Red Star & Partizan
The great divide.................
The monsoon season had arrived, as we waited outside Aerodrom Nicola Tesla Beograd for the Number 72 to surface. The short skirted Tesla girls of last September were going to be a bit thin on the ground, unless there was an improvement in the weather. The roads were gridlocked as we crawled along in the traffic through the tower blocks of Novi Belgrade. The journey was in contrast to the last arrival in blazing sunshine, when at least you can get a perspective of where you are. The flats looked menacing, until the familiar sights of shopping centres and a McDonalds came into view before the crossing of the Sava.
The sun was shining the next morning and it was like a pleasant summer’s day in England. There was hardly a clamour for the turnstiles at FK Vozdovac at 9.30 am on a Saturday morning for the regional Division 3 clash in the Belgrade suburb of the same name………..indeed the turnstiles were a bit difficult to spot. A couple of disinterested youthful stewards stood by one possible entrance continued to look disinterested and waved their arms in the direction of the other side of the ground. We joined the obligatory
purveyor of nuts and sunflower seeds and 20 or so assorted others awaiting entrances. The minutes rolled on …….9.45 no sign of activity and 9.50 and 9.55 brought no significant change of events. A police car turned up and drove off. The crowd dispersed and wandered around the other side of the ground. Ne publikum, ne publikum…………….was the verdict with much shrugging of shoulders …………..nobody seemed to have a clue what was going on. Had the Serbian FA made it a behind closed doors event after a few misdemeanours by FK Vozdovac in the previous weeks? A few were admitted, but they repeated their Ne publikum message to us. A translator was clearly required. Do you know who we are? A helpful soul spelled it out ……….they have come from England, they are Forest and they have come to watch players!! The hands waved us in …………….. “Forest opens door” chuckled one of the party, as the gate opened. The gates remained closed to the “masses” - at least for the next 10-15 minutes, before everybody found their way in by whatever means. If they had kept FK Sopot out too, a 0-3 scoreline could have been avoided. The visitors
from FK Sopot turned out to be Red Star Belgrade reserves in disguise – in retrospect the giveaway was probably playing in a red and white striped kit. This probably explains why they were operating on a different planet and would look a sure fire bet to make National Prva League next season to join the other thinly disguised black and white reserve team at FK Teleoptik.
The second fixture of the day at 1300 hours was largely dictated by transport – it was far easier to get a bus direct to OFK, than to figure out multiple changes and walk up a big hill to Cucariki. BSK Borca play their home games at OFK’s Omladinski Stadium, so logic tells you that both sets of fans will turn up to BFK v OFK or vice versa when it is played. How wrong can you be? It’s quite inconceivable that Borca can carry on at the Superliga level for much longer or even contemplate building a new ground to stage a top flight match, when the sum total of the crowd was recorded as 250 (even at a competitive 200 RSD for the best seats)………. and half of those
Partizan v Shakthar
Gravediggers put on a display for the Champions Leaguei
were quite visibly the Blue Union of OFK. The “Romantics” were their usual desperate selves in the main and after sneaking a lead in the second half were overrun by their tenants, who fought back for a deserved equaliser. The game kicked off at 1300 hours to coincide with early winter darkness and the lack of floodlights and then the afternoon entertainment really began. A combination of cheap beer, a “salesman” from Novi Sad and an “artist” from Montenegro developed into a lively discussion. The mad Montenegran was definitely an artist in one sense, but we never did see the quality of his painting! We departed into the darkness fuelled up on Jelen Pivo, fully informed that cheap accommodation was available in Novi Sad outside of Exit, that the “artist” had a sister who was an architect in Reading and that Red Star were “European Cup winning brothers” with Forest! The second sausage frenzy of the trip ensued, followed by a walk around the perimeter of Kalmagedan.
The early bird catches the worm in Belgrade football, so after the 10 am start on Saturday at Vozdovac it was another breakfast foray in the direction of FK Graficar. FK Graficar
..............behind closed doors
– the team of printers – play on the edge of Topcider Park and according to their Wkipedia entry are the next best supported Belgrade team behind the big two. This demonstrates why you never believe the Wiki entries hook, line and sinker. We were so early that we even beat the joggers in the park by the House of Flowers and the turnstile guy hadn’t even manned his position, when we sauntered in around 9 am ………..there were a few players about, the obligatory nut seller staking his claim to the prime pitch and one man reading his newspaper in the nearest thing that Graficar have to a seated stand – capacity 2. The crowd swelled to near to the number at OFK the previous afternoon which also brought out a last minute rush of additional purveyors of nuts, although all had a wasted journey in terms of goalmouth excitement as the endeavours petered out into a 0-0 draw.
We walked back through the park to the House of Flowers, where Tito’s grave was largely undisturbed on the pleasant Sunday morning. The bus tours had either been and gone or don’t happen on a Sunday. Despite the advertisements
FK Vozdovac v Sopot
Sopot - Red Star Belgrade reserves in disguise - pile on the pressure
to the contrary, the Museum of 25 May was shut by 1 pm so that was off the agenda. We retreated across the road to Partizan, where the only life was in the bar and or with the contractors “sanitising” the stadium according the UEFA requirements for a Champions League game. It’s quite difficult to appreciate viewing from afar on a television just what a military operation it is to ensure that all the adverts and branding are in place - all to the correct height and all in the correct order………….. perish the thought that the Heineken advert were not next to Ford S Max or Sony Playstation or whatever the sequence is! The contractors kindly invited us inside the stadium for a perusal of their efforts and an impromptu press conference . Access to the stadium was easy, but where are the matchday tickets? We spoke to everybody from the barman to cleaner to the guy in reception at Partizan Sports Club and to a man the response was that it was sold out …………. it had been for weeks! Partizan Sports Club agreed to speak with the Football Club or UEFA ……………. we cannot guarantee, but we
Champions League press conference time
will try ……………..a few phone calls later nothing had been produced ……….. come back tomorrow. We headed across to Red Star to get tickets for their 6 pm kick off. As were passed the closed up Partizan ticket offices, a taxi drew up and an occupant wound down the window ……………… Nottingham Forest, Nottingham Forest ……………. after much searching of the brain, we identified the culprit as one of the gatemen at FK Vozdovac! Small world!
