Oceans apart: The story of AFK Atlantic Lazne Bohdanec

Like many other clubs whose prosperity waned, AFK Atlantic Lazne Bohdanec no longer exist. While others have been reborn, AFK have been consigned to the history books.

Football in the spa town of Lazne Bohdanec began in 1918 when a local football club was formed called simply AFK Lazne Bohdanec. Servicing a small settlement in the shadows of nearby Pardubice and Hradec Kralove, they always looked set to be a simple outfit playing in the amateur ranks.

However one man changed the fortunes of an entire rural village.

Today the nouveau rich throw their money at high profile football clubs, combining their vast personal wealth with an abundance of television income and not to mention many corporate and commercial additional revenue streams. But investing in or buying, or however you like to dress it up, spending vast amounts of cash to secure your way to the top is not a new phenomena. It has worked in some cases, it has failed in others.

This is the story of AFK Atlantic Lazne Bohdanec follows this path.

Turning against the tide

The community of Bohdanec, as it was originally known, can be traced back to 1343 when records document a confrontation that involved a local priest, though undoubtedly the true history of the settlement will stretch back much further than that fourteenth century fight.

Ever since its formation the town has been associated with trade and craft, though today the area is most commonly known for its prominent spas and to reflect this change the two was, in 1980, renamed Lazne Bohdanec – Lazne being the Czech word for spa.

So how does a town with a population of roughly 3,000, come to have a football team that for one season brushed shoulders with Sparta and Slavia?

The answer, as you might have guessed, is money.

In the final months of 1991 a businessman by the name of Jiri Novak ploughed lots of his own money to create an amalgamation comprising of Sokol Lazne Bohdanec – as AFK had become in the post-World War II years – and Tesla Pardubice’s youth side, and decided to upset the status quo.

Under his chairmanship the side rose through the divisions. In 1993 the team were playing in the Czech sixth tier yet just four years later they would be lining up against the biggest clubs from the biggest cities that the Czech Republic had to offer. Admittedly their promotion from the regional division to Divize C was bought, but their subsequent achievement of three successive promotions should not, and cannot, be ignored.

Still bullish about the club’s remarkable rise this very day, when pressed on his ownership in a recent interview he stated in a rather matter of fact manner that he ‘turned the tide of football‘ and that Lazne Bohdanec’s strength then was comparable to that of the Atlantic Ocean – hence the reason as to why he christened his side ‘Atlantic Lazne Bohdanec’.

Adrift in the Gambrinus Liga

If there ever was a baptism of fire then AFK Atlantic’s first game in the domestic top flight was it: Brno away with over 23,000 people crammed into the iconic – but now sadly derelict – Stadion Za Luzankami. Football ran through the veins of Moravia during the late 1990’s and crowds in excess of 30,000 were not uncommon against the big two, days which are now sorely missed. Brno ran out comfortable 3-0 winners and it was a sign of things to come for the spa town outfit.

Their first points in the Gambrinus Liga eventually arrived in week seven but it wasn’t until the beginning of November that they recorded a home victory, Marek Trval’s goal ensured that they would defeat Slovan Liberec at the Novak financed Na Baste stadium. It proved to be their last three points in the top flight and come the finale of the 1997-98 season Atlantic were twenty points adrift of Ceske Budejovice in fifteenth.

Given their top flight status, Lazne Bohdanec needed to upgrade their facilities in order to accommodate the country’s best. Rather picturesquely and fitting in with the nautical theme of the club, the ground, entitled Na Baste, was located with the Bohdanecsky Rybnik, an area of wetland.

With a population of 3,000 the stadium was rather generously built, full to capacity it could house nearer 6,000 and so the club relied the gravitas of those who were traditionally dominant to draw a crowd in from the surround Pardubice regions. That plan failed: Novak’s money, whilst integral to their progression, failed to finance a sustainable football club – the market simply was never there.

Attendances upwards of 4,000 greeted Atlantic Lazne Bohdanec’s first two games, though these were an anomaly rather than the norm: First to visit were neighbours and designated local rivals Hradec Kralove
and next up at Na Baste was the famous Sparta Prague who had their iron-clad grip on domestic supremacy. A strike from Zdenek Svoboda and a brace by Horst Siegl sunk Atlantic the day that the champions came to town.

But those two fixtures aside, the clamour for tickets soon evaporated. Not even the arrival of Slavia at the tail end of the season caused a spike in demand and only the visit of Brno in February saw the gate rise above 3,000. But come the end of the season attendances dwindled into triple figures.

It is no surprise that the club from small surroundings failed to acclimatise to the big stage. Novak’s money saw them surge upwards, but though they did reached the footballing zenith for one solitary season, the crest of the wave broke during the previous campaign. The rigours of the Gambrinus Liga brought everything crashing down.

After their swift ascensions through the regional divisions, their promotion year of 1996-97 almost didn’t happen. Despite being well positioned at Christmas and within touching distance of the leaders and eventual winners Pribram, they faltered massively in the New Year. In the second half of the season they picked up twelve points less than they did in the autumn of 1996, scored eleven fewer goals and would have wound up a distant sixth if not for their solid start to the campaign.

Swept away

Their vulnerabilities were exposed during their solitary year in the top flight and, now standing on shaky ground, they were quickly dispatched to the Nardoni Liga with a ruthless ease by their peers. Jiri Novak’s policy of self-financing the club was flawed; money can buy players and stadia, but it cannot be sustained forever without success, commercial arrangements and a paying fans to contribute to the club’s finances. The reality was that Lazne Bohdanec was a small club that was pushed well beyond their means and it was only a matter of time until things would go wrong.

Able to outmuscle regional rivals and semi-professional clubs with ease, the might and gravitas of the Prague sides and the well supported entities of Moravia and Silesia would be a different matter entirely. Novak simply didn’t have the limitless resources needed to compete

With the demotion back to the Narodni Liga life became less profitable and the rewards that came so easy in the early years of his tenureship soon evaporated. The players left too and whilst Atlantic would enter the history books, known as statistically one of the worst clubs to compete in the Gambrinus Liga, many of their squad – the likes of Marek Kulic, Marek Heinz and Jiri Kaufman for example – would go on to have very successful careers elsewhere.

Now stuck in second division never threatening to move either up or down, Atlantic entered a period of rare stability. It was almost as if the club had found their maximum level and were content with being an average second tier club, something worlds away from their sixth tier status they held a few years prior.

Sadly however, this tale does not end well. In 1999 Novak ordered his side off the field of play taking umbrage over a referee decision that he claim unduly favoured opponents Prostejov. That outburst cost him 300,000 Kc and then, a year later, he forced through a merger with another side from Pardubice. This newly named FK AS Pardubice (Fotbal Klub Athletic Slovan) signalled the end of Lazne Bohdanec as a football force. Atlantic sunk into folklore and the ground began to crumble and decay.

Today the Stadion Na Baste still stands, if that is the right word to use. The pitch is overgrown, the terraces are barely recognisable, the stands dilapidated and the paint  fading. Nature has slowly reclaimed the ground that once housed Gambrinus Liga football. The entrance remains though, its iconic ‘A’ gate a reminder to what once was, and alongside the scoreboard, it remains protruding out of the greenery as a legacy.

It’s just a shame that their legacy will be as arguably the worst side ever to compete in the Gambrinus Liga and as a club who were cast adrift to wander the unforgiving and stormy open waters of professional football without the financial anchor provided to them for many prior years.

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picture credit: Mtot (rajce.idnes.cz)
for a brilliant gallery of pictures of Na Bašte and the surrounding area from 2010, click here (rajce.idnes.cz)

  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 14th July 2015

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