Postcards from Užice (Serbian Groundhop 5)

The fifth organised Groundhop in Serbia in conjunction with Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić of Groundhopping Serbia took place over the last weekend of October. This time the hop was mainly based in the south-west of the country among the stunning mountainous scenery of the Zlatibor and Moravica districts.

With 12 of the 22 attendees arriving late on the Thursday the fixture gods were kind to us and threw up a second tier Prva Liga fixture between the ethnic Hungarian club TSC Bačka Topola and the predominantly Muslim team from the southern city of Novi Pazar. Interestingly TSC are playing their home games this season at the ground of fourth tier club FK Senta of the PFL Subotica, some 25 miles east of Bačka Topola. This is because their old Gradski Stadion is due for demolition with a 3,800 capacity stadium UEFA compliant arena being built on the same footprint.

Stadion Senta does not have floodlights so we have a 14.30pm kick off with today’s opponents having endured a six hour trip north on a rickety looking municipal bus rather than a coach. Unsurprisingly the home side coasted to a very comfortable 6-0 win. Despite playing some distance from their hometown Bačka are well supported and include a group of ultras known as the Blue Betyars (Outlaws), who on the 56th minute unveil a tifo which says “Respect to the Heroes of ‘56”, referencing the Hungarian Uprising.

Friday October 26th 2018 – Prva Liga

TSC Bačka Topola 6 (Galić 12, Milićević 18,21, Siladi 41, Milisavljević 47, Bastajić 72)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:258 (played at FK Senta)

Backa Topola (4)

It was an early rise on the Saturday morning for an 8.45am kick off in the Belgrade suburb of Makiš. None of us recall attending and earlier kick off. It was an under 19 encounter between FK Lokomotiva and FK Zemun and proved to be an entertaining game in a quirky venue surrounded by old locomotives and train carriages.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Belgrade Prva Liga Omladinska

FK Lokomotiva U18s 0
FK Zemun U18s 1 (Njamculović 42)

Att:59

Lokomotiva
We then began a lengthy drive south through the towns of Čačak and Užice, to the mountainous region of Zlatibor, named after Serbia’s tallest mountain whose highest peak, Tornik, measures 1,496 metres. The local team, FK Zlatibor, were in the Zlatibor District League as recently as 2014 but won the Srpska Liga Zapad last season to gain promotion to the second tier, Prva Liga, for the first time in their history. The club is not particularly well liked being dubbed as a “plastic” club being heavily financed through to their current level. The play in nearby Čajetina at the modest Stadion Švajcarija and we obtain our 200 dinar (£1.50) tickets at the entrance to the stand. Today’s encounter sees top placed FK Inđija visiting second place Zlatibor. It’s a tight encounter settled in favour of the hosts with a tidy finish from Dejan Vidić.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Prva Liga

FK Zlatibor 1 (Vidić 8)
FK Inđija 0

Att:397 (at Stadion Švajvarija)

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After a late breakfast at the Hotel Zlatibor, quite the worst hotel any of us could ever remember, we made the short drive to the Stadion Krčagovo, home of FK Jedinstvo Putevi. This morning’s entertainment would be a fourth level Zona Zapadno-Moravska match against near neighbours FK Polimlje Prijepolje. The stadium is very photogenic sat in the sprawling hillside suburbs of Užice and a stunning wooded valley which was playfully sporting its glorious autumnal colours. A poor, badly rutted pitch meant the game wasn’t the highest quality and it was the visitors that took their few chances to win the game 2-0.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Zona Zapadno-Moravska

FK Jedinstvo Putevi 0
FK Polimlje 2 (Hamzić pen 51, Džanović 73)

Att:154 (at Stadion Krčagovo)

Jedinstvo (1)

One member of the Groundhopping Serbia crew, Teodora, kindly left the game early to obtain a hearty warm, doughy snack of komplet lepinja, which is traditionally consumed alongside a drink of runny yoghurt. Our skilful bus driver, Aleksandr, then drove north west to the Mačva region via some truly stunning mountain scenery. We had a fairly tight timeline to make the start of the star attraction of the weekend, the visit of reigning Super Liga champions, Crvena Zvezda to the humble abode of FK Mačva Šabac. It was clearly a big deal in what is a very small provincial town, and we welcomed the police escort to the ground, I mean don’t you know who we are??!!

After picking up our pre-reserved tickets costing 500 dinar (£3.70) each, we faced big queues at the Stadion Šabac entrances. Our sector in the west stand had clearly been massively oversold with people standing due to lack of seats and also sitting on stairways. The free-for-all scramble for spare seats saw a lot of us housed in the sector adjacent to the Delije, Red Star’s world famous ultras. As always their support was noisy, pyro based and utterly relentless, sound tracking a perfunctory 2-0 win for the champions. The home side had a small band of ultras housed in a stand behind the goal. The Šaneri (“The Thieves”) tried to make themselves heard but were massively outnumbered by Red Star’s support.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Super Liga

FK Mačva Šabac 0
FK Crvena Zvezda 2 (Pavkov 39, Jovančic 60)

Att:7,000 (at Stadion Šabac)

Red Star at Macva Sabac (3)

After the horrific night at the Stalag Zlatibor the welcoming bosom of the Hotel Slavija was looked on by all with a renewed affection. For most of the tour party it was their last night in Belgrade before departing for various flights home from Nikola Tesla airport. For the remaining handful of travellers there was the attraction of a midday kick off for the under 19 teams of FK BASK and Red Star. We had first visited the Stadion Careva Ćuprija on the inaugural Serbian Groundhop weekend. They have an excellent ground close to the hippodrome and it’s easily reached by tram.It was an interestingly tactical match with Red Star dominating possession but failing to create many chances. BASK equalised an early Red Star penalty midway through the second half before rising star Dejan Joveljić bagged a late winner.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

FK BASK U19s 1 (Pavlovic 65)
FK Crvena Zvezda U19s 2 (Joveljić pen 5,87)

Att:116

FK BASK

With seven of the party on Wizz’s 7pm flight back to Luton there was time to shoehorn one more game into the groundhop with another under 19 match taking place on the 3G pitch next to OFK Beograd’s wonderfully crumbling Omladinski Stadion in the Karaburma district of the city. The main stadium is in an advanced state of decay and its 20,000 capacity is severely restricted these days. For the Romantičari (The Romantics) it’s a sorry state of affairs and light years away from their heyday of a Cup Winners Cup semi final defeat to Spurs in 1963 and glorious European wins against the likes of Napoli, Feyenoord, Juventus and Panathinaikos.

Today’s match sees OFK’s under 19’s take on youth product specialists FK Brodarac who have recent appearances in the UEFA Youth League to their credit. The match was a total contrast to the BASK – Red Star game the previous day, being fast and furious. Similarly to the main stadium the 3G pitch is in very poor condition with lots of holes and patches of low quality replacement surface. OFK’s youngsters look like they are going to win a hard fought contest before the referee awards Brodarac a late and very soft penalty to square the result at 2-2.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

OFK Beograd U19s 2 (Pavlović pen 54, Mijailović 75)
FK Brodarac U19s 2 (Vukosavljević 70, Lukić pen 90)

Att:129

OFK v Brodarac

This particular groundhop was a logistical nightmare to arrange with kick offs not being finalised until the Tuesday before we departed on the Thursday! For news of any future events please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter or join the Facebook group Serbian Football Weekends. For more pictures of this latest trip you can use the hashtag #SerbianGH5 across all forms of social media.

A much expanded version of this piece will feature in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.

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Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 4)

The fourth organised Serbian Groundhop took place across a balmy weekend in April with an ambitious but exciting looking eight game extravaganza in and around the Belgrade area.

