2:1

This was the ground that Manchester United played Red Star Belgrade in 1958. The ground that was the last for a number of the Busby Babes. Moving.

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SERBIAN TRIP pt 2

Partizan 2 Javor-Matis 1

Serbian Superliga

Attendance: 4,000

Gate: 450 Serbian Dinar (£3.35)

Programme: Not produced

 

Part two of my Serbian adventure had to be put on hold for 24 hours, as word came through just as I was about to board my coach south to Nis, that the game had been postponed due to ground improvements not being ready.

So Saturday night was planned for Partizan v Javor-Matis, to be fair I do not know that much about the hosts, the opposition? Ignorant, totally ignorant. To be fair, Wikipedia does not give you too much more.

So off I set from my hotel in 30 degrees for the 15 minutes walk to Partizan Stadium. Arriving with an hour to kick-off there was such a difference from Thursday evening in numbers and atmosphere. Next, buy a ticket. Easier said than done, the ticket office is not part of the ground and is 10 minutes walk away from the club shop. Eventually located, ticket in hand, now I just had to wait for the gates to open.

With 35 minutes to the start they opened up, to be honest, no need for much longer due to the crowd size. Once inside there was little in the way of refreshments, a guy pouring Coke, Ice Tea, Fanta or Water from bottles and charging a fair bit by Serbian standards.

The crowd filtered in bit by bit, that is apart from away fans, I cannot remember ever going to another game where there was not a single away fan. Even when they have been banned.

The Partizan Stadium, to give it one of its names, JNA Stadion and Fudbalski Hram (Temple of Football) the others, all seater, the Ultras in the South Stand, the rest of us in the West and East. This was the ground that Manchester United played Red Star Belgrade in 1958. The ground that was the last for a number of the Busby Babes. Moving.

We kicked off under the evening Belgrade sun in temperatures not much below 30 and still quite humid, we only had to wait 6 minutes for the hosts to take the lead, young playmaker Kosovic spraying the ball out wide for his skipper Vulicevic, his cross was inch perfect, leaving Durdevic to rise unmarked, heading down into the ground and up into the roof of the net from 10 yards, class goal.

Whilst the score remained the same at the break it was not for lack of chances at both ends. Whilst Partizan were the better side and should have had 5 or 6, it was thanks to their keeper Kljajic that they had not conceded.

After the interval the game carried on pretty much as it had left off, Partizan the better side, but Javor-Matis looking dangerous on the break, Kosovic dictating play. That was until five minutes to go when a smart move down their right wing saw Miletic play a smart ball across to Soumah who finished easily to put the hosts 2-0 up. Game over. Well not quite. With a minute left of the 90 a free-kick was swung in from out wide by the visitors, defender Milovic rising the highest and his glancing header found its way just inside the far post. Not a single cheer was to be heard. Game on.

Still no matter how much Javor tried, Partizan saw out the rest of the game but there was a sense of relief among the 4,000 in attendance. I mooched off back to my hotel, took me about 15 minutes.

 

FACTS

Games: 398

Goals:  1361

Grounds: 193

Games since a 0-0: 11

MILESTONE

Total Attendance past 200k

SOUNDTRACK

Elastica – Elastica

Show ‘Em Whatcha Got

However, we did not have to wait too long for the real thing.

SERBIAN TRIP pt 1

Crvena Zverda 2 Sparta Praha 0

Europa League Qualifying

3rd Round 1st Leg

Attendance: 32,816

Gate: 1000 Serbian Dinar (£7.45)

Programme: 200 Serbian Dinar (£1.49)

A day that started at 4am for my early morning flight to Belgrade via Munich finished in style at the Rajko Mitic Stadion.

How better to start your trip than being upgraded to Business Class, so one of only 3 people in the section for my first leg to Munich, a pleasant flight culminated in seeing the Allianz Arena as we were coming in to land. A brief stop in the Bavarian city before onwards to the capital of Serbia.

After an afternoon nap, too old for this travelling lark, I was off to discover the city centre and after a brief tour round it was time to head off to the match. Red Star Belgrade as Crvena Zverda are better known in the United Kingdom are the biggest team in Serbia, though their rivals Partizan might argue that point.

