He is the only Czech footballer who played in the jersey of the famous Barcelona. It is a happy ending to the dramatic life story of football midfielder Jiří Hanke. Before the native of Lysá nad Labem wore the shirt of the famous club for the first time, he fought with the Wehrmacht during the Prague Uprising, and a few years later he fled from the communist regime.
On May 5, 1945. Demonstrations against the German occupiers quickly turned into armed resistance, and barricades were erected in the streets of Prague. One of the headquarters of the Prague Uprising was located on U Studánky Street, in a gym owned by Slavia at the time. It was not a coincidence, a number of members of the sports club were involved in an unequal battle with the retreating Wehrmacht.
One of them is soccer midfielder Jiří Hanke.
He took it for granted to face German tanks with a rifle in his hand, but he came from a family that was actively involved in the resistance during the protectorate. The heroic defiance of the people of Prague ultimately helped in the final liberation of Czechoslovakia. However, the Slavists were unable to save their stadium, which was then located in Letná: German soldiers deliberately set the wooden tribune on fire.
In addition, Hanke also brought his friend whom he “served” at the barricade on Kamenická Street during the days of the Prague Uprising. The life of Karel Keval, a teammate from Slavia, was prematurely ended by a German bullet.
“The role of Hanke in the liberation of Prague was mentioned by the writer Jan Drda in his original version of the novel Němá barricade. However, after pressure from the communist officials, he had to remove his name from the work,” description of renowned football historian Vladimír Zápotocký.
The reason was simple: he fled abroad in 1950. Communist functionaries often scolded him for refusing to participate in union competitions, and the fact that he did not have a membership card did not help Hanke. The comrade in charge reached into the drawer, handed it to him, and then the twenty-six-year-old reservist knew he had no choice.
On April 5, he played his twelfth derby with Sparta, but then disappeared. Apparently, only the team manager Karel Sehnoutka knew about his intention to emigrate, who advised him how to get a player card from the communists in the management of Slavist football (then Dynamo Slavia), which according in FIFA rules allow him to play abroad as well, and sign a professional contract there.
“There are various fairy tales about how he got abroad, but Hanke did not return it. One of the variants is that, apart from football, he worked at the Energovod company and his official duties were often takes him to the border areas, so he can know the routes to the green border,” explained Zápotocky.
However, Hanke is not only decorated with a heroic character, he also has some less impressive personality traits. He wasn’t exactly talented at football from birth, and when he arrived in Prague in 1942, he started athletics at Slavia – he devoted himself to running and jumping, and even became a member of the 400-meter relay team.
During the war, it was customary for athletes to train together, and the fast Hanke caught the eye of football officials, who particularly liked his unusually long cars.
But no one told him that, except the Parrot. He likes to repeat the trainers’ instructions to please them. There is even a tradition that he secretly brought a suitcase full of stuff to Josef Bican, who was in short supply during the war – just to impress the famous shooter.
Jiří Hanke (second from right in the top row) during the record match Slavia won České Budějovice 15:1 in 1948 | Photo: Archive of Vladimír Zápotocký
At Slavia, he oscillated between the first team and the reserves, but as the red and white players gradually – some fully committed, others even closed – he was given more opportunities of the coach at the time, Emil Seifert . By the end of the war, he was already in the main lineup, kicked into the national team, even in the memorable match against Hungary (5:2) in 1949.
However, after moving, he didn’t go straight to Barcelona, he jumped to the Colombian league for a year. His acquaintances from the Catalan club, coach Ferdinand Daučík and striker Ladislav Kubala, allegedly helped him arrange contact with the Millonarios team, where the colors of the famous Alfredo Di Stéfano shone in that time. To earn a few dollars, because he fled Czechoslovakia with almost no means.
Then he won the Spanish title and cup with the big Catalan club, where Pilsen will play in the Champions League today. In the top competition, he played 57 games for him over four seasons, scoring five goals. He added another start in La Liga for smaller Barcelona club CD Condal, then played at Swiss FC Biel.
If the first half of Hanke’s life was lived in a dramatic rhythm, the second was sweet. And literally.
“He found a French partner who was a famous pastry chef. He started the business and together they owned a chain of pastry shops. We have news about Hank from 1996, when Slavia played in the UEFA semi-finals Cup in Bordeaux. That time, they met in France. And that was the last time, what anyone from Slavia saw with him,” said Zápotocký.
Hanke died ten years later in Lausanne, Switzerland.