A WEEKEND OF FOOTBALL IN BELGRADE
18th May 2013
Serbian Super Liga
Partizan 1, 0. Red Star
' On being two leagues up from the last game at Brodarac , naturally the standard of footballers wives and girlfriends were raised to the appropriate level. One of them paraded around the bar area like it was a Paris catwalk in a tasteful pink Lycra mini-skirt and trendy enhanced breasts. Defying gravity they appeared as unnatural as the Zenum training pitches astro-turf. '
THE 144th BELGRADE DERBY
A two point lead had produced the most anticipated Belgrade Derby encounter in years. Partizan's 5 year dominance was under serious threat by a resurgent Red Star eager to put their rivals to the test.
Mid Season was a different story entirely with the Serbian champions again commanding the Super Liga by a comfortable margin. Yet overly confident or through supreme arrogance, the team reputedly relaxed and a series of shock defeats led to a narrowing of the gap. Hopes were raised that there was going to be a more exciting and competitive end to the league campaign.
Partizan too have like Red Star hit serious financial problems and the feeling in the dressing room could be affected by the non payment of players and staff over the last few months.
A somewhat dormant and financially crippled Red Star heeded the desperate calls of it's fanatical support and responded magnificently in reply to the flagging ex Yugoslav army teams disastrous results. But what should of been on paper a classic Eternal Derby encounter would unfortunately turn out on the day to be nothing but a damp squid.
The sold out JNA stadium plus surplus duplicate tickets was a far cry from twelve months before when Red Star could do little but spoil their rivals party celebrations by securing a moral 1, 0 victory. The barely half filled ground had witnessed what some had seen as a prophesy that Partizans dominance was about to end.
Such optimistic predictions proved to be premature as the Belgrade giants found themselves without the charismatic coach Robert Prosinecki and became entrenched in a series of financial disasters.
With so much at stake today's Eternal Derby was different. There was the usual posturing and impressive pre-match displays from both sets of supporters, yet beneath all the visual grandeur lay a feeling of anxiety and vulnerability. Small groups of Red Star fans invaded the enemies East Stand causing a few minor skirmishes between both the police and Partizan fans but such incidents are fairly common at derby matches.
Disturbingly the worst of the trouble was caused by the home fans who turned on themselves after a spectacular pyro-technics display. An exiled rebel faction of the Grobari ( Partizan Ultras ) had for whatever reason decided to antagonise their rivals by attending in the same section of the ground. This was of course a recipe for disaster and shockingly a fierce fight erupted with burning flares being thrown between the warring groups.
Thankfully with the quick intervention of the riot police any further trouble or injury was prevented but an unexplained feeling of dread remained. The Belgrade Derby is often hailed as an alternative to the commercialism of modern day football but such incidents may only go to prove that a far safer stance be taken in future derby games.
True other European leagues have become overly sterile and boring but a better balance between the supporters, police, club and sponsors needs to be established without compromising the safety and overall match day experience.
The teams entered the arena to a thunderous reception. The Red Star players naively warmed up for the match very close to a section of waiting Grobari fans who threw a percussion bomb onto the pitch next to them. Partizan keeper Vladimir Stojković in turn was to feel the wrath of the Red Star support who racially abused him constantly as he approached the away end.
The game kicked off in the usual manner with both sets of players slowly emerging from the clearing smoke of the flares. Like the supporters the players seemed tense and a series of simple errors were committed by both sides. But gradually Red Star began to show a slight edge and with coach and former Portuguese legend Sá Pinto demanding more input from the sidelines, the away team squandered one or two half opportunities in the first few minutes.
The normally vocally superior Partizan Support sensed their players nervousness and the Red Star fans around the stadium easily roared over them like proud gloating lions. Even though Partizan fans had promised unity, divisions in the ranks of the Grobari had led to a more muffled response that clearly effected their teams performance.
In similar previous encounters Partizan's sinister gravedigger image plus associated black banners, hardcore punk anthems, choreographed movements and aggressive chanting had given them the edge. Today that clearly was not the case. The momentous occasion had obviously got to both the supporters and players but the holders seemed more nervous.
Yet Red Star had a major set back with an injury to the inspirational midfielder Darko Lazovic in the first ten minutes, missing his creative input would have repercussions for the rest of the game. Apart from a 30 yard missile shot launched by Montenegrin striker Filip Kasilica that painfully rebounded off the bar, Red Star began to flounder. Seizing their opportunity Partizan gradually took confidence from their opponents vulnerability in failing to act.