Renamed in 2014 from the Red Star Stadium in honour of one of their greatest heroes, the Rajko Mitic Stadion could be gone in a few years as the hosts plan to build a brand new ground. A shame as this is an unusual stadium in shape, with the Main Stand much higher in size than its opposite side. To the north is where Red Star’s ultras gather and make their noise. And what a noise it is. At times the noise was incredible. Opposite were a few Sparta fans and a handful of Red Star fans. If this stadium does disappear, then the birthplace of the Panenka Penalty will be gone, yes it was here 41 years ago that we saw the cheeky spot-kick for the first time ever.

I was forewarned to get to the ground early as security would be tight, walking from the city centre, as I got within a mile of the ground the police presence grew and several men in their late teens / early twenties were being stopped and searched. When I got to the ground and had a walk around, the area was busy for 90 minutes until kick-off and the police were out in numbers.

I made my way into the stadium to take my seat in the main stand with an hour until we started, already there was quite a few people inside and had a quick mooch around both the official club shop and the Ultras clothing shop, yes that’s right, an Ultras shop. Imagine that in Blighty? No, me neither.

Over the next hour the atmosphere grew, officials and opposition were roundly booed every time they went near the tunnel and the seats around me and in the end to my left filled up. Five minutes before kick-off the teams came out and the home fans treated us to a display which carried on a few minutes into the game and was accompanied by various club chants.

After 7 or 8 minutes the place erupted when Red Star took the lead, only for the assistant to rule it out for offside. However, we did not have to wait too long for the real thing. A free-kick out wide, 25 yards from goal was taken quickly by Kanga, Boakye’s run was perfect and he slotted home. The noise 30,000 people made puts many clubs in England to shame. Sparta grew in confidence and possession as the half grew, but this match belonged to the hosts and only a mixture of good defending and a poor final ball kept the score down to the single goal lead at the break.

During the interval, the rival fans joined in each others songs which went down well with everyone inside the ground. Sparta made a couple of changes at the restart, but it didn’t help much. Still the hosts came forward, Donald making things tick in midfield, Kanga floating around making a nuisance of himself. It was no surprise when the second goal came, and what a goal. The same two individuals were involved, with their roles reversed, Kanga’s strike from distance hitting the underside of the bar, down into the ground and back up into the roof of the net.

Red Star could and probably should have had more, especially as Sparta attacked more than they had previously and the hosts hit them on the break. Radonjic came on as a substitute, looked dangerous and after some tricky skills on the byeline was unlucky to see his effort come back off the far upright.

As the final whistle went, the home fans showed their delight and there can be no complaints about the result. Red Star look a decent bet for the next stage and a very good side on their own patch.

FACTS

Games: 397

Goals:  1358

Grounds: 192

Games since a 0-0: 10

MILESTONE

Highest Ever Attendance

1st ever match in Serbia

SOUNDTRACK

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hols Us Back – Public Enemy

Just Can’t Get Enough

However, that isn’t to say the hosts were lucky. Rovers were dogged, attacked with pace and played their part in this cup-tie.

GAME

Tues: Albion Rovers 4 Hamilton Academical 4 (Albion Rovers won 4-2 on pens)

GAME OF THE WEEK

Albion Rovers 4 Hamilton Academical 4 (Albion Rovers won 4-2 on pens)

Betfred Cup 1st Round Group G

Attendance: 497

Gate: £10

Programme: £2

Ahead of my trip to Serbia, work took me back north of the border, and later than planned in my hopping life I got to visit Albion Rovers’ home, Cliftonhill, I was not disappointed either, a great old ground and one of the best games I have ever seen.

A lift off my work colleague from my city centre hotel and we were soon at the ground, a little perplexed by the 2 turnstiles, one for home fans and the other for away, not unusual I know. That is apart from the fact that once inside there was no segregation. Quirky!

You enter behind the main stand and make your way round either side of it, what greets you is a fantastic old ground, the only shame is that the end to your left and the side opposite, a big covered terrace area are no longer in use, I would have loved to have had a walk around. To the right is an open terraced stand where the majority of Accies fans congregated. It is the main stand that is the gem. An old structure with terracing at the bottom and seating in the top half, brilliant.

There probably isn’t anything that I can say about the match that others will not say. It was a cracker, the hosts had more of the ball and going off chances created they should have been out of sight. However, that isn’t to say the hosts were lucky. Rovers were dogged, attacked with pace and played their part in this cup-tie.

