The X-Ray Factor (FC Remscheid)

The current FC Remscheid club was form as recently as 1990 following a merger of BV Lüttringhausen and VfB Marathon Remscheid. The latter first saw the light of day in 1906 and two years later their near neighbours Lüttringhausen also joined the fledgling football scene in this part of North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1968 Marathon became German amateur champions for the first time but three years later Marathon merged with BV Remscheid. However, it was Lüttringhausen who would then experience the greater success, enjoying three seasons at Bundesliga 2 level in the 1980’s they also became German amateur champions in 1986. In 1990 both clubs discussed a mutually beneficial merger which resulted in the naissance of a new club, FC Remscheid. Interestingly a club called VfB Marathon Remscheid 1990 has formed in recent times but play well down the Kreisliga divisions.

The joining of forces had an instant impact as the team swept the then third tier Oberliga Nordrhein and after success in the promotion play-off rounds gained promotion to the Bundesliga 2. Their stay in the second tier lasted just two seasons, but the end of that decade saw the club sink to the fourth tier burdened with debts from their meteoric rise. During the 1998/99 season the debts of DM 1.5 million became insurmountable and the club collapsed. A reformation occurred with the club being admitted to the Verbandsliga Niederrhein. After just three seasons Remscheid dropped to the sixth tier, the Landesliga Niederrhein, where they currently remain. Their most recent success saw the Landesliga title come their way in 2008/09. The clubs traditional rivals include Union Solingen and Wuppertaler SV.

Remscheid have played at their current ground since the early 1970’s. However, the Lenneper Stadion was actually first opened in 1925 and had a capacity of around 5,000. During Lüttringhausen and then Remschied’s remarkable climbs to Bundesliga 2, the stadium was substantially upgraded to the tune of several million marks. The ground now boasts seating for 2,168 spectators, mainly in the west stand, and the ample end terraces and terracing to either side of the press area afford another 10,300 spaces should the stadium ever need to fill its’ generous capacity again. To celebrate Remscheid’s elevation to Bundesliga 2 in 1991 the stadium was renamed to celebrate Remscheid-Lennep’s most famous son, Wilhelm Röntgen, inventor of the X-Ray, a medical breakthrough that would also won him the first ever Nobel prize for physics.

The game itself, the last of the season, was one of goodbyes. Club officials continued that most wonderful of German footballing traditions of presenting six departing players with a small memento of their time at the Röntgen. Two of those leaving were major figures in this game. After seven minutes the home captain, Markus Hosnjak, limped off between a guard of honour of his team mates. The feat of the 36 year old was a remarkable 28 years service to his club. His team mate, Serkan Hacisalihoglu, scored a well taken hat-trick before leaving the field to warm applause. The first of his goals marked the pivotal moment of the game. The visitors had taken an early lead through the tricky Fernandez but just before half time their giant centre back Adomat was red carded for stopping a goal bound shot with his hands. Hacisalihoglu buried the penalty to level the contest at the break.

Halftime was spent watching a few minutes of VfL 07 Lennep’s game on the adjacent “hardplatz”. The unforgiving clay/cinder surface is pleasantly set in the lee of the main stand of their more illustrious neighbours.

Back to the main event, the big Turkish striker scores two more in the second half, split by another deft strike from Velbert’s mercurial wing man, Fernandez. I find out that after two prolific seasons with Remscheid, Hacisalihoglu has been asked to leave, the club unable to afford him anymore. It is with an obvious sense of disappointment the skilful forward takes his leave from the field. With finance being under scrutiny again at the Röntgen, I hope that the good people running the Remscheid club can once again steady the ship, for on this most glorious of late May afternoons they provided a prime example of why watching football in Germany is so very rewarding.

