One of the Czech Republic’s best known soccer clubs has just escaped bankruptcy and expulsion from the first division. In fact, for a brief period on Monday it appeared it really was curtains for Baník Ostrava. But how have the 2004 league champions found themselves in such dire straits? And what does the future hold for the club?
For 15 minutes on Monday, Baník Ostrava were – to quote their owner – “clinically dead”. On the verge of bankruptcy and set to lose their first division license, the football club’s only hope was that Ostrava city council purchase their Bazaly stadium.
A vote was held on the proposal and the aldermen decided not to buy – essentially condemning the club, whose history stretches back to 1922, to possible extinction as a significant force in Czech soccer.
But then, in a dramatic turn of events, two councillors said they had changed their minds. A second show of hands was taken, this time in favour of the move.
Nine years ago Baník attracted huge, passionate crowds as the Silesians lifted the league title for the first and only time since the foundation of the independent Czech Republic. At that time the club was apparently in good financial health. So what has happened in the interim? That’s a question I put to journalist Michal Petrák of Deník Sport.
“The financial troubles started in the era of the previous owner of the club, Tomáš Petera. Whether there was some financial mismanagement or something unlawful, I’m not the one to judge. But certainly at that time, the club started to fall into debt. And that’s why the problems started.”
Baník Ostrava have actually already been stripped of their top flight license in connection with their financial troubles. However, after Monday’s guarantee of a financial injection, winning it back on appeal is regarded as a mere formality.
But they are by no means out of the woods yet. For one thing the city is paying CZK 114 million for the stadium, but the club’s debts are estimated to stand at around CZK 170 million.
What’s more, the rundown Bazaly ground, located in a potentially lucrative area, doesn’t meet top flight standards. Baník Ostrava may in the end have to wave goodbye to their traditional home, says Michal Petrák.
“I think there will be some pressure from the city of Ostrava for them to move to [nearby] Vítkovice, where another stadium was built. The reconstruction of that stadium is financed from city funds as well. And I think it will be reasonable for the city not to invest in two stadia but to invest in one, and to force the club…or to demand that club move to the other stadium.”
So Baník Ostrava have, in a sense, survived their own death. But fans’ relief will no doubt be tempered by the knowledge that that perpetuation may come at a considerable price.
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