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.

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Postcards From Belgrade 2 (Serbian Groundhop 2017)

Following last years pioneering Groudhop to Belgrade a second one was arranged for the first weekend of April 2017 with no less than 45 groundhoppers attending.

The first match on the agenda was the match between Dinamo Vranje and ČSK Celarevo Pivara. Vranje is a city in the Pčinja district of Southern Serbia, just 25 miles from the border with Macedonia and 40 miles from Bulgaria. The club were formed in 1947 and have spent much of their recent history in between the second and third tiers of Serb football. However, as recently as 2013/14 they were in the fourth tier but after two straight promotions they have returned to the Prva Liga. Dinamo play at the Yumco Stadion, Yumco have their HQ next door to the stadium and produce the uniforms for the Serbian military.

The stadium is a quirky two sided affair with separate entrances for both sides meaning you had to leave the stadium and walk round the perimeter to gain access to the open terrace on the far side. What set the ground apart was its location beneath the triple peaks of the Pljačkovica, Krstilovice and Pržar mountains, as initially the sun shone it really was a most beautiful vista.

Prva Liga (07/04/2017)

FK Dinamo Vranje 2 (Djokić 51, Suraka 62)

FK ČSK Pivara 1 (Mezei 89)

Att: c.600 (at Yumco Stadion) Free admission

The footballing offering for Saturday morning was restricted to under 19 matches in the Omladinska Liga. We opted for the game between second placed FK Partizan and league leaders FK Brodarac. They play at the Sports Centre Partizan-Teleoptik in Zemun which is also known as as “Zemunelo”. As well as being Partizan’s training ground it is the home ground of FK Teleoptik who currently lead the third tier Srpska Liga Beograd Zona.

A healthy crowd of almost 400 gather to watch a scintillating performance from Brodarac who win comfortably by four goals to one. Among the crowd was former PSV, Chelsea and Atlético Madrid striker Mateja Kežman who was very friendly and seemed happy to sign autographs and pose for photos.

Omlandiska Liga (08/04/2017, 10am)

FK Partizan U19s 1 (Maksimović 78)
FK Brodarac U19s 4 (Lukić 23,53, Bjelobrk 40, Kojić 66)

Att:397 (at SC Partizan Teleoptik)

The early evening game saw a trip to Stadion Partizan for the match against southern Serbian club Radnik Surdulica. Tension in and around the stadium, despite the modest crowd, was palpable with Red Star ultras apparently trying to steal Partizan flags. The mood wasn’t helped by Radnik taking an unexpected lead early on.

The second half thankfully was less worrying and Partizan almost inevitably came back to win 2-1 thanks to the awarding of a very soft penalty.
Partizan and Red Star have been at loggerheads since both were formed in 1945 after all pre War clubs were formally dissolved. Red Star have won 27 National championships to Partizan’s 26 so you can imagine the intense rivalry between the two on derby day. The Večiti derbi, the Eternal Derby,really is one of Europe’s greatest footballing experiences.

Super Liga (08/04/2017, 5pm)

FK Partizan 2 (Janković 53, Durdević pen 78)

FK Radnik Surdulica 1 (Arsenijević 18)

Att:1,500

On Sunday we could have stayed in Belgrade for the easy option of Grafičar but instead we decided on the derby of Mladenovac! Upon entering the ground of FK Selo Mladenovac you see an old railway carriage which is used as a refreshments bar! On the far side is a pitch length uncovered terrace whose concrete steps have been almost subsumed by weeds and wild flowers. Behind the terrace is the eye catching feature of a disuse mill tower. Behind the dressing rooms is the disused factory of Petar Drapšin which manufactured tanks for the old Eastern bloc countries.

Again the club are most welcoming and insist we don’t pay to get in. The hosts need to defeat OFK Mladenovac to remain in the division and a spirited comeback in the second sees them grab the points with a 4-2 triumph.

1.Beogradska Liga Grupa C (09/04/2017, 10am)

FK Selo Mladenovac 4 (Mitrović 46, Tolić pen 64,74, Vujić 79)

OFK Mladenovac 2 (Arsić 43, Stefanović 84)

Att:79

We headed back to Belgrade for the highly anticipated match between FK Rad and Red Star. We had reserved tickets in the “neutral” sector were charged 700 Serb dinar (£5) instead of the normal 400 dinar. To our surprise the ground was not even half full and our tickets had 400 RSD written on them. The club had charged us 300 dinar per ticket for “reservation” for a game that we could have just walked up to and paid to get in. The poor experience with Rad was compounded by the searches conducted at the gates which saw all manner of items confiscated, the strangest being a packet of mints!

