OFK!..OMG!…Theres No One There!

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OFK Beograd 1 v 0 Vojvodina (23.04.2011) 

What better way can there be to spend the Easter bank holiday weekend than out in Belgrade for the ‘Eternal Derby’ – arguably one of the best known derby experiences in world football. That was to be the main event – but as ever on trips like this – we like to squeeze in more than the main event into the footballing itinerary!

With 5 top flight teams based in Belgrade (Partizan, Red Star, Rad, BSK Borca, and OFK) the chances are there will be at least one other watch-able match on any given weekend visit, and OFK v Vojvodina provided enough of a temptation for us on ours.

OFK15Our drive from the airport to the city centre took us through a massive urbanised residential area known as ‘Blockovi’ (or the Blocks). Located in the Novi Beograd area, ‘Blockovi’ is essentially a densely populated area of the city featuring row upon row of huge tower block skyscrapers. Set out in 2-3 parallel rows there are over 70 of them that sprawl across the area, and each one is nameless, and only distinguished by a number (i.e block 61). The wide expanse of grey tower blocks was an impressive albeit stark introduction to the city.

Take a short stroll through the city centre and you will notice that Belgrade still bears the scars of the Kosovo war and the 1999 NATO bombings. Several buildings have been left in a ‘bombed’ state as memorials of the conflict. If you head up ‘Nemanjina Street’ from the main station you will see several buildings on the corner Kneza Miloša street with large holes in them where bombs had previously struck them. The former Yugolsav Ministry of Defence building is one example, see below:

OFK3It’s hard to believe that only 12 years previous Belgrade was in the centre of a civil war. Locals here clearly recall the horrific sound of missiles whizzing overhead and the terror of not knowing if they were going to make it through the night.

But despite its sad and troubled past, Belgrade is a picturesque city which is easily explored on foot and some of the main sights worth visiting include the Belgrade Fortress which overlooks the confluence of the Sava river into the Danube; Knez Mihailova Street; and the orthodox St Sava Temple (below):

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On match day the early 1.30pm kick off between OFK Beograd and Vojvodina provided the perfect starter to the days main course – the ‘Eternal Derby’ being played later that evening.

The Stadion Omlandinski – home of OFK Beograd is located in the ‘Karaburma’ area of the city which is on the south bank side of the River Danube. The stadium has seen better days and the area surrounding it is pretty run down to say the least. There are a couple of bars located near the small bus station which is situated about 100 yards away Stadium just off the roundabout where the main roads of ‘Dragoslava Srejovica’ and ‘Mije Kovacevica’ intersect. Despite being a 13,900 capacity stadium there are only two entrances to get in; one by the aforementioned roundabout, and the other through the main entrance off ‘Mije Kovacevica’ street. There is a tiny club shop located down on this side of the ground that has a very limited range of club souvenirs for sale.

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The main entrance off ‘Mije Kovacevica’ street…

It was a blazing hot day, and the 1.30pm kick off provided the perfect opportunity to catch a few rays whilst taking in some football.

We took the entrance just off the roundabout side, and there is a small ticket booth on the right hand side located just outside the iron gated entrance to the west stand. After picking up a ticket for about £4 you pass through the iron gates via a riot police search. Once inside, and if you stand at the top of the main stand, you are greeted with impressive views out over the River Danube and the north of the city.

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The official attendance for this match was listed as 600. It looked far less than that to us as we took our place in an empty block at the far end of the ground. Vojvodina had brought a small following of about 38 (see right), with only a small line of riot police separating them with the home fans. To be honest we were expecting slightly more for a Serbian top flight match, and we were shocked at the lack of fans present. This was 4th playing 6th in the Jelen Super Liga (the equivalent of Spurs v Everton!) and there was no one here. In fact I think I have played in front of more back in the day when Wellington played Taunton in the Les Phillips Cup (that’s a big Somerset derby just in case you were wondering!).

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The almost empty main stand (West Stand), and the game is underway!….

Clearly Red Star and Partizan are the two dominant names in Serbian football, but back in the late 30’s and late 50’s / early 60’s it was OFK that were the main team in Serbia. Back then OFK picked up a few league titles and national cups. Sat here today it was hard to imagine how a side like this with such a small fan base can survive in the top flight of Serbian football, let alone compete with the big two. The gate receipts alone for this match can’t have passed the £3,000 mark. Take out the overheads, and they can’t be paying their players much unless they have a rich Serbian benefactor. It would be interesting to know if the players are full time? Indeed it must be difficult attracting decent players to the club with the lack of disposable income available to the club. You can imagine Red Star & Partizan proving too much of a temptation for any ‘top’ player in Serbia.

OFK aren’t alone though – a quick look through the average attendances on  ‘wikipedia’ for the 2010-11 season will show you that most of the Jelen Super Liga sides struggle to hit four figure attendances. In fact 12 of the league’s 16 teams attendances averaged below 2,000, and four of those below 1,000. Only Red Star, Partizan, Smederevo, Vojvodina and Jagodina have averages higher than 2,000. Its little wonder the big two have dominated proceedings in Serbia for decades.

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More pick your block, than find your seat!…

The game itself was played at a slow pace on a dry bobbly  pitch which didn’t make for a great spectacle. The quality on show wasn’t brilliant – but the unique surroundings of the empty decrepit stadium and the warm sunshine more than made up for the lack of quality on the pitch. This is where I’m happiest – sampling these unique football experiences – I wouldn’t swap it for the world – after all this is real football isn’t it!?

As the half time whistle blew we were hardly fighting the crowds to get to the refreshments bar to quench our thirst. The main challenge was actually finding it. The Omlandinski doesn’t really have any catering facilities – the only exception being a man with a plastic carrier bag full of soft drinks and another full of seeds and nuts. This was hospitality Serbian premier league style! A different level honestly (see below if you dont belive me!!):

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Half time refreshments…Serbian premier league style!….

A first half strike by OFK’s Batioja on 30’ was enough to secure the points in a pretty low key 90 minutes. The stadium may be crumbling, but you get what you pay for and we enjoyed our chance to experience the less glamorous side of Serbian premier league football. It was the perfect prelude to other end of the spectrum we were eagerly anticipating. It was time to jump in a cab across the city to the Stadion Partizan for the big one.

Att: 600

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