In the second half desperately needing a victory, Red Star mysteriously failed to commit more forward and Partizan took advantage of their rivals apparent nervousness. More chances began to fall to the home side and was it not for the agility of keeper Boban Bajković, Partizan would have surely of scored.
Safe in the knowledge that a draw would more than likely secure them the Super Liga title, Partizan relaxed as the minutes ticked away. On the 90th minute they achieved their objective and scored through a free kick by Miloš Jojić, the ball luckily rebounding off the bar and then the Red Star keepers legs into the net.
The whistle went much to the relief of the Partizan fans although Red Star had frustratingly produced no real threat for the last 45 minutes. They celebrated wildly around the stadium as Red Star applauded their own brave but disappointing display.
Much be said of the tactical awareness of Sá Pinto and the inability of his players to get forward and put the Partizan defence under pressure in the vital second period of the match. Boban Bajković on a number of occasions simply launched the ball forward straight into the arms of the Partizan keeper or out of play rather than patiently build from the back.
So near and yet so far, the Red Star support left the JNA frustrated that another season has passed without achieving any major success. Time will tell if the ex European champions can get back on track and with such a globally known name it is inconceivable that the present situation will continue too much longer.
19th May 2013
Sprska Liga, Belgrade ( 3rd level ) 10,00 am
FK Sinđelić Beograd 5, 0. Sopot
There was a surreal feeling around the quiet early Sunday morning streets of Belgrade as the gritty city began to recover from the previous nights celebrations. Half of Belgrade had revelled wildly till the early hours, the other half had miserably drowned it's sorrows at the bottom of a bottle.
For those Red Star fans and football tourists suffering from PDD ( post derby depression ) an instant cure was in store. Equipped with a fistful of headache pills and a can of sickly Red Bull, early morning risers, church goers and insomniacs leave for third division FK Sinđelić in the heart of town.
Today Sinđelić face the unofficial Red Star reserves, FK Sopot. Early birds are lucky enough to watch the game from beneath the shade of a few scattered trees and shrubs around the main terrace of the ground. Others simply sit on the concrete steps and fry. Another sought after sanctuary is the long narrow shadow outside the club house but with room enough for only a single row, it is quickly taken up by a line of elderly fans.
With such fine weather a decent crowd has turned up although a good percentage seem predictably to be soccer loving foreigners, eager to attend more Serbian football. They are easily identified by their tell tale cameras, pints of lager and white paste skin.
Sinđelić fans have affectionately nicknamed their club the Eagles but some have resorted to taking more notice of the previous nights events by reading the sports section of the paper rather than the action in front of them. Everyone of these lower type clubs always seem to have a token ultra and Sinđelić were no exception. An aged, eccentric and shirtless supporter contantly bellowed out chants throughout the match much to the delight and annoyance of those around him.
The club is named after Serbian national hero Stevan Sinđelić, famed for resisting the Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Most of the tourists take their time to explore the small ground with the Sinđelić bronze bust generating a fair amount of interest. Distinguished by a fine handlebar moustache the Serb hero proudly stares towards the pitch although he would of probably been puzzled by all the attention from the inquisitive strangers.
The club founded in 1937 holds a rivalry with close neighbours and one time Serbian champions, FK Obilić, although the clubs rarely meet nowadays due to the two adversaries being in different leagues. The Sinđelić Stadion is almost inconspicuous, hidden by tall hedges and walls, yet within gives a panoramic view of Belgrade and beyond.
Maybe the Sopot team were effected by last nights result as the table toppers gave them a harsh lesson in in scoring goals, lots of them. Much of the match resembled nothing more than a training session as the home side dominated play and Sopot found it impossible to break into their opponents half. Obviously Sinđelić were fired up to maintain their push for promotion to the second tier of Serbian football while the Red Star reserves were more than content to remain in mid table limbo.
Even though totally one sided and not exactly a thriller, scoring five goals without reply is some achievement and left the crowd in the belief that they had at least got their monies worth. Even the newspaper readers glanced briefly over their tabloids and smiled briefly before going back to the crossword.
As the final whistle blew there was no time to waste for the dedicated few who were on a mission to experience more Serbian football. Another glass of water or a quick top up and it was straight on the tram to 5th tier FK Brodarac.
Prva Beogradski Liga ( 5th level ) 13.00
FK Brodarac 4, 1. OFK Zabrezje
Attendance. Unknown but probably no more than 50
The area holds a dark history as during the second world war it was formally part of the puppet state of Croatia and the site of the infamous Sajmište Concentration camp. Here sadly thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma were systematically killed over a four year period by the Croatian Ustaše. A huge domineering memorial lies on the river bank next to the ground overlooking the city across the river.