On the pitch zvezda eased to a 4-0 win helped by the referee failing to give Rad a clear penalty with the score at 0-1. The Rad ultras were housed in a section of uncovered terracing behind the goal and had just returned after their racist chanting had seen the club forced to play the previous three home games behind closed doors. Save for the odd bout of vigorous flag waving and a blue smoke bomb the ultras of Rad appeared to be on their best behaviour.

Super Liga (09/11/2017, 5pm)

FK Rad 0

FK Crvena Zvezda 4 (Plavšić 34,70, Ristić 65, Petković 73)

Att:2,000 (at Stadion Kralj Petar I)

With a few of the hoppers staying till Tuesday a bonus opportunity of the Prva Liga match between FK Proleter and FK Indija appeared from the fixture gods. We headed north to the stunning city of Novi Sad in good time for the 15.30pm start.

Arriving unannounced just before kick off at the Stadion Slana Bara (“salty pond”) the FK Proleter president insisted we would be his guests and again free entry was given as well as very welcome cold bottle of Coke or Fanta on a blisteringly hot afternoon.
Both Proleter and Indija have struggled for goals this season and prior to today’s match had both managed to score only 18 goals in twenty matches. A competitive and occasionally feisty encounter saw the hosts win 3-1 in front of 500 people with their third being an absolute peach of a free kick.

Prva Liga (10/04/2017)

FK Proleter Novi Sad 3 (Novaković 26,85, Mirosavljev 56)

FK Indija 1 (Marković 23)

Att:500 (at Stadion Slana Bara)

With grateful thanks to our Serbian friends Aleks Peković, Bodgan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić, Stephen Carpenter and I hope to arrange a third Serbian Groundhop in during the 2017/18 season.

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An extended review of Belgrade Groundhop 2017 will appear in the June 2017 edition of “Football Weekends” magazine. To order your copy please visit http://www.footballweekends.co.uk

 

 

Postcards from Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 2016)

The first organised groundhop in Serbia got underway with an unexpected bonus match with the fixture gods having a Friday match as Radnički Niš against Novi Pazar was being broadcast by one of Serbia’s pay per view channels. An extra day of mini bus use was hastily arranged and the group headed south on the two and a half hour drive to Niš.

 
Niš is the third largest city in Serbia after Novi Sad and the capital Belgrade and the club was formed in 1923. Radnički translates as “Workers”. The club were always a consistent member of the top division of the old Yugoslavian League and in 1981/2 they reached the semi final of the UEFA Cup having eliminated Napoli, Grasshoppers, Feyenoord and Dundee United. They were drawn against Hamburg SV and Radnički won the first leg 2-1 in Niš. The second leg at the Volksparkstadion saw the Serbs collapse to a 5-1 defeat. Legend has it that the club accepted a bribe of a set of floodlights from the Hamburg chairman to throw the second leg.

 
A shock relegation in 1985 bought an end to a golden era for the club. Serbia’s independence following the Balkan War saw the club in the top division of the new league but by 2008 they dropped into the third tier regional Srpska Liga East. Happily by 2011/12 they were back in the top flight and this coincided with a return to the home stadium Čair, their home since 1963, which had undergone an €11 million revamp.

 
Tonight’s match against Novi Pazar sees the hosts in fifth place in the Jelen Super Liga while their guests occupied twelfth spot. What followed were two teams completely cancelling each other out and the 0-0 result was somewhat inevitable. Some local fans who were surprised by the English presence in their stadium told us they suspected the result had been agreed in advance between the two clubs and they feared this was common place among the smaller clubs in Serbia.

Friday 18th March 2016 – Jelen Super Liga

 

FC Radnički Niš 0

Novi Pazar 0

 
Att: 2,000 (at Gradski Stadion Čair)


The evening was concluded with a quick stroll around Niš Fortress before getting sustenance in the lively bohemian quarter of the city. As JJ Burnel once (nearly) sung it really was “So nice in Niš”. The party then headed back to our headquarters in Belgrade’s Slavija Square.