Taking the lead after 10 minutes through hesitation and a touch of good luck with the bounce, Rovers Trouten pounced, was a shock on the cards? As we headed towards half-time a fantastic strike by Donati levelled the score and right on the whistle Want scored the first of his brace, the Premiership team headed in for the break 2-1 up.

Surely Accies would run away with it after the break? Not a chance. Trouton got his second several minutes after the restart, the lead regained within no time by Want’s second. Once again seven minutes later Trouton equalised, this was incredible.

With quarter of an hour remaining the visitors won a penalty, converted easily by Bingham, Rovers looked spent. Was fitness going to tell? It certainly looked so. That was until the 94th minute, when Davidson blocked a clearance, ran through on goal and superbly finished from distance over Hamilton’s keeper, it was all but the last kick of the match. Penalties!

Time for a hero. Step up Graham Bowman the Albion stopper. He saved the first two Accies spot-kicks and his team-mates did the rest. The home fans celebrated, and rightly so.

If I see a better game than this during the rest of this season then I am in for a cracker.

FACTS

Games: 396

Goals:  1356

Grounds: 191

Games since a 0-0: 9

MILESTONE

700th Home Goal – Alan Trouten (2nd)

SOUNDTRACK

Speak & Spell – Depeche Mode

 

 

Many Rivers to Cross

‘ah Kyle Lafferty all over.’

GAME

Sat: Heart of Midlothian 3 East Fife 0

GAME OF THE WEEK

Heart of Midlothian 3 East Fife 0

Betfred Cup 1st Round Group B

Attendance: 6,265

Gate: £15

Programme: £3

My fourth season as a groundhopper started in Scotland a week later than anticipated due to being let down last Saturday with a lift north.

A Virgin Trains sale bought journey north from Warrington to Haymarket was not the most pleasant,  screaming kid and pensioners who walked up and down the carriage pretty much the whole way from Preston. Annoying.

Alighting into the drizzle of an Edinburgh summer I turned right out of the station and a 20 minute stroll later I was at Tynecastle, the home of Hearts, my 190th ground. Squeezing through a very tight turnstile I was inside, now I know I am not the most svelte of men, but on my travels I have met some, shall we say, larger folks. I have no idea how they would get in.

Inside the Wheatfield Stand, up the steps, pie and drink bought, I joined others looking out of the back of the stand and over towards the impressive home of the egg chasers Murrayfield Stadium. Looks good from the outside. Pre-match meal consumed, I made my way to my ‘Premium’ seat in Block B, row 16, seat 16. A fairly decent view, but not the most spacious of seats.

Tynecastle is currently undergoing the building of a new Main Stand and as such is 3 sided. East Fife’s travelling following were in the Roseburn Stand behind the goal away to my left, the home fans left with the remaining 2 stands, which they did a decent job of filling.

The hosts took the game to their opponents from the off and only ‘The Fifers’ keeper Goodfellow and the upright prevented right-back Smith from opening the scoring in the 6th minute. Six minutes later and Lafferty missed a golden chance, heading wide from close range, something he did again minutes before the break, In-between though he made amends and finished with his head from his hardest chance, ah Kyle Lafferty all over.

East Fife threatened  occasionally, assisted by Hearts stopper, Hamilton, not being the best under a high ball, flapping at a couple of crosses.

After the restart, the visitors had a couple of decent chances as the heavens opened. And boy did it rain, it rained in a way that it only can in Scotland, It rained in a way that it only can in Scotland in summer. Two years ago I was at a match in Lockerbie in July that was abandoned due to a downpour, surely not again? After 10 minutes of so of the ‘shower’ the rain eased. Slightly!

With 20 minutes or so to go, the Jambo’s doubled their lead, a corner was met by Berra, his header finding the back of the net, East Fife’s hopes over. The result in the bag, the scoring was too with 5 minutes or so left, a penalty given for a foul by Fife’s Gordon, which earned him a second yellow and his second shower of the half, Lafferty stepped up and scored, I was on my way back for my train, which was due minutes later.

The journey home was much more pleasant and peaceful. A good day out in Scotland’s Capital.

FACTS

Games: 395

Goals:  1348

Grounds: 190

Games since a 0-0: 8

SOUNDTRACK

The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff