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FC Barcelona and Slavia Prague have 256 years of history between them, but their Champions League meeting on Wednesday will be their first ever in a competitive fixture. But it won't be the first time they have played. The clubs met eight times between 1920 and 1934, all friendlies and all in Barcelona. We look back at the first three of those games, played back-to-back in March 1920, just shy of a century ago.
Just two years after Czechoslovakia had separated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the country was producing some of the finest teams that football had ever seen. And Slavia, coached for a quarter of a century by the ‘father of Czech football’, a Scotsman named Johnny Madden, was considered the best of the lot. There would be no national league until 1925, but winning the Central Bohemian Cup was becoming too easy, and they spent a lot of their time travelling around the continent trying to find teams that could give them a decent match.
Spanish football was developing, but was still way below the standard in places like Prague. Or so Slavia thought. Barça’s first ever fixtures against Eastern European opposition would be a turning point in the history of the club. The mighty blaugrana were about to show that they had finally come of age.
The old Camp de la Indústria was packed to the rafters on Sunday 15 March, with much muttering among fans that the ground was simply too small to hold big games like this. Indeed, two years later they would be moving to their new home at Les Corts.
All that was missing was the opposition.
In days when air travel was but a dream, the Czechs had missed their train connection in France. Even though four cars rushed north from Barcelona to meet them at the border, it was to no avail and the game was cancelled. But when Slavia finally did arrive they happily agreed to play the game the next day, although being a work day, there would be no sell-out crowd to watch them.
Slavia revealed that they had just thrashed Servette (5-0) and Geneva (4-0) of Switzerland, a warning to the Catalans of just how good their side was. Swiss clubs were also among Europe's finest in those days, and many feared Barça could be in for a serious hiding.
But much to everyone’s surprise, and despite what the press described as ferociously rough play by the Czechs, Barça led 2-0 at half-time thanks to fine goals from Paulino Alcántara and Vicenç Martínez.
Slavia pulled back level with an own goal (the newspapers kindly protected the scorer’s honour by not giving his name) and then a penalty, but right at the end Barça were awarded a penalty of their own for handball.
All hell broke loose. Slavia were so furious with the decision that they threatened not only to walk off but also to cancel the next two fixtures and go straight back home to Prague. The referee was so upset by the furore that he threw down his whistle and left the field too.
Calm was eventually restored, Agustí Sancho converted the spot kick and the stadium went wild. The Slavia players were unmoved. This had just been a warm-up they insisted. They were saving their best players for the next two games.
The second game, played on Thursday afternoon, was a far more uneventful affair that ended without a score. Apparently, both teams were saving themselves for the third and final game on Sunday.
The whole city was buzzing for what was clearly viewed as the one game that really counted. There was a bum on every seat in anticipation of one of the biggest matches Barça had ever played, but once again the fans were kept waiting. This time the Slavia players were late because they had been watching a bullfight, and would be made to pay for their complacency. The Catalans got straight down to business, Alcántara firing them into a two-goal lead before Slavia had barely had time to settle.
It was extraordinary. Slavia showed plenty of quality but seemed to have completely forgotten how to shoot. They became increasingly more frustrated and according to the local press resorted to fouler and fouler tactics to the extent that the referee had to stop the game and order general calm.
There was no stopping Barça that afternoon. Félix Sesúmaga (twice) Martínez and Francesc Vinyals (from the penalty spot) slotted home goals three, four, five and SIX!
Slavia was probably the biggest team Barça had ever beaten, and they had beaten them soundly, yet the post-match atmosphere was curiously muted. Victory had come too easily. “The applause from the crowd was tepid” claimed the match report in La Vanguardia the day after. Barça had been great, but it was the mighty Slavia Prague that they had come to see, and frankly they had been a bit of a disappointment.
The writer himself, however, was overjoyed. He watched one of his team’s greatest performances ever, putting half a dozen goals past one of the giant clubs of the era, and claimed he was ready to kiss the feet of every single member of the team that played that day.
Barça were no longer pupils of this game. They were now among the masters.
The game sparked something of a love affair between Barça and Czech football. Over the next decade and a half, they would play Slavia Prague six more times (WLWLL), and also hosted Sparta Prague (LWWWDL), Union Žižkov (W), Maccabi Brno (WW), SK Moravská Slavia Brno (WW), Deutscher Prague (DL) and Viktoria Žižkov (WW).
Since then, however, meetings have been few and far between. Indeed, this week's encounter with Slavia Prague will be our first for 85 years. And football has changed a LOT since then. At least the players won't need to worry about the trains arriving on time.
16 March 1920
FC Barcelona 3 (Alcántara, Martínez, Sancho) Slavia Prague 2
19 March 1920
FC Barcelona 0 Slavia Prague 0
21 March 1920
FC Barcelona 6 (Alcántara 2, Sesúmaga 2, Martínez, Vinyals) Slavia Prague 0
OTHER FRIENDLIES WITH SLAVIA PRAGUE
30 December 1923
FC Barcelona 1 (Marti) Slavia Prague 0
1 January 1924
FC Barcelona 2 (Sagi, Piera) Slavia Prague 3
6 January 1930
FC Barcelona 6 (Arocha, Goiburu, Parera 2, Diego, Garcia) Slavia Prague 3
1 January 1934
FC Barcelona 2 (Arnau, Goiburu) Slavia Prague 3
6 January 1934
FC Barcelona 2 (Quico, Artigas) Slavia Prague 3
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