March 2016 139

 
Saturday’s busy schedule started early with a 10 am kick of at third division BASK (Beogradski Akademski Sportski Klub). The club were formed in April 1903 SK Soko as a football wing of a long established gymnastics club. That formation date means BASK are the oldest club in the kingdom of Serbia.
Initially the club used a tight field on Jugovićeva Street but this was too confined so they moved to a new field known as Bara Venecija but after a few years of use this was completely destroyed when the mighty River Sava burst its’ banks. SK Soko then moved to a new ground in Topčider but after 27 years this was lost to railway expansion. Having changed their name to BASK in 1933 the club moved to yet another new venue behind an electrical plant in Novi Beograd. Ironically after World War II this venue became home to today’s opponents, Radnički Novi Beograd.

 
In the early post War years BASK merged with Senjak and gained use of the current stadium in Topčider Park close to the former home of SK Soko. The club has enjoyed great success at the Stadion Careva Ćuprija and as recently as 2009/10 and 2010/11 they achieved a double promotion from third tier to the Super Liga. However the BASK board decided the top flight would be too much of a financial risk for the club and they sold their place in the Super Liga to FK Novi Pazar.

 
The black and whites are now back in the third tier and their stadium now boasts a 3G surface and a large pitch length stand down one side and a more modest cover behind one goal. The adjacent hotel houses player from Super Liga club Spartak Subotica, in town for the match against Red Star, and a few of them drift in to watch the game. The hosts grab an early lead with a deft left footed drive from Dejan Pajović. The visitors from Novi Beograd, in second place in the table, spend most of the game trying to score but just as they appeared to have given up they snatch the points with two very late goals.

 
Saturday March 19th 2016 – Srpska Liga Beograd
 

BASK 1 (Pajović 11)

Radnički Novi Beograd 2 (Stajić 89, Dalifi 90)

 
Att: 161 (at Stadion Careva Ćuprija)

We then head over to the suburb of Karaburma and next up is the 2pm kick off at the once mighty Stadion Omladinski, home of OFK Beograd. Omladinski Fudbalski Klub Beograd were formed as Beogradski Sport Klub in 1911 and won five national championships before World War II. The club became Metalac in 1945 before reverting five years later to BSK. In 1957 the club became OFK with Omladinski translating as “Youth”. The club won the Yugoslav Cup four times in the 1950’s and 60’s and were rarely out of the top six in the league. They were regulars in European competition until the mid 1970’s and hold victories over the likes of Napoli, Juventus, Feyenoord and Panathinaikos. In 1962/3 they reached the semi-final of the Cup Winners Cup but fell to Tottenham Hotspur.

 
Then almost without warning the Romantičari fell from grace and spent two decades flitting between the first and second levels. Only in the 2000’s did European competition return to the Omladinski. The club has always struggled for support living in the shadow of Red Star and Partizan, but in 2016 it finds itself in dire straits. The stadium looks much older than it’s’ 58 years and its poor state of repair and lack of investment is evident for all to see. The club has been toward the bottom of the table all season and with relegation a real possibility what support they had has all but deserted the club amid stories of current players deliberately losing matches.

 
Only 300 people gather for this match with Vojvodina from Novi Sad and only one side of the stadium is open. A bulldozer sits on top of a terrace and is working on footing for floodlights, a luxury the stadium has never sported previously. Hopefully this will mark some much needed refurbishment at stadium that can hold some 20,000 people.

 
If OFK players are deliberately losing matches this season then they disguise it well today as they work extremely hard against a compact and tidy visiting team. A sustained spell of OFK pressure in the second half produces a towering header from Vuk Martinović to secure three much needed points for the hosts.

 
Saturday March 19th 2016 -Jelen Super Liga

 
OFK Belgrade 1 (Martinović 71)

FK Vojvodina 0

 
Att: 300 (at Stadion Omladinski)


A pleasant interlude was then spent at a restaurant on the Danube where fish soup and cevapcici was eaten before the main event at the Marakana, home of the famous Red Star Belgrade. It was also great to catch up with legendary Zvezda fan Nenad Mijaljević who many of you will know as the editor of match programmes for Seaham Red Star, Jarrow Roofing and South Shields.

 
I had been to the Marakana (or Stadion Crvena Zvezda or Stadion Rajko Mitić, take your pick) before for the legendary Eternal Derby against Partizan so I was more than interested to see what support, particularly that from the ultras “Delije”, for an ordinary league game when the hosts have a 30 point lead at the top of the table. The crowd might have been a quarter of the gathering for a derby match but the noise and support from the north stand was loud and relentless and carried on long after Zvezda cruised to a 4-0 win against Spartak Subotica. Of course there was pyro galore illuminating the night sky at regular intervals.

