Legendary footballer Pepi Bican inducted in Czech FA’s Hall of Fame

Josef “Pepi” Bican, photo: archive of Slavia Praha

The legendary footballer Josef “Pepi” Bican, was inducted in the Czech Football Association’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Officially recognized as the most prolific scorer in the history of the game, Pepi Bican is said to have scored an incredible 4,500 goals in his career.

Josef “Pepi” Bican,  photo: archive of Slavia Praha
The Czech Football Association honoured Josef Bican on Wednesday on the centenary of his birth. The legendary Czech-Austrian striker was born to Czech parents in Vienna where he started playing football as a child; at the age of 18, he joined the city’s popular club Rapid.

Josef Bican moved to Prague in 1937 to play for Slavia; their city rivals Sparta were also interested in the young forward but its managers apparently came too late: an hour after Bican promised to join Slavia. Bican then wore Slavia’s red and white jersey for the next 11 years. Internationally, Josef Bican played for three teams – Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the wartime Bohemia and Moravia.

Shortly before his death in 2001, the international football statistics body, the RSSSF, declared Pepi Bican with 643 league goals the most prolific scorer of the 20th century. But the forward is rumoured that in total, he scored an incredible 4,500 goals in his career. In the 1990s, the retired footballer spoke to Czech TV.

Josef “Pepi” Bican,  photo: archive of Slavia Praha
“When I talk to young reporters, they always say, ‘Mr Bican, scoring was easier back in your day.’ But I ask them, ‘How come? Look, are there opportunities today?’ And they tell me, ‘Of course there are, many of them’. And I say, ‘There you go. If there weren’t opportunities, it would be difficult. But if there are, scoring is the same as it was a hundred years ago, and will be the same in a hundred years’ time, too. It will always be the same.”

In Bican’s day, football was probably slower and less physical. But in the scoring charts, he surpassed not just his contemporaries but also some of the greatest names in the history of the game including the legendary Pelé. Football historian Radovan Jelínek explains why Bican was in a league of his own.

“He was a very complex player; he used both of his feet, he scored with his head, and from long and short distance shots. That’s very rare now. He was also extremely fast – he ran 100 metres in 10.8 seconds, just 0.5 second slower than the world record at the time.

Josef “Pepi” Bican  (right)
“His speed probably made a huge difference because if you look at photos from that time, you see the defenders had bellies and so on, and must have been slower than him. That gave him a big advantage in those games.”

Josef Bican retired in the mid 1950s, after falling out of grace with Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders who considered him too bourgeois to represent the ideal working class sportsman. He then went on to coach several teams but he somehow never managed to pass his superb scoring skills onto his players.