Bodyguards protect Sparta Prague manager Hrebik while predecessor Straka goes into politics

Photo: CTK

Two big names in Czech football are making the headlines these days, for very different reasons. Frantisek Straka, a former Czech international player and manager of Sparta Prague, has announced he is entering politics. Meanwhile, Jaroslav Hrebik, who succeeded him at Sparta, is being protected by bodyguards, after dissatisfied fans attempted to attack him.

Frantisek Straka,  photo: CTK
As a player, Frantisek Straka won the Czechoslovak league four times with Sparta Prague, before leaving for Germany's Bundesliga. He took German citizenship in 1988, peppers his Czech with German words and refers to himself as "Franz".

He is a colourful character: proud, passionate and possibly the best-dressed man in the Czech Republic. After a spell in charge of Teplice, he was appointed manager of Sparta, the country's biggest and richest club.

As a former player, Straka was welcomed with open arms by the Sparta faithful, including the hardcore hooligan element who style themselves the Ultras. He caused controversy when, at a public meeting with fans, he told them to fight rival supporters on the nearby Letna Plain, not inside Sparta's stadium.

But Franz lost his dream job, after terrible results in the lucrative Champions League last year. There were also allegations he had taken cocaine, though medical tests proved his innocence.

Photo: CTK
Sparta's hardcore fans never accepted his successor, Jaroslav Hrebik, a genial man who - in a previous spell at the club - had achieved success by taking them on their longest ever run in the Champions League.

From day one the Ultras have been chanting "Hrebik ven!" ("Hrebik out!"), and his unpopularity was compounded when Sparta lost a number of games after securing the league title last season. He did not take part in the celebrations.

This season has started poorly for Sparta, and when they were beaten by lowly Slovacko on Saturday that was evidently the last straw for the hardcore fans. Around 60 of them got into Sparta's stadium and tried to attack the manager and players when their team bus arrived back from the game.

Since then Jaroslav Hrebik - whose car was recently badly damaged in an unsolved attack - has been accompanied by bodyguards provided by the club, reportedly against his will. Hrebik says he has no intention of resigning, and that doing so would be to give in to bullies. But it is hard to imagine him holding on if Sparta lose again soon.

His troubles will surely be bringing a smile to the face of Frantisek Straka, who has taken a number of potshots at his successor in the media. Franz himself has been all over the Czech newspapers in the last couple of days, after confirming he will stand in the next general elections for the Christian Democrats. To do so he must first acquire Czech citizenship.

One commentator has already pointed out the apparent paradox of a party which styles itself as "law and order" being represented by the hooligans' hero.