If Sparta and Slavia are the Old Firm of Prague, Viktoria Zizkov are more of a Queen's Park. Established in 1893, the club has spent most of its existence in the shadow of its more famous Prague neighbours - the two "S" teams, Bohemians, and, until 1997, Dukla Prague.
The club has strong community roots, however, and is an integral part of Prague's Zizkov district. "Red Zizkov" was once a solidly working class (and solidly communist) neighbourhood. These days, the area, which is dominated by a bizarre space-age television tower, is increasingly fashionable and hosts an eclectic range of bars, clubs and restaurants.
The club's humble 5,700-capacity stadium has missed out on much of this transition, however. While far too small to meet UEFA requirements, it's disappointing that Rangers fans will miss out on one of the Prague football scene's most endearing grounds.
For obscure historical reasons, Zizkov kick off home games at 10:15 on a Sunday morning. With a fanbase that contains a disproportionately large number of old men in cloth caps, league games can be a surreal and strangely tranquil experience.
Instead, UEFA Cup games are being played at the soulless Evzen Rosicky stadium in the Strahov district, on the other side of the city. While the Rangers game is sure to attract a lot of attention, a sell-out isn't guaranteed. Zizkov don't command huge crowds and their fans seem reluctant to travel far from home - only 640 turned up for their game against San Marino's Domagnano in the qualifying round.
Though the club won the Czechoslovak league title in 1928, its glory days seemed to have been long consigned to the history books. In 1992, however, millionaire businessman Vladimir Cekan gave financial backing to the club, which was then near the bottom of the regional third division.
Thanks to Cekan's backing and the split of the Czech and Slovak leagues, Viktoria returned to the topflight in 1993. Zizkov was one of the teams promoted to the Czech first division to replace the departing Slovak clubs. Zizkov went on to win the Czech Cup in 1994, its first major trophy in nearly seven decades.
Cekan pulled out of the club in 1996 but Zizkov have remained in the top-flight, and actually grown stronger.
The club, then coached by Zdenek Scasny, won the Czech Cup again in 2001, and mounted a serious title challenge the following season, only missing out on the championship because of a controversial defeat on the last day of the season.
Victory would've ensured Zizkov the title but the club played poorly and lost 1-0, ending the season in third place. Czech newspapers later alleged that defender Tomas Hunal had helped to throw the game. The club denied the allegations but Hunal has since been released from his contract.
Scasny moved to Crete at the end of the season, leading to the appointment of former Sparta coach Viteslav Lavicka. Under Lavicka, the club has made an encouraging start to the season and is currently in fifth place.
The recent floods have crippled much of Prague's underground railway, so the city transport system currently relies on buses and trams. Overcrowded, and at times unpredictable, they're a pickpockets' paradise, so take care. Fortunately, the historic areas are best seen by foot anyway, and nearly all of those areas of interest to tourists have now reopened following the flooding.
Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske namesti), a bustling boulevard mixing department stores, souvenir shops, cafes and fast food, is a good place to start. Scene of the revolutions that brought down the communists in 1989, as well as the spontaneous national outpourings that come with Czech sporting success, it's topped by the imposing National Museum and a statue of "Good King" Wenceslas himself.
At the foot of the square, a right turn takes you along Na Prikope, a street of largely upscale shops. It leads to the spectacular Art Novueau Obecni dum ("Municipal House"), a classy combination of concert hall, gallery, cafe, pub and restaurant. Behind Obecni dum lie all night drug-and-booze halls Marquis de Sade and Chateau. To eat, head for the smoky Radegast beer hall. The food is hearty and the beer is excellent.
A left turn at the bottom of Wenceslas Square will lead you along Narodni, where police and protestors clashed during the revolution. Narodni will take you past the Tesco department store towards the river and the National Theatre. Getting around Prague at night is made much easier by all-night tram services, which run every 30 minutes. All the night trams pass by here - either outside Tesco, at the Narodni Trida stop, or further up Spalena street, round the corner at Lazarska.
The maze of streets between Tesco and the river houses a stack of bars.
Directly below Wenceslas Square, you can follow the trails of tourists to Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti), a must-see. Take the lift up the Old Town Hall's tower for a great view of the city. Back on ground level, join the crowds and watch the astronomical clock's elaborate chiming display, on the hour, every hour.
Parizska boulevard, leading from the bottom of Old Town Square, leads towards the old Jewish quarter, Josefov. You can stop for a drink along the way at Ziznivy Pes ("The Thirsty Dog"), a solid bar with decent food on El Krasnohorske street.
From the bottom of Parizska you'll be able to see the giant metronome, which dominates Letna park across the river. The world's largest statue of Stalin once stood in this spot, leading a line of workers into a bright communist future. Cynical locals dubbed the statue "the bread queue." The statue was demolished when Stalin fell out of favour in the Soviet bloc.
