On Thursday, Sparta will write its third continuation of matches at Rangers’ ground, just like two years ago in the basic group of the second most prestigious European Cup. Then she fell 0:2.
“There were around 50,000 people there, a real buzz and what was special was that the stadium was still going together, the fans were singing hymns and the atmosphere was electrifying. That was great,” says Holec, who then unexpectedly replaced Florin Nita between the three posts and currently wears the Karviné jersey. The match was accompanied by echoes of the well-known conflict with Slavia and also of the previous duel at Letná.
Sparta had a closed stadium, but they used the rules and children got into the corridors. The then coach of Rangers, Steven Gerrard, said after the match (1:0 for Sparta) that he did not notice any booing at his midfielder Glen Kamara, but the day after, he turned around and said that the whole matter should be handled by UEFA. That’s what happened, but no racism against the black player was found.
But the aftertaste remained in Rangers fans even for the home rematch. “The hatred was already on the way to the stadium. When we performed, people made their opinion clear to us. It was actually nice, a full stadium always pushes you forward. Then you want to shut them up, as they say politely,” says forward Matěj Pulkrab, currently defending the colors of Mladá Boleslav.
“Back then it was completely fresh, they took their anger out on us. There are not many players from the squad of that time in Sparta anymore. Two years is a long time in football. I don’t think it will be like that now. The Scots will support their team more than boo the opposition. I believe that the atmosphere will be even better,” says Pulkrab.
For Holc, it was one of the biggest matches of his career, he rarely experienced such an audience during the match. “It’s also great at Sparta, but when 50,000 comes, it’s something else. Coincidentally, on Monday, Lukáš Haraslín and I wrote that there was a great atmosphere,” he reveals. And what about Pulkrab? “The atmosphere in the Europa League was always great, just like with Rangers at home when the kids were cheering. And that there was hatred? You don’t notice her on the field. They only see that they are cheering, shouting that the stands are full,” he adds.
Spartan legend Michal Horňák has three decades of experience. He played in Letenské at Ibrox Stadium in the 1991/1992 season in the first round of the European Champions Cup. And successfully, Sparta went on despite the 1:2 loss thanks to the rule about goals on the opponent’s field.
“Everything was a first for us. For the first time on the Islands, in Scotland, against us a famous team, a big stadium, an incredible backdrop. None of us had ever experienced anything like that before. A huge experience. We played well and maybe we were looking for similar backdrops afterwards. The more people there were, the better we were,” says the current coach of the second division Žižkov.
The big Scottish club drove the packed stadium then, the same can be expected on Thursday. There shouldn’t be so many hateful moments, similar to what happened two weeks ago during the match in Prague.
“I wouldn’t have thought that something like this could happen between these teams, i.e. Rangers and Sparta and Slavia. Rangers have always been a team built on combativeness, straightforwardness, but there have never been any conflict situations. It started with Slavia, then came Sparta. I don’t think it was targeted, rather a combination of circumstances,” thinks Horňák.