Living In Another World

Thank you Serbia, thank you Belgrade!

Advertisements

SERBIAN TRIP pt 3

Rad 0 Crvena Zverda 2

Serbian Superliga

Attendance: 2,000

Gate: 400 Serbian Dinar (£2.98)

Programme: Not produced

Last night in Serbia and the final part of my trip saw me heading a little further away from my hotel, but not that far. As the Serbian summer had saved the heat for my final day there was no way I was walking 3 miles uphill in temperatures above 30 degrees, so a few dinars were spent on a taxi.

Due to Rad’s opponents I thought that tickets would be at a premium, so with the ticket office opening a couple of hours before I was at the King Petar 1 Stadium in plenty of time. Ticket bought, I now had those couple of hours to kill, it was time to find some shade and drink plenty of water. I had never experienced heat like this.

The coach carrying the Red Star team arrived under heavy escort, the police were out in force, it was time to go into the ground and one of the best stands I have ever been in. The ground only has 2 sides, the other 2 are fenced off with club property including training areas surrounding these. To the South is where Rad’s Ultras congregate, a separate entrance for the ‘United Force’.

The main stand was split, the visitors had a portion towards the north of the stand, the home fans next to their Ultras. This stand had some seating on a lower level and then the rest of us on the upper tier. I am not sure what the history of this stand is, but it looks like it has seen better times, older pictures show a roof on the stand, no longer there.

It was still 32 degrees at kick-off, the heat was oppressive but the players and ultras just got on with it. I melted. Whilst there was endeavour at the start of the match, neither team looked likely of scoring early on, Rad looked intent on stopping Red Star play, to frustrate and spoil, and they were being successful as well as attacking on the break.

In the 38th minute we had a breakthrough, a corner was swung in to the far post and Le Tallec, younger brother of the once Liverpool striker, looped his header back over the keeper and over the line to break the deadlock. It was just starting to look as though Red Star were getting frustrated.

The second half started with Rad having a go, whilst the final ball often let them down, they also hit the woodwork after 55 minutes from a close range shot. This warning was heeded by the visitors, they took control, should have scored several more and never looked in danger of losing their lead. Rad gave it their best, but were outclassed by their more illustrious neighbours who finally killed the game off in injury time. Pesic who missed a golden chance not long after the hour, headed in at the far post to kill any hope.

I was away from the ground sharpish to head off back to my hotel, as were the Red Star team, passing me within minutes on their team bus.

My trip to the Balkans was over, a match lighter than anticipated but thoroughly enjoyable none the less. Thank you Serbia, thank you Belgrade!

FACTS

Games: 399

Goals:  1363

Grounds: 194

Games since a 0-0: 12

MILESTONE

11th new ground in 11 games, beating previous record

SOUNDTRACK

The Colour of Spring – Talk Talk

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