One of the six Super Liga grounds in Belgrade that sparks a lot of interest and wonder is that of FK Voždovac but somehow they had always seemed to be away from home when we had selected a date for our weekends. Until 2011 the club played at the crumbling Bojan Majić Stadium when they received a most unusual offer. A developer offered to place a new stadium on top of their proposed six story shopping centre in the heart of the Voždovac district. Initially the plan was to have a stadium with two sides and no end stands, however, this was changed at a late stage to a four sided fully UEFA compliant stadium.

For us, as luck would have it, the proposed Arena Sport televising of the Vojvodina v Spartak game was switched at short notice to the relegation group battle between Voždovac and Napredak. This meant the assembled group had a Friday evening game a short taxi ride away from our base at Belgrade’s equivalent of Fawlty Towers, the very cheap and sometimes cheerful Hotel Slavija.

On arrival at the “Stadium Shopping Center” in Zaplanjska Street you can’t help but look up and see the roofs of the stands protruding outwards and up from a run of the mill shopping centre.

It was a pretty lifeless encounter won by the hosts with an early goal. With the lack of excitement on the pitch you tend to lose the sense of location except for the occasional glance to a corner, where netting is in place to stop the obvious threat of wayward balls, and you glimpse Belgrade suburbia from your lofty perch.

You also notice the poor construction of the stadium despite it ticking all the UEFA requirement boxes. The rake of the steps is vertiginous but the steps are very narrow with no handrails for descending. The vast majority of the seats in the main West Stand will be obscured by the media centre, VIP area or camera gantries. Tickets are purchased at a desk inside the shopping centre and there is also a small merchandise shop within a newsagents on the same level.

Friday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Super Liga

FK Voždovac 1 (Stuparević 7)
FK Napredak 0

Att:439 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

After some Friday evening free time in Belgrade, we reconvened at the Slavija ahead of a morning fixture at Brodarac to see their highly successful under 19 side. On the second Serbian Groundhop we saw Brodarac thrash their counterparts from Partizan on their way to winning the Serbian under 19 league. This meant Brodarac qualified for this season’s UEFA Youth League. They were drawn at home in the qualifying play-off against Manchester United. The match was moved to Voždovac and the home side put up a brave fight before going down 2-0. The Brodarac first team are currently in the fourth tier, Belgrade Zona Liga, so their youth and academy success is truly admirable. Brodarac translates as “winners”.

Their stadium lies under the Stari Savski Most one of the oldest bridges across the River Sava and initially is most notable for the large JAT advert on the roof of its indoor facility. JAT was Jugoslovenski Aerotransport, the old state owned airline long replaced by Air Serbia. As you look around the immediate vicinity of the stadium you become aware of the history around it. The ground is built on the site of the notorious Staro Sajmište World War II concentration camp. The under 19s are taking on their equivalents from Voždovac and again play an exciting and energetic attacking game and win far more easily than the 2-1 score suggested.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Under 19 Liga

FK Brodarac U19s 2 (L.Jovanović 69, D.Jovanović 73)
FK Vojvodina U19s 1 (Mrdja 90)

Att:112

Our next port of call was completely diametrically opposed to the sobering location of our morning match. Ada Ciganliga is an island in the Sava that has been artificially turned in to a peninsular with a lake and beach (part of which is nudist if you’re into that sort of thing) where locals flock in their thousands to relax, sunbathe and play sport. It is also a area for artwork, light displays and nightlife. There is a toll to come onto the island payable in kiosks at the barrier on the approach road.

The island is also home to the Belgrade FA stadium which has two artificial pitches one boasting a large pitch length stand. These are used to stage numerous matches in the lower reaches of the Belgrade leagues and as the main stadium has lights as many as six or seven matches a day take place at the weekends.