 
Red Star, and indeed Partizan, were formed in 1945 when several existing clubs were dissolved by Marshal Tito as they had played matches during the war without permission. One such club was SK Jugoslavija who had played on the site of the current stadium since 1927. The new club, Crvena Zvezda, were given the stadium of the old Jugoslavija while the club formed by the Yugoslav People’s Army (the JNA) were appeased with a piece of land not half a mile away which would in 1951 be ready for use and is still the stadium FK Partizan use today.

 
The old Jugoslavija Stadium held 20,000 and after Red Star’s ill fated match against Manchester United in 1958 had to be moved to Partizan’s ground to cope with demand, it became clear to the board the popularity of the “people’s club” meant a much bigger stadium was needed. The old Jugoslavija Stadium was razed to the ground and Zvezda decamped to Partizan’s ground for a few seasons.

 
By the time the stadium was ready for inauguration in September 1963, people eagerly clambered the vomitories to see the vast new bowl which could hold 110,000 people on its terraces. The locals at once declared “It looks like the Maracana” after Rio’s famous amphitheatre and so the nickname was created. It’s all time record attendance was set in 1975 when 117,000 people watched a match against the Hungarian club Ferencvaros. Nowadays its all seater, though seats are removed from the away end for derby matches, and has a more manageable capacity of 55,000.  To date Zvezda have won 26 championships and, of course, were crowned European champions when that magical side which included Dejan Savećević, Darko Pancev, Robert Prosinecki, and Vladimir Jugović defeated Marseille on penalties.

 
It is great to see this famous club back on top of the table and in the Marakana they still have one of Europe’s most iconic stadiums. In the Delije they have some of the best ultras in the world.
Saturday March 19th 2016 – Jelen Super Liga

 
Crvena Zvezda 4 (Ibanez pen 45, pen 65, Ristić 47, Oliveira 59)

Spartak Subotica 0

 
Att: 12,173 (at Stadion Crvena Zvezda “Marakana”)


The evening is wound down with a night in a typical Serbian kafana, Restoran Klopka on Stanislava Sremčevića, where quite frankly preposterous amounts of meat were consumed.

 
With many of the party still a little listless from the previous nights gastronomic excesses most a grateful for a slightly later 11 am kick off for a third tier game at FK Dorćol. Their ground is down on the banks of the Danube and the first surprise is that they now only use their own pitch, replete with an ornate stand, for training and now share the pitch of their immediately adjacent neighbours GPS Polet.

 
The ground is fairly unremarkable except that it is back dropped by the vast Kalemegden fortress which is bathed in beautiful hazy morning sun.
FK Dorćol were formed in 1952 and as recently as 2002 had a one season spell in the second tier.

 
Today’s match sees them take on FK Brodarac 1947 and the unseasonably warm weather sees both sides having to work hard to create chances on what is a pretty poor and heavily rutted pitch. It’s no surprise that the game is decided by a penalty in the visitors’ favour which is converted by their goalkeeper, Milos Lazarević.

 
In a special treat for us we are hen introduced to Ljupko Petrović, legendary coach of Red Star’s 1991 European Cup winning side. The veteran coach was more than happy to pose for photos.

 
Sunday March 20th 2016 – Srpska Liga Beograd

 
FK Dorcól 0

FK Brodarac 1 (Lazarević pen 59)

 
Att: 179 (at Stadion Polet)


A brief spell is spent wandering around Kalemegden fortress and the Pobednik statue which regally overlooks the beguiling confluence of the two great Serbian rivers of the Sava and the Daunav (Danube). It is ridiculously warm and shirt sleeves and ice cream are the order of the hour.

 
Next we travel half an hour south of Belgrade to a small Vrčín, this is co-organiser Aleks’ secret ground. We are warmly welcomed by the club president into what can only be described as a delightfully ramshackle ground. The clubhouse has a viewing gallery where a bunch of real characters sit to cheer on the team/harangue the referee (delete as applicable), some of our party who will remain nameless join them an get rather pickle on some indeterminate local poteen.

 
On the far side of the pitch is the concrete carcass of a large stand started in 1993 when Vrčín were in the third tier of the old Yugoslav third tier. The municipality then pulled the funding for it and now it has a couple of hundred plastic seats acquired from FK Partizan bolted to it.

