Tradičné Derby – Slovakia

There are three main regional cultural areas in Slovakia – Western (Zapadne), Central (Stredne), and Eastern (Vychodne) and then the Bratislava region.

Eastern Slovakia at this moment in time borders a war-zone in Ukraine although strictly speaking there are no armed conflicts with Russian soldiers near the Slovakian border.

However, in the western part of Slovakia in central Bratislava another war was talking place if only in a sporting context – at least it felt that way at around 3pm on a cold March Saturday afternoon.

This was derby day – Slovakian style. Not Slovan Bratislava versus its neighbours Inter Bratislava but Bratislava versus Trnava or Slav against Spartacus.

Games between Slovan and Spartak are known as the Západoslovenské (western) derby or the Traditional derby.

The ‘tradition’ comes from the two not being inner city rivals. Some 47 km separates the two major cities, and essentially while few kilometres separate the two this is a rivalry based on historic footballing traditions rather than any football success.

The roots of the rivalry go back to both clubs being the two major Slovak footballing powers in the former Czechoslovak First League.

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Spartak Trnava were Czech football’s undisputed major force domestically. However, despite consistent success most players chosen to play for the Czech national team were players from either the Prague clubs or Slovan Bratislava.

Of those who went to the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico only four of the squad were players from Spartak Trnava despite the club being the major force in Czech football at the time.

Moreover, Alexander Horvath of Slovan was chosen as the captain of the Czechoslovakian national team in 1970 rather than Josef Adamec of Trnava. This was despite the national coach at the time being a one time Spartak player.

Adamec had been a veteran of the great Czech squad that reached the FIFA World Cup Final in Santiago in 1962 although Horvath had captained Slovan to victory over Barcelona in ’69.

What went against Spartak Trnava was that while they were enjoying continued seemingly unstoppable success domestically Slovan had became a major European football force. The pinnacle for that Slovan side was that win in the 1969 European Cup Winners Cup when Barcelona were swept aside.

As football in the Czech Republic stepped out of the iron curtain era so football in the former Czechoslovakia went into a transitionary period before eventual separation. During the transitionary years of 1989-1994 Slovan continued to be a force in Czech-Slovak football while Trnava struggled.

In the Slovakian League era from 1994 onwards Slovan continue to be the undisputed rulers of football domestically whereas traditional rivals Spartak Trnava have found success hard to come by. They have won the Slovak league title only once (in 2018) and have perpetually lived in the shadow of the club from the Slovakian Capital.

This season’s Slovak First Football League (also known as Fortuna Liga for sponsorship reasons) has seen the big guns from Trnava and Bratislava once again trading blows at the top of the table. However, joining them are DAC 1904 who have also staked a claim to being crowned title winners come May.

The problem for Trnava and Slovan has been a goalscorer.

While Nikola Krstović is touching on 20 goals for the DAC both of today’s rivals are struggling for a regular goalscorer although ultimately it may be the spread of goals in the Slovan side that sees them retain the title.

It is that spread of goals and a strong spine that has seen Slovan perform admirably in this season’s UEFA competitions.

Despite crashing out of the Champions League to Ferencvaros and then the UEFA Europa League to Olympiakos the club continue to perform well in the UEFA Conference League qualifying for the Group stages for the second year in a row.

Winning Group H to gain a place in the last 16 has brought in over €3 million to the club which – on top of the money earned last season – has allowed the club to flex its muscles in terms of player salaries.

Sadly, it looks like the club may be at its level in the UEFA Conference League. The prestigious Champions League appears to be well out of reach to a club of its stature and size at the moment.

Early afternoon – Bratislava

The Slovak capital, a little bit like Prague, is splendid.

Walking around the old town you would be hard pressed to guess a big football match was happening but then again this is Slovakian football and crowds can be small.

Despite this being the biggest game in the Slovak domestic calendar no more than 13,000 are expected.

In the event it’s the 2,000 from Trnava who disrupt things early on, arriving to a far from welcoming group of riot police.

They are herded into the national stadium like sheep rounded up by rabid sheepdogs and any who try to stray are baton charged.

Inside Slovan fans raised a tifo as the teams came out which states ‘Death to Spartacus’ – leaving the visitors in know doubt that they are not welcome in the capital. The Trnava fans responding with multiple red and white flags and sporadic chanting.

The early proceedings were one sided and it continued that way largely until full time.

Slovan raced into a 3-0 lead by 38 minutes and Spartak were unable to control wave after wave of creative attack. Pulling one goal back was never going to be enough and it ended 4-1 to the home side.

And that result come full time was way too much for many Trnava fans who turned on the riot police in the away end; replicating the behaviour of the Slovan fans who got last season’s fixture abandoned.

These two clubs are far from friends but in all truth the game lacked the real needle that other eastern European derby matches can have. It threatened at times – both in the stands and on the field – to kick off but in all truth it was only really in the away stand that it got out of hand.

On the field Spartak failed to lay even a glove on the home team.

Maybe its the fact that they are not inner city rivals that compromised any real sense of heat although the traditions of the two will probably always ensure there is a lot at stake come this fixture.

FT: 4-1

Att: 11, 300

Full set of images from the Slovakian derby are here