This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Prague expat Jonathan Davies, Slavia Prague’s Youth Coach and head coach for the Prague Raptors expat football club. He tells us about his work with the Prague Raptors, on and off the pitch, his experience working for Slavia Prague, his views on the explosive Prague Derby and his life as an expat in the Czech capital.
Hi Jon, thanks for taking the time to answer our few questions.
Hello and thank you for shining a light on our club.
Can you start by telling us a bit about the Prague Raptors Football Club and its creation back in 2017?
We created Prague Raptors Football Club proper around 18 months ago. However, before that, Daz Moss (our president and owner) and his then 6-year-old son Lukas established the original idea in 2017. Daz talked to Lukas and they discussed creating a football team in Prague. He asked his son what the team should be called and at that time, Lukas, like many young boys, loved dinosaurs. His favourite dinosaur was the velociraptor and so they decided to call the club Prague Raptors! His favourite colour was blue so our home kit is blue! It’s an amazing story that encapsulates the family atmosphere that we’ve tried to foster at the club from its inception to the present day.
What do you aim to achieve through this initiative?
There are two clear aims. On the pitch, we aim to be as competitive as possible. I am an ambitious coach and I want to take the club as far as I can in terms of winning games of football and achieving promotion to the upper divisions of Czech football. From what I have seen of Czech football, there is no reason why we can’t (with a bit of luck and patience) make it to the very top. It won’t be easy but we achieved promotion in our very first season and this shows the potential and quality that we possess already.
… and off the pitch?
Off the pitch, we aim to improve society, the local community and the football community. The beauty of our project is that it isn’t just about the football. We have close affiliations with various charities in the Czech Republic and beyond. Our aim is to give back to the community, making the world better through transmitting our values of respect, charity and equality for all. Football can be a powerful tool to change the world and to unite people and we want to harness that power to make the world a better place in whatever way we can.
You say you have players, coaches and staff from 35 nationalities, including Czechs, who are the Prague Raptors today? Who are your fans?
Actually, Prague Raptors is now home to over 40 nationalities and this will continue to grow as the club grows! We are proud to be a club that promotes inclusion and respect irrespective of ethnicity, nationality gender and sexual orientation. Football is for all. Sport is for all. This attitude has won us a lot of support from all over the world. Fortunately, our president owns a successful digital marketing company and his expertise helped us to gain traction on social media. I wouldn’t say that we are famous but for a club of our age and size, in terms of support, we are doing very well.
You aim to reach the Czech National League by 2027, what are the next steps?
Ambition breeds success. We are ambitious. We can’t hide that. We are in the early stages of our development but the initial signs are promising. Like I said, we achieved promotion in our very first season and the players are starting to get to grips with what I ask of them, technically and tactically. It’s not been easy because it has taken time for our players to gel and to get used to thinking about football in a more cerebral way. Many of my players had never been coached in a professional environment before so getting them to see the value in what we were trying to achieve as a coaching team was tough.
Can you tell us a bit more about these challenges?
It took a whole season for us to get a tactical philosophy in place. We play in a certain way and with a certain identity. We have tactical principles that we ask our players to follow. It’s hard for amateur players to do adapt to a tactical philosophy when they have only ever seen football as a casual, leisure activity. This was tough but through repetition, it appears to be sinking in.
What about your brand-new academy, Micro Raptors?
It’s a mark of how quickly the Raptors have grown that we are in a position to launch our academy in only our second season! The plan was the build the club slowly with one men’s team but due to demand and the dramatic rate of growth, we now have two men’s teams, a women’s team and now the academy. To begin with, we want to offer the opportunity for kids to be able to play the game. Inclusion is an important cornerstone of the Raptors project. We want people to love the game as much as we do. Building an academy is the perfect way to bring football to the younger generation and to give something back to the local community.
Off the pitch, you’re involved with Fare Network, Street Child, Brave Bear CZ, as well as other NGOs and associations, can you tell us a bit about the social work you are doing?
Prague Raptors isn’t just a football club. We want to be a positive influence on the local community and society in general. When used correctly, football can be a powerful force for good. It brings people together and it has the potential to generate financial benefits and awareness for deserving causes around the world. We are still in the early stages of our involvement with the charities and organisations that you mention but as the club grows, we intend to do more and more to help them. Last week, we organised a charity fixture with Supporting Charities Football Club, a team of ex-professionals and celebrities from the UK. We raised over £1000 for Brave Bear CZ, a charity based in the Czech city of Olomouc, that helps children in all kinds of desperate situations.
We recently met with Krakow’s expat football team, Dragoons FC, in Poland, are there any connections between expat teams in the region? How easy is it to connect with people through the international language of football?
