The Eternal Derby Boycott!

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Partizan Belgrade 1 v 0 Red Star Belgrade (23.04.2011)

As soon as we arrived in Belgrade there were rumours spreading that the ‘Delije’ (Red Star Ultras) were going to boycott the derby. The reason: the ultras didn’t agree with the match being played on Easter Saturday due to religious beliefs. We sincerely hoped they were vicious rumours, as a boycott of the derby would likely have a massive effect on one of the best atmospheres to be found in football.

You only have to do a quick You Tube search to realise the eternal derby produces something really special. An atmosphere of the like you won’t find too often elsewhere in world football.

Partizan and Red Star’s stadiums are located within about 400m of each other, so as derbies and club locations go this is one of the closest. We had started the day off by walking from the city centre out to the stadiums to have a quick look around before it got too lively later on. The Marakana – home of Red Star Belgrade – is named after the Maracana in Rio because of its initial 110,000 capacity back in the 60’s. These days it holds 55,000, and for me is the more aesthetic of the two grounds. Despite needing a lick of paint on the exterior, the interior of the ground is impressive. There is a small entrance into the stadium for the club shop off ‘Ljutice Bogdana’ Street and this allows you to walk in and get good views out across the stadium and the playing surface below.

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Literally a few minutes’ walk down the hill and you’re stood outside the 33,000 capacity Stadion Partizan. Partizan’s ground is an open bowl with no roof and is sunk into the ground. From the outside, the stands don’t look that big, but once inside your impression changes. The periphery of the ground has also seen better days, and in many places is covered in various ultras graffiti.

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Coming into this game Partizan were three points clear of Red Star at the top of the table with 7 games to go. A win in the derby would see Partizan go 6 points clear with 6 games to go. This meant that Red Star really needed a minimum of a draw to keep in the title race; a win however would really make the title race interesting. Given the dominance of these two teams in the Jelen Super Liga this derby had a lot riding on it. It was that scenario that made the decision of the ‘Delije’ to boycott the game hard for us to comprehend. If ever the team needed the ‘Delije’s’ famous support surely it was now!?

Red Star had recently appointed Robert Prosinecki – a former club legend from the 1991 European Cup final team and more recently of Pompey fame. Prosinecki’s trademark as a player was that classic ‘roll over’ move he did with the sole of the foot. Not many players use it these days but it was a common sight back then and always seemed to fool the opposition and create more space for him to splay the ball around from central midfield. I liked him anyway!

Partizan v Red Star had long been on our bucket list, and now that we were only a few hours away from kick off, that unique feeling of anticipation, adrenalin and slight unease was properly kicking in. It’s not easy to explain, but its derby games like this between two fierce rivals, where there is a strong ultras connection, and a real passion amongst the fans that brings an air of uncertainty and adds that bit of spice to football. That feeling of not knowing what was going to unfold before us both outside and inside the ground!

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Despite the Red Star boycott rumours there was still a huge police presence lining the streets. Like us, it was as if the police didn’t want to believe the rumours either. Despite the police presence there did seem a slightly subdued atmosphere outside the ground amongst the fans which was strange as you can usually feel the tension in the air at games like this. Having said that, part of us still thought that an army of ‘Delije’ ultras could turn up at anytime!

We had tickets in the main stand – mainly because we didn’t fancy chancing our luck by standing alongside the Grobari ultras (or gravediggers) on our eternal derby debuts! We opted for the relative safety of the expensive seats which set us back £11. Luckily I had a Serbian contact based in London that helped us secure tickets in advance. Apparently even for the derby it is possible to get tickets on the day of the game, and for all other domestic matches you will have no problem getting in. Although there is a strong ultras following at both clubs, at other domestic league games large parts of both stadiums will be empty.

The ‘Grobari’ were packed into the south stand away to our right. The opposite end away to our left was eerily empty. That should have been housing a few thousand of the Delije’s finest, but the rumours turned out to be true and they boycotted the game.

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The empty away section…

Deep down we were gutted as we knew we wouldn’t get the full derby experience!  The atmosphere would be half as hostile without them. To be honest that was the main reason we were here – to witness these two famous ultras group create one of the best atmospheres known in football.

The game itself was a tight encounter and naturally reflected what was at stake in the league standings. With neither team wanting to lose the game, the amount of attacking creativity on offer was limited. The ‘gravediggers’ were in full voice though and created a decent atmosphere despite the lack of away fans to bounce off. That’s what I love about games like this where there is just as much action going on in the stands as the game itself. Even if the game doesn’t live up to much, more often than not the ultras do!

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One goal was enough to win it and that came late on as Prince Tagoe scored in the 86th minute to send the gravediggers into wild celebration. That goal secured a six point lead in the title race and the player and fans celebrated long after the final whistle as if they had won the title already. No doubt confident that they were unlikely to lose 2 games from the 6 left in a league they had dominated for most for the season!

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Serbian football might lack the big player names of some of Europe’s higher profile leagues, but the fans here more than make up for that. If you ever get chance to experience this game I would highly recommend it – whether you naturally lean towards the black and white of Partizan, or the red and white of Red Star neither set of fans will let you down.

One final note and that is to say that Belgrade has a fantastic nightlife. You can do worse than head to the area around ‘Strahinjica Bana’ Street (also known as ‘silicon valley’). The area is full of cool bars and was the perfect place to spend a post derby Saturday night enjoying a few beers.

PAR16In the summer there are apparently loads of river boat bars and clubs moored to the banks of the River Sava that are also well worth a visit. After a good few hours spent around Silicon Valley we went in search of a late drink. As we walked near our hotel back down towards the railway station we could see strobe lighting coming from the 9th floor windows of a tower block just off Nemanjina Street. Inquisitive to find out more we walked into the ground floor of the tower block. There was an airport style security scanner, and a couple of Serbian heavies controlling the entry.

Passing through the scanner we were directed into a lift. As the lift climbed up through the levels the sound of music and a pumping bass line got louder and louder. We had no idea what we were entering here. But as the doors opened an electro house nightclub unfolded before us. The spontaneous nights are always the best! Mr. Stefan Braun it was called, and as it turned out we had literally stumbled across one of the top nightspots in Belgrade! We left there at about 6am just as the sun was coming up. If you like your house music this place is definitely well worth a visit. What at a day!

Att: 17,000

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Even the ice creams have a preference!…

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