It’s the season 2000-2001 at Blšany and it’s clear to me that this might be the most important moment of my career.
I have to make it!
I have to!
There’s no other way.
The road is open for me.
“You’re no lamer, you’ll make it,” said my dad, trying to give me courage.
Yes, I was ready. Ready for the big test. I got a confidence boost at the UEFA Intertoto Cup, where Blšany made their first ever appearance that summer. And then it came. First round, 30th July. Drnovice.
When it came to us, nobody had any expectations. We were lambs going to the slaughter, everybody thought we’d fall to the bottom of the league table and stay there. Today’s youth probably won’t believe it because Drnovice have since then fallen through all the tiers and ultimately ceased to exist. But back then they played in the UEFA Cup and had a fantastic squad. In the goal: Martin Vaniak, king of reflexive saves. In the defence: Miroslav Kadlec, captain of the team that was runner-up in the 1996 EURO final. In the midfield: Holeňák and the delicate Valnoha. Plus forwards Gomes, from Brasil, and the sturdy and terrifying Tuma.
But why should I be afraid? We have nothing to lose, we can only gain.
Within 40 minutes we were 3-0 up. Nobody expected such a whirlwind game, the guys in yellow were like wild wasps. Had I managed to deny Tuma’s header, it would have been perfect. I saved all their crosses, blocked all their shots. Only once did the ball get through and into the net.
The long way home was full of sun, metaphorically and literally. I was delighted, I kept replaying my first league victory in my head over and over again.
Three of us made into the Team of the Week, which was a high accolade. Defender Honza Velkoborský, forward Pavel Devatý, and me. Wonderful start. And with me being the youngest player of that round. I was eighteen years, two months and ten days old. I can’t believe that I am twice as old now.
Things gained momentum after that. My first clean sheet at home against Olomouc, first league game in my hometown Plzeň, increased interest from journalists, first fans asking for autographs.
Everything was exactly how I wanted and needed it to be.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!