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Sunday May 25th 2014 – Landesliga Niederrhein

FC Remscheid (1) 3 (Hacisalihoglu pen 41,52,72)

SC Velbert (1) 2 (Fernandez 7,67)

Attendance: 250 (at Röntgen Stadion)

Remscheid:

15. Nico Tauschel, 2. Markus Hosnjak (c), 3. Sebastian Grund, 7. Sebastian Pichura, 9. Serkan Hacisalihoglu, 11. Marcel Vetter, 18. Serkan Gürdere, 20. Fabian Uthoff, 27. Matthias Rahmann, 33. Domenico Cozza, 42. Rodrigue Deadwood.

Subs: 1. Dennis Fromm, 8. Leroy Leinweber, 21. Marius Suchanoff, 22. Daniel Monterio (for 9,74 mins), 23. Francesco Paola Rossa (for 2,7 mins), 31, Yannick Freer (for 31,25 mins).

Velbert:

1. Daniel Grell, 2. Mike Dzierzon, 3. Simon Schubeis (c), 4. Andre Adomat, 5. Marc Stuckhart, 6. Andreas Nitas, 7. Luis Rena Fernandez, 8. Marvin Warnass, 9. Julian Gaulke, 10. Robin Hilger, 11. Serverin Przybylski.

Subs: 12. Chrisopher Fuchs (for 5,57 mins), 13. Jonas Doil, 14. Felix Pellizari (for 10,78 mins), 15. Patrick Köllner (for 9,38 mins), 16. Dimitrios Spyrou.

Yellow cards: Grund (Remscheid), Fernandez (Velbert)

Red card: Adomat (Velbert)

Gallery

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All Red Now (Rot-Weiss Essen)

Rot-Weiss Essen can trace their roots back to 1907 from an amalgamation of two clubs SC Preussen and Deutsche Eiche. They were originally called SV Vogelheim, the footballing section of Turnerbund Bergeborbeck. The footballers then left the association becoming SSV Emscher Vogelheim. The two entities merged again in 1923 finally adopting the Rot-Weiss Essen nomenclature.

The pre-World War II years were pivotal for Rot-Weiss. In 1938 the ruling Nazi party reorganised German football into 16 regional “premier” divisions and RWE were placed in the Gauliga Niederrhein. They were attracting big crowds to their original Hafenstrasse ground and the club had clearly outgrown it. The club President, Georges Melches, promised a bigger, better ground and despite some planning problems regarding an existing restaurant and school buildings which stood in the way, work began. Building around the problematic buildings, the club erected a big ground with a wooden grandstand housing 1,500 people and open terracing for 25,000 more. The new grounds’ capacity was well and truly tested when a crowd estimated at 30,000 gathered for the opening match against FC Schalke 04 in August 1939.

World War II saw Allied bombing raze Essen to the ground, in 270 air raids almost the entire city was destroyed, including the new stadium. As a major industrial centre Essen was a clear target for Allied forces and in March 1943 the city was subjected to one of the biggest bombing raids of the War. Nearly 500 inhabitants were killed and thousands lost their homes. Feelings were still running high when in December 1944 three British airmen were captured and lynched by the locals.

After the horrors of the War, Rot-Weiss Essen re-emerged and began rebuilding the stadium. Led by Ernst Ruhkamp a large band of locals from coal miners to professional workers banded together and worked tirelessly to repair the damage. The regeneration ushered in the club’s golden era in the 1950’s. In 1953 RWE defeated Regensburg, VfL Osnabruck, Hamburger SV and SV Waldhof Mannheim on their way to their first ever Deutscher Pokal final. Alemannia Aachen stood in their way of a glorious triumph. In front of 40,000 people at the Rhein Stadion goals from Fritz Herkenrath and Helmut Rahn gave RWE a strong lead but Aachen pulled one back through Jupp Derwall, later the German national team manager. RWE managed to hold on for a famous 2-1 victory.

