- Official language: Slovak
- Interesting facts: Slavic family, doesn’t use articles (a, an, the), 46 letters, lots of diacritics
Along with neighbours Czech Republic, Slovakia are the tournament’s youngest team, having come into being following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia – The Velvet Divorce – in 1993.
Sitting slap-bang at the heart of Europe, Slovakia’s history is intertwined with all its neighbours, including Hungary, Poland and Ukraine. And amidst all this sociability, the country has done an excellent job of preserving both its culture and language.
And a tricky language it is. Unless, that is, you’re already on nodding terms with Czech or other members of the Slavic family. Czech and Slovak are largely mutually intelligible, although Slovak is consider the softer and more polite sibling.
Today the Czechs are jokingly referred to by their neighbours as Pepici, meanings “Josephs” (the name particularly refers to people from the working class). The Czechs are also mocked by the Slovaks for rocking the socks n sandals.
Definitely not Slovenia
One thing Slovak is definitely not, though, is Slovenian. It’s worth mentioning because there have been occasions where the wrong anthem has been played at away games.
The natives call their countries Slovensko and Slovenija respectively, and international mix-ups abound. Besides the anthem issue, it’s rumoured that staff of Slovak and Slovenian embassies have regular meet-ups to exchange wrongly-addressed mail. Meanwhile, former actual political leaders George Bush and Silvio Berlusconi have been guilty of diplomatic foot-in-mouth by confusing the two.
Who speaks what
The majority of people use standard Slovak, but the most marked accent is in the east of the country, where players such as Martin Jakubko and Stanislav Šesták have speak Východňiarčina (short vowel sounds, different stress patterns from standard Slovak).
The Východňiarčina accent lends itself to being very musical, while its speakers are famous for being able to hold their liquor. Manager Jan Kozák is also from that neck of the woods, so expect him to drink a fair bit but not get sozzled, and then treat the crowd to a lovely singsong (perhaps).
Songs they sing
But despite all this musicality, fan culture is not as developed as in, say, Poland, so expect fewer songs from the stands. This is perhaps understandable given the fledgling nature of the nation.
You’ll hear cries of Slovensko (“Slovakia”), My chceme gól (“We want a goal”), and the ubiquitous-outside-Britain Kto neskáče, nie je Slovák (“Whoever isn’t jumping isn’t Slovak”).
A team that is ultra-defensive is said to zatiahnuť roletu (“pull down the shades”) or zaparkovať auto bus (“park the bus”). This still might not prevent the okamihy hrôzy/nekonečné minúty – “moments of horror/never-ending minutes” – when your team is hanging on, and the other lot have a player with the ability to “hypnotize the ball” (Hypnotizovať loptu).
Meanwhile, “dostať kopačky” means “to receive your football boots”, but also “to get dumped”. (If any Slovak speakers can tell us the origins of this, get in touch).
In a truism that has spread like boring wildfire, players and managers like to say Hrali sme tak, ako sme hrali a preto to dopadlo tak, ako to dopadlo – “We played as we played, and that’s why it ended as it ended.” Hard to argue with that, really.
Another cliche, and one that crops up across Europe but is ignored in England, is Lopta je guľatá – “the ball is round” – meaning anything can happen in the match.
But it’s not all platitudes: Slovak commentators have been celebrated for their verbosity. Marcel Merčiak, for example, made a name for himself with this outpouring after the team qualified for the 2010 World Cup:
“Blessed are those who believe in the religion called football… blessed are those, who in this moment believe it to be true. See you in South Africa! Our time has come! The souls of convicts have risen, the people that nobody believed in have made it. Our football revolution has been accomplished.”
(Áno, áno, áno, blahoslavení tí, čo veríte v náboženstvo zvané futbal, blahoslavení tí, ktorí v tejto chvíli veria, že je to pravda …. Uvidíme sa v Južnej Afrike! Nastal náš čas! … Duše odsúdencov sa vzbúrili, tí, ktorým nikto neveril, to dosiahli, …. naša futbalová revolúcia je dokonaná.)
We can’t top that, so we’ll leave it there.