I stood in line to buy the beers; there was no riot police inside the stadium – several hundred were standing in groups outside next to vans, ready to arrest and carry-away anyone inciting a disturbance. Behind me, one teenager threw a flying punch into the back of a rival fans head, his other friend pulling the rivals scarf off as the two ran away with it. The victimized futbal (soccer) fan rubbed his head, discombobulated at the violence though not fully surprised by having been attacked.
When I returned with the beers I offered them to some friends who had treated us to the match of Prague’s two futbal teams: SK Slavia versus SC Sparta.
The game had not started, but the energy was intense in the stadium. I wasn’t fully confident in the structural integrity of the stadium under the pressure of the the stomping fans, their fists pounding and waving their teams flag. My friends refused the beer – “there is no alcohol in beer at the games. I do not drink beer without alcohol.” Completely understandable. I suppose I should have taken the riot police as a sign.
The game started – the one on the field was good, but the one going on in the stadium was more captivating. On our side of the stadium, Sparta set a small fire. My friend pointed at the flames and said “that is the flags of the other fans. They steal them before game.” So that’s what I witnessed. The flames rose, the smoke filling the upper seats and wafting onto the stadium.
SK Slavia, seated on the other side of the stadium, started a fire of their own. The organizers of the game didn’t separate the fans; the fans themselves did. Pretty considerate, given their rivalry, both sides waiting for any spark to turn the match into a brawl. The smoke from both sides started to mix.
Sparta wouldn’t be outdone. And there were a lot more opponent scarves and flags and shirts to burn. So they made another fire.
As did Slavia.
The game was eventually paused to allow the smoke to clear.
But the real game and the true spirit of the game were in the seats, amongst the fans, around the fires.