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)

Oct 2018 040
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.

Bella Kantrida (HNK Rijeka)

There has been a football ground at the site of Kantrida since 1911 when HŠK Victoria played their first match there against HŠK Građanski Zagreb. The football field was laid out in the bottom of a former stone quarry on the banks of the Adriatic Sea, giving the Kantrida its iconic and distinctive cliff side location. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Rijeka became part of Italy while Sušak, then a separate town, where the Kantrida is situated, remained part of Yugoslavia. This meant HŠK Victoria could no longer use their own stadium and the Kantrida was occupied by Unione Sportiva Fiumana, a club competing in the Italian league system. Fiumana played at the stadium between 1926 and their dissolution in 1945. During their stay the Kantrida was renamed Stadio Comunale del Littorio, but was also called Borgomarina, the Italian name for the area of Sušak. Following World War II, Rijeka was returned to Yugoslavia and both Fiumana and Victoria were disbanded. A new town club, NK Kvarner were formed and in 1954 they changed their name to NK Rijeka.

Rijeka never won the Yugoslav League and indeed have never won the Croatian League since it’s inception in 1992. The club have been runners up on three occasions but just seem unable to break Dinamo Zagreb’s stranglehold on the domestic championship. Out of the 23 seasons of the Prva Liga, Dinamo have won sixteen of the championships (five as Croatia Zagreb) while Hajduk Split (six) and NK Zagreb account for the remaining seven successes. The Whites of Rijeka, however, have won the Croatian Cup three times and also took two successive Yugoslavian Cups in 1978 and 1979. To their credit Rijeka have qualified for the group stages of the Europa League for the last two seasons. Prior to this their greatest success in Europe was a Cup-Winners-Cup quarter final place against Juventus although they went out 2-0 on aggregate with goals coming from Juve legends Franco Causio and Roberto Bettega.

During the 1950’s the Kantrida underwent extensive renovation and had a new capacity of 25,000. However, UEFA safety standards saw this capacity slashed by half in recent years. This did not stop the May 1999 Prva Liga clash with NK Osijek attracting an all time record 25,000 spectators to the stadium. The Kantrida gained its unique double gantry floodlight pylons in 1975. The two pylons on the sea side of the ground were designed to replicate ships masts while the two on the top of the cliff are mounted at street level. For cars passing on the Istarstka Ulica it must be a truly bizarre spectacle.

Tonight’s match against Lokomotiva Zagreb is televised and feels like a really big deal. The crowd is excited from the start and the support from Rijeka’s ultras group Armada is boisterous and unrelenting. The ultras group were formed in 1987 and have their biggest rivalries with Tordica (Hajduk Split), Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo Zagreb) and Kohorta (Osijek). Armada’s murals around the Kantrida are really stunning. The match itself panned out to about one man, the Rijeka striker Andrej Kramarić. He scored five goals in a truly stellar display of the art of the centre forward play. His clinical finishing had the result of the match out of sight by half time, the pick of his strikes being a superb volley for his fourth goal.

Kramarić started his career at Dinamo Zagreb and scored in excess of 450 goals at youth level before turning professional. His career started well but he fell out of favour with manager Vahid Halilhodžić and was loaned to Lokomotiva for a season and half. His fall out with Dinamo turned into Rijeka’s advantage when he joined the Whites in August 2013. He currently has 21 goals this season and to put that in perspective the Prva Liga’s next highest scorer is Dinamo’s Duje Čop with nine! In 58 appearances for Rijeka he now has 54 goals. What is equally baffling is his haul of just three caps for Croatia, while seven of his Rijeka team mates were involved in Croatia’s international against Argentina at Upton Park, 23 year old Kramarić was left at home. He is definitely one to watch for the future. After Kramarić left the field to a standing ovation from the Rijeka fans his replacement Josip Ivančić scored the sixth goal of the night with his first touch. A truly impressive display from Rijeka and so fitting to see such a great home performance in this most wonderful of venues.

The last game to be played at the Kantrida in its present from is currently scheduled to be a Prva Liga game against Osijek on November 30th. This means there are just two games left at this amazing venue. From the resumption of the Croatian League season after its winter break Rijeka will play at a newly built temporary ground called the Rujevica Stadion. This will be a 6,000 all seated stadium on Ulica Hosti. The Rujevica will be home until the new Kantrida Stadion is completed which is scheduled to be June 2016. The new Kantrida will be a fully covered arena style stadium, its architect Gino Zavanella was one of the architects of the Juventus Arena. The new stadium will have seats for 14,438 people and will comply with UEFA’s category 4 status. The cost of the stadium has been privately funded and has a budget of €22 million.

Of course much of the natural beauty of the Kantrida will be lost with the redevelopment, beauty that saw Eurosport name the stadium as one of the Top 20 most beautiful sports venues in the world in April 2014. The need for the club to push on and try and challenge Dinamo’s domestic dominance is clear but what a cost they will have to bear to achieve this. I feel so eternally thankful to have been able to visit beautiful, beautiful Kantrida.

rijekalogo

Sunday November 9th 2014 – MaxTV Prva Liga

HNK Rijeka (3) 6 (Kramarić 21, 22, 38,49, 62, Ivančić 84)
Lokomotiva Zagreb (0) 0

Attendance: 6,000 (at Stadion Kantrida)

Rijeka:

25. Ivan Vargić, 8. Mato Jajalo, 10. Anas Sharbini ©, 11. Ivan Tomečak, 13. Marko Lešković, 15. Matej Mitrović, 16. Ivan Močinić, 20. Zoran Kvržić, 22. Marin Leovac, 88. Moisés Lima Magalhães, 91. Andrej Kramarić.

Subs: 32. Andrej Prskalo, 14. Goran Cvijanović (for 16, 74 mins), 19. Miral Samardžic, 28. Josip Ivančić (for 91, 84 mins), 29. Marko Vešović (for 20, 79 mins), 89. Vedran Jugović, 99. Ivan Krstanović.

Lokomotiva:

12.Simon Sluga, 3. Mario Musa ©, 5. Tomislav Mrčela, 6. Josip Ćalušić, 7. Damir Šovšić, 9. Ante Rukavina, 10. Domagoj Pavičić, 11. Karlo Bručić, 16. Jerko Leko, 19. Herdi Prenga, 21. Mirko Marić.

Subs: 1. Oliver Zelenika, 4. Jakov Biljan, 8. Luka Begonja (for 21, 28 mins), 13. Filip Mrzljak, 20. Petar Mišić (for 10, 65 mins), 22. Marko Kolar, 25. Jan Doležal (for 19, 81 mins).

Yellow Cards: Kvržić, Tomecak (Rijeka); Begonja (Lokomotiva).

Gallery

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Rijeka