meeting the bald-headed midfielder Patrik Gedeon, saying a respectful “hello” to Roman Hogen, that striker I’m going to try and deny at practices.
I’m standing by the dressing room and watching the commotion. I go to get my new stuff from the equipment manager’s closet, I shake the coach’s hand, and suddenly I’m on the pitch. There’s so many of us! More than thirty people, so we play a mini-tournament for four teams. Everything was so new to me, everything was faster, quicker-paced.
It was also the first time I saw Miroslav Beránek. Blšany head coach had his office in the club’s VIP area – which was a rather unexceptional wooden cabin right behind the rear gate. He greeted me, looking into my eyes the whole time, and said: “We watched you carefully at the European championship and we know what you’re capable of. It’s up to you to prove yourself here, show us that you deserve a chance.”
He sounded convincing, I believed him. They wouldn’t buy a goalkeeper to just stick him in a display case, right?
At the same time I knew that I’d have to fight. I was an inexperienced greenhorn and in the team hierarchy I was behind two much more seasoned veterans: Aleš Chvalovský, son of the then president of the Czech FA, was the first-choice keeper; and the ginger-haired Tomáš Obermajer was second. I wanted to wedge myself in and get to the top spot as soon as possible, so that I could be the first choice. But there’s an enormous gap between junior and senior football. In the first league, everything is faster, harder, shots are fiercer, players are smarter, stronger, more competent, more cunning.
And I was about to find out.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!
Mr Hogen, you’re not going to score against me. Or are you? …
Should I have stayed and not moved? Should I have run out? …