The words that coach Žaloudek had told me some time ago in Plzeň were flashing like a neon sign in my head: “Come on, stupid, you’re not born a pro, you become a pro.” I was aware this was a breaking point for me. A major one. A momentous occasion, an opportunity I couldn’t squander. So I kept repeating to myself: “If you don’t screw up, you’ll be the first-choice keeper in a top flight club.”
But then seventh round came and it all went awry. It was the 15th of September, I will never forget that date. A bad hair day like no other. We lost 0-4 to Bohemians Prague, their rowdies threw beer at me, and the referee sent me off.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact reason why it all went down like that. The first half time was rather uneventful, we struggled a little but managed to keep the game goalless. And without big scoring opportunities too. The only thing that bothered me was that my shirt stank. About five minutes into the match I went to retrieve the ball from the stands, and the Bohemians ultras doused me in beer. Scoundrels! I could take verbal abuse. I didn’t mind being yelled at during every clearance kick: “You f*cking f*ck…” But this?!
The stink was awful, I was almost gagging. I wanted to change my shirt during the interval, but as luck would have it, our kit manager forgot to bring spares.
“It can’t get much worse than this, can it?” I thought to myself when the second half time started. I was wincing with every inhale; the smell was getting unbearable.
But I was so, so wrong.
First tricky shot – I manage to clear it away and there’s a corner. But the vigorous forward Činčala jumps up and scores. 1-0, after such a banal mistake! A good goalkeeper never concedes from a set-piece. And then came another blunder on my part – I ran out of the goal to get a high pass that was headed towards the goal but blinded by floodlights I lost sight of the ball. I stopped in my tracks – another stupid mistake! Not even Honza Velkoborský could save the situation: he went after the ball but unfortunately only nudged it towards Návrata’s head. The ball rebounded and went into the net. 2-0. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. It was terrible.
If we hadn’t conceded the second goal, we might still have managed to get at least a draw. But to my horror, Bohemians saw that I’m weak and that gave them more confidence. The third goal came after a penalty, and in the 80th minute came the greatest catastrophe of that day, one that would haunt me for a long time. I was at the edge of the area, punching away a ball, and while trying to return to the goal as quickly as possible I collided with Bohemians defender Freisler.
We fell to the ground in one heap, he was on top of me and holding my foot. Such a crookery. What was I supposed to do? Wait for somebody to score into the empty goal? I had to do something, even though there was no coming back from being 0-2 down. So I wrenched myself free from him and sprinted to the goal line. Freisler – damn him and his shenanigans – started screaming and pretended to be in pain. The Bohemians coaches, Petržela and Borovička, were running along the line like crazy and demanded an exemplary punishment for me. Had somebody seen them from the trams passing by the stadium, they would have thought there was some kind of farce taking place there. But then linesman Ondo started gesticulating. He was so scared of the thunderous Bohemians ultras that he started waving his flag without knowing what had happened.
Do you want to know what happened next?
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!
The road is open. …
Why I love “all or nothing” matches. And why referee Övrebö made me angry. …