Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: David Holas
In the 1970s and ’80s absolutely everyone knew him. This legend of Czech soccer, the famed member of the Bohemians team, and 1980 Player of the Year always surprised with his intelligent play and unexpected combinations. What is he doing today? He’s taking care of his mother club Bohemians and looking for sponsors, while running a wine bar at the same time.
IT’S 1976, and the Czechoslovakia-West Germany final is underway. Following overtime comes a penalty shootout that is to decide the European championship. The diminutive Antonín Panenka, with his dashing mustache, steps up for the final penalty kick in a tension-fraught atmosphere, lofts the ball unerringly into the center of the goal, while the disconcerted goalie Maier leaps for the corner. Panenka immediately becomes the public’s darling.
” That goal was truly a fateful moment in my career,” reminisces Panenka (54) while sitting in his FC Bohemians office in Prague’s Vršovice district. “Although I played in many other games, that shootout kick overrode everything else.” Panenka, in whom western clubs repeatedly showed interest, had to wait to go abroad until 1981, when he was 32 and the Czechoslovak authorities allowed him to travel to Rapid Vienna in Austria, in exchange for which they received one-third of his earnings in hard currency.
After he finished at Rapid in 1986, he played for a few years in a lower Austrian league, and then, shortly after the 1989 revolution, made the leap to business. First he managed “U Veletrhů”, a Prague 7 confectionary business with a friend, but after two years he returned to soccer. He worked as a consultant, and is now an assistant coach with FC Bohemians, and is also involved in marketing. He establishes contacts with new sponsors in an environment he knows intimately – while golfing, playing tennis, and at Amfora club games. “The club needs about CZK 45 million every year, and it’s getting harder and harder to find the funds,” he laments. Although he acknowledges that he missed out on the initial wave of business enthusiasm, when he would have been able to take advantage of his name as an effective marketing tool, he didn’t give up on business. Two months ago he opened a family business – a wine bar called “Vínečko” in Prague 2. Panenka, who graduated from a hotel school, has found his place in this business. “I enjoy it a lot, but it’s a little dangerous – I’ve tasted more wines recently than in my entire life,” he says with a laugh.