The scorching midday sun was at it's hottest and many had nestled comfortably in the shelter of the busy bar area. The drone of the traffic could be clearly heard as it rumbled continuously over the old bridge and disappeared into a flickering heat haze beyond. Laying just off the pitch a few wise locals had taken up residence and hogged the front row section behind some protective netting with mainly a small party of wives, girlfriends and children behind.
Eyebrows were raised when the two teams were led out by three officials, two of them being young attractive Balkan females. The expressions of surprise soon changed to smiles of satisfaction although sensibly never in view of their spouses behind. The gathering was increased as the front row spectators were joined by overly dressed players girlfriends and stressed out parents attending an indoor football tournament in the complex next to the bar.
As the match kicked off those watching from around the pitch quickly made for the cover of a line of trees while the unfortunate unintended sun worshippers covered their heads with sweaters and shirts. Hard to believe that only a few weeks before Belgrade had experienced sub zero temperatures and a thick layer of ice and snow. The match was often interrupted by short periods to enable the players to take on liquids.
At the far side of the pitch nearest the busy main road a small group of four young ultras had camped out to imitate as best they could the game from the night before. They banged a solitary drum and chanted loudly although their attempts were often drowned out by the traffic above.
Again this match proved to be another goal feast as the home side romped home to a convincing 4, 1 victory. Ten goals in two games was in anyone's books good going and a deserved few hours rest was needed before the next match for the soccer die-hards. The final game would be prove in many ways to be the icing on the cake and a fitting way to end a weekends football in Belgrade.
FK Zemun 0, 2. Radnicki Obrenovac
What some cynical critics would deem a pale imitation of the Belgrade giants, Partizan and Red Star, any match involving FK Zemun is an unforgettable experience. While their support is relatively small in comparison, the club can boast of a following that is as equally passionate, committed and colourful.
Although not being able to compete with the same level of visual pyrotechnics as the Eternal Derby the Zenum faithful make up for it in their varied display of club banners and vociferous support. Opposing teams and fans cannot fail to be either impressed or intimidated by the small fanatical group of dedicated outpost ultras.
Zemun lies a few miles away form the iconic Kalemegdan castle and is seen by it's proud inhabitants as being independent and separate from the Serbian capital. In many ways there is a stark difference as the Belgrade municipality retains characteristics of it's Austro-Hungarian past both architecturally and what the locals argue culturally. Until 1934 it was officially a separate town and has only recently been assimilated into Belgrade during the development of New Belgrade in the 1990s.
Zenum's ground the 9,600 capacity Stadion u Gornjoj Varoši is surprisingly a top level sports complex with some superb facilities for this level of football. The stadium retains the athletics track common place throughout Serbian football grounds when as part of Yugoslavia many clubs were affiliated to sports societies. Holding one large main stand it also encompasses an appropriately coloured club house, bar and an impressive training pitch with artificial grass.
On being two leagues up from the last game at Brodarac , naturally the standard of footballers wives and girlfriends were raised to the appropriate level. One of them paraded around the bar area like it was a Paris catwalk in a tasteful pink Lycra mini-skirt and trendy enhanced breasts. Defying gravity they appeared as unnatural as the Zenum training pitches astro-turf.
Some of the football tourists had reappeared, like vampires emerging from their coffins they were now ready to tackle the the late afternoon sun that was gradually sinking into the Zenum skyline. One intoxicated home fan with a Millwall cap was intrigued by all the interest from foreigners in his beloved club and proceeded to pester the oversea onlookers for the duration of the game.
Even with the partisan support ( no pun intended ) the home team struggled to reach their current form and lacked any conviction in front of goal. An end of season contest that obviously meant little or nothing to some of the Zenum players but more to Radnicki Obrenovac. Each was playing for pride with no hope of promotion or relegation yet it was hugely disappointing and a shock that third placed Zenum could not produce the quality expected of them.
So ended a fabulous weekend of football in Belgrade. Casting long shadows on those that were leaving the Zenum stadium the sun began to finally bid farewell. Like a scene from an old Western, those departing fans that travelled up hill outside the ground disappeared into a blazing sunset. The others simply waited patiently for the bus back into town.
Thank you to Bogdan, Aleks and Sasa
Bad food guide. I've focused a lot on the Serb's obsession of eating meat so on this piece maybe something sweeter would be more appropriate. Baklava is a sickly sweet pastry usually soaked in heaps of syrup and containing pistachio nuts or the like. Eaten throughout the Balkans and the Middle east it is a welcome left over from the days of the Ottoman Empire and specialist shops are dotted throughout Belgrade.
Best eaten after a meal with coffee. 9 out of 10