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The story of an almost anonymous player. The story of a unique player at FC Barcelona, not only for being the first and last Czech player in the history of the club, but also because he's the only one to play for both FC Barcelona and Slavia Prague.
His story is worth being re-told, because he lived to play football, not to suffer the ravages of war, and FC Barcelona eased his pain.
Jiří Hanke's football career (Vrdy, Czech Republic, December 12, 1924) was affected by World War II and the subsequent communist regime. Whilst he was a Slavia player from Prague, he was expected to fight for Czechoslovakia as they aimed to defeat the Third Reich.
The ball and the rifle
On May 5, 1945, the beginning of the Prague Uprising, he took up arms. Hanke, complete with rifle, barricaded himself inside the 'Stadion SK Slavia na Letné' - a stadium built from wood. This time the player's rival was not a football team, but the Wehrmacht. At 9.00am the following day, May 6, 1945, they would defeat him, and SK Slavia's stadium would be burned to the ground.
Jiří Hanke's ordeal didn't finish there. As World War II ended, it presented a new chapter in this Czech defender's history.
Walking into Barcelona
Czechoslovakia, particularly the Central Bohemian Region, gradually fell under the sphere of Soviet influence. The Nazis were no longer Hanke's concern, now the Communists were. The Prague Government drafted laws against the Germans, and since every anonymous person had gaps and contradictions in his bibliography, it was speculated that this athlete was a German born in Czechoslovak territory.
Despite being a defender, he liked to push forward to attack and dribble past opponents. But, again, he had to escape from a much stronger enemy. On the horizon the player no longer saw the opponents goal, but a free country unmarked from Soviet totalitarianism. He exhibited courage beyond the dimensions of the pitch and fled to Germany.
"Jiří Hanke measures about 178 cm, weighs 83 kg, of thin complexion, dark hair, brown eyes, elongated face, prominent forehead. Straight eyebrows and nose, adjacent ears, symmetrical mouth, normal arms and legs, straight posture, no special signs, healthy teeth. The description of his clothes is unknown," is how he was described in a criminal complaint at the Prague District Court.
He understood that he could never wear the red and white of Slavia again. "The club of his heart," Radim Hanke explained to Czech media Denikn. Without permission from the Czechoslovak federation to play football, in 1950 our protagonist found himself in Hamburg, where he defended the FC St. Pauli shirt. But months later, his football trip continued through Colombia and then through France, a territory that led him to FC Barcelona.
Ferdinand Daucik, coach of FC Barcelona from 1950 to 1954 and Hanke's geographical neighbour, provided him with the option of being able to continue enjoying European football, for Barça. Thus, in the summer of 1952, the name of Jiří Hanke entered FC Barcelona's history books; a chapter that was worth revisiting on the occasion of Slavia Prague - FC Barcelona in the 2019/20 Champions League.
4 seasons as a culé
Under the fictitious name of "Fernández," before signing for Barça he played four trial matches with the team. The first came on August 30, 1952 at Granollers, and it's worth noting that he passed the trial period with flying colours.
Finally, on October 29, 1952 a Czech wore the Barça colours for the first time in the Girona v FC Barcelona fixture (2-6). It was a memorable debut as Hanke also got on the scoresheet.
At almost 28 years of age, this almost unknown footballer made a name for himself at FC Barcelona. Jorge Hanke, as he was known in Spain, started and played the 90 minutes at Les Corts on match day 10 of the 1952/53 league season, as FC Barcelona defeated Sevilla 3-2. A week later, on match day 11 of the same competition, he was in the line up for Barça's 2-1 defeat at the Bernabéu.
Barça's win against Espanyol (2-1) on match day 12 also included a goal from Hanke before he was sent off, the Les Corts supporters heartily singing his name.
Ferdinand Daucik and his players; Ramallets, Seguer, Segarra, Basra, César and Kubala to name a few, took Barça to the league title, and Hanke's own form earned him a new contract. The following season he played in 18 official matches and in his third campaign, 24. However, in his last year at Barça he lost prominence in the lineups, and at the end of the season he went to Switzerland. It was there where he would end up dying on December 11, 2006, just a day before his 82nd birthday, and where the story of this unrepeatable character, but almost anonymous to FC Barcelona supporters, ended.
Now the 2019/20 Champions League has given us the opportunity to tell his story again.
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