The venue for all this hokej was the recently built Sazka Arena in Vysočany, naturally the target for the daily pilgrimage. I had an additional reason for a visit. After the revolution but before the normalization I used to live there. In fact it was the first flat I had of my own, a penthouse pad with a great view over the humongous ČKD industrial complexes just across the street. I even tried to buy it with my pocket money; Vysočany was unpopular and no-cost real estate, primarily for being the most polluted area in Prague, which truly was saying something at that time.
But all things heavy industrial must pass, and so would the low grade coal that gave winter its distinct colour and aroma. The Metro was coming through and would shorten a half hour tram ride to the center down to ten minutes. My lack of Czechness and drive to circumnavigate the city bureaucracy left me homeless, but the location made great sense for a sports arena. The half-fallow land is still cheap and the Metro can push people through like no other transport system could, and does on a daily basis.
Like all other tickets, the tickets for the least popular quarter final was long sold out. The start price for a ticket was now 2000 CZK (about 60 €), but by waiting until the match was about to start and the unsold tickets were about to turn worthless with no buyers, I got one for 300 CZK just when I was about to accept another one for 400 CZK, half the original price.
Getting inside was a security version of snakes and ladders. Stand in line for two turns. You carry no gun, move two squares ahead. You have a valid ticket, move four squares ahead. Your bag is screened, stay over a turn. Your body metal is phone and wallet, one square. You carry a laptop, stay over two turn for it to boot up and down without blowing up. You have no laptop license, return to start and deposit the thing. Stay in line for a turn. You carry no gun, move two squares ahead… Thereafter you have to traverse a labyrinth of automatic doors that only opens for the proper tickets without telling which tickets a given door will accept.
Being there was an entirely different experience. Viewed on TV hokej looks like a live enactment of a Stiga game, but when you arrive at the arena you’re instantly transported back to a Roman coliseum. Sazka has same body plan and atmosphere as Colosseum, only that the audience isn’t long dead. The Romans may not have invented sport, nor even sports arenas and events (the Greeks have a claim there), but they did establish the modern body plan and choreography and there has been no reason to change it since. There have been improvements over the years. Most visibly Sazka has a cube of oversized TV screens hanging from the roof that successfully wrestle the attention away from the Stiga game below. The TV cube I guess is an American addition, one that I am sure the Romans would have loved to have.