FK Dedinje are a 2014 reformation of a pre-WWII Belgrade club that played close to the site of Red Star’s Marakana stadium. Dedinje do not have a home ground of their own so have shared at Grafičar and Brodarac before using Ada Ciganliga. The club are nicknamed the “Millioneri” due to its historic location in one of Belgrade’s most exclusive areas. Somewhat annoyingly their pre-match huddle ends with a group shout of “Who is Belgrade’s richest club….Dedinje”. After that initial bluster they turn in a poor performance in unrelenting heat and opponents FK 011 (named after the dial code for Belgrade) canter to a 2-0 win.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Meduopštinska Liga (Grupa A)

FK Dedinje 0
FK 011 Beograd 2 (Andrić 62, Jovanović pen 90)

Att:58

We then travel outside the city to Obrenobac where the local regional league has 5pm kick offs on a Saturday afternoon. We arrive at FK Rojkovac only to find that their opponents, FK Ljubinić have failed to show up and have forfeited the game. Very kindly a local man offers to guide us to another ground in the next village of Rvati, just as well as its remote location down unmade paths would have been very difficult to locate. The locals are truly astonished when their unexpected foreign guests arrive a few minutes after kick off.

Stadion Rvati is a run down gem of a ground, similar to the village ground of FK Vrčín on the inaugural hop. The football is not of the highest standard but the hosts turn on the jet packs and coast to a memorable 8-3 victory. There is something to be said for visiting these of the beaten track, ramshackle old grounds to gain a true perception of football outside the glamour of Super Liga and the like.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Opštinska Liga Obrenovac

OFK Rvati 8 (Joksić 17,51,73, Nedeljković 29, Vučićević 33,81, Jakovljević pen 65, Petrović 77)

FK Sloga Ratari 3 (Kozlica 42, pen 45, Jovičić 78)

Att:60

We feasted on traditional Serbian meat platters at a roadside restaurant called Mali Raj on Kralja Aleksandra in Obrenovac. Bellies full and thirst satiated we headed back to the city for something completely different. One time Aston Villa striker Savo Milošević is now Vice President of the Serbian Football Association, heading up their anti-corruption purge, he is also a part time actor and tonight is in a theatrical performance at Akademija 28. The audience appears to be almost entirely female and pleasingly Savo appears as promised after the show. After a somewhat turbulent post playing career including alcohol problems following his father being shot dead by his grandfather, he looks fit and well and seemingly still very much a heartthrob as he was during his playing days which saw him win 102 international caps. He seems happy to talk to English football fans about his time at Villa and comes across as an extremely nice guy.

Sunday’s itinerary began with an early morning kick off at FK Žarkovo located on the north side of Danube in Novi Beograd The club are flying high at the top of the Belgrade region third tier Srpske Liga. The ground has a new stand and restaurant in order to cope with Prva Liga football. Joining our party for this game was Nenad Mijaljević, well known in England for producing top notch programmes for non-league clubs like South Shields, Jarrow Roofing and Seaham Red Star. A huge Red Star fanatic he tells me he has recently taken up groundhopping and now “gets” why people do it. It’s a competitive game with opponents FK IMT extremely unlucky not to get at least a point from the match. It’s the runaway league leaders that come out on top in a 2-1 in front of a decent crowd.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Srpske Liga Beograd

FK Žarkovo 2 (Rajić 15, Garić pen 19)
FK IMT 1 (Šarić 25)

Att:240 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

We have a leisurely lunch at one of our usual haunts, Konoba, under the Pančevo bridge. We have a riverside table set aside and enjoy their signature fish stew followed by yet more meat! A surprisingly swollen Danube laps gently against the terrace.

At the risk of sounding like “Savo stalkers” we bump into him again at Prva Liga club FK Bežanija, he is there with his family watching his eldest son Nikola play and score twice for the home side against FK Budućnost. It’s a blisteringly hot afternoon and an enterprising nut seller augmented the usual “kikiriki and semenke” (peanuts and seeds) with skewers of strawberries.