Three years later the club qualified for the play-offs for the German Championship. They defeated Kickers Offenbach, Wormatia Worms and Bremerhaven 93 to reach the final for the overall title of German Champions. In a tight match with 1.FC Kaiserslautern in front of 80,000 spectators at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover, RWE eventually overcame their adversaries.

As champions of Germany, Rot-Weiss were invited to take part in the first ever European Cup competition in 1955/56 and unlike their British counterparts; the DFB sanctioned their participation in the revolutionary new multi nation tournament. While the English champions, Chelsea, looked on covetously, Rot-Weiss were drawn against Scottish Champions Hibernian. The Scots won 4-0 in Essen although the Germans regained some pride in the second leg holding Hibs’ “Famous Five” strike force at bay for a creditable 1-1 at Easter Road. In 1956 the Georg-Melches-Stadion gained floodlights and staged Germany’s first ever floodlight match when RWE defeated Racing Strasbourg by four goals to nil.

Since those glory years RWE have drifted in between Bundesliga 2 and the Oberliga. Financial worries lead to the club being denied licences in 1984, 1991 and 1994 and with it came the enforced demotion. It has not, however, been all doom and gloom the Reds won the German Amateur Championship in 1992 and two years later enjoyed a run to the DFB Pokal final. Sadly they could not repeat their win of 1953, succumbing 3-1 to Werder Bremen. In 2005 the club inducted the legendary Pele as an honorary club member. As recently as 2010/11 RWE were in the fifth tier, but having won the Nordrhein-Westfalen-Liga they returned to the Regionalliga were they currently remain.

In 2012 the club said goodbye to their traditional home of the Georg-Melches-Stadion, its modern day capacity of 15,000 deemed to low for modern needs. The new stadium was built over the old one and touchingly the club keep one floodlight pylon from the old ground which is used at a meeting point for fans as well as a nod to the clubs history. The nearby railway bridge bears the legend “Forever GMS” in homage to the old arena.

The new ground opened in August 2012 and has a capacity of 20,650. Should RWE rise back up the German pyramid the plan is to infill the four corners of the ground and should the Essenes climb back to the top flight all four roofs can be removed to enable a second tier to be added all the way around.

This season has seen RWE marooned in mid table for much of the campaign and today’s final match of the campaign has that distinct end-of-season feel to it. The club do the normal German presentation to players saying goodbye to the club which is always touching to see. Then with refreshing co-operation between the club and it’s ultras, the tannoy man announces the Ultras will now begin a special choreo. And special it truly it is, superbly orchestrated and highly colourful it first pays respects to Essen’s coal mining and industrial past before the entire stand is engulfed in a huge foil flag. It finishes with a giant RWE badge in the centre of the stand which then spreads outwards to reveal the word Ultras. It was really stunning stuff and ample reason for the referee to delay the kick off for a few minutes.

After that impressive opening the match was almost inevitably going to be a damp squib. Tenth place Essen and fifth place Sportfreunde Siegen pass and move well enough between each other in the warm late May sunshine, but chances are few and far between. It takes 81 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, Jerome Propheter nudging home a lose ball from a corner. Minutes later Tim Hermes produced a god-like free kick kept out only by a stubborn crossbar. In all honesty a two goal victory would have been hard on the plucky guests.

So it was a day where ultra culture outshone some pretty run-of-the-mill on field action. I find it so incredibly sad that any fledgling ultra scene in Britain is treated with equal measure of distain, shock and fear. Why does our officialdom demonise such upstarts as, at best, pariahs and at worst, resurgent hooligans? They should come to Essen where ultras give football back its lost soul, something English football’s comatose heart desperately needs.

