London Sokol founded an incredible one hundred years ago this year
Founded in 1862 during the Czech national revival, the Sokol sports organisation was dedicated to creating a strong and fit Czech people ready to build a new state. The London branch of Sokol was founded in 1903. When I attended one of their meetings recently I asked chairman Ladislav Potucek who had set up London Sokol an incredible 100 years ago?
"Well, I suppose it was the emigrants or people who left the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire and were seeking fortunes and a better life abroad."
Was it primarily a nationalist organisation or simply an exercise organisation?
"Certainly not nationalistic, but people who left their mother country liked to meet their own. And I don't think their knowledge of English or knowledge of English society was that great. They felt strange and foreign, therefore they mixed and met among themselves."
Do you know if there were many Czechs here at that time?
"I would say several thousand maybe."
Are you much in contact with other Sokol organisations?
"Yes, I am. For these two years I am the starosta, or chairman, of the Sokol abroad. The membership is Sokol London, Paris, Munich, Sweden etcetera... western Europe."
So London Sokol is the only one in Britain?
"Yes, the London one is at present the only one in Britain. There used to be a section in Manchester, shortly after the war."
What kind of people come here - are they younger, older?
"Well, the core of London Sokol are middle-aged and plus till 60, 70 years of age. Younger people, they are usually au pair girls and au pair boys, both Czechs and Slovaks."
So Slovaks also come here?
"Oh, yes, they are welcome here. I must proudly say that we consider each other brothers and sisters. If you attend any function held in London we sing the Czechoslovak national anthem, not Czech or Slovak but Czechoslovak, the old one."
Do you do any other activities, apart from exercise?
"Yes, we do social trips, social functions, we meet, we hold parties. And a lot of members of Sokol are members of the Czechoslovak Colony Club and we meet at the Czechoslovak National House in West End Lane."
What is the Colony Club?
"The Colony Club is again a society that was founded by Czechs and Slovaks, in 1924. And again people who emigrated and wanted to speak their own language I suppose and to congregate socially with their countrymen."