Before I start another chapter, let me invite another dear guest who can shed light on my journey. Jan Velkoborský, nicknamed Guma, was a great defender with a knack for headers, tall and unyielding. Both Sparta and Slavia were interested in him back in the day. In the end he signed with the German club Rot Weiss Ahlen. For a long time, he used to be my personal driver, so to speak. We must have driven several thousand kilometres together, so I asked him to tell me about his memories of that times. Guma, the floor is yours. And thank you!
“I was there, at the beginning of Petr’s stellar career. We came to Blšany in the same year, summer of 1999, both from Plzeň. I was coming from the first team, which had just been relegated, and he from the youth team. He was very mature for his age, and also cool and composed. And dutiful. No conflicts, no outbursts. He knew what he wanted and he was going for it.
“And I was his chauffeur. I’m kidding, of course. There were four of us commuting from Plzeň, and as I was the eldest, the club’s Škoda Felicia was registered to my name. And so it was mostly also me who had to drive. Day after day, I would sit behind the wheel and Petr was in the back seat, talking. And talking. And talking. We couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He would talk about school, football, girls, life. Once he told us a surprising story: ‘Gentlemen, you won’t believe what happened to me last night. Some scoundrels wanted to rob me. In Lochotín, close to my home! There were two of them and they wanted to steal my jacket. I hit one of them and the other one took off running.’
“We couldn’t stop him from talking if we tried. And we didn’t try because it was good entertainment on the road. Even if we were tired and sleepy after a training session, Petr would open his mouth and there was no stopping him. We didn’t even need to turn on the radio.
“In a few weeks I got used to another thing – Čechíno’s constant humming. I’m not kidding, he was humming songs and melodies all the time. ‘What is this sound, is my car breaking down? Or is it the air-conditioning?’ I thought to myself, all nervous. But no, it was Petr in the backseat.”
Can I tell you something? I have to confess, for a long time it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t drive. I was happy to wait for my teammates and hitch a ride with them. It was easy. Like I was really a hitchhiker. I didn’t need to pay attention during the drive, I could just chat with the guys or nod off. Sixty-five kilometres there, then another sixty-five back. Every single day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… and so on.
When I finally got my driving licence, the guys started egging me on: “Come on, show us what you’ve got, you racer!”
And they were all too happy to give me unsolicited advice.
“Look, a stop sign, don’t run it.”
“Slow down, you don’t want to drive off the road.”
“You think you’re such a neat driver, eh? Can’t you hear the motor roaring? You need to shift gears, stat!”
It got some getting used to before I considered myself a good driver. The first time I was sitting behind the wheel, I forgot about the handbrake, so the car was just revving up without moving an inch.
Then I also bought my first car. It was a used Opel Vectra, gold metallic paint, and it cost me 160 thousand crowns. I used to lend it to my parents when they wanted to come see me play. At least they could get rid of their old Škoda 105.
My teammates at Blšany immediately started begging me to take them for a ride. And I caved in, which was a mistake. As soon as we took off, the fuel gauge started flashing, so I drove to the nearest petrol station in Třemošná. Can you remember the slightly raised platforms the fuel dispensers stood on? Well, I didn’t, and I embarrassed myself straight away. I’m braking, opening my door, and suddenly I hear: “Khrrrrr!!!”
Jirka Sykora, our midfielder who was sitting in the passenger seat, looked out and started laughing. I had scraped my threshold. The whole squad knew it even before we started practice the next day and everybody had a good laugh. That was the price to pay for having such a tight-knit team. I never experienced this kind of togetherness anywhere else, it was exceptional. It was also rough at times, and funny, and very educational.
Back then, in Blšany, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to make enough money to buy a car. We would have to keep winning all the time and probably also win the title for me to get the money I needed. It was different when I signed a deal with Sparta. And it’s completely different now, of course. I’m doing great, but I keep pushing myself and working hard. I can honestly say I can afford almost anything I want, but when I look back, I can see that I had virtually nothing. I was nobody. But I was willing to prove that I could be somebody. Just like Bill Gates, who one day sat at a computer and came up with Microsoft. He made billions. And I wanted to show everyone I could be just as successful.
Everybody can excel at something. Anything. As long as you have some talent, determination, willingness to work hard, courage and a lot of luck. And my chance was football. I am a goalkeeper.
Talent I had, I know that now.
I also had determination, I’d never amount to anything without it.
I had courage, I kept pushing forward.
And I had luck.
I was ready to seize my chance.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!
I had to take the test twice. …
There’s no harm in trying. Or is there? …