It’s 8.30 on a Sunday morning, I am on a train and my groundhop today is to see Vicemilice in the 8th tier of the Czech Football League. It’s been on my bucket list for a while. In addition to this I am going to watch a 38 year factory worker, by the name of Milan Pacanda play football. I am not even sure you even care.
The chances are that most of you have never heard of Milan Pacanda, he could have been a name in European football, up there with the Nedveds, Poborskys and Bergers of Czech Football fame – he once played at Old Trafford in a Champions League game, oh and in a successful Intertoto Cup run for Brno, but that is about as big as it got for Pacanda. It could have been so, so different.
In 1999, two years after making his debut for ‘hometown club’ Boby Brno, Pacanda was riding on the crest of the wave. He’d started the season extremely well, playing just behind the striker in an improving Brno team and scoring for fun. Scouts would turn up wherever ‘Paci’ (pronounced Patsy) played.
Such was his reputation in the game that Bologna had agreed terms with the young striker, then disaster struck.
After putting his side in front away at Zizkov, he went for a ball with Viktoria defender Jan Zakopal, a player he’d played with at junior level for Czech national team, it was a ball that only one man could win and Zakopal knew that, so knowing he would come off second best made a decision which would change the course of Pacanda’s career – he went for the striker’s knee destroying the ligaments and putting a bright career on hold. To this day, Zakopal (English translation ‘to bury’) insists he went for the ball, but those of us there see it completely differently. It was a horrendous challenge.
The following winter after five months of treatment, Paci made his first attempt to comeback only to damage his knee in his very first training session, putting him out of action for a further year. It was at this time he sank into despair, possibly depression, finding solace in the casinos and bars of Brno and with it an addiction to fruit machines and alcohol. In addition to this he purchased an expensive car on credit and promptly crashed it while drunk, damaging his shoulder.
With a huge debt hanging over him he was pulled from the mire by his mentor and football father Karel Jarusek, who invited the footballer to move into his family home. I believe, but it is still unclear to me, that his agent cleared Pacanda’s debt. It was also at this moment they asked him if he wanted a second chance. Apparently, the footballer without saying a word just nodded. Jarusek brought in a strict regime and with it a curfew. He trained hard and was allowed just one night out a week, on a Friday, but had return to Jarusek’s home by 10pm.
A year and a half at that disastrous afternoon at Zizkov, Paci returned to the pitch with two pins in his knee and a slight limp as he ran. The coach at the time, Pavel Tobias, brought him back slowly and it wasn’t until the following season that he began to make the starting eleven.
He stayed at Brno for a further 3 seasons, forming a fantastic partnership with Libor Dosek. The goals returned and helping his team to rise up the league and reach the semi-finals of the now defunct Intertoto Cup. Off the pitch things were also a little better, although not without incident. I particularly remember an incident after one home match – Pacanda and teammates, drinking after a draw with Sigma Olomouc, celebrated by smashing up a billboard outside a restaurant causing 20,000kc worth of damage. While his teammates faced the music, Milan disappeared for a couple of days, missing training. He was dropped for the next match.
Although there were times off the pitch where we saw the old demons returning, 2004 was a great year for the footballer. He married his childhood sweetheart Denisa and in the summer of that year secured 650,00o Euro move to Czech giants Sparta Praha.
His start at Letna was a good one. Under the leadership of Frantisek Straka, he bagged 6 goals in his first 7 games, forming a prolific partnership with Tomas Jun. But the wheels fell off when the coach was sacked and replaced with Jaroslav Hrebik who demanded discipline and order from all his players. Pacanda only ever really listened to two people and Hrebik was not one of them. He soon found himself out of the team and back on the fruit machines and his life began to turn sour. In 2005, he was sent on loan to to Tirol Innsbruck, where he continued to score and rescued the team from what seemed like a certain relegation. Even though he was a popular player with the Austrian side, he found himself back in Czech Republic. For Pacanda, it was the beginning of the end.
He returned to Brno for the start of the 2006 season, however in 3 seasons was to make only 30 appearances for the club,spending part of the time at Zlin and half a season in Kazakhstan. But even during his time abroad, rumours of his growing debt continued to do the rounds.
Pacanda, now becoming a footballing nomad, he signed for Znojmo ,in the MSFL, and things started to look up, he employed a personal coach, shed a few pounds and began the season in fine form. Sadly, another injury, followed by missed training sessions, forced the hand of the club’s management… One rumour was that he would only turn up at the club when he needed money…
“At the beginning of the season he helped us immensely, he looked like a great promise. But gradually his attitude ceased to fulfill our expectations. I am afraid that in the spring he probably will not be with us,” said coach Bohumil Smrček.
“We could only keep Pacanda if he managed to put his personal life in order and we were at the time willing to help. Unfortunately he does not appreciate the efforts of the club management. Therefore, we have to let him go” said President 1. SC Znojmo Ota Withers.
In an attempt to clear his mounting debt and with collectors regularly calling round for a chat, he moved to East Slovakian team, FK Bodva Moldova, newly promoted to the second tier. Again, the season began promisingly and he was even made captain, but at the end of 2010/11 Pacanda was again without a team.
Surprisingly, his agent managed to persuade newly promoted Znojmo to give him another chance in the second league. He once again got himself fit and started to impress, notably scoring a brace against Sparta’s reserve team. But the return was again shortlived and the old ‘Paci” appeared and then Milan Pacanda disappeared again, before finding a home at Slovan Rosice and back in the arms of Karel Jarusek.
It was during his time at Rosice, that rumours started to circle about his mental state. I read an article where he bravely admitted suffering from depression and even more worryingly about suicidal thoughts.
In an interview with Czech football magazine Hattrick, Pacanda recalled the moment he was at his lowest.
“I was standing on the tracks and wondering if I should lie down and wait for the next train”
“I was fucked,” he said openly. “But now I take it as a lesson for future life and I feel I am over the worst of it”.
As somebody who loved watching Milan Pacanda play football, I was saddened to hear of him talk about mental health issues that have affected him, but at the same time I’m so pleased he’s been brave enough to talk about it. Not enough of us are able to do that.
I arrived at the Vicemilice pitch about 15 minutes before kick off (I am not too sure I could call it a stadium) and the first person I was to bump into was Milan, who was chatting away to one of the local fans, while enjoying a prematch cigarette. He eyed me with suspicion (everyone does) as I am sure he knows all the regular faces. I am not too sure why, but I avoided making eye-contact as not to arouse any further interest and made my way to the bar.
A few minutes later, I heard one of the supporters say that Vicemilice were in trouble, Paci didn’t want to play, he was complaining of a bad back. Naturally, it was just prematch talk and Pacanda took to the field after the shortest warm up in the history of warm ups. A couple of stretches, an individual crossbar challenge, which he managed at the first attempt and then another cigarette before lining up with his teammates.
I won’t bore you too much longer with details of the game, only to tell you of two Milan Pacanda moments which sum up the talent of the man.. In the first half, he picked up the ball just inside the away team’s half. Heavily marked, he dragged the ball away from two opponents and played a stunning through ball for the opening goal. You never lose it, do you?
In the second half, he scored his only goal of the game, latching on to a pass from midfield he lobbed the goalkeeper from 25yards, another piece of skill, which would further show the quality he has.
Somebody once said of the player that if Pele belongs in a museum then Pacanda belongs on football pitch. And with Paci breaking into a huge smile after his goal, you would find it difficult with that.
Welcome back, Paci.