An ode to Tomas Repka at West Ham: The angriest footballer in history

Nostalgia

Anger is one of life’s most misunderstood emotions. 

We often describe someone as ‘angry’ when ‘frustrated’, ‘irritated’ or ‘annoyed’ would be more appropriate. Most of us feel angry only occasionally, the rarity enhancing the intensity of which we experience the descending of the red mist.

Tomas Repka lived in a permanent state of anger. Despite playing in Serie A and the Premier League and enjoying a seven-year international career with the Czech Republic, Repka was notorious for his furious outbursts that made Roy Keane appear kitten-like by comparison.

With more loose screws than an entire B&Q outlet, the defender lived his life just as intensely off the field. Scientists estimate that Repka has only experienced a handful of quiet nights in throughout his entire existence.

Making his name during the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, Repka was noted for his prodigious heading ability and crunching tackles. Already known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, he missed the Czech Republic’s run to the Euro 96 final after receiving a two-match ban for being sent off before the tournament.

This full-bodied commitment caught the eye of Fiorentina. Moving to Tuscany in 1998, Repka joined the likes of Francesco Toldo, Manuel Rui Costa, Gabriel Batistuta and Nuno Gomes during arguably the club’s most evocative era.

Unfortunately, Repka proved to be the salt in a delicious stew during his spell in Italy. Sent off six times across three seasons with Fiorentina, Repka cemented his reputation for hot-headedness. Any man prepared to square up to Pierluigi Collina deserves our utmost respect for sheer reckless naivety.

With their own reputation for hot-headedness and a fanbase with an indulgence of lunatic skinheads, it was no surprise that Repka attracted the attention of West Ham United. Signed in the summer of 2001, the Hammers believed this was the man who’d provide the defensive steel that would allow young starlets like Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe to flourish.

These hopes ignored all precedents from Repka’s career to date. Sent off on his debut at Middlesbrough, Repka was also expelled from the field during a 7-1 spanking at Blackburn – his third appearance for the club.

In his match report for The Guardian, Daniel Taylor delivered a line of tinder-dry brilliance: ‘If he makes it a hat-trick in his next outing, one wonders whether he’ll get to take the referee home.’

Things deteriorated to the extent that, after another sending off against Fulham on Boxing Day 2002, Jon Brodkin wrote in The Guardian that Repka ‘would not be missed if he never played for West Ham again’. After re-defining the word anger, Repka was providing a free jazz interpretation of the term ‘liability’.

Yet by the time of his departure, Repka had become something of a cult figure at Upton Park. Relegated in 2003 despite a record-high 42 points, which ensured the fire sale of the club’s family silver, Repka remained loyal to West Ham during their spell in second-tier purgatory.

Crucially, he was moved to right-back under Alan Pardew, where his frequent outbursts were less detrimental to the club’s form. True, he was sent off for a headbutt during a miserable home defeat to Preston in March 2005, but Repka gradually cleaned up his game and allowed his defensive fortitude to speak for itself.

Despite this, it would be a stretch to call Repka a tamed beast. Neil Mellor only spent a few months at West Ham, but much of that time was focused on ensuring he stayed on the right side of his wild team-mate.

In an interview with The Sportsman, Mellor said: “The only person I saw get on the wrong side of him was a car valet man who crashed his car just before Christmas. The car was a £100,000 Ferrari, so it wasn’t ideal. It took about 10 of us to stop Repka from filling in this car valet man!”

After helping West Ham regain their Premier League status, Repka departed for Slavia Prague in January 2006. During his final home match, under the floodlights against Fulham, chants of “one Tomas Repka” reverberated around Upton Park. This was enough to move Repka, a man who was chiselled rather than born, to tears.

He did not mellow after returning to his homeland. Some of his more notable incidents included attacking the match officials and cameraman in 2007, being caught cheating on his long-term partner with a Playboy model and the usual collection of red cards and crippled opponents.

With tattoos covering his body, this is not someone you’d wish to bump into down a darkened alley.

He’s also been sent to prison on two occasions. In August 2018, Repka received a six-month jail sentence for advertising sexual services on the internet in the name of his ex-wife, although this was later reduced to a community sentence order.

Then, in February 2019, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail for fraud after selling a luxury rental car he didn’t own. Later that month, two previous suspended sentences for driving under the influence were converted into jail terms due to his other convictions.

Put simply, Tomas Repka has spent his entire life one misplaced look away from outrage. Goodness knows how high his blood pressure must be at any given moment.

Yet given the banality of most of our lives, we cannot help but have a begrudging respect for Repka and the full-bodied commitment to living life to its most extreme.

Admittedly, that’s about the only thing we’d dare say to his face.

By Michael Lee


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