Tomáš Řepka – Cult Cinema
Never one to shy away from an argument, Tomáš Řepka may well be counting down the end of his top flight days in exile. For somebody who is so synonymous with ill discipline during his career, his latest suspension (five games) for dissent was the final straw for the management of České Budějovice and the two have since parted ways. It was always going to end that way wasn’t it, for there will never be anybody else quite like Tomáš.
But to make the statement that Řepka is walking away for definite in the next few weeks is a bit presumptuous, for just like those supervillains in horror moves Tomáš Řepka just does not simply walk away.
The latest blot in his copybook was earned after a howling at a match official during Budějovice’s narrow two-one defeat to top three side Jablonec. Punishment from the Czech FA (FACR), who handed the maligned figure a five match man, was swift and that was then further compounded by the news that his club had told him to train alone as well as handing him an undisclosed fine. Then came the inevitable news; after many weeks of rumour and speculation that Řepka and Budějovice would part ways, confirmation came and now the bulldog has been cast out into the cold. The five game ban, his behaviour, it all has been shaping up to a fitting end to what some would say has been an eventful career.
Much has been said about Tomáš Řepka’s ability to attract red cards, suspensions and his behaviour and with that territory comes the stigma that he is an angry, bitter and perhaps jealous individual. But as Mark Smith pointed out that image could well be misguided. ‘Řepka gave [off] the impression of a wounded player’ Mark says about an question and answer session Řepka gave Czech newspaper Sport shortly after his departure from Sparta last year, ‘[one] deeply hurt by the way he was treated at a club he had given 10 years loyal service.’ With that interview the public saw a side to the rugged defender that has rarely been seen.
But amongst all the theatrics there has always been a human side to storm that is Tomáš Řepka. For somebody who barks rather than debates and is an uncontrollable monster on the pitch, he is incredibly fallible and throughout his career he has committed some rather costly mistakes.
While at West Ham he was lauded and criticised in equal measures. His farewell was a fond affair in which Řepka, visibly moved, was embraced by his teammates pointed that there was an emotion other than anger bubbling inside his soul. The warm applause ringing around Upton Park to signal his farewell would have been impossible to imagine at the start of his career in East London.
Fiorentina were in financial crisis; Gabriel Batistuta, Francesco Toldo and Rui Costa had all been sold for high transfer fees over the prior twelve months and Řepka was expected to follow them out of the exit door at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Řepka initially blocked a move away, wanting to stay in Florence, but soon agreed to the switch a fortnight later with West Ham paying la Viola a fee of around £5.5m becoming Glenn Roeder’s third arrival and a then club record signing. Fiorentina would then be relegated the following season.
His debut for the Hammers would last eighty minutes before he was sent off for two bookable offences against Middlesbrough. The mandatory suspension was served and he made his return for West Ham for the trip to face Blackburn where, surprise, surprise, he was shown another red card. An eventful opening chapter, as life under Glenn Roeder was beginning to produce doom and gloom moments every time James Alexander Gordon began reading the classified results.
Two games, four yellow cards and successive dismissals; incredible statistics, but it is nigh on impossible to imagine that anybody around a decade ago would be surprised by Řepka’s ability to attract the ire of match officials.
In 1996 the Czech Republic had qualified for their first major tournament as an independent nation. They surprised many in Europe reaching the final where they fell to Germany in extra-time. But that twenty-two man squad was without the name of ‘Tomáš Řepka’.
Earlier in the year the Czech Republic introduced themselves with a bang on the world stage, their U21 side had competed in the 1996 U21 European Championships. After qualifying from their group as winners, the Czechs were handed a tricky two-legged quarter-final tie against Spain. Tomáš Řepka at twenty-one was eligible and was called up. Řepka, by all intent and purpose, would have played a part that summer in England: initially capped under the Czechoslovak banner at nineteen, Řepka had solidified himself within the national team set up and since swapped Ostrava for Sparta Prague. In the quarter-final tie for the U21’s he received his marching orders for a tackle on an eighteen year-old Raúl.
The subsequent automatic two match ban caused Dušan Uhrin to omit Řepka from the side that would come close underneath the twin towers of Wembley Stadium.
While Řepka missed out of what was arguably the Czech Republic’s greatest achievement as a nation in football, he did represent his country four years later in Euro 2000. But while the Czechs were highly rated going into the tournament they failed to convert their FIFA ranking into results on the pitch and they bowed out after the Group Stages. A year later, Řepka would make his final appearance for the national team. Suspension, inevitably, took away what would have been his finest moment in the red of the Czech Republic.
His hot-headedness has brought him into conflict with the football associations on many occasions but amongst his histrionics he has managed to endear himself into folklore at the clubs he played at. After the terrible start to his career with West Ham he is often talked about as one of their best defenders in recent years, with the West Ham blog Forever West Ham, calling him ‘an irons favourite who always put everything he had into a game. Always played for the shirt…[and] his final appearance for us was an emotional affair’
And there again is that word: ‘emotion’. Whilst West Ham suffered relegation, Řepka stayed through loyalty to the club and helped guide the side back up to the Premiership on the second attempt before returning back to Sparta – with family reasons playing a significant factor in that decision – a club that he holds dear to his heart. His move back ‘home’ wielded the most successful moments in his career. Being the rock in the centre of the Sparta defence again breathed new life into Řepka whilst significantly expanding his silverware cabinet.
A league and cup double was won in his first season back in the Czech capital as current national team boss Michal Bílek brought the league title back to Sparta after Slovan Liberec unexpectedly won the title the year before. The cup was retained the following the season, but for all of the exploits of Tomáš Řepka on the pitch that year, one incident will always be synonymous with the firebrand captain.
In a league game against Teplice the world sat back and watch Řepka implode.
An on the field spat spilled over into the dugouts with Bílek receiving his marching orders. Never one to shy away from an argument Řepka interjected, going forehead-to-forehead with the officials and starting a brief shoving match with members of management. Rather predictably he received his second yellow card of the day for his actions. Then perhaps committed his most infamous moment of madness in his career
The entire country watched and bore witness and it probably came as no surprise.
Shortly afterwards Sparta reacted to the situation, handing him a Kč150,000 (roughly £5,000) fine before the FACR dished out their own punishment and Řepka had to sit out the next seven games.
This was at a time when Sparta were tarred in the same brush as Řepka; both seemingly near extinction yet plodding along using their large status to symbolically stay alive. But whilst many people focused on the negatives, the positives often got lost in the shuffle. Sat alongside the explosive reputation that Řepka exhibited and garnered headline after headline and numerous column inches, he picked up an impressive haul of trophies during a time when Slavia can arguably be conceived as the top team in the Czech Republic.
He will always be synonymous with ill discipline, reckless abandon, dismissals, suspensions and the ugly side of football, but Tomáš Řepka has had a remarkable professional career to this moment. His talent is certainly on the wane and he is a shell of his former self on the field of play but you get the impression that he still expects the same performances to be produced as he could whilst playing at the highest levels in some of the best respected leagues in Europe. With murmurs that he is going to extend his playing days still further by dropping down in the II.liga come January the final chapter is yet to be written. Soon to be thirty-nine, he is still play for pride, even if it is his own. While the epitaph on his career will be filled about his bad behaviour, he is still human and it is that humanity that drives him to the edge and often, over it.
Loved or loathed, whatever the feeling is towards Tomáš Řepka his time spent in the national eye has been nothing short of spectacular and the cult of Tomáš will continue.
banner/featured pic: Tomas Cizek (original here)