 
Vrčín have had an awful season with just eight points gained from 15 matches and they sit bottom of the table with the visitors, PKB Padinska Skela, in tenth. A healthy crowd gathers to cheer on the team (or look at the strange group of British interlopers) in what is a must win game for the club.

 
Luckily for us we catch Vrčín on a good day and the hard working giant of a centre forward, Vanja Savić nets a well deserved brace of goals to lift this super friendly club off the bottom of the table.

 
Sunday March 20th 2016 – Beogradska Zone

 
FK Vrčín 2 (Savić 53, 73)

PKB Padinska Skela 0

 
Att: 154 (at Stadion Želežnički)


The tours final match is another Super Liga encounter between “the Hillmen” of FK Čukarički and FK Partizan. The hosts were formed in 1926 and spent many years in the amateur ranks. By 1971 they had reached the Yugoslav Second Division and twelve years later they climbed into the top division for the first time.

 
Since 2012 Čukarički have been owned by Dragan Obradović, a construction magnate, and heavy investment saw the club finish third last season and gain a Europa League place. They beat Slovenian side NK Domžale in the first qualifying round but then succumbed to the Azerbaijani side SC Gabala.
Stadion Čukarički was opened in 1969 and is also known as the Stadion na Banovom Brdu. It has undergone massive improve in recent seasons but is still a relatively small two sided venue.

 
The hosts take a shock lead after 47 seconds when Bandalovski turns a cross into his own net and Partizan’s poor season looks set to continue. However, urged on by their flare wielding, tribal drumming ultras, the Grobari, Partizan turn it around with the winning goal being scored by the ex Manchester City and Bulgaria striker Valeri Bojinov, who looks to be carrying a fair amount of weight these days.

 
Saturday March 20th 2016 -Jelen Super Liga

 
FK Čukarički 1 (Bandalovski og 1)

FK Partizan 2 (M.Stevanović 49, Bojinov 67)

 
Att: 1,500 (at Stadion Čukarički)


The evening is spent in the bohemian quarter of Belgrade called Skadarlija in the upmarket restaurant Tri Sesira where the food is once again top notch.

 

 

Tastes of Belgrade

 

Sights of Belgrade


So there it was the first ever Serbian groundhop superbly hosted by our good friends Aleks Peković and Bogdan Mitrović. After such an excellent time few would bet against a second groundhop occurring in 2017!

 

 

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.

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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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The Eternal Derby

My write up and gallery for the Eternal Derby, Red Star v Partizan in Belgrade on Saturday will be exclusively featured in Issue 3 of the superb Stand AMF fanzine, available from standamf.com from December 6th at the ridiculous price of £2.

In the meantime here are statistics from the game and a few pictures as a preview.

FK Crvena Zvezda (1)3 (Kasalica 14, Milivojevic 49, Milijas 74)  FK Partizan (2)2 (Mitrovic 9, Jovanovic o.g. 16)

Attendance: 44,155

Red Star:

1.Bojan Bajkovic; 15.Milan Jovanovic; 14. Nikola Mikic; 25. Filip Mladenovic; 5. Uros Spajic; 10. Nenad Milijas (c); 8.Darko Lazovic; 19.Luka Milivojevic; 4.Srdan Mijailovic; 17.Filip Kasalica; 91.Ognjen Mudrinski.

Subs: 29.Marko Vesovic (for 14,46 mins); 16.Luka Milunovic (for 8,68 mins); 7.Milos Dimitrijevic (for 10,85 mins).

Partizan:

30.Nikola Petrovic; 18. Aleksandar Lazevski; 2.Aleksandar Miljkovic; 15.Ivan Ivanov; 40.Milos Ostojic; 22.Sasa Ilic (c); 99.Milan Smiljanic; 7.Nemanja Tomic; 21.Sasa Markovic; 50.Lazar Markovic; 45.Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Subs: 39.Milos Jojic (for 7,65 mins); Stefan Scepovic (for 22,80 mins), Nikola Ninkovic (for 50;85 mins).

Yellow cards: Mladenovic, Milivojevic, Mijailovic, Kasalica (Crvena Zvezda); Smiljanic, L.Markovic, Mitrovic (Partizan).

