Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 6)

The sixth Serbian groundhop weekend in May 2019 kicked off on the Friday evening with an enticing looking derby in the fourth level Zonska Liga Beograd. Home side TEK Sloga from the town of Veliki Crljeni were second in the table on goal difference to FK Sremčica from the neighbouring town. OFK Mladenovac were also on the same number of points in third place. Veliki Crljeni is an industrial town fifty minutes south west of the capital.

Due to heavy traffic in Belgrade, we arrived close to kick off and it was immediately obvious this was a big deal locally with a large crowd gathering. TEK stands for Thermoelectric Kolubara and Stadion TEK is adjacent to the huge power plant fired by clunking hoppers of lignite, mined in the surrounding coal basin, continuously dumping their contents into the generator. This serious piece of heavy metal provides and incredible backdrop to the small stadium which has an uncovered stand down one side of it with a sector fenced off for away fans. There are over 600 people present with around 80 in the away sector and RSD200 (£1.50) gets us into the ground for this battle for promotion to the national leagues. The home side dominate the proceedings going 2-0 up in the first half. As with a lot of games in Serbia they choose to defend their lead in the second half rather than go for more goals and nearly came a cropper when Sremčica were awarded, and scored, a very soft penalty in the final minute of normal time.

TEK Sloga

The Super Liga and Prva Liga fixtures had only been confirmed on the Tuesday before we left London but sadly all games had been fixed for 4pm on Saturday which clashed with our plans for a game in the Srpske Republic. As many of the tour party wanted to “tick” a new country with the game in Bosnia we plumped for the game at Radnik Bijeljina as they were entertaining one of Bosnia’s traditional powerhouses, FK Željezničar from Sarajevo.

With the game in Bosnia not kicking off until 5pm we had plenty of time for a morning game in Belgrade and chose the third tier Srpske Liga game between FK Grafičar and FK Brodarac. The game wasn’t being played at Grafičar’s own ground in Senjak but at the second pitch at Red Star’s Stadion Ratko Mitić. The complex behind the south stand has been significantly upgraded for Zvezda’s youth level teams and has two 3G pitches, one with a seated stand for 500 and a grass pitch with a similar stand. Grafičar have a link up with Zvezda and many young Red Star players are on loan to them so maybe that was the explanation for the change of venue. It was RSD200 admission and a Grafičar, rather than a Red Star ticket, that was issued upon entry. We were grateful for the shade provided by the new stand as the sun beat down relentlessly. Grafičar treated us to a masterclass of attacking football and dominated the game from start to finish netting five times without reply.

Graficar v Brodarac

After some electrical problems with the bus the previous day we were all relieved that we had a large and small mini bus turn up for our Trans Balkan express to Bosnia. We followed the E-70 west of the capital which basically follows the route of the mighty River Sava which after dropping south on the M18 its the river which forms the border between the two countries with border control and customs on either side. The crossing was fairly time consuming and we arrived at the Gradski Stadion in Bijeljina about twenty minutes before kick off. Our buses were ushered into a parking area beyond the grandstand and we were told by a club official we were guests of the president and didn’t need to pay. With the Bosnian Cup Final being contested between the top two clubs in the league FK Sarajevo and Široki Brijeg our game had a potential additional Europa League place at stake with the fifth place hosts taking on fourth place FK Željezničar. The club from Sarajevo are one of the powerhouse clubs from Bosnia and are followed by feared ultras group Manijaci (Maniacs). There were two reasons why we chose this game over an above a similar distance game at Zvijezda, the first was Zvijezda weren’t using their own ground and the second was the anticipation of Željezničar bringing a decent following with them. It was therefore a little disappointing that only a handful of away fans were evident and the reason for this quickly became apparent when social media quickly showed an astounding video of a Željezničar coach been ambushed and attacked by fans of their arch rivals FK Sarajevo. The match was also a bit of a damp squib with the away side scored early then easily defended their lead.

Radnik

Several years ago on a Belgrade derby weekend, I had done a game at the cracking ground of FK Hajduk Lionu, set in amid the urban sprawl of south east Belgrade. I took a few pictures at that game and in one of the shots was Aleks Peković and Stephen Carpenter, both unknown to me at the time. The roots of our Serbian Groundhop weekends lie in that chance meeting of strangers that morning. It was therefore a feeling of going full circle for the three of us to bring the hoppers to this most interesting of venues.