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Regionalliga West – Saturday May 24th 2014

Rot-Weiss Essen (0) 1 (Propheter 81)

Sportfreunde Siegen (0) 0

Attendance : 6,792 (at Stadion Essen)

Rot-Weiss:

22. Philipp Kunz, 2. Tim Hermes, 4. Michael Laletin, 9. Marcel Platzek, 15. Jerome Propheter, 18. Markus Heppke ©; 23. Kai Nakowitsch, 27. Max Dombrowka, 28. Samuel-Marian Limbasan, 30. Benedikt Koep 36. Lucas Arenz

Subs: 5. Benjamin Wingerter (for 23,54 mins), 7. Kevin Grund, 8. Alexander Langlitz, 14. Maik Rodenberg, 20. Damir Ivancicevic (for 18,64 mins), 24. Dominik Poremba, 26. Thomas Denker (for 30,89 mins)

SF Siegen:

12. Yannik Dauth, 3. Sascha Eichmeier, 4. Evangelos Papaefthimiou, 5. Christopher Schadeberg, 7. Alexander Hettich, 8. Daniel Grebe, 11. Abdelkader Maouel, 13. Mark Zeh ©, 17. Zouhair Bouadoud, 18. Andre Dej, 23. Richard Weber.

Subs: 1. Kevin Rauhut, 2. Patrick Koronkiewicz (for 4,57 mins), 6. Dennis Lang, 10. Manuel Glowacz (for 7,69 mins), 19. Serkan Dalman, 20. Sinisa Veselinovic, 24. Maikel Verkoelen (for 5,46 mins).

Gallery

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Yellow (Berchem Sport)

Berchem Sport have a great deal of history having been formed on April 22nd 1908 as a football extension of the local athletics club. They were awarded the matricule number (the treasured Belgian FA logging number) of 28. In 1931 they gained royal ascent renaming themselves Royal Berchem Sport, this became the Dutch version, Koninklijke, in 1967. While never crowned Belgian champions they were pretty big cheeses notably in the 1940’s when they were First Division runners up three seasons running between 1948 and 1950. On each occasion they finished behind RSC Anderlecht.

Berchem’s stadium is truly magnificent, the main stand has over 2,600 seats and is smartly set off by yellow wooden crenolations bearing the club name. The covered terrace opposite is a real gem as well drawing comparisons to many such structures in England during the 1970’s. Both ends are curved uncovered terracing basking in warm sunshine today. Overall the ground is now licensed to hold 13,607 spectators.

Originally built between 1928 and 1931 by architects Frans Peeters and Egide Van der Paal the inauguration game took place on August 29th 1929 when Berchem lost 3-2 to the Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven. Built to a controlled budget but maximising capacity the only acquiescence to ornamentation was the faux Roman style triumphal arch bearing the club name in Art Deco style script. The only modernisation to the ground has come in the form of plastic seating in the main stand and a glazed clubroom underneath the main stand that affords a great view of the pitch. The pitch is surrounded by a long disused athletics track.

Originally the Berchem Stadion the Ludo Coeckstadion is named after Berchem’s most famous footballing son who started his career with Berchem before a glittering career with Anderlecht, Internazionale and Ascoli. He had returned to Belgium to play for Racing White Daring of Molenbeek when tragically his career was cut short at its peak when he died from injuries sustained in a car crash. He was just 30 years old.

Coeck had won 46 caps for Belgium as that wonderful side of the early 1980’s managed by the legendary Guy Thys. I remember clearly his long range goal that defeated a plucky El Salvador side who had shipped ten goals in the previous game against Hungary. It must of been a good Belgian side as the names still roll of the tongue for me, Pfaff, Gerets, Millecamps, Renquin, Meeuws, Vercauteren, Van Moer, Van der Elst, Coeck, Vandenbergh and Ceulemans. Ah yes Jan Ceulemans, a Club Brugge legend, a tall, blond attacking midfielder who scored 23 times for his country. It seems somehow entirely appropriate that he is managing today’s visitors, Royal Cappellen, at the stadium named in memory of his long time international cohort.