The stadium in Bežanija is set in an old quarry and at one end steep quarry walls afford an amazing view of the city. Behind the opposite goal is the beautiful Crkva Svetog Đorđa (Church of St George). Some people say football is a religion, well the priest from the church joined the crowd for the last twenty minutes of this game but the home side needed no divine intervention as Milošević’s brace was enough to secure the points.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Bežanija 2 (Milošević 6,29)
FK Budućnost Dobanovci 0

Att:233 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

The Sunday evening game was a revisit for most of us as Partizan took on cross city opposition in Čukarički. The Partizan stadium always seems to have an intimidating atmosphere even when sparsely attended. The ultra group Grobari has warring factions resulting in the three factions being segregated into different parts of the stadium. Heeding the advice of co-organiser Aleks we all opt for tickets in the “posh” west stand (Zapad) for the princely sum of 450 dinar (£3.30). Partizan unsurprisingly take the points when the impressive Zoran Tošić nets his second goal of the game towards the end.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Super LigaFK Partizan 2 (Tošić 18,81)
FK Čukarički 1 (Belaković 46)

Att: 2,500 Entry 450 RSD (£3.30)

Some of the party have opted to return to the UK (and Germany and Denmark!) on the Monday so its a smaller bunch that head back to the island paradise of Ada Ciganliga for an under 18 match between FK 011 and Voždovac.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian U18 League

FK 011 Beograd U18s 0
FK Voždovac U18s 2 (Nadj 21, Mijailović 37)

Att:23

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We then head north out of Belgrade for the 4pm Prva match at FK Inđija. En route we stop at the Serbian FA headquarters in Stara Pazova. A centre of excellence like St.Georges Park, this UEFA funded facility has six pitches two of which have spectator accommodation.

The Gradski Stadion in Inđija is top notch with some old stands on one side and a newer big uncovered stand on the opposite a left over from the clubs’ brief Super Liga stint in 2010/11. The stadium is right next the railway with passenger and freight trains rattling past regularly. This harks back to the clubs origins as Železničar Inđija, with the prefix being attached to railroad workers. Also at this end a towering factory belches and crackles constantly. A decent crowd gathers for the match against Novi Pazar, but the visitors miss a penalty and don’t really trouble the hosts as they ease to a 2-0 win.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Inđija 2 (Kovačevic 22, Gajić 45)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:310 Entry 100 RSD (70p)

It’s a great coda to another sublime weekend in the company of Groundhopping Serbia (Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić) and we end the day enjoying some of the Hotel Moscow’s world renowned cake, Moskva šnit. It also dawns on us that our nine matches have cost us a little over £8 in entrance money! We hope to run a fifth Groundhop early in the new season taking in the delights of Southern Serbia this time and maybe also a game in the Srpske Republic enclave in Bosnia. To join us or just keep up to date with our plans please follow me and the lads on Twitter (@PeterRMiles and @GroundhopSerbia), or Facebook at Serbian Groundhop Weekends.
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A much expanded version of this article will appear in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.

East is East (Slaven Koprivnica)

Koprivnica is a very pleasant town of 24,000 inhabitants in northern Croatia just a few miles from the border with Hungary and was always a border town linking the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires.

Senior football came to the town when the name of HŠK Slaven was adopted by the Freidrich family in August 1912 as direct replacement for NK Đački, a students’ team formed in 1907. Đački had an inauspicious start losing their first ever game 15-1 to HAŠK Zagreb. Despite winning the Croatian regional championship in 1920 HŠK Slaven, having been renamed HŠK Victorija, folded only six years later.

Reforming in 1930 the club has undergone numerous name changes including HŠK Koprivnica, HŠK Danica, RNHŠK Sloga, FD Slaven and SD Podravka. The club became NK Slaven Koprivnica in 1958 and the only chances since have been the addition of a sponsors name, this currently being Belupo, a local pharmaceutical company.

Since the break up of the Yugoslavian League system the top tiers of the resultant national leagues feature a few big names but also a number of relatively small clubs. It is still something of a surprise that this modest provincial club have been in the Croatian Prva Liga since 1997 having won the northern section of the regionalised second tier Druga Liga. Since their elevation to the top flight Slaven have been a predominantly mid table side although in 2007/08 achieved a runners-up spot in the Prva Liga, although they were actually 28 points behind perennial champions Dinamo Zagreb. The club were in the Europa League qualifiers as recently as 2012/13, defeating Portadown before bowing out to Athletic Bilbao.

