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Dukla returns

Famed Czechoslovak Army squad comes back to the pros

Posted: December 06, 2006

By František Bouc

The Czechoslovak Army soccer club, Dukla Prague, was famous for winning 11 championship titles, its success against world-renowned opponents and its appearances in major international tournaments. And when the British band Half Man Half Biscuit released the song "All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit" in 1986, the club was on the verge of being immortalized.

But, less than 10 years later, no one seemed to care that the club faced extinction when the newly formed Czech Army stopped supporting it.

Now, a Dukla Prague kit — or jersey — could once again be something valuable, even though the club remains in the bottom-rung nonprofessional Prague Championship league.[****LIST id=3148****]

Dukla management announced Nov. 20 that it will buy second-division Jakubčovice and return the club to the professional level as early as next fall.

"The deal is practically done," said Oldřich Jakubek, sports director for Jakubčovice.

Jakubek and Dukla Chairman Marek Lukáš hammered out the agreement in just a couple of weeks. All terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but Dukla amateurs will play for Jakubčovice.

"It was just a matter of time before Dukla got back on the scene," Lukáš said.

Green brains unwanted

The fall of communism in 1989 also meant the fall of Dukla.

Dukla Praha had been the athletic arm of the Czechoslovak Army, with seven sports teams within the Dukla military organization. Not only did the soccer club receive financial support from the military, but the team's lineup featured many of the country's elite players, who could only play with that club during their two-year conscription.

Decreasing military budgets forced the government to sever its ties with the club in 1994.

Without that steady sizeable income, Dukla stumbled in the first division's standings and fell to the second league in 1994.

While rival clubs were signing lucrative sponsorships with major companies, Dukla's ties to the communist regime made it unattractive to sponsors.

"We paid the price for our previous connection to the military," Lukáš said. "It took a while before people stopped calling us 'green brains' [a derogatory term for soldiers] and saw us only as the club of the past regime."

Dukla was unable to pay for new players and keep the ones it had, and it had to give up its professional license and withdraw from the second league in 1994.

The two-year free fall ended after the merger with the second division's Pří­bram in 1996. Dukla secured a spot in the second league and was aided by the addition of Pří­bram's best players. But the club was moved from Prague to Pří­bram, and the organization soon dropped the name.

Although Pří­bram became legal heir to the Dukla Prague soccer organization, Prague-based fans launched a new FK Dukla Prague in the mid-1990s. The amateur team played in low-level citywide competition.

"We were forced to move to Pří­bram due to economic woes said Bohumil Duričko, who headed the club in the mid-1990s. "We wanted to rescue it, but no one was interested in helping us."

Good business

Jakubčovice owner Josef Hájek announced in the summer that he intended to find a new partner to take over. When Dukla's management expressed interest in buying Jakubčovice's second-division spot, Hájek did not hesitate to start negotiations.

"Dukla was one of four suitors," he said. "To be honest, I felt privileged to be able to aid the rejuvenation of such a famous club."

Dukla's Lukáš said the offer came so fast that he had yet to secure sponsorship backing for the second league. He added that the club would need a seasonal budget of about 10 million Kč ($470,588) in the division, and that he'd already shortlisted one company likely to provide the sponsorship.

"Given the club's [performance] history, investing in Dukla should be a good business opportunity," Lukáš said.

Dukla's head coach Gunter Bittengel agreed to take over Jakubčovice next spring before the club moves to Prague.

"It's essential to get some insight about what Jakubčovice's pool of players looks like," Bittengel said.

In August 2007, Dukla plans to take over Jakubčovice's spot in the second division and will also field a reserve team to the Prague Championship.

The new incarnation of Dukla could possibly face off against Pří­bram in the second league, given that FK Marila Pří­bram currently sits in the cellar of the top-division Gambrinus liga and could be relegated to the second tier.

The Pří­bram club is also in jeopardy following the arrest of club owner Jaroslav Starka in mid-November on abduction and robbery charges.

Dukla will play home games in its traditional stadium at Julisce.

By František Bouc

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