Berchem need to win today in the final league game of the season to guarantee they don’t slip into the Provincial Leagues. The home side is backed by a sizeable and noisy home crowd, the majority bedecked in yellow and gathered under the cavernous covered terrace named “The Spion Kop”. However its Cappellen that march into a comfortable lead at half time thanks to goals from Mathyssen and Vanderheyden. The Berchem manager must have earned his corn at the break as the introduction of Martin and Kocakl transforms the hosts. Immediately after the restart Da Silva reduces the arrears and just before the hour mark Kurtulus concedes a blatant penalty which is cooly converted by Boujouh. Berchem make their boisterous fans sweat and the winning goal comes just six minutes from time. This is a contentious moment as Niels Martin’s goal bound effort appears to have been clawed off the line by the Cappellen goalkeeper Brughmans. A brusque wave of the linesman’s flag, however, indicates he is happy the whole of the ball crossed the line and Martin sprints over to the Spion Kop to celebrate with delirious Berchem fans. It has been a very tight division and this win could even perversely see Berchem invited to take part in the promotion play-offs such is the peculiarity of the Belgian licensing system.

So yet another superb Belgian ground, it really is a feast of country for a stadium connessieur. One word of warning though, I noticed collection boxes around the ground labelled “new stadium fund”. Surely they couldn’t?

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Sunday May 4th 2014 – Belgian Third Division (Group B)

K. Berchem Sport (0) 3 (Da Silva 46, Boujouh pen 59, Martin 84)

Royal Cappellen (2) 2 (Mathyssen 19, Vanderheyden 39)

Att: c.1000 (at Ludo Coeckstadion)

Berchem:

25. Bjorn Sengier, 2. Mike De Koninck, 3. Michael Dierickx (c), 4. Matti Van Minnebruggen, 6. Dickson Agyeman, 7. Bruno Da Silva, 11. Brahim Boujouh, 14. Tim Verstraeten, 17. Stef Van den Heuvel, 20. Thomas Stevens, 24. Sjors Paridaans.

Subs: 9. Niels Martin (for 14,46 mins), 15. Murat Kocakl (for 2,46 mins), 21. Jelle Merckx, 32. Benjamin De Wilde.

Cappellen:

1. Bernd Brughmans (c), 3. Senne Vanderheyden, 9. Dirk Mathyssen, 10. Youssef Boulaoali Didouh, 11. Jorge Waeghe, 14. Jasper Vermeerbergen, 15. Wesley Guens, 18. Erding Kurtulus, 19. Jimmy Fockaert, 21. Moses Adems, 22. Nick Van Asch.

Subs: 6. Spencer Verbiest (for 14,79 mins), 7. Maxim Van Hoydonck (for 21,46 mins), 20. Predrag Ristovic, 24. Ben Van den Brandt (for 19,74 mins).

Gallery

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Berchem Sport ticket

The Water Margin (Železničar Beograd)

FK Železničar Beograd were formed in 1924 by a group of railway workers and moved into their current ground in 1935. The club celebrated the move by battering FK Građanski Zemun 12-0. Appropriately the ground lies wedged between railway tracks which shunt untold amounts cargo at regular intervals. Behind the pitch length stand is the mighty River Sava which in the next few years will be gentrified by a marina style project. This will mean this lovely old ground will be flooded and lost forever. The club will be relocated to a new facility else where in the city.

The club has always tended to compete at a regional level although in 1999 they were elevated to the FY Yugoslav Second League (North) for the first time. Four years later however the Serbian League was restructured and Železničar were placed in a lower league. Currently they play in the Beograd Zone Liga which sits at the fourth tier of Serbian football.

After the initial shock of several random English folk gatecrashing their boardroom, the club officials are unbelievably accommodating and friendly, gifts of pennants and drinks are most welcome. Such kindness in a strange land is really life affirming.

