Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Miracle on the Playing Field

    It happened in a friendly match between the football club of Žižkov High and the fourth form of the Prague XI gymnasium. In spite of the heroic goalkeeping of Ferda Zapotocký, the Žižkov High team was losing two to nothing at the end of the second half, and their side was battered by sharp attacks. Just then an unstoppable shot had been taken by the fourth-form student Zdeňek Poppr, called Kád'a, when something strange happened: the ball stopped in the air, rotating at an unusual speed, and after a moment's pause flew back like a meteor into the netting of the opponent's goal. There were four minutes left in the second half. No one had gotten a decent look as to how it had happened, and play continued; the fantastic Zdeňek Poppr again took control of the ball, overcame the defense and launched a low shot towards the Žižkov goal from close range. Thirty spectators, on hand to root for their famous gymnasium, had already burst into cheers; but the ball was nowhere to be seen. All the players started to look for it, until the fourth-form goalie from Prague XI himself found the lost ball, resting peacefully in his own goal. Just then, the end of the match was whistled. The fourth-form team protested against the irregular goal, but there was nothing to be done: the result of the match was two to two.
    From that day the Žižkov High team proceeded from victory to victory. They thumped Libeň High three to nothing, destroyed the fifth form of the Holešovice real school four to one; they defeated the sixth form of the Kolín gymnasium two to one on their own field (with two wounded on each side), and, by defeating the reform gymnasium of Prague XIX, the youth team for FC Slavie, the Košíře high school, and the German Realschule of Prague II, they earned the right to play the defending collegiate all-stars. It was an unprecedented success in the annals of the world.
    But no one on the winning team even realized that there had been a quiet spectator at all of Žižkov High's triumphant victories, a student of the first form at Žižkov, Bohumil Smutný. No one even spoke to him, for he was a virtuous and religious sort. No one noticed him at school or on the field of play. Only the previously mentioned Zdeňek Poppr (who out of jealousy and hatred followed the enemy eleven to all of their matches) noticed this devout and humble spectator; he even noticed that Bohumil Smutný would drop down behind the nearest barrier or bush at critical moments and ardently pray, whispering: "Oh Lord, have mercy! Grant that our side score a goal!" And at that moment the ball would stop in mid-air and rush backwards towards the wrong side, or suddenly disappear, to be discovered in the opponents' goal, or it would trundle down the field while the enemy team stumbled and fell, as though an invisible force were hindering their feet. And Zdeňek Poppr, called Kád'a, told his older brother about this, Záviš Poppr, a student at Masaryk University and member of the All-Star team.
    The day before the historical match between Žižkov High and the college all-star team a young man waited outside of the Žižkov school for Bohumil Smutný. He introduced himself as Záviš Poppr, medical student and sportsman, and told him: "I know you are a huge sports fan, Mr. Smutný; our Zdeňek told me that you really like coming to the games. But I think you might not understand the rules enough; my boy, you have to be in command if you want to get anything out of the game! Fortunately I have some spare time, and so I said to myself, why not say something about football, so you know how it's supposed to be played."
    That day Záviš Poppr walked around the streets of Žižkov for three hours with Bohumil Smutný, telling him all about corner kicks, the scoring zone, offside, handballs, offense and defense, extra time, a fair match, an irregular match, penalty kicks, diving saves, unsportsmanlike conduct, coordination and so on. Bohumil Smutný could only nod his head and say: "Yes. Yes, I understand. Yes, I already know that." And finally he politely thanked him, for he was a polite and virtuous boy, and not the sort of rascal that some of today's boys are.
    The next day the match took place between Žižkov High and the collegiate All-Stars. At the start of the second half the All-Stars already led six to nothing. Bohumil Smutný sat among the spectators, sweating in terror, hands clasped together, praying: "Oh Lord, have mercy, and do something....but by the rules...let our team score regular goal...perform a miracle, but a fair one!"
    At the end of the second half, the All-Stars led eleven to nothing, and Záviš Poppr turned and whispered to his brother: "So you see? As long as the rules apply, there can be no miracles."

LN, 22 March 1936

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