It’s essentially a two sided ground with flats and a restaurant tightly packed against both ends of the ground. On the nearside is a large scaffold and board stand and on the far side is steep open terracing. Sadly Hajduk legend Bogić “Bobi” Popović, who we had met at the original match, was in Germany for this weekend. He was a centre forward and is still the third top scorer in Serbian League history, his proud father is Hajduk president. Sadly Hajduk’s glory days have passed them by and they languish well adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier Zonska Liga Beograd. Today’s opponents, BSK 1926 Baćevac, put three past a hapless Hajduk who miss so many chances to score it beggared belief, where was Bobi when they needed him?Hajduk 2

After leaving Hajduk we head north-east to Kikinda for the city derby at Stadion ŽAK between ŽAK and OFK and RSD100 (75p) gets us into their stadium, which itself is a bit of a bobby dazzler as well. It boasts a more modern version of the magnificent and protected stand at OFK, and the perimeter wall is bizarrely made up of thousands of terracotta roof slates stood up side by side. It would have taken weeks and weeks to build it. It’s the railway workers (“Željeznički Athletic Klub”) that race into the lead finding the net after just 36 seconds. OFK, though roar back and win a hugely entertaining game by four goals to two in front of nearly 600 people.

Derby of Kikinda.jpeg

Usually the Monday throws up a televised Prva Liga fixture we can go to but with the play offs and play outs in full swing the fixture gods were somewhat unkind to us this time. What we did find was a relegation play off in the top division in Bulgaria between Vitisha Bistritsa and Dunav Ruse. Bistritsa is on the outskirts of Sofia so not too far from the southern Serbian border. The bulk of the route is on the excellent and cheap A1 toll highway albeit best part of a five hour journey. We also found an under 17 game taking place at 1pm in Niš to break up the long journey south.

We duly arrive at Stadion na Bubnju, home of third tier FK Car Konstantin and its a really unusual ground with plenty of character. On the dressing room side there is a tiny elevated stand and opposite a large grass bank and stepped terracing which actually sits outside the ground. Car Konstantin are name after the Roman Emperor Konstantin who was born in Niš when it was known as Naisus. Today we are watching FC Real Niš a specialist youth development club whose under 17 team compete in the highest level division for their age group, the Kadetska Liga Srbije, against all the big name clubs like Red Star, Partizan and today’s opponents FK Čukarički, who have Lazar Kežman, son of the former Chelsea forward, in their team. The game is relatively unexciting on a poor, rutted pitch but we are treated to three goals in the last ten minutes with the visitors from Belgrade coming out on top. It’s certainly a worthy stopover on the way to the day’s main game.

Grandstand Car Konstantin

Vitosha Bistritsa’s stadium is located up a windy road from the Sofia bypass. Bistritsa itself is a modest village sited high up in foothills of Mount Vitosha, a dome shaped peak some 2,290 metres tall. The stadium is a modest two sided affair with about 20 Dunav fans behind the goal having made an equally torturous 5 hour journey from Ruse this on the northern border with Bulgaria. The first leg of the relegation play off ended goalless in Ruse but Dunav score early and then successfully defend their lead against a totally disinterested looking Vitosha side.

Vitosha

It’s a satisfactory end to the tour and we cross back into Serbia with no issues or delays at the borders despite seeing huge queues of lorries waiting to get through. Mainly for the benefit of our two drivers we stop at a roadside kafana for sustenance and despite it being after their closing of midnight they rustle up some cevapi, beer and coffee for a weary band of travellers.

It’s been over 3,000 miles travelled since we left Luton airport and just short of a 1,000 of those spent on the roads of Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria in the fantastic company of Aleks and Bogdan from Groundhopping Serbia. You couldn’t wish to meet two finer friends on the road than these two.

TEK Sloga ticketGraficar ticketRadnikHajdukZAK ticketVitosha

 

A much extended version of this review features in Issue 49 of Football Weekends Magazine. For news of future Serbian Groundhopping Weekends please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter

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.

IMG_2124

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