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Born: Sunday 26 December 1909, Žebrák, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic)
Died: Monday 11 June 1990, Rakovník, Czechoslovakia (aged 80)
Position: Inside Forward
Czechoslovakia inside-left Oldřich Nejedlý was one of the most skilful forward players in the game throughout the 1930s. Spending the vast majority of his club career with Sparta Prague, he was also one of the stars of the 1934 World Cup finals and having long been considered the joint-top goalscorer in that competition he was finally credited as the outright leading scorer more than fifteen years after his death.
Born in the town of Žebrák in Bohemia, on the day after Christmas 1909, Nejedlý's father was killed during the First World War and he and his four siblings grew up in somewhat difficult conditions. As a teenager he showed considerable promise as a footballer, despite his relatively slight and frail stature. By the age of 15, he was a regular in the first team of home town club Spartak Žebrák. He developed his game around an excellent positional sense and skilful ball control, as well as remarkable levels of physical fitness.
It was not long before one of the country's leading clubs, Sparta Prague, showed an interest in him. His mother did not want him to move, preferring him to concentrate on his work rather than on football, but did allow him to move to play for SK Rakovník when he was 16. Sparta continued to watch him, and five years later made another move for his signature. This time Nejedlý signed, and began a decade long association with Sparta which would see him become one of the club's most successful players of all time. Part of the transfer agreement was a friendly match between the two teams, in which Nejedlý scored five goals against his former team.
Nejedlý's first season with Sparta was a successful one. The team lost just one match in the league and comfortably won the league title, narrowly missing out on a double success when they lost the Bohemian Cup final 2-1 to rivals Slavia. He had made his international debut in the summer of 1931, scoring in a 4-0 win over Poland, but had to wait nine months for a second cap. From the spring of 1932 however, he became a regular member of the national team as they built towards the World Cup of 1934.
That tournament was successfully reached with a 2-1 win over Poland in a qualifying match in October 1933, and with Nejedlý forming part of a formidable forward line the Czecholslovakian team was highly fancied to do well in the finals in Italy. In their first match, they trailed at half-time to Romania but equalised soon after the restart and midway through the second half, Nejedlý scored his first World Cup goal to take his team in to the quarter-finals. In the next match against Switzerland, Czechoslovakia came from behind to lead 2-1 but a late Swiss goal seemed likely to force extra-time. Nejedlý however came up with another crucial winning goal with eight minutes left to win the game 3-2.
In the semi-final against Germany, Czechoslovakia eased through by three goals to one and Nejedlý was credited with two of the goals. They took the lead in the final against hosts Italy, but a late equaliser forced extra-time and Italy went on to win 2-1. Nejedlý was officially the tournament's joint leading goalscorer, but there was dispute over the second Czechoslovakian goal in the semi-final. Initially given to half-back Rudolf Krčil, more than 72 years after the match FIFA changed it to a Nejedlý goal, giving him a hat-trick in that game and the tournament's Golden Boot in his own right.
Although they had won the Bohemian Cup in 1934, with a 6-0 thrashing of SK Kladno, Sparta were regularly edged out by Slavia in the search for domestic honours. No blame could be attached to Nejedlý however, who led the team in goalscoring in every season from his first in 1931-32 until 1937-38. Those goals finally brought their reward in 1935-36, as Sparta edged out their rivals by the smallest of margins to claim the title, the teams having finished level on points. That success was followed up by an equally narrow cup final win over Slavia, 1-0 in a replay. Sparta would retain the cup in 1937 and won another league title in 1938, the third of Nejedlý's career.
During that 1937-38 season he scored two of Czechoslovakia's six goals as they crushed Bulgaria 6-0 to qualify for the 1938 World Cup in France. In the finals, Czechoslovakia played the Netherlands in their first match and after a goalless 90 minutes had to play extra-time. Three goals in the extra period took them through, Nejedlý sealing with win with the third goal two minutes from the end. In the quarter-final against Brazil, Nejedlý scored yet another crucial goal as he converted a penalty midway through the second half to bring his team level at 1-1. With no further goals, the match was replayed but Nejedlý did not play and Czechoslovakia went out. His international career came to an end later that year, with a 6-2 win over Romania.
With Czechoslovakia occupied by Germany in 1938, the national league was split up and Sparta played in the Bohemia and Moravia league in 1938-39 and duly won it, bringing a fourth league title for Nejedlý. That would prove to be the final major honour of his career, and he left Sparta in 1941 having scored 162 goals in 187 league games and nearly 400 goals for the club in all matches. He then retraced the steps of his early years, spending much of the war years back with SK Rakovník and then returning to Spartak Žebrák, playing well into his 40s before a broken leg finally ended his career.
In his retirement he never lost the fondness he had for Sparta. Although living in Žebrák he travelled to Prague whenever he could to watch his former team in action. Oldřich Nejedlý died at the age of 80, the day after Czechoslovakia's first match of 1990 World Cup and eight days before the rematch of the 1934 final against Italy.
References (all accessed 10 February 2012):
- Published on Friday, 10 February 2012 16:31