Passion, loyalty and a warm welcome? We went to watch Slavia Prague with their ultras
North stands 106 – 110 are dedicated to ultras and supporters. Do not expect to get the seat indicated on your ticket in these sectors fans are standing all the time
When we bought tickets to see Slavia Prague at their home stadium we thought we had a good idea of what we were getting into.
No sitting down. Tensions ready to boil over. A hostile atmosphere. Unwavering passion.
European ultra fans have developed a reputation that might make some think twice before they stand side-by-side with them in a football stadium – but apparently not us.
By Tom Dean and Joanna Kamenou
It was no Prague derby but Slavia had to avoid defeat against Zenit St Petersburg in order to join the Russian side in the knockout phase of the Europa League.
With elimination on the line, the north stand gangways were overflowing with supporters at kick-off, turning up in numbers to support Slavia despite the sub-zero chill in the air.
The football itself proved to be slow-burning and sterile, although a signature screamer from 2012 Puskas Award winner Miroslav Stoch was the outstanding moment in Slavia’s 2-0 win.
Far more captivating however was the passion pumped into the atmosphere by the ultras.
Their relentless loyalty to support their team was exemplified by their charismatic conductor, armed with sunglasses and a megaphone in the middle of the night. Not once did he turn around to watch the game as he orchestrated every chant.
The songs were the beating heart of the fans, accompanied by the red flares that lit up as goals were scored.
It’s the mix of sounds and sights that makes the ultras stand out. A staple ultra symbol, the choreographed tifo was rolled out towards the end of the match. A visually striking centrepiece of their support.
The 1,200 away fans on the other side of the stadium were generally ignored and left to jump up and down topless, which seemed strange behaviour when your team is losing and it is -4C, but each to their own.
Around the stadium stewards in high-vis jackets could be seen in each stand but not in the north stand – there the ultras seemed to govern themselves.
Yet it was not hostile to us as tourist fans from London. It is a community hub. When fans weren’t singing they were chatting in groups, smoking and drinking in the stands in a hark back to a different era of football.
Slavia Prague play Genk on February 14 in the next round. The backing of their 12th man will be vital when the knockout stages begin.