The fixture gods had truly smiled on us for the third Serbian Groundhop, as there appeared to be a Friday 13.30pm kick off in the fifth tier Opštinska Liga Lučani between FK Bratstvo Dljin and FK Jedinstvo which would dovetail perfectly with the 5pm game at Mladost. With no ground in the tiny village of Djlin the club play at a sports complex in Lučani so we set off in good time for this game. Almost immediately entering Lučani you see the tall floodlights of Mladost. Unsure whether the Dljin game would be on the small ground next to the stadium we hopped of the bus to inquire further. The president of Mladost greeted us warmly but imparted the news that the normally reliable SrbjiaSport website was wrong and Djlin were playing tomorrow. The blow of losing our first game, although it had seemed too good to be true anyway, was tempered by the Mladost’s presidents insistence that we all have free tickets for the derby against Radnički Niš later that evening. We were also kindly invited for a complimentary drink at the nearby player’s hotel.
Serbian Groundhop Weekend legends Stephen Carpenter, Bogdan Mitrovic and Aleks Pekovic.
A plan was hatched to spend the time before kick off visiting a couple of nearby stadiums. We trundled over to Sloboda Užice and once we had negotiated a path through a market that seemed to sell only cabbages we were allowed into the stadium for a quick walk around. It’s an absolutely cracking stadium surrounded by housing and shrouded in low cloud. To a man the 20 English guys, 1 Scot, 1 Dane and 2 Serbs agreed that it is a must visit stadium for a match during a future groundhop.
We then took in the Stadion Kraj Valjaonice, home of FK Sevojno. A fascinating club who hit the headlines in 2009 by beating Red Star in the semi final of the Serbian Cup before going down to Partizan in the final.
A quick dash back to Lučani saw us in position in the main stand in time for the kick off of the evening’s televised game between Mladost Lučani and Radnički Niš. For a relatively local derby it’s a paltry looking crowd of under 250 that gather on a cold, wet evening. Our complimentary tickets had the cost of 300RSD on then which is around £3.75, relatively expensive by Super Liga standards. We witnessed an entertaining 2-2 draw with the major taking point being a very dubious penalty being awarded to Niš. The locals were justifiably livid and spent the rest of the game shouting “lopovi” (thieves) to any of the match officials who came within earshot.
Friday April 17th 2017 (5pm) – Super Liga
Mladost Lučani 2 (Radivojević 7, Trifanović 75)
Radnički Niš 2 (Stojanović 19, Pavkov pen 33)
Att:229 (at Stadion Mladost)
The first game of the Saturday was the third tier (Srpske Liga Vojvodina) clash between the wonderfully named FK Cement and Radnički Nova Pazova. Despite some pretty atrocious roads on the way to Beočin we arrived early enough to have a quick nose at the 16th century monastery which dates from the Ottoman Turkish occupancy of the region.
We arrived at the Gradski Stadion which sits in front of the cement factory. It’s a little dilapidated and crumbling and first impressions show it not to be a glowing advert for the product! However, thanks to a talk from the club president we learn the ground is as old as the club itself so at 104 years of age the stadium is entitled to be a little crumbly around the edges. The club’s emblem is a blue elephant which is a by line for their cement which is “as strong as an elephant”. It is a decent stadium with a lofted stand situated over uncovered seating. We are made very welcome by the club and witness a comfortable 2-0 home win.
Saturday November 18th 2017 (1pm) – Srpska Liga Vojvodina
FK Cement Beočin 2 (Gajić 32, Sekulić 57)
Radnički Nova Pazova 0
Att:103 (at Gradski Stadion)
The top club in the region are Super Liga heavyweights FK Vojvodina. We had blagged a stadium tour on the April trip and vowed to come back for a game. The Stadion Karađorđe is named after “Black George” Đorđe Petrović, a Serbian national hero from the First Uprising against the Ottomans in the early 19th century. It’s a superb bowl shaped ground and the crowd of around 700 (officially 500) looks a little lost in it despite it being less than £2 to attend the game. Sadly the match does not live up to the surroundings and the visitors, FK Radnik, from the southern city of Surdulica defend for a point from the outset. The result ended goalless with scarcely even a shot on goal to remember!
