Friday, June 17, 2011

S is for Sparta

It's the most iconic symbol in Czech club hockey, one of the most iconic in Europe: Sparta's "S." Through the years, it's always been there in some form -- no other Czech team matches Sparta for consistency.

One of my favorite jerseys, this is a Sparta ČKD Praha jersey from the late 1970s. It's almost definitely from 1977-78 or 1978-79. It's hammered, it's got stories to tell, it's got character.

Some luck here: I'm usually at a loss when jerseys don't have names on the back, and old Czech rosters are few and far between. But thanks to the relatively certain dates we can establish that this was probably worn by defenseman Miroslav Kuneš. He played for Sparta from 1969 through 1982, and in all the photos I've seen, he was wearing number 5. Numbers didn't change much in the old Czech leagues so I think this must be his.1

Judging by the numbers, Kuneš could handle himself. He was generally among the team leaders in penalty minutes. This jersey has been through the wars. Repairs are numerous, and the right sleeve looks like eventually they just gave up on trying to repair it. This is probably the most hammered jersey I own. It's unlikely that I'll ever see any late '70s Sparta games on DVD, so I can only imagine.

The shoulder/sleeve writing says "Transgas" -- I'm guessing it was the state-run gas company. This only appeared for a few years and helped date the jersey.

I always think of Sparta as the pre-eminent Czech team, but they went from 1954 to 1990 without a title. Brno, Dukla Jihlava, and Kladno racked up the titles in the meantime, with Pardubice, Košice, and Vítkovice also winning at times. Think of the New York Yankees going 36 years without a title. Actually, don't, Sparta doesn't deserve that.

In that vast empty space, a lot of great players never tasted glory -- players like Jiří Holeček, Jan Havel, Jiří Hrdina, ... and Miroslav Kuneš. He is still involved with the club, on the management side, so hopefully he's had a chance to share in the joy of the six titles they've won in the past 21 years.

1 - edit/addendum: minutes after hitting "publish post," I found a photo of Kuneš ... wearing number 7. It's from fairly early in his career, though, and he was definitely wearing 5 later. Still think it's his.

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