The Red Star tickets were somewhat easier proposition ………….. a mere 200 RSD for your spot on the North Bank with the “Boys” and 400 RSD for the good seats in the East. It was no competition really, unless you want to watch the early part of the match under a huge flag with a Serbian Orthodox priest on it and dodging a range of flares. While the riot police line up outside, the stewards gamefully stand on the perimeter track in front of the “Boys” and act as target practice for a range of missiles. We dined on pizza in a nearby bar, but went un-refreshed as an alcohol ban is in place within a certain radius before both Partizan and Red
Eduardo and friends in light training......
Star matches …………… a point to bear in mind if planning a visit, unless you want to adopt the local stance of wandering around with a bottle of alcohol fuelled coke! There was an academy match beforehand, where the junior Red Star players practiced their celebration technique of racing on to the athletics track in front of the north end twirling their shirt above their head – as most were probably only 4 feet tall, they wisely decided against trying to leap the advertising boards first! Mandatory yellow cards are seemingly not required the junior Red Stars. The main match itself was a procession with limited ambition from FK Borac Cacac and a wave of attacks from Red Star. The second goal – a 30 yard strike from Milovanovic – killed off any thought that Borac might sneak an equaliser. The Borac fans clearly never had any such thoughts, which probably explains their huge travelling support of 2! The vast majority of the 10,000 crowd behind the north goal continued to roar and chant their support for Red Star for the whole 90 minutes, which was quite impressive given the lacklustre fayre on offer.
We realised we'd been fully acknowledged
into the Belgrade football community by being recognised by the main Graficar nut seller. Even smaller world!!
We spent much of the following morning back at our second home of Partizan in pursuit of the Champions League tickets, interspersed with a sojourn to the club shops of both Red Star and Partizan. Red Star shirts are on sale by the way – I wonder why? The elusive tickets never did arise – wait we will have a word…………… come back later………….. it is not possible at the moment, there is a meeting with UEFA …………. and so the discussions went. We can however verify that they have some very nice and comfy black leather sofas in the Partizan reception, should you be passing. We were never convinced of this sell out situation and duly visited Ticketline in the city centre, where plenty of seats were still available ……….. albeit at the princely face value sums of 2500 or 3000 RSD. We opted for the latter in the centre of the main stand and retreated back out into the rain. The frustrations of the ticketing situation in the morning had perhaps given us the feeling that this was not going to
be our day, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of taking a look at the Shakthar training session back down at the Partizan stadium. We’d have felt more at home with a long lense camera or a TV crew, but there we were rubbing shoulders with Eduardo and his mates as they went through a very half hearted jogging session for the gathered few of the press – the heavy rain was clearly not to the liking of the Brazilian contingient in the Donetsk ranks and they clearly didn’t fancy it.
The monsoon season had been back with a vengeance most of Monday and the only difference on Tuesday was that the intensity had gone up a notch. This is a not what you need when the Partizan Stadium is a very open typical example of the type common in Eastern Europe – this might have been satisfactory for the old Yugoslav Army and good for umbrella sales, but it makes for a pretty miserable night out in the modern context and takes the mind back to similar bleak experiences on the open terrace at the away end at Boundary Park or Oakwell. The Premier League might not
Red Star Belgrade
.........supporting the European Cup winning brothers
be all good, but the grounds have certainly gone up a notch in comfort.
We spent the morning in hiding from the weather in the Military Museum in the Kalmagedan Fortress. The external displays feature tanks and artillery pieces through the ages. The internal features the military history of the Balkans from the ark to the current day, although the more recent conflicts seem to have been brushed over a little and that seems to have caused great concern amongst the visiting North Americans judging by the contents of the comments book. The more impartial view point would probably be that it is up there with the Tesla Museum in the Belgrade museum circuit.
The rain kept falling. Would the Brazilians of Shakthar fancy it? What price the best seats? It was clear that nobody would be sitting on them. There were plenty of seats available via the touts outside. The best sellers were the plastic macs. Shakthar brought no more than an OFK sized following, who were moved into the best seats in the main stand just in front of us. The total crowd was listed as ranging from 14,500 to 20,000, depending on which section of
the media you referred to. The first half saw early Partizan pressure and a couple of half chances. Shakthar either didn’t fancy it or were waiting while Arsenal took a commanding lead in Braga before deciding whether to exert themselves. The latter obviously wasn’t going to happen, so after half time the Ukrainian team went up about 5 gears and raced into a 3-0 lead before relaxing. Partizan huffed and puffed and gave up the ghost! The Gravediggers made as much noise as you can in an open end and kept it going for the duration of the game. The final result didn’t seem to be a major surprise – a learning curve for the next Champions League season?
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