On the pitch the opening exchanges belie the league standings, the hosts in fourth place and their guests, FK Resnik, are second bottom with the worst goal difference in the division. The hosts struggle to create chances but then the little midfielder Stefan Tintor takes control, setting up a tap in for Bujica Radosavljević before scoring a quick fire brace himself. All three goals come in a four minute period and the visitors visibly wilt in the warmth of an early Belgrade Sunday morning. Substitute Zeljko Tovilović makes it four before Stanković bundled in a late consolation for the dejected visitors.

The real joy for us visitors was the old cyrillic scoreboard which saw a reluctant youth shin up a ladder to manually change the score at regular intervals. A real throwback to football of our youth for this band of travellers.

A wonderful club and a better sunny Sunday morning after the derby game we couldn’t wish to find.

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Sunday April 27th 2014 – Beograd Zone Liga

FK Železničar Beograd (3) 4 (Radosavljević 29, Tintor 30,32, Tovilović 85)

FK Resnik (0) 1 (Stanković 87)

Att: 83 (at Stadion Železničar)

Železničar:

1. Zlatan Adrović, 2. Igor Bulatrović, 3. Aleksandar Matsarev, 4. Milan Mendebabić, 5. Stefan Orndarević, 6. Stefan Tintor, 7. Aleksandar Simić, 8. Luka Ristić, 9. Miroslav Fabok, 10. Petar Solaja, 11. Bujica Radosavljević.

Subs: 12. Boris Bažović, 13. Sretko Garović (for 8,66 mins), 14. Nikola Momcholvić, 15. Milorad Padovanović (for 11,61 mins), 16. Dejan Savić, 17. Zeljko Tovilović (for 7,46 mins), 18. Nemanja Bojić.

Resnik:

1. Aleksandar Milošević, 2. Bojan Pavnović, 3. Nenad Vuletić, 4. Goran Lukić, 5. Danilo Konjević, 6. Vlada Stanković, 7. Danilo Tešić, 8. David Bučan, 9. Lazar Bučan, 10. Sasha Milojević, 11. Stefan Milošević.

Subs: 12. Predrag Miloševic, 13. Milos Tešic (for 3,86 mins), 14. Filip Engelman (for 9,46 mins), 16. Jovan Anicić (for 10,83 mins), 18. Bogdan Duchić.

Yellow Card: Solaja (Železničar)

Gallery

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No More Heroes (FK Slavija Beograd)

FK Slavija Beograd have fallen on hard times in recent seasons and find themselves down in the fifth tier Prva Beogradska Liga (First Belgrade League). Slavija won the fourth tier Belgrade Zone league in 2010/11 gaining promotion to the Srpska League (Belgrade Region). After just one season at the third tier though the club finished in last place, 12 points adrift of safety. The rot had set and the following campaign of 2012/13 saw them relegated again.

It was fairly difficult to establish exactly where FK Slavija call home but eventually we found out that their Grupa A game was being played at the Stadion Mladi Obilić, currently home to Grupa B side Mladi Proleter (Young Proleterians). Mladi Obilić were the satellite club of FK Obilić the only club to win the Serbian Super Liga title other than Partizan or Red Star. More notoriously Obilić had been owned by the warlord and career criminal Željko Ražnatović better known as the paramilitary leader Arkan during the Balkan War. He was also the one time leader of the Red Star ultras group the Delije. He was assassinated before his trial for war crimes in January 2000. Mladi Obilić themselves folded in 2006 bought to their knees by corruption and financial problems.

The stadium has certainly seen better days. Broken seating, run down changing facilities and a truly atrocious pitch make things difficult for the two teams. What the ground does have is a strange tower at the entrance gate which has an open roof terrace room that looks out over Belgrade and beyond to the lustrous blue waters of the mighty River Danube. Its well worth scaling the stairs for a few minutes looking out over one of the cities highest points.

The game itself is low on quality, the bumpy unrolled pitch making control less than easy. Vzelats gives Slavija the lead after ten minutes and that proves to be the only goal of the opening half. The visitors, FK 13 Maj moved veteran right back Sasha Pantić up front and he promptly levelled the scores with a deft finish. Two minutes later Bustić gave 13 Maj the lead before Dragutinović restored parity for Slavija. However, it was Pantić who was to have the last word scoring his second after 66 minutes to give the points to the visitors.