Slaven play at the Gradski Stadion u Koprivnici which has one large stand, with 3,134 seats, built in 1997. For a Croatian under 21 match against Scotland in 2000 the centre of the rear section of seats was covered with a roof, this being extended to cover the rest of the top tier of seating as recently as 2011. The bottom tier remains open to the elements and the rest of the ground has no further spectator accommodation. The Gradski has only had floodlights since May 2007, erected in order to host Europa League matches. Slaven qualified for the Europa League having been runners up to Dinamo Zagreb in the two legged Croatian Cup final.

Last season Slaven finished next to bottom in the ten team Prva Liga, and only stayed up by virtue of a 4-3 aggregate play-off win over Cibalia. This season has also been a struggle for “The Farmaceuti” (The Pharmacists) and tonight’s game, covered live on television, sees the hosts in bottom spot with just ten points from the opening fourteen rounds of matches. It is interesting to note that on the bench for Slaven is 39 year old striker Davor Vugrinec, a career veteran with lengthy playing experience in Italy and Turkey.

Tonight’s guests are Radnički Nogometni Klub Split, the workers club from the southern city of Split. They themselves have a really interesting history having being founded by anarchists, playing under the name HRŠD Anarch and sporting an all black kit. Nowadays they sport all red attire and currently hold a mid table position in the Prva Liga. Tickets for this top flight match range between £1.50 and £2.

The first half of the match is very low on quality both teams content on passing the ball to each other and mainly heading backwards towards their own goal. The home crowd (officially quoted as 2,000 although in my eyes 500 was a more realistic figure) soon start venting their frustration, a grey haired man bedecked in Slaven attire, bellows gutturally between puffs of an omnipresent cigarette. The second half is marginally better and notably the home side try to go on the offensive. It was a lucky ricochet off a Split defender that led to the goal. Attacking left back Dario Melnjak seized the loose ball and scored with a shot into the corner of the net. It was a rare piece of quality in a dour match and saw Slaven move off the bottom of the table. Despite the low quality of the football it was nice to experience an everyday game in a little known province of Eastern Europe. I, for one, hope they manage to stay up this season.

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Friday November 7th 2014 – MaxTV Prva Liga

Slaven Belupo Koprivnica (0) 1 (Melnjak 56)
RNK Split (0) 0

Attendance: 2,000 (at Stadion Gradski)

Slaven:

1. Ivan Kardum, 3. Dario Melnjak, 4. Mato Grgić ©, 6. Ljuban Crepulja, 8. Daniel Cesarec, 9. Dominik Glavina, 10. Petar Brlek, 11. Goran Paracki, 14. Mateas Delić, 18. Ivan Fuštar, 23. Stjepan Geng.

Subs: 12. Dominik Picak, 7. Ivan Vasilj, 13. Petar Filipović (for 14,90 mins), 15. Davor Vugrinec (for 8,80 mins), 19. Marko Mirić (for 9,79 mins), 22. Enes Novinić, 26. Hrvoje Plazanić.

Split:

12. Danijel Zagorac ©, 3. Denis Glavina, 4. Ante Majstorović, 6. Tomislav Glumac, 14. Goran Roce, 17. Marko Rog, 24. Miloš Vidović, 25. Dario Rugašević, 26. Nino Galović, 29. Ivan Ibriks, 99. Sokol Cikalleshi.

Subs: 1. Tomislav Duka, 5. Branko Vrgoč, 13. Josip Uzelac, 16. Tomislav Radotić, 18. Luka Grubišić, 32. Marko Roglić, 35. Ivan Jukić (for 4,67 mins).

Yellow Cards: Melnjak, Glavina, Brlek, Paracki (all Slaven); Glavina, Majstorovic (both Split).

Gallery

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Slaven