The Spartak Praha Sokolovo football club is considered to be Czechoslovakia's best at present, but it is true to say that their glory goes far back into the past when it was known as AC Sparta.
Before the turn of the century - in 1894 to be exact - Sparta were known as Athletic Club Kralovske Vinohrady, but that year saw them change their name and fortune. As Sparta they won the first Czechoslovakian National League after its formation in 1919. They enjoyed five years of championship success and vying with their great rivals SK Slavia (now Dynamo Prague, a Second Division club) they dominated domestic football in the country and contributed greatly to the prowess of international teams in pre-war days. Until 1949 only one title was won by a club apart from Sparta and Slavia! In addition the club has won the Czechoslovakian Cup eleven times as well as the Central European Cup (the pre-war Mitropa Cup) twice in 1927 and 1935, and the Mitropa Cup itself this year. But Sparta's last League championship success of sixteen titles was gained in 1954 and since then the team has experienced a depressing period until recently without honours.
Probably the most amazing facet concerning the club is its support, which throughout the years of stress and strain has remained faithful and true. Last season the club had an average home attendance of 23,000, easily the best in the country and something like four times as many supporters as the Army team Dukla Prague - who have had such a stranglehold on the game in the past decade and a half - possess themselves.
After the war and the reorganisation which followed in 1948 the Czechoslovakian Sports Ministry (CSTV) changed the name of the club first from Sparta to Bratrstvi Sparta then Sparta Sokolovo before it finally became Spartak Prague Sokolovo. Even so the fans still think of it as their beloved Sparta. Sparta built their reputation not only on success but on the high standard of football they produced. With the coming of compulsory National Service the best players often found themselves persuaded to become regular soldiers and play for Dukla Prague. In this way the cream of Spartak Sokolovo and other clubs was drained. The culmination of Spartak's demise came two years ago when they only barely escaped relegation and the club decided to change its policy. They engaged Václav Ježek, one of three Dukla coaches, and began to reconstruct. Youth was given every encouragement and several experienced players were also signed to blend into the traditional formula for success. Of the latter variety, Jiri Tichy came from Slovnaft Bratislava (formerly Red Star Bratislava) and Vladimir Kos from CKD Prague (Spartak Stalingrad and formerly Bohemians). Next month they will be further strengthened in attack by the addition of outside-right Tomas Pospichal from Banik Ostrava, a 1962 World Cup performer.
Last season Spartak Sokolovo improved their League position, finishing sixth with twenty-nine points. Václav Mašek was the second highest goal scorer in the country with eighteen goals. But it was in the Cup that Spartak sparkled, in the semi-final they beat Dukla Prague 3-0 and then VSS Kosice 4-1 in the final. Entry to the Mitropa Cup followed and after beating MTK Budapest and Bologna (Italy) they accounted for their countrymen Slovan Bratislava 2-0 in the final. And though many English fans were full of praise for the club's defensive display at Upton Park when they met West Ham United in the first leg of the European Cup Winners Cup, it is the Spartak attack and particularly the Kvašnák - Mrâz - Mašek trio which has been responsible for the attacking achievements of the club.
Twenty -three - year old Ivan Mrâz is an assistant professor of physical training at Charles University. He came to the club from Slovan Bratislava two years ago where he had been unable to settle down. Almost as soon as he arrived he impressed with his energy, shooting, tactical ability and prowess in the air. Earlier this year he won his first cap and was the star of Czechoslovakia's victory over West Germany. He was one of two Spartak players who went to the Tokyo Olympics where he won a silver medal. Recently he was awarded the title of Master of Sport. His most outstanding individual performance came when he scored five goals in a first round European Cup Winners Cup tie against Anorthosis of Cyprus earlier this season.
Andrej Kvašnák, twenty-eight year-old technical clerk, is a tall, rather awkward looking player, but a master strategist. He was out of the side for nearly six months this year after being stricken with infectious jaundice and is only now regaining his old form. A Master of Sports, he has twenty seven caps and is the type of player who can determine the course of a match on his own.
Václav Mašek, also twenty three, is a student of technical science, who plays exceptionally well at outside-left even though he personally dislikes the position. Invariably he cuts in from the wing and is often utilised at inside-left as a result. A prolific scorer, he has fifteen caps and is another Master of Sports.
When Mašek operates at inside-left his wing berth is usually taken by Václav Vrána, twenty two-year-old former Dukla Prague junior, a versatile if rather immature winger. Outside-right Pavel Dyba (twenty) is a clever player though lacking in punch, who has played in a variety of positions including wing-half and centre-forward before finding his best position on the wing.
In defence the big, courageous Antonín Kramerius uses his height and reach to advantage in marked contrast to his deputy, Werner Kotas, who makes up for his lack of inches with agility and alertness. Recent Under-23 cap Milan Kollár is a ball playing full-back in the real old Sparta style, but his lack of tenacity meant that the club preferred Jiri Gura against West Ham. Gura, normally a centre-half, can play at full-back equally well. And this twenty-eight-year-old mechanic won his place through sheer hard work. Left-back Vladimir Táborsky, a student at the Physical Training Institute, is in his secondseason with the first team. A dedicated player, he is the club's own product.
The other Tokyo representative, Josef Vojta, is a hard tackling wing-half now in his seventh term with Spartak. Vladimir Kos is an attacking player who can also show outstanding defensive qualities when the occasion arises. He missed a trip to Chile in the World Cup when Kvašnák replaced him. Jirí Tichy, tall, balding commanding pivot, is the man who holds the defence together as one might expect from his nineteen caps.
Karel Steiningel, the left half, is expected to progress considerably now that he has completed his military service. Already he has been successfully blooded in the side. Oldest member of the team is the balding veteran Tadeáš Kraus, who very nearly packed up playing but deputised for Kvašnák during his absence to good effect. He has twenty-three caps and plays a midfield role whatever his position.
Spartak's Letna ground holds 33,000 but plans are in hand to double the capacity. A good season with the title at its end could see many of the old glories returning in a future dominated by the living memory of AC Sparta.
This article originally appeared in the January 1965 edition of World Soccer.