In January 2001, Sparta called.
It was a shock.
Why would they choose me? Sparta Prague is the most famous club, the most famous brand. In the Czech Republic, Sparta is practically a giant. An avalanche of trophies, a beautiful stadium, the largest number of fans, the most high-profile of all the clubs. What goes through your head when you hear “Sparta Prague”? For me, it’s the kits. The crimson shirts that always inspire so many emotions. You either love them or hate them.
No offence to Slavia, Sparta’s biggest rival. I never considered the Czech football fans to be distributed evenly, fifty-fifty. Sparta fans are more numerous, and I had the honour of finding out what it feels like to play in that crimson shirt. You might find this weird, because it shouldn’t really matter what your kit looks like – striped or not, black or white or any other colour, blue, green, yellow.
But it did matter to me. When I put on that Sparta shirt, it was like a ritual to me, inducting me among the chosen ones.
But that was still to come, it was January 2001 and my then-agent Pavel Zíka called me: “What would you say to Sparta?”
I was flabbergasted: “Oh my God, yes, yes.”
At the same time, I had many doubts. It’s this mixture of emotions, excitement mixed with fear: “Am I up to it? Can I actually do it?”
I hesitated. I knew I would have fierce competition at Sparta, who at that time had two great goalkeepers on the squad, Tomas Poštulka and Jaromír Blažek. Another one of their goalies, Michal Špit, was coming back from a loan. All three of them were ace goalkeepers, played for the national team, I was learning from them. But then I decided: “I’m not going to be a coward. I’ll fight for my chance, and we’ll see. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Within a week, the clubs came to an agreement and a deal was drafted. I couldn’t wait. My big day, Monday 29th January, was so close.
I didn’t even need an alarm clock; I hardly slept. I was so nervous that I was up by six o’clock and I couldn’t swallow a bite of my breakfast. I felt all tense and impatient. I was supposed to arrive at Sparta before ten, and since my parents had to go to work and I still didn’t have my driving licence, I took a taxi. From Plzeň to Prague. Ninety kilometres.
I look out of the window and see that a dark Škoda Felicia is already parked near the curb. I run down the stairs, close the main door behind me, get into the car. The taxi driver asks me, as is his custom: “Where to, boss?”
“To Sparta. Letná. Prague. I need to be there before ten,” I fired off.
The driver opened his eyes wide. It’s not customary for taxi drivers to drive that far. But he must have been happy to make a pretty penny. “That’s quite a long way, boss. So, shall we?”
The drive took an hour and fifteen minutes and we talked about everything except football. When he slowed down at the McDonald’s on the corner of Letná stadium, he asked me: “Here? Are you sure? Why are you going there anyway?”
“Well, if all goes well, I’d like to work here at Sparta.”
What was I supposed to say, that I’m coming to sign a deal? It wasn’t even a done deal yet, I still wasn’t sure it would even work out.
“Well, good luck then. Bye,” the driver said, without ever knowing who his passenger had been.
It was strange. Strange and disconcerting. I was nobody, and suddenly I was standing in the Sparta lobby, looking at the bust of legendary Czechoslovak comedian Vlasta Burian who used to be Sparta’s goalkeeper a century ago, watching the first team warming up on the pitch. They had just returned from a training camp in Dubai, and I – in grey slacks, T-shirt and sweater – was about to sign the deal of a lifetime.
By the way, the taxi cost me two thousand crowns – but Sparta paid for it in full.
Our special guest, coach Miroslav Beránek, talks about giving Petr his first chance. And much more. …
I make money, I have a car, I’m a goalkeeper! …