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Stoke keeper Joe Bursik named after grandad Josef who was renowned Czechoslovakian war hero honoured by Stalin

JOE BURSIK is well aware of the true meaning of valour.

So, while he is rightly pleased with himself for holding the fort at Stoke, he knows his efforts are nothing compared to the incredible exploits of his grandad.

The goalkeeper was named after Josef Bursik, a Second World War hero and Czechoslovakian icon.

Joe Jr was brought up on stories of the highly decorated tank commander who fought alongside the Russian army against the Nazis.

Yet the reward for the major general’s great bravery was jail after he was denounced as an anti-communist.

He was found guilty of what the Soviet Union deemed to be high treason in 1949 for asking to be demobbed and was originally sentenced to ten years.

The term in the feared Czech maximum security Mirov prison was increased by four years after he failed in an appeal against the verdict.

Having also contracted tuberculosis, that added up to what could easily have been a death sentence.

Yet he figured in his own version of The Great Escape after being transferred to Olomouc Hospital for treatment of his illness in 1950.

He even used a motorbike for his getaway after doctors helped him to dupe guards by giving him an injection that brought on a fever.

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But unlike the Hollywood movie’s hero played by Steve McQueen, he made it to freedom by crossing the border to Germany.

His grandson cannot hide the pride he feels for the veteran, who sadly passed away two years after Joe Jr was born.

Bursik, 20, said: “There was never any question in my dad’s mind of what my Christian name would be.

“I’m so glad I have it and that I can further the name of Josef Bursik.

“Of course, I was so young when he died I didn’t know him, but his memory and what he did and stood for burns bright in our family.

“My dad and me often go to Prague for breaks in the summer and I remember when we would first make those trips together.

“We would be booking into a hotel and my father would be asked for his surname.

“Whenever the name Bursik came up there was always a feeling of awe from the people when we were checking in or if we were making a hotel reservation.

“The Bursik name has a real buzz still in the Czech Republic — people and family don’t forget over there.”

The youngster is making quite a fist of upholding the name of the man who Stalin made a Hero of the Soviet Union for helping liberate Kiev.

He was called back from a loan at Doncaster after Stoke boss Michael O’Neill suffered a goalkeeping crisis that saw his seniors fall like ninepins through injury.

Things started badly as Bursik conceded three goals in a 4–3 win against Huddersfield, followed by a 3–2 loss to Norwich.

But he did not fall away and now has seven clean sheets, including four in a row.

O’Neill said: “Joe’s very sharp around his penalty box. He has everything you’d look for in a modern goalkeeper.

“He’s good with the ball at his feet. He’s a confident boy and it’s good to see a young goalkeeper produce the level of performance that he’s had.”

Bursik makes his 14th appearance since that emergency recall against Blackburn today, having first underlined his ability by helping England win the Under-17s World Cup.

Every time I take the pitch I know what I’m carrying for my family — the honour of a great war hero who was so brave. Every time I play my grandad is an inspiration.

Joe Bursik

There is an Under-21 cap to be proud of too. And the Lambeth-born lad, who started out at Wimbledon, wants to follow in the footsteps of his other great hero, Petr Cech.

Bursik was actually a winger at the Dons before being asked to don the goalie gloves.

He said: “I grew up as a Chelsea fan and idolised Cech.

“We were — and still are — season-ticket holders at Stamford Bridge and I always got there early just to watch him warm up.

“I’d love to meet him one day because he has been such a big influence on me.

“If I could ever get near what he’s achieved in the game then I would know I’d made it.”

Bursik knows that his grandad would be proud too.

He also received the Czech War Cross for bravery, as well as the Order of the Red Star at Sokolovo.

After he reached Germany with his wife they moved to England in 1955, when his record was expunged from Czech history.

But following the fall of communism his honours were restored and upon his death in 2002 he was given the Order of the White Lion, the highest honour available in the Czech Republic.

Joe added: “Every time I take the pitch I know what I’m carrying for my family — the honour of a great war hero who was so brave.

“Every time I play my grandad is an inspiration.

“No matter what I achieve he always will be — and I would never have it any other way.”

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