Since arriving here in Prague, I have decided to take on Bohemians 1905 as my football team. There’s a whole host of reasons for this, ranging from the trivial (they wear green) to the undeniable (KANGAROOS), but as I approach my third weekend and third live match the record is decidedly 50/50. In the first game the ‘Roos demolished Zbrojovka Brno 3-0, before being swept aside by Dukla Prague last weekend by four goals to one. This weekend, Bohemians 1905 will take on 1.FK Přibram, and I’m also hoping to head back to the Juliska to see Dukla take on Brno.
There’s a chance you may have heard of Dukla Prague. 1980s Scouse-rock band Half Man Half Biscuit released a song titled ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit‘ on their second album ‘Back Again In The DHSS’, and from then on Dukla’s place in British indie folklore was assured. If you bring up Dukla in knowing indie rock circles that song will come up, but there’s a decidedly post-commie twist on the modern day reality. The Dukla that demolished my beloved Kangaroos aren’t the Dukla that Nigel Blackwell was singing about back in 1987. They have adopted the history, colours and stadium, but they aren’t the same club, no, you’re actually thinking of 1.FK Přibram. Confused? Let’s delve into history to find out.
The team who would eventually go on to become the famous Dukla Prague were born in 1948, but back then they were named the clearly less catchy Armádni Tělovýchovný Klub Praha (Prague Military Club of Physical Education). If you couldn’t work it out from that name, ATK were the army club. They were thrust straight into the top Czechoslovak division (who is going to tell the army no?) and didn’t have to wait too long for success. 1953 was the year, and the first of 11 Czechoslovak titles was the honour.
ATK were helped immensely by the fact they could sign whomever they wanted throughout the country. Half of the previously dominant Slavia Prague side headed to the military club, as did top youth prospect and future Ballon d’Or winner (in 1962) Josef Masopust. ATK became Ústřední dům armady Praha (essentially Home Army Club Prague) the year they won their first title, before finally settling (for almost half a century anyway) on Dukla Praha in 1956.
The name ‘Dukla’ came with extra military significance, as it was at the Dukla Pass that vital ground was made on the eventual liberation of Czechoslovakia from the Nazis in 1944. Dukla was truly the commie club, named after a Red Army battle and supported by the military, not unlike the various CSKA’s (Moscow, Sofia) and Dynamo’s (Berlin, Kiev, Bucharest) in other communist nations.
Dukla would perform admirably in Europe throughout the communist era, reaching the semi finals of the European Cup in 1966-67 as well as the last four of the Cup Winners Cup in 1985-86, both of which stand tall as the best efforts by Czech clubs in continental competition. Just a few short years after that semi-final loss to Dynamo Kiev things starting falling apart for communism in Czechoslovakia, and this meant the future looked anything but rosy for our dear Dukla.
With all things ‘communist’ considered a serious no-no following 1989, Dukla Prague fell into complete financial misery. They couldn’t find sponsors (for obvious reasons), and when Czechoslovakia split up in 1993 Dukla had the ignominy of finishing bottom of the very first Czech Republic league. Not only that, they finished bottom with only 10 points, their only win coming away at Hradec Králové on the 23rd week of the season. Bankruptcy soon followed, and the future went from bleak to non-existent for Dukla Prague. Still, they did produce the second of two Czech players to win the Ballon d’Or at this time, a young creative midfielder called Pavel Nedvěd.
Enter Bohumir Duricko. As Dukla crowds slumped into the three figures, the businessman (probably) decided to buy FK Přibram (based in a town some 40km away from Prague), merging them with Dukla Prague not long after. The team played one season in Dukla’s iconic Juliska stadium relocating full-time to Přibram in 1997. More name changes followed, as FK Dukla became FK Dukla Přibram became FK Marila Přibram became simply 1.FK Přibram in 2008. The team were green and black, yet the seats of their stadium are still coloured in the famous Dukla red and gold. They have been in the top league ever since 2008. Think of the whole thing like a Wimbledon/MK Dons type affair, just in Prague instead of Milton Keynes.
So where do today’s Dukla come from? Well, an amateur team based in Prague 6 (where the Juliska stadium is) continued the tradition if not the legal legacy, playing in the Juliska, wearing the famous red and gold and using Dukla’s iconic logo. They were dealt something of an ironic boon in 2007 when their management took over Jakubčovice, a dead second division club. The phoenix-type resurrection of Dukla was complete in 2011, when the famous (if not legally correct) club returned to the top flight. Why there hasn’t been a Dukla Praha vs. AFC Wimbledon match yet is beyond me.
Dukla and Přibram are now both fairly well established top flight clubs, and the matches between the two are surprisingly sedate. Czech football in general is fairly sedate though, so this isn’t so much of a surprise. Dukla are yearly considered potential contenders for a Europa League sport whereas the legal continuers of their legacy move closer and closer towards relegation every year. So far this season Přibram have played seven won one lost six, with many saying this could be the year they finally drop.
This weekend, my beloved Bohemians 1905 will welcome Dukla Prague to our Vršovice fortress, although it will be the Dukla Prague that is now called Přibram as opposed to the Dukla Prague that used to be called Dukla Devčice and are now called Dukla Prague. Something like that at least.