The 1999-2000 Senec football team has surpassed expectations.
photo: Courtesy of Senec
Senec's Superliga promotion almost never occurred. A controversial decision by the Slovak Football Union overturned the results of a match played between ŠKP Devín and Senec in early June. The ruling, which nullified a Senec victory and meant that Devín moved up to the Superliga instead, was based on the argument that one of the Senec players had been ineligible to play in June because he had received a yellow card in 1997 while playing for a different team.
Senec immediately filed a protest and accused the Devin ownership and the Slovak Football Union of acting in collusion. Senec players were reported to have wept with disappointment, and over 300 fans threatened a hunger strike in support of their home team. A week later, the controversial decision was reversed, and Senec was awarded its first berth in the Superliga.
Milan Lončík of ŠKP Devín said that his squad held no hard feelings against the Senec club. "We are sorry that we aren't in the league, but we are not angry at Senec for making it over us," he said on August 17.
Now that Senec has qualified, however, the team faces another uphill battle - avoiding relegation next year. Thanks to a plan to cut the Superliga's 16 teams to just 10 next year, the 1999-2000 season will be contested bitterly by clubs anxious to remain in the big league.
Given the stakes and the importance of each result, the underdog Senec club's cinderella start has been the biggest surprise of the young season. Senec won their first Superliga game ever by defeating Dubnica 1-0 on the road, and returned the following week for a 2-2 draw against a powerful Trenčín squad. The unbeaten streak stretched to three matches as Senec won their home debut 1-0 against last place Humenne.
Week 4 brought the upstart Senec squad its first loss. In a four-way tie for first, Senec again faced a road battle as they travelled to Ružomberok, a club which was also unbeaten and tied for first with Senec, Slovan and Trnava. Senec dropped a hard-fought 0-1 decision, using the match to send a message to the rest of the league.
"We are doing well," said Senec manager Štefan Mrva. "The excitement of playing in the Superliga for the first time has created some enthusiasm. Everyone is fired up and excited."
Mrva said he had not lost contact with reality, noting that the first two Senec victories were notched against two of the worst teams in the league. "The early schedule has been relatively easy. More difficult matches await us," he remarked.
Mrva added that the club's approach to this season has not differed from past years in terms of player training. However, he said, the club had been able to land six high-quality players since last season, a feat they couldn't have managed without Superliga billing. Joining Senec were Czechs Martin Švejnoha, Ales Hellebrandt and Ján Zemlík, and Slovaks Robert Tomko, Marcel Zelenčík and Roman Zima.
Senec hopes that the new players will merge with last year's second division champion roster to ensure Senec a top-nine Superliga finish in its first year. The league has defended the change from 16 to 10 teams as encouraging a higher level of quality and competition throughout the division.
Mrva doesn't agree. "They want to improve the quality of the league, but cutting teams won't improve the quality," he said. "The quality of play in Slovakia won't improve until football at minor-league levels is properly prepared for and coached. To achieve a higher level, you must start sooner, not in the Superliga."
23. Aug 1999 at 0:00 | Chris Togneri