Two games in Belgrade including the big derby.
Lack of atmosphere made up for by drama.
No, just kidding.
26th April Partizan 2 Red Star 1 Serbian Super League 27,000 (7,000 away)
It was mild and breezy in Belgrade for the ‘Eternal Derby’.
Beforehand I sampled some pre-game culture and an historical update in the Ethnographic and National Museums.
Then we made our way to the Partizan stadium passing ever increasing numbers of police along the way.
What makes this derby particularly impressive and intense and a popular trip for many English & German fans is the number of away supporters - in this case some 7,000 or so supporting Red Star.
From my viewpoint, in the side, they were positioned towards the right with the black & white contingent to the left.
Apparently the ultras agree beforehand to coordinate the pyro so that they don’t light up at the same time.
So we had typically impressive fireworks, especially from the visiting fans at the start of the second half.
Impressive noise too - but not so the quality of the football.
However the drama was top notch with league leaders Red Star missing two penalties in the first half.
Serbian soccer is not short of conspiracy theories and they were no doubt enhanced by the award of those spot kicks (the chants from the Partizan fans to the Red Star-supporting Prime Minister were not too complimentary)
But Red Star missed those opportunities although they did equalise an excellent home free kick opener early in the second half.
Then, after a long period of disjointed play at 1-1, Partizan sub. Nemanja Kojic connected with a cross to secure the win for the title holders in the 90th minute.
Cue plenty of home enjoyment afterwards, as both sets of players went to their respective fans to either commiserate or celebrate.
So a battle win for Partizan but those in red are still likely to regain the Serbian title.
Certainly a derby to see, not least because of the large numbers of fans from each team, many going to the game with their scarves concealed and, needless to say, its best to wear black to blend in.
However I felt in a different stadium (say at Fenerbahce or Olympiakos) the experience would be even better.
Personally none, however, have the same feeling of passion as a big clasico in South America.
Nevertheless its easy to see why Partizan are ‘partnered’ with PAOK and Red Star with Olympiakos.
All have fearsome, intimidating reputations.
No atmosphere but a decent game.
27th April OFK Belgrade 2 Javor-Matis Ivanjica 1 c.400 (no away) Serbian Super League
Somewhat less intense at this one with just a small group of ultras and a few hundred others in the ‘main stand’ area.
Other parts of this old-style stadium were unoccupied.
Despite the subdued atmosphere it was a decent match with OFK going ahead followed by an equaliser from the visitors and then a winner for the home side via a penalty in the second period.
OFK are clearly in the shadow of the big Belgrade clubs - their best days being back in the 1930’s.
So two contrasting matches in the Serbian capital - a city that can offer good value restaurants and hotels.
Judging from wandering the centre it seems to attract few tourists from outside the Balkans.
History, of course, plays a part but for a football fan the ‘Eternal Derby’ should be included amongst the leading European ‘clasicos’.
Afterwards a meal (meat and chips is a local favourite) and the next day a stroll around the Belgrade fortress with its impressive river views.
Incidentally our party stayed at the Majestic Hotel, the location that Manchester United used following their fateful match against Red Star back in 1958.
Perhaps one of us slept in the same room as Duncan Edwards ?
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/2576578095