Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughA Weekend of Football in Belgrade - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough A Weekend of Football in Belgrade - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

A Weekend of Football in Belgrade

The 144th Belgrade Derby

‘ On being two leagues up from the last game at Brodarac , naturally the standard of footballers wives and girlfriends were raised to the appropriate level. One of them paraded around the bar area like it was a Paris catwalk in a tasteful pink Lycra mini-skirt and trendy enhanced breasts. Defying gravity they appeared as unnatural as the Zenum training pitches astro-turf. ‘

A two point lead had produced the most anticipated Belgrade Derby encounter in years. Partizan’s 5 year dominance was under serious threat by a resurgent Red Star eager to put their rivals to the test.

Mid Season was a different story entirely with the Serbian champions again commanding the Super Liga by a comfortable margin. Yet overly confident or through supreme arrogance, the team reputedly relaxed and a series of shock defeats led to a narrowing of the gap. Hopes were raised that there was going to be a more exciting and competitive end to the league campaign.

A somewhat dormant and financially crippled Red Star heeded the desperate calls of it’s fanatical support and responded magnificently in reply to the flagging ex Yugoslav army teams disastrous results. But what should of been on paper a classic Eternal Derby encounter would unfortunately turn out on the day to be nothing but a damp squid.

The sold out JNA stadium plus surplus duplicate tickets was a far cry from twelve months before when Red Star could do little but spoil their rivals party celebrations by securing a moral 1, 0 victory. The barely half filled ground had witnessed what some had seen as a prophesy that Partizans dominance was about to end.

Such optimistic predictions proved to be premature as the Belgrade giants found themselves without the charismatic coach Robert Prosinecki and became entrenched in a series of financial disasters.

With so much at stake today’s Eternal Derby was different. There was the usual posturing and impressive pre-match displays from both sets of supporters, yet beneath all the visual grandeur lay a feeling of anxiety and vulnerability. Small groups of Red Star fans invaded the enemies East Stand causing a few minor skirmishes between both the police and Partizan fans but such incidents are fairly common at derby matches.

Disturbingly the worst of the trouble was caused by the home fans who turned on themselves after a spectacular pyro-technics display. An exiled rebel faction of the Grobari ( Partizan Ultras ) had for whatever reason decided to antagonise their rivals by attending in the same section of the ground. This was of course a recipe for disaster and shockingly a fierce fight erupted with burning flares being thrown between the warring groups.

Thankfully with the quick intervention of the riot police any further trouble or injury was prevented but an unexplained feeling of dread remained. The Belgrade Derby is often hailed as an alternative to the commercialism of modern day football but such incidents may only go to prove that a far safer stance be taken in future derby games.

True other European leagues have become overly sterile and boring but a better balance between the supporters, police, club and sponsors needs to be established without compromising the safety and overall match day experience.

The teams entered the arena to a thunderous reception. The Red Star players naively warmed up for the match very close to a section of waiting Grobari fans who threw a percussion bomb onto the pitch next to them. Partizan keeper Vladimir Stojković in turn was to feel the wrath of the Red Star support who racially abused him constantly as he approached the away end.

The game kicked off in the usual manner with both sets of players slowly emerging from the clearing smoke of the flares. Like the supporters the players seemed tense and a series of simple errors were committed by both sides. But gradually Red Star began to show a slight edge and with coach and former Portuguese legend Sá Pinto demanding more input from the sidelines, the away team squandered one or two half opportunities in the first few minutes.

The normally vocally superior Partizan Support sensed their players nervousness and the Red Star fans around the stadium easily roared over them like proud gloating lions. Even though Partizan fans had promised unity, divisions in the ranks of the Grobari had led to a more muffled response that clearly effected their teams performance.

In similar previous encounters Partizan’s sinister gravedigger image plus associated black banners, hardcore punk anthems, choreographed movements and aggressive chanting had given them the edge. Today that clearly was not the case. The momentous occasion had obviously got to both the supporters and players but the holders seemed more nervous.

Yet Red Star had a major set back with an injury to the inspirational midfielder Darko Lazovic in the first ten minutes, missing his creative input would have repercussions for the rest of the game. Apart from a 30 yard missile shot launched by Montenegrin striker Filip Kasilica that painfully rebounded off the bar, Red Star began to flounder. Seizing their opportunity Partizan gradually took confidence from their opponents vulnerability in failing to act.

In the second half desperately needing a victory, Red Star mysteriously failed to commit more forward and Partizan took advantage of their rivals apparent nervousness. More chances began to fall to the home side and was it not for the agility of keeper Boban Bajković, Partizan would have surely of scored.

Safe in the knowledge that a draw would more than likely secure them the Super Liga title, Partizan relaxed as the minutes ticked away. On the 90th minute they achieved their objective and scored through a free kick by Miloš Jojić, the ball luckily rebounding off the bar and then the Red Star keepers legs into the net.

The whistle went much to the relief of the Partizan fans although Red Star had frustratingly produced no real threat for the last 45 minutes. They celebrated wildly around the stadium as Red Star applauded their own brave but disappointing display.

Much be said of the tactical awareness of Sá Pinto and the inability of his players to get forward and put the Partizan defence under pressure in the vital second period of the match. Boban Bajković on a number of occasions simply launched the ball forward straight into the arms of the Partizan keeper or out of play rather than patiently build from the back.

So near and yet so far, the Red Star support left the JNA frustrated that another season has passed without achieving any major success. Time will tell if the ex European champions can get back on track and with such a globally known name it is inconceivable that the present situation will continue too much longer.

Stephen Carpenter