Josef Bican, photo: archive of Slavia Praha

In today’s Mailbox we find out who the mystery man in our July competition was and we announce the names of four Radio Prague listeners who will be sent small gifts for their correct answers. Listeners quoted: Prasanta Kumar Padmapati, Bob Boundy, Jana Vaculik, Riaz Ahman Khan, Catherine Olubunmi Agboola, Don Schumann, Steve Wara, Colin Law, David Eldridge, K. Thiagarajan, Charles Konecny, Jerry Kubik, Henrik Klemetz.

Josef Bican,  photo: archive of Slavia Praha
Hello and welcome to Mailbox. It is my pleasant duty today to announce the names of four of our listeners who won Radio Prague’s July competition – but I will keep you waiting until the end of the programme. First of all let’s hear some of the correct answers that arrived from all over the globe. The very first one came, as usual, from the unbeatable Prasanta Kumar Padmapati from India:

“Josef ‘Pepi’ Bican (September 25, 1913 – December 12, 2001) was a Czech-Austrian football forward. It is claimed by a respected footballing statistics page that Bican scored around 800 goals in all competitive matches, not including friendly games. This would make him the all-time most prolific scorer in football history known to date.”

Bob Boundy from New Zealand adds:

“The name of the footballer was Josef Bican, often called Pepi, and also known as ‘the grand old man’ of Czech football. Also, he was the Czech footballer who scored the most ever goals.”

Jana Vaculik from the United States sent us this anecdote:

“My favorite fact about Josef Bican when as a youth, his mother was so annoyed about a foul (that her son had been on the receiving end of) that she ran onto the pitch and beat the opponent with her umbrella.”

Riaz Ahman Khan from Pakistan writes:

Josef Bican,  photo: archive of Slavia Praha
“This great footballer is Josef Bican. Every lover of football recognises his achievements in the game. This great footballer passed away at the age of 88 but his name will never die.”

Catherine Olubunmi Agboola from Nigeria wrote this:

“Having scored more goals than ANY Czech footballer in history, I award him the ‘Czech footballer of all ages’. He even achieved cross-border influence in both Czech Republic and Austria.”

Don Schumann from the United States writes about Bican’s remarkable skills:

“The family's poverty meant that Bican had to play football without any shoes, which helped him hone his ball control skills. It was not only his incredible goal-scoring feats that endeared Bican to the footballing public. During his time with Slavia, crowds used to come in droves just to watch him train because Bican's training sessions were often more like circus acts – and fans were happy to pay a few crowns to watch him. While the rest of the squad practiced routines or ran laps, Bican would turn-up with a hamper of empty bottles, which he would proceed to balance on the top of the flat wooden crossbar, spaced about one foot apart. He then stepped back to the edge of the penalty-area, put down a bunch of balls and took aim. One by one from twenty yards Bican would knock the bottles off the bar with his shots, and on a good day – the story goes – he would maybe miss one in ten.”

Steve Wara from France wrote this:

“Throughout his career as Czech's greatest footballer ever, Josef Bican scored 643 league goals – second to only Brazilian Pelé's 1000 or more – 196 for or in the Austrian league. Sick in hospital for a number of months, he had very much hoped to back home for Christmas, but unfortunately died on 12 December 2001 at age, 88 – ‘the grand old man of Czech (and world) football’.”

Colin Law, New Zealand adds some facts from Bican’s life:

“At the age of 12 he started playing for the Hertha Vienna junior team. He went on to play for Schustek, Farbenlutz, Rapid Vienna, Admira, Slavia Prague, Vítkovice, Hradec Králové and ‘Dynamo Prague.’ In 1937, Bican left Vienna to join Slavia Prague. He played for Slavia throughout World War II. After the war, several of Europe's biggest clubs wanted Bican, but he stayed in Prague and after the Communist Party came to power in 1948 he refused to join the Communist Party, just as he had refused to join the Nazi Party in Austria.”

David Eldridge from England writes:

“His father, František, died from an injury sustained in a football match when Joseph was only eight years old. This meant that Josef was to be brought up in a household living only on what his mother earned working in a restaurant kitchen, though that hard experience is thought to have favorably toughened Josef's approach to football. He was a very popular footballer amongst Czechs, not only for his football skills but because he also brought an element of fun to the games.”

K.Thiagarajan from India had this to say:

“His brilliant career came to an end at the age of 42 during the year 1955. After retirement he offered coaching to a Belgian team. He passed away at the age of 88, leaving his indelible mark on the history of football.”

Charles Konecny from the United States writes:

“One of the ways to describe him is, ‘he scored more goals than any other’. But this is only one of the ways. His family was poor and as a youngster he had to hone his football skills by practicing with a rolled-up sock. He later said this developed his technique and improvisation. And in coming into the game of football between the wars and then under Nazi occupation and later under the communist authoritarian thumb, his career had many paths and obstacles. He deserves much credit for resisting pressure from the Nazis and the Communists to be a showcase for their ideologies. There is an internet post called, ‘50 things to do after you die’. One of them was to organize the ultimate football game. On the first team was Josef ‘Pepi’ Bican.”

From Canada Jerry Kubik a.k.a. Jay Kay wrote:

“The name of the football legend of old Czechoslovakia’s national team is Josef Bican. His home team was Slavia Praha; a perfect forward player and known for his shooting ability as ‘kanonýr’... Mr. Josef Bican was from the ‘old guard’ players of the pre-war Czechoslovak national team and he retired as ‘internacionál’ in the fifties. Your article brings back memories from my youth in Czechoslovakia.”

And finally, the answer from Henrik Klemetz from Sweden:

“Latter-day statistics seem to consider league matches only when computing goal score totals. However, if one keeps in mind the saying about ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’, there is sufficient evidence to vouch for Bican’s extraordinary talent. He was reportedly capable of putting down, one by one, a row of beer bottles from the penalty point, apparently using either his left or right foot. He was also known to run 100 meters in 10.8 seconds. With such unusual attributes, Bican must undoubtedly have turned into a very prolific scorer, perhaps, as some observers maintain, the most prolific one in history.”

Thank you again for the time you devoted to answering our question. This time the four of you who will be sent small gifts courtesy of Radio Prague are Ayamuthu Balendra from Sri Lanka, Bob Boundy from New Zealand, Jerry Kubik from Canada and Riaz Ahmad Khan from Pakistan. Congratulations and your parcels will be mailed first thing on Monday.

But of course, our little competition continues and the question for August is an easy one.

This month we are looking for the names of the founding fathers of the patriotic Sokol sports movement which played a vital role in the early lives of many a Czech athlete.

Please, send us the answer by the end of August to [email protected] or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. We are also interested to read about your personal experience with Sokol or whether there is a Sokol branch active in your area. Do you own a Sokol uniform? Have you ever taken part in a “sokolský slet” – the mass gathering of Sokol members from around the country and the world? Do let us know. We will be looking forward to your answers. Until next week, good-bye.