The ‘Other Side’ of Serbian Football

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OFK Beograd 1 v 0 Rad Beograd (26.04.2015)

“What’s going on? There’s not normally this many people here!” bemoaned one OFK fan as he joined a considerable queue of foreigners looking to get into the decaying Omlandinski Stadium!

“Must be all the football tourists over for the Eternal Derby” replied one of the ‘foreigners’ in the queue.

OFK’s average home gate had more than doubled as 600 fans packed into the 18,000 capacity stadium! The locals clearly hadn’t expected a surge in the gate, but two games in two days is a ground hoppers delight, and OFK’s Sunday billing against Rad Beograd provided those that had watched the Eternal Derby the night before the opportunity to sample another derby day offering in the capital city. It was also a chance to experience the other side of Serbian top flight football. A side that leaves you wondering just how a club like OFK that has such a long standing and successful history in Yugoslav and Serbian football, can survive and compete in the top flight given the small attendances and the decaying infrastructure that bestows it. Your first impression of the Omlandinski Stadium is that it needs a serious lick of paint and a spot of TLC.

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First impressions (above and below)…..

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They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but the tatty external façade leads to a crumbling and decaying interior. A stadium that is far too big for its occupiers is in desperate need of a makeover – one, that unfortunately for OFK won’t be coming any time soon. You just don’t get ‘experiences’ like this in England. The Premier League (and the Football League) are awash with money, so you’re not likely too, but can you imagine for a moment ‘scenes’ like this in the Premier League?! In a bizarre way though there is something quite endearing and unique at paying £2.30 for a ticket to a top flight game in a decaying ground; to sit on some newspaper on a dirty weathered plastic seat, and to buy your refreshments from an old man pouring coca cola from a large bottle into small plastic cups, and serving sunflower seeds in home-made paper cones! Ironically the club are nicknamed the ‘Romanticari’ – the ‘Romantics’. If you happen to be a football romantic and ‘against modern football’, you’ll love this place!

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OFK’s average home gate tends to be around the 300 mark, and despite the swell in numbers for the Eternal Derby ‘after party’, it was never going to be an occasion that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There was plenty of that, and then some the night before. But for the many football tourists that had descended on the Omlandinski, it was great just to enjoy a chilled out afternoon in the 28C sunshine, watch a spot of football, enjoy a few more ridiculously cheap beers, and reminisce on the scenes from the evening before. For the 80 or so OFK ‘Blue Union’ ultras and the 100 odd Rad ‘United Force’ ultras this was the only derby that mattered though. Despite being low in number, both sets of ultras added a welcome back drop of noise and colour to the massively empty ground (see below).

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OFK’s Blue Union Ultras….

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Rad Beograd’s ‘United Force’ Ultras….

A paragraph or two earlier I mentioned that OFK Beograd have a long standing successful history in Yugoslav football. But as you glance through the photos in this article you could be forgiven for thinking that this was just another Serbian club struggling to make ends meet. Struggling they may well be, but if you put the aesthetics to one side, and the fact that OFK have been trophy less for 49 years, you may be surprised to know that OFK still remain Serbia’s third all-time most successful football club – behind Red Star and Partizan. The run down setting certainly mask’s the ‘Romanticari’s’ glorious past.

OFK Beograd were formed in 1911 – some 34 years before Red Star and Partizan had even kicked a ball in Eternal Derby anger.  Serbia’s 4th oldest football club had their hay day in the 1930’s, and between 1931-1939 they won five Yugoslav League titles. In the early 1940’s (when the Yugoslav league switched to a Serbian only league) OFK won three Serbian league titles in four seasons, giving the club an impressive eight league championship wins in 14 years. The 1930’s certainly symbolise the clubs finest hours in the league, and in the 1950’s & 1960’s their dominance turned to the domestic cup competition. Four of their five domestic cup final wins came between 1953 and 1966, a period that also included some impressive excursions into European competition, the pinnacle of which was reaching the semi-final of the 1962/63 UEFA Cup Winners Cup, where they lost 5-3 on aggregate to Tottenham.

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Like the Omlandinski, the game was low on quality, and was only made more interesting by the two small sets of ultras located at each end. Rad’s non-stop chanting and flag waving to a well-coordinated backdrop of rhythmic drum beating provided a rather samba feel in the warm afternoon sunshine. The Blue Union ultras unveiled a low budget tifo mid-way through the first half (see below), and top marks for making the effort lads! A 20th minute penalty dispatched by Jovanovic was the highlight of a drab first half. The highlight of the second half came as about 30 of the ‘Blue Union’s’ finest sprinted across a wide open empty terrace to berate a lone riot police officer through an iron fence! It was difficult to fathom what caused the upset – but maybe there was some disgruntlement at the state of the toilet facilities at half time!

That first half penalty turned out to be the winning goal, and OFK took the points in a fairly drab 1-0 win.

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The Blue Union’s first half display…

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The OFK toilets had been left in a terrible state – and with a lack of match day stewards, the Blue Union ultras made their feelings known to a lone riot policeman!!…

Match day info:

OFK are based towards the north side of the city, right on the south bank of the River Sava. The Omlandinski Stadium is easily reached by bus or taxi from Central Belgrade in around 10-15 mins. Bus 27 from the city centre will drop you off adjacent to the tram terminal on Ulica Mije Kovacevica – right next to the ground.  The stadium is in desperate need of some investment, and had notably deteriorated since my previous visit four years earlier. The largest ‘all seated’ south stand is now closed off for home fans, and the faded weathered seats interspersed with over growing moss, weeds and grass rather sadly looms over the rest of the stadium (see below).

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There are now three main entrances into the ground. One is for away fans and is situated just off the roundabout on the corner of Ulica Dragoslava Srejovica  (where you will most likely arrive). The main entrance for home fans is situated on Ulica Mije Kovacevica on the right hand side, and is also the access point for the ticket office and club bar. The third entrance, strictly for the ‘Blue Union’ ultras, is accessible through a small walk way off Ulica Dragoslava Srejovica on the opposite side.

Tickets can be purchased from a small white kiosk situated at the club’s main entranceway (see below). 400RSD (£2.30) gets you a seat in the main stand – a ridiculously cheap price for top flight football, and one that cannot possibly generate enough match day income to cover the players, club staff and stewards wages, let alone contribute to match day policing. Growing up as a teenager I played for a team called Wellington Town in the Screwfix Direct Western League (the 9th tier of English football) and there was a £5 entry fee for that and that was back in 1998!!

As you arrive at the Omlandinski you could do worse than head straight to the clubs own bar for your pre match drinks. Cheap and cheerful, and located underneath the main stand, the bar has a large mural of players from yesteryear. Images of Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov – who started their careers at OFK – proudly adorn the walls. Beers at £1.20 and a small outdoor beer garden is a nice touch too.

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Inside the OFK club bar…

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The main entrance and the club ticket office tucked in behind the grey concrete pillar on the right…

 

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