One of the great things about being part of a multinational project is that we already have connections with countries from all around the world. We travelled to Leipzig in June to play against SG Lausen, after forming a connection through social media and members of their club have since made the trip to Prague to watch and to support us. Our social media presence has also established connections with clubs in the UK, with a few of them traveling to Prague to play us over the last 18 months. As you say, the beauty of football is that it is an international language. It connects people from all over the world and long may we be a part of that. Prague has a thriving expat football community too and this is where most of our players have come from. We have connections with a lot of expat teams and we are asked for friendly matches on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time to play everyone that asks for a game!
A bit about yourself now, a Stoke City fan, you come from Stoke-on-Trent, what brought you to Prague? You also work for Slavia Prague?
I came to Prague in October 2017, after seven years living in Asia (China and Taiwan). I worked for an international football academy in Taiwan called Master Football Academy (MFA), coaching local kids and attempting to grow football on the island. After four years there, I wanted to further my coaching career and be closer to home. I’ve always wanted to be a professional football coach but as much as I enjoyed my time there, Taiwan didn’t have professional football. I had heard great things about Prague and in the back of my mind I had targeted Slavia Prague as a potential future destination in my coaching career. However, I thought that it would take three or four years to get my foot in the door. In reality, I was very fortunate. After a few e-mails, Slavia invited me for an interview. I worked as a volunteer in the academy for six months, learning and gaining experience and eventually I was offered my very first contract in professional football. I can’t begin to describe how it feels to be a part of a club like Slavia. It is a dream come true and I still can’t quite believe it!
We followed closely Slavia’s impressive Europa League adventure last year, how did you live it from the bench? What was the campaign’s most memorable highlight?
Last season was incredible. My colleagues tell me that it is the best season that they have ever experienced. As the season progressed, you could feel the excitement and the anticipation grow throughout the club. We knew that we were on to something special. I remember being at the last-16 tie against Sevilla. It was 2-2 after the first leg in Spain. A fantastic achievement in its own right for a club of our size and relative stature. Sevilla are a huge team and they were deserved favourites but there was this feeling; this belief that we were about to witness something special. I’m not Czech and I’m an adopted Slavista but I will never forget the last minute of that match for as long as I live. The ball pinballing around in the box. Somehow falling to the feet of Ibrahim Traore. His scuffed shot bobbling past the desperate swiped clearance of a defender on the line. All in slow motion. Ecstasy. The whole stadium in pure unadulterated euphoria. Unbelievable!
Czech Champions and Europa League quarterfinalists, can Slavia still improve?
Undoubtedly. We lost our two best central defenders over the summer, Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui and Simon Deli. They both moved to Belgium. Jaromir Zmrhal a graduate of our academy and Slavia legend moved to Brescia in Serie A. Playmaker Miroslav Stoch moved to PAOK. However, we have a lot of promising young players here and the signing of Nicolae Stanciu will have a huge impact. Next week, we face Cluj in the final qualification round for the Champions League. We won 1-0 away from home last week so we have a great chance of progressing to the group stage. It will be tough but qualifying for the knockout stage of the Champions League must be the aim should we overcome Cluj. There are always ways to improve in football. Nothing is ever perfect!
Can you tell us a bit about the rivalry between Slavia and Sparta Prague? How important is the Prague derby?
In a word: very! Czech football has been in a slump since the days of Karel Poborsky, Pavel Nedved and Vladimir Smicer in the 1990s. Outside of the top three or four teams, the quality notably dips leading to a host of uncompetitive fixtures and dwindling attendances during the league season. The Prague Derby and the passion that it provokes, provides welcome relief from that malaise. The anticipation ahead of the Derby is palpable. There is a raw aggression and genuine hatred between the sets of fans that can often lead to violence. Flares and fireworks are often thrown during these games as tensions threaten to boil over. In Czech Republic, away fans are caged in a corner of the ground, adding an almost animalistic element. Provided that you are seated far from the action, it can be quite an awe-inspiring spectacle!
Any particular game comes to mind?
Last season, we enjoyed a beautiful moment. With the title already secured, we faced off against Sparta at home in the last game. Three Sparta fans bothered to make the trip across the city to watch their team lose 2-1. They didn’t stick around for the trophy presentation! This season, the Prague Derby is due to take place at Letna Stadium in September and the occasion will have added spice. Over the summer, we signed Romanian forward Nicolae Stanciu. He had left Sparta in January after two years, to play in Saudi Arabia. That is like moving from Manchester United to Manchester City. From Celtic to Rangers. It promises to be interesting!
Finally, in a few words, how would you describe life as a Prague Expat? What’s next for you?
Prague is an excellent city. For expats, the quality of life here is great. The architecture, the public transport, the history and of course the beer makes it extremely liveable. My story also shows that anything is possible here. My work with Slavia and the Raptors improves me as a coach and as a person on a daily basis. I am always learning and progressing. If I stop learning and I feel that I’m not progressing, I will move on. I want to be the head coach of a professional football team eventually. Can I achieve that dream with Slavia or with the Raptors? We will see!
Thanks Jonathan, and good luck for the next season with Slavia and the Raptors!