Saturday November 18th 2017 (5pm) – Super Liga
FK Vojvodina 0
FK Radnik Surdulica 0
Att:500 (at Stadion Karađorđe)
It’s an early start on the Sunday morning as we have a 10am kick off in the fourth tier Vojvođanska Liga “Jug” between FK Index and league leaders Sloga Erdevik. The Stadion Đačko Igralište is a modest ground on the banks of the Danube some seating one side of the ground and a small section of terracing on the far side. Index are essentially an academy team that moves its better players on to bigger clubs. A dour attritional encounter was settled late on with a top class finish from Sloga’s Stefan Cvijić.
The highlight of the visit was meeting former top flight referee Miroslav Radoman and former Red Star manager Milorad Kosanović who regaled us with stories from their extensive careers.
Sunday November 19th 2017 (10 am) – Vojvodanska Liga “Jug”
FK Index 0
FK Sloga Erdevik 1 (Cvijić 85)
Att:161 (at Stadion Đačko Igralište)
Next we motored about an hour to the north to the tiny Hungarian speaking village of Mali Iđoš where the local sixth level team Eđšeg Mali Iđoš were taking on Obilić Zmajevo. Before we entered the ground the guys from Groundhopping Serbia handed out some smart pin badges and Aleks asked that one be placed on the grave of David Rattenberry who had come on both previous hops and who had sadly passed away days before he was due to join us for this trip. It was a very touching moment and meant a lot to us.
When trying to slot in an afternoon game between Index and the evening game at Subotica I consulted Serb football grounds expert Sasa Grujić (@grujas on Twitter) who runs the excellent website groundhoppingsrb.blogspot.co.uk From my shortlist of four possibles Sasa recommended this one and what a great choice it was. A cracking ground with a smart entrance and large pitched roof stand. A 4-3 home victory on a bobbly pitch was superb entertainment. The home club were genuinely pleased to host their bus load of unexpected foreign guests and insisted on photos being taken for the wall of their clubhouse.
Sunday November 19th (1.30pm) – MFL Bačka Topola
FK Eđšeg Mali Iđoš 4 (Vujović 3, Itali 17, pen 42, 62)
Obilić Zmajevo 3 (Bukić 9,73, Tosić 84)
Att:76 (at Stadion Mali Iđoš)
We arrived at the City Stadium in Subotica with about 15 minutes to kick off and Sasa, a big Spartak fan, was waiting to usher us in to VIP for the evening. It was a lovely gesture but none of us were ready for what we were about to witness. The visitors for this Super Liga clash were Borac Čačak rooted to the bottom of the table amid internal problems over unpaid salaries.
The guests turned the league table upside down by opening the scoring and Spartak huffed and puffed trying to level the scores and moments before halftime the referee awarded a hotly disputed penalty (my instant thought was that it was a penalty, but others did not). The Borac players were incensed, Lazar Jovanović was sent off for pushing and then aiming a headbutt at the referee and he was swiftly followed to the dressing room by Amer Dupovac for his protestations. When order was restored the penalty was dispatched and the whistle went for halftime.
Borac took ages to return for the second half and when they did their nine players promptly sat down with their backs to the referee! After five minutes where it looked like the game would be abandoned the Borac coach signalled for them to get up and restart the game. The second half was farcical with the Borac keeper, Vladimir Bajić, deliberately kicking the ball out of the stadium at every available opportunity. If that wasn’t enough the Serbian press quickly discovered we were watching the game from our social media accounts and suddenly it was all over the internet “25 English tourists witness the shame of Serbian football”. It was a crazy end to another fantastic Serbian Football Weekend.
Sunday November 19th 2017 (5pm) – Super Liga
FK Spartak Subotica 3 (Savković pen 45, Torbica 54, Radovanović pen 85)
FK Borac Čačak 1 (Jovanović 27)
Att:570 (at Gradski Stadion)
A much extended version of this article will appear in a future edition of “Football Weekends” magazine.