Gallery

Heroes and Gravediggers (FK Crvena Zvezda)

So the Lav is slipping down a treat in the Three Carrots in Knesa Milosa when Nenad, an affable Red Star fanatic, hands me my ticket for the derby match tonight, “Don’t worry it’s free” he says when I look to pay him. “How’s it free I ask?”, “Ah, tickets they appear like magic here”. Soon we pile onto a bus downtown and within minutes we are at the Stadion Crvena Zvezda, an hour before the 7pm kick off and it’s loud already inside and out. There is, of course, a heavy police presence but I see no trouble and do not feel intimidated in the slightest, everybody is just excited.

Everything is in place for a night to remember, giant old school eastern-bloc floodlights loom over the proceedings and the atmosphere builds. The Delije (“Heroes”) are gathered in vast numbers in the north stand and their bitter rivals the Grobari (“Gravediggers”) are at the other end. The south stand has been shorn of its seats so the visitors cannot throw them onto the pitch. What is noticeable is that there are two sectors of the Partizan fans, the bulk of the Grobari are under the electronic scoreboard but to their right and separated by an empty sector and lines of riot police and stewards are a smaller section, the Zabranjeni (The Forbidden), a group of outcast Grobari excommunicated in 2011 for the treacherous crime of accusing the Grobari hierarchy of turning police informant and of stealing money earmarked for tifo displays.

The players emerge from the underground tunnel and this acts as the cue for the Delije to start their spectacular tifo display. Flares so numerous the entire end appears at times to be on fire and beautiful, powerful fireworks are propelled into the night sky from launchers at the front of the stand. Soon however Red Star fall behind, they cannot lose this, a defeat will see them fall eleven points behind Partizan. It’s the Grobari’s turn to get the pyrotechnics going, though they seem more intent on exchanging flares with the Zabranjeni. The home side level with a superb volley, only to fall behind to a comedic own goal moments later. Jesus, 17 minutes gone and you can barely take it all in.

Red Star level the encounter just after the break and when the match looks like a stalemate, the home skipper knocks in the winner. The stadium literally erupts and the noise levels increase further still. The Delije rub salt into the Partizan wounds by unveiling a Grobari banner which they had previously stolen and taunting their rivals by singing “This is yours, come and take it back”. The match ends and it is notable that the Delije and the Grobari are let out at the same time, the Zabranjeni, however, remain locked in their sector at least an hour after the final whistle.

So that was the 143rd edition of the “Eternal Derby”. What was notable from this epic clash was sensible refereeing, no booking players for celebrating with their fans. Also the security and policing was heavy, but low key and effective. Of course, more than anything, the colour and the noise will live with me always. For Belgrade, Red Star and Partizan, do a derby match as well as anyone in the world, unbridled passion, noise and above all fun. Just like football was always supposed to be.

(A version of this article also appears in the third edition of the outstanding magazine Stand AMF. For great football writing and photos, please visit http://www.standamf.com)

FK Crvena Zvezda (1)3 (Kasalica 14, Milivojevic 49, Milijas 74) FK Partizan (2)2 (Mitrovic 9, Jovanovic o.g. 16)

Attendance: 44,155

Red Star:

1.Bojan Bajkovic; 15.Milan Jovanovic; 14. Nikola Mikic; 25. Filip Mladenovic; 5. Uros Spajic; 10. Nenad Milijas (c); 8.Darko Lazovic; 19.Luka Milivojevic; 4.Srdan Mijailovic; 17.Filip Kasalica; 91.Ognjen Mudrinski.

Subs: 29.Marko Vesovic (for 14,46 mins); 16.Luka Milunovic (for 8,68 mins); 7.Milos Dimitrijevic (for 10,85 mins).

Partizan:

30.Nikola Petrovic; 18. Aleksandar Lazevski; 2.Aleksandar Miljkovic; 15.Ivan Ivanov; 40.Milos Ostojic; 22.Sasa Ilic (c); 99.Milan Smiljanic; 7.Nemanja Tomic; 21.Sasa Markovic; 50.Lazar Markovic; 45.Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Subs: 39.Milos Jojic (for 7,65 mins); Stefan Scepovic (for 22,80 mins), Nikola Ninkovic (for 50;85 mins).

Yellow cards: Mladenovic, Milivojevic, Mijailovic, Kasalica (Crvena Zvezda); Smiljanic, L.Markovic, Mitrovic (Partizan).

Gallery

Ultra Boys Memorial

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Match programme

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