Slavija were a welcoming club clearly a little down on their luck. We can only hope the struggling club can revive their flagging fortunes since they celebrated their centenary two years ago.

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Saturday April 26th 2014 – Prva Beogradska Liga (Grupa A)

FK Slavija (1) 2 (Vzelats 10, Dragutinović 63)

FK 13 Maj (0) 3 (Pantić 50,66, Bustić 52)

Att: 28 (at Stadion Mladi Obilić)

Slavija:

1. Milos Jovicanvić, 2. Stefan Pavlović, 3. Ivan Grbović, 4. Lazsar Vasić, 5. Stefan Jelavats, 6. Mirko Lazić, 7. Petar Vzelats, 8. Predrag Folić, 9. Stefan Karajanković, 10. Branko Dragutinović, 11. Stefan Marković.

Subs: 14. Srijan Papo; 15. Srijan Pavlović (for 8,34 mins), 16. Vladimir Martinović (for 11, 58 mins), 17. Bojan Kosijer, 18. Sasha Stanojević.

13 Maj:

1. Petar Antić, 2. Sasha Pantić, 3. Filip Tasić, 4. Nikola Rajak, 5. Dušan Jelicić, 6. Aleksa Mitić, 7. Zhivorad Kostić, 8. Aleksandar Pupavats, 9. Aleksandar Belagajević, 10. Nemanja Belegić, 11. Marko Bustić.

Sub: 13. Davo Zuka (for 9,58 mins)

Gallery

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Dig Your Own Hole (FK Partizan)

Having attended the Belgrade derby at Red Star’s stadium last season I was keen to see the reverse fixture at the Stadion Partizan, known as the JNA Stadium until 1989. Partizan then bought the arena from the army, their long term benefactor. The background to the 146th “Eternal Derby” was an interesting one. In the table Red Star had taken a six point lead with five rounds left when Partizan unexpectedly lost to Napredak in the midweek round of games. A defeat in the derby would leave them nine points adrift with just 12 points left available, Zvezda would surely be crowned champions of Serbia.

Partizan have won the Serbian League for the past six seasons, last season’s title was won at a canter, by a margin of eleven points from their cross city rivals. However, they have not had everything their own way this season with the January arrest of club president Dragan Đurić who now faces indictment for corruption. Unrest has been rife with Partizan arguing that penalties are being awarded against them for no reason. Red Star claim that for once the playing field is level. The red and whites though have their own issues, mounting debts may prevent them from playing in Europe next season unless money can be raised.

The stadium is busy when we arrive and try and locate our entrance vomitory, we pass a mass of Zvezda fans who appear to be prevented from entering the ground. It transpires police and officials had been trying to remove a flammable paint that the Grobari had painted on the fences at the Red Star end in an attempt to make the visitors inadvertently set fire to their own flags. The ruse failed but tempers flared as the delays continued and there was a brief scuffle between the Delije and the riot police.

Once inside it was someone strange that security allowed rival fans to swap sections unchallenged although there was no real aggression just mounting tension and excitement. The game kicked off in daylight and it was interesting to hear that the Grobari, for today’s encounter, had seen the warring factions of Alcatraz and the Zabrenjeni agreeing to lay their differences aside for 90 minutes in pursuit of the greater good of their club. Their noise and synchronised bouncing was truly deafening. Red Star, more renowned for their visual tifos, produced thousands of red and white balloons surrounding a huge, and I mean huge, flag of a tank with a Zvezda flag atop of it. The tank picture was an abiding memory of the Balkan War as the JNA (the Yugoslav People’s Army) rumbled into the devastated Croatian town of Vukovar in the early days of that most shocking of recent human tragedies. The Delije’s message to their rivals was simple, it implied that the Grobari were “Ustaše” (the Croatian Nazi Movement). Politics aside it was a top notch display. It was also the first time I have ever seen a drone flying across a stadium to monitor the crowd.

