There are not many footballers in the world who are able to combine the study of medicine with elite sport and excel in both. The world knows the Brazilian Sócrates, nicknamed the Doctor, who participated in two world championships and was also an excellent pediatrician. He died prematurely in 2011 at just fifty-seven.
Apart from Petr Novák, we could also mention Jiří Chvojka, who played for Škoda Plzeň. He obtained his degree with Dukla Praha, where he worked after completing his studies as part of basic military service. But he stopped playing big football relatively early and devoted himself fully to medicine. Today he works in the intensive care unit at the Pilsen University Hospital.
How many of your former teammates have you already had on the table?
Almost all. And if I add other footballers, it would be a solid eleven. (Laughs)
When you change the joint of a former teammate or friend, don’t your hands shake?
Definitely not! It would be bad if they were shaking. I take them at that moment like any other patient, I concentrate as much as possible to do a hundred percent job.
Does medicine run in your family?
No, we don’t have a doctor in the family. I became passionate about medicine already in high school. At the same time, I also liked football and I was also interested in how injured players are treated. I had no problem combining elite sport with studies, even if it was not easy. In medicine, you don’t write a diploma thesis, after the sixth year the decision is taken by a state exam in individual fields, you have to master all of them – from internal medicine to obstetrics.
Did you have any concessions from the coach?
Minimal and only in the most necessary cases, for example when we trained in the morning and afternoon during the season. I studied in a full-time studio, so I trotted to the faculty in the morning and to training at Letná in the afternoon. The coaches respected my studies, but as a footballer playing at the highest level, I had to prove to them that I could do what was expected of me on the pitch. No greater concessions were conceivable.
So you went straight from the autopsy room to training…
(laughs) You can say it so simply, but I never had a problem in my head switching from the autopsy room to football.
While your teammates were doing Mariah games and counting strokes in their spare moments, you were counting bones in the anatomical atlas. Didn’t you envy them?
No way, I concentrated on the script. I still can’t do Maria (laughs).
They weren’t making fun of you?
Not at all, I have never heard any invective on the subject.
Sometimes the accomplishments will help athletes in college. It probably won’t be like that in medicine.
Certainly not, you have to show what you know and can do there. You can’t turn a blind eye. A footballer can make a mistake, throw away a great chance, be at fault for a goal, but it’s still just a sport. The doctor must not make a mistake, it is about the health and sometimes even the life of the patient.
After finishing your career, you worked as a doctor for the national team and in Sparta. How did you feel when you had to run out onto the lawn instead of the ball with a medical kit?
I also wore soccer cleats as a doctor so that I wouldn’t slip on the lawn and injure myself. The change, while big, wasn’t as overwhelming because I stayed with football, albeit in a different role.
As a former striker, didn’t your legs twitch in some situations on the bench?
You know that yes, and how many times! But I couldn’t help on the field (smiles).
A football player needs physical fitness, what about an orthopedist?
He needs it too, operations are often long and physically demanding. Even if I don’t look like it, I keep it up with, for example, tennis, and when I have time, I go play golf. I don’t run as much anymore, I rather walk faster, my knee is not ideal, I don’t take risks.
So you don’t play football anymore?
No longer. Almost two years ago, my friends talked me into going to play. I was doing pretty well, but at one point, when I worked the ball nicely and was about to shoot, my knee popped. And the doctor suddenly became a patient under the hands of colleagues from the clinic (laughs). But of course I watch football.
I will go back to your football past. You did not have an easy way to Sparta, several attempts did not work out, you transferred to Bohemka, won a title with her, briefly wore the Teplice jersey, and only then did you head from Ďolíček to Letná. Was it difficult to establish yourself in Sparta’s busy squad?
Sparta was interested in me already when I went from Varnsdorf to Teplice as a teenager, then they tried again, I was already scoring goals for Teplice, but Bohemka was faster. I won the title with her and then on the third try it worked out at Letná. Sparta went up in performance at that time.
Can you tell the readers the names of some players from your generation?
The competition in Sparta was huge at the time, in attack, for example, Standa Griga, Míla Denk, Tomáš Skuhravý, who then left for the war. He returned after two years. At the time when I was wearing the Sparta jersey, Luboš Pokluda, Zdeněk Procházka, Horst Siegl, Roman Kukleta, Pavel Černý also came.
But you didn’t end your football career at Sparta, did you?
At the beginning of the nineties, I still went to the Greek Iraklis Thessaloniki. I ended my professional career there and then started to devote myself fully to medicine.
Can you please remember a match that has stuck in your memory even after all these years?
I played a lot of the big ones, but if I have to choose one, it is the quarter-final of the Champions Cup, now the Champions League, from the spring of 1985, when we beat Juventus Turin 1-0 at Letná. Honza Berger scored from the penalty spot for a foul on me. Juventus had a fantastic team at that time, the axis was made up of the Italian world champions from 1982, for example Scirea, Cabrini, Tardelli, gunner Rossi, and with them the best European footballer at the time, the French Platini and the great Pole Boniek. Unfortunately, we lost 0:3 in the second leg.
Would you also find your most beautiful goal?
That’s difficult… I gave quite a few, it’s almost impossible to choose one… But still, probably when we played in the fall of 1989 in the second leg of the first round of the Champions Cup with Fenerbahçe in Istanbul. We won 3:1 at home, but they didn’t allow themselves to be eliminated, literally hell awaited us. Nevertheless, we held on to a 1:1 draw. In the penultimate minute of the match, I overturned Schumacher, one of the best goalkeepers in the world at the time, and it was over. That goal was also nice to watch as the ball drifted into the goal… Two years before that, I scored a hat-trick against Iceland’s Fram Reykjavík in the same competition.
Finally, I will ask for the fans who were born earlier, who still remember you as Petara. When did you change your first name?
This is a mistake that I don’t know where it came from. I’ve always been Petr, it’s even on my birth certificate. When, at the age of eighteen, I had the opportunity to take Yugoslav citizenship thanks to my parents’ origins, I took advantage of it. They wrote Petar in my Yugoslav passport, but I never used that myself, I always called myself Petr. That Petar appeared once in the media, quite simply. Bohemka and I went out to the European Cup match, one of the journalists noticed it at the passport control and didn’t keep it to himself… (laughs).
|MD Petr Novak|
|First League clubs: Sklo Union Teplice (1979-1981), Bohemians Prague (1981-1984), Sparta Prague (1984-1990), Iraklis Thessaloniki (1990-1991).|
|Championship titles: 5x Sparta (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990), 1x Bohemians (1983).|
|Domestic cups: 2x Czechoslovak (1988, 1989), 4x Czech (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989).|
|Matches/goals in the Czechoslovak league: 109/35|
|Matches/goals in European Cups: 17/8, in the 1984/85 season he played in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup (now the Champions League), in the 1983/84 season in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League).|
|As a doctor, he worked in Sparta, in the under-21 national team and in the A-team of the Czech Republic.|