Left off Parizska lies the Jewish quarter itself. Admittance to the old cemetery and the synagogues is quite pricey by Prague standards but quite interesting.
Back on Old Town Square, you can follow Karlova street to the historic, statue-lined Charles Bridge (Karluv most). The bridge, built in 1357, can only be crossed on foot, but is the most picturesque way to cross the river and offers the best view of Prague Castle. If you saw Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible movie, this is the scene of Jon Voight's demise ? "man down, Ethan." (There is, however, no fish restaurant on Old Town Square.)
On the other side of the river, in Mala Strana ("The Lesser Quarter") walk straight ahead to Malostranske namesti, a large square with a church in the middle. To your left is Jo's Bar, a long-serving expat bar promising late-night fun. To your right is the more sedate U Kocoura ("At the Tom Cat"), a great Czech pub serving local food. It used to be funded by the Friends of Beer Party, one of the country's more eccentric political groups, so you can depend on a good pint here.
From here you can climb Nerudova street or take tram number 22 to the castle (Prazsky hrad). Prague's spectacular cathedral, St. Vitus, is also within the castle grounds. Castle tours are very reasonably priced; general admittance tickets are even cheaper.
Moving further afield, you could try the Church of Cyril and Methodius, near Karlove Namesti (Charles Square). Sixty years ago a group of Czechs parachuted into the country to assassinate the Nazi Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. The dramatic assault almost failed and the assassins found themselves holed up in the crypt of this church fighting a doomed gunfight with the masses of German troops outside. If you have even a passing interest in what life was like in Prague under the Nazis, visit the crypt (closed Mondays). It's a real eye opener.
If you want a closer look at the bizarre space-age tower that you can see from all over the city, take the number 11 tram from behind the National Museum to Jiriho z Podebrad. The Zizkov TV Tower is close by. The view from the top is a little disappointing but the tower itself is mind-boggling, especially in close proximity.
Zizkov, home of Viktoria, is a good place to spend a night. Among the many bars in this area, highlights include Palac Akropolis, which offers live bands and DJs, the laid-back cocktail bar Hapu and Potrafena Husa, a smart pub-restaurant that's part of a chain owned by the Staropramen brewery.
A word of warning: A "night club" is invariably a sex club of some kind. Try a "disco" if you only want to dance. Prostitution is very visible in Prague but risky all the same. If you take cash to a brothel you can expect to come home with an empty wallet. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that Prague's sex clubs aren't much cheaper than those in Britain.
It's also much wiser to phone for a taxi rather than hailing one on the street. The city is cracking down on the rip-off merchants but abuses still occur. AAA (Tel.: 3311 3311) is one of the most reliable companies and has English-speaking callers.
The game will be played at the Evzen Rosicky stadium in the Strahov district, rather than at Viktoria's humble Zizkov home. The 19,000-capacity all-seater has been smartened up considerably since Slavia Prague made it their home a couple of years ago but it lacks atmosphere, largely because of a running track that keeps fans at some distance from the pitch.
One interesting point is that the football stadium stands next door to the world's largest stadium ? a 200,000-capacity Goliath that was once used for mass gymnastic displays rather than for regular sport. Today it is used only for occasional rock concerts and exhibitions.
Strahov looks very central on a map, but it's at the top of a very steep hill, which makes getting to and from the ground difficult. Buses to the stadium leave from Karlovo namesti in downtown Prague, but they get more and more crowded as kick-off approaches. It's probably best to get there early.
Because of the climb, Strahov is a little isolated, so there isn't a lot to see or do once you're at the top of the hill. There are some bars in the university halls of residence nearby, however, and some built into the stadium complex itself.
The Czech currency is the crown (koruna in Czech). There are 100 hellers in the crown (but the less you have to deal with those fiddly bits of change the better). The exchange rate is roughly 50 crowns to the pound.
A beer ? very cheap ? would typically cost between 20 and 30 crowns. Non-alcoholic drinks, oddly enough, are usually more expensive. It's also possible to eat at a modest restaurant for little more than 100-200 crowns. Beyond that, however, you can expect to pay Western prices for most items, including accommodation.
Czechs may seem surprisingly quiet ? a combination, perhaps, of traditional Central European reserve and the effects of living under an oppressive Communist regime for several decades. It can make the people seem cold and unfriendly sometimes ? and service in bars and restaurants is still very hit and miss ? but by and large, Czechs are generally friendly and non-confrontational.
There's only one Viktoria Zizkov website, and it's got a great English
section. You can find it at:http://www.fkviktoriazizkov.cz/en.html
Sam Beckwith runs a Czech & Slovak football Yahoo! Group.
The URL is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/czechfootball/
For general Czech sports news and a background to the teams in Prague you should have a look at the English-language Prague Post website:-