The first half was truly dramatic, 23 minutes in Zvezda were awarded a penalty but Ninković’s tame shot was easily saved by Lukač in the Partizan goal. Barely had the excitement died down when the home side took the lead with a sensational free kick from Nikola Drinčić. The Grobari went into overdrive, some of their number scaling the huge electronic scoreboard equipped with giant flags, arranging themselves in some sort of semaphore insult to the visitors. Incredibly Zvezda were then awarded a second penalty, and opting to change their kicker, Nikola Mijailović was entrusted with levelling the game. To their utter astonishment Lukač saved again to preserve the slender lead.

Darkness enveloped the stadium at halftime and to rally their team Zvezda launched into a dramatic pyrotechnic display, flares, flames and red and white smoke engulfed the away end and the neighbouring Church of Saint Sava. It was a mightily impressive display. It seemed to galvanise the visitors and ten minutes into the second half they pulled level. Dragan Mrđa, often the playmaker in the open period, finished coolly after jinking through a sleeping Partizan defence. This was a cue for further flares, one of which struck their own player, Darko Brašanac, singeing a hole in the back of his shirt.

The remainder of the second half was a tense affair, Zvezda seemingly happy with a point that would take them seven points clear, and Partizan looking defeated and short of ideas. Step forward substitute Nemanja Kojić. As the clock struck the 90th minute Mrđa had clumsily lost possession and Vulićević put in a decent cross more in hope than expectation. Kojić superbly controlled the ball to slot home into the corner of the Red Star net. A pitch invasion ensued and the stadium erupted with a mixture of relief and joy for the black and white of Partizan.

So there it was, another thrilling encounter illuminated by two of the best sets of ultras in world football. Serbia is a great country with a population working hard to fix its image problem. This is classic footballing encounter, you must try and go at least once in your lifetime.

partizan-beograd

Saturday April 26th 2014 – Jelen Super Liga

FK Partizan (1) 2 (Drinčić 27, Kojić 90)

FK Crvena Zvezda (0) 1 (Mrđa 56)

Att: 30,000 (at Stadion Partizan)

Partizan:

25. Milan Lukač , 15. Branislav Trajković , 3. Vladimir Volkov, 4. Miroslav Vulićević , 6. Vojislav Stanković , 20. Nikola Drinčić , 17. Andrija Živković , 11. Nikola Ninković , 8. Darko Brašanac , 27. Danko Lazović , 32. Petar Škuletić .

Subs: 1. Živko Živković , 7. Predrag Luka (for 17,65 mins), 9. Nemanja Kojić (for 27,71 mins), 21. Saša Marković , 26. Milan Obradović , 29. Filip Malbašić (for 11,67 mins), 55. Danilo Pantić .

Crvena Zvezda:

1. Boban Bajković , 5. Nikola Mijailović , 14. Savo Pavićević , 44. Dejan Kelhar, 33. Milos Ninković , 10. Nenad Milijaš (c), 11. Nejc Pečnik, 8. Darko Lazović , 26. Goran Gogić, 55. Aleksandar Kovačević, 84. Dragan Mrđa.

Subs: 2. Marko Petković (for 8,69 mins), 6. Jovan Krneta, 7. Đorđe Rakić (for 27,71 mins), 17. Filip Kasalica (for 33,88 mins), 28. Vukan Savićević, 35. Predrag Rajković, 39. Ifeanyi Onyilo.

Missed Penalties: Ninković 23 mins, Mijailović 34 mins (both Zvezda)

Yellow Cards: Trajković, Stanković, Brašanac, Lazović (all Partizan), Mijailović, Kelhar, Milijaš (all Zvezda)

Gallery

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