Show ‘Em Whatcha Got

SERBIAN TRIP pt 1

Crvena Zverda 2 Sparta Praha 0

Europa League Qualifying

3rd Round 1st Leg

Attendance: 32,816

Gate: 1000 Serbian Dinar (£7.45)

Programme: 200 Serbian Dinar (£1.49)

A day that started at 4am for my early morning flight to Belgrade via Munich finished in style at the Rajko Mitic Stadion.

How better to start your trip than being upgraded to Business Class, so one of only 3 people in the section for my first leg to Munich, a pleasant flight culminated in seeing the Allianz Arena as we were coming in to land. A brief stop in the Bavarian city before onwards to the capital of Serbia.

After an afternoon nap, too old for this travelling lark, I was off to discover the city centre and after a brief tour round it was time to head off to the match. Red Star Belgrade as Crvena Zverda are better known in the United Kingdom are the biggest team in Serbia, though their rivals Partizan might argue that point.

Renamed in 2014 from the Red Star Stadium in honour of one of their greatest heroes, the Rajko Mitic Stadion could be gone in a few years as the hosts plan to build a brand new ground. A shame as this is an unusual stadium in shape, with the Main Stand much higher in size than its opposite side. To the north is where Red Star’s ultras gather and make their noise. And what a noise it is. At times the noise was incredible. Opposite were a few Sparta fans and a handful of Red Star fans. If this stadium does disappear, then the birthplace of the Panenka Penalty will be gone, yes it was here 41 years ago that we saw the cheeky spot-kick for the first time ever.

I was forewarned to get to the ground early as security would be tight, walking from the city centre, as I got within a mile of the ground the police presence grew and several men in their late teens / early twenties were being stopped and searched. When I got to the ground and had a walk around, the area was busy for 90 minutes until kick-off and the police were out in numbers.

I made my way into the stadium to take my seat in the main stand with an hour until we started, already there was quite a few people inside and had a quick mooch around both the official club shop and the Ultras clothing shop, yes that’s right, an Ultras shop. Imagine that in Blighty? No, me neither.

Over the next hour the atmosphere grew, officials and opposition were roundly booed every time they went near the tunnel and the seats around me and in the end to my left filled up. Five minutes before kick-off the teams came out and the home fans treated us to a display which carried on a few minutes into the game and was accompanied by various club chants.

After 7 or 8 minutes the place erupted when Red Star took the lead, only for the assistant to rule it out for offside. However, we did not have to wait too long for the real thing. A free-kick out wide, 25 yards from goal was taken quickly by Kanga, Boakye’s run was perfect and he slotted home. The noise 30,000 people made puts many clubs in England to shame. Sparta grew in confidence and possession as the half grew, but this match belonged to the hosts and only a mixture of good defending and a poor final ball kept the score down to the single goal lead at the break.

During the interval, the rival fans joined in each others songs which went down well with everyone inside the ground. Sparta made a couple of changes at the restart, but it didn’t help much. Still the hosts came forward, Donald making things tick in midfield, Kanga floating around making a nuisance of himself. It was no surprise when the second goal came, and what a goal. The same two individuals were involved, with their roles reversed, Kanga’s strike from distance hitting the underside of the bar, down into the ground and back up into the roof of the net.

Red Star could and probably should have had more, especially as Sparta attacked more than they had previously and the hosts hit them on the break. Radonjic came on as a substitute, looked dangerous and after some tricky skills on the byeline was unlucky to see his effort come back off the far upright.

As the final whistle went, the home fans showed their delight and there can be no complaints about the result. Red Star look a decent bet for the next stage and a very good side on their own patch.

FACTS

Games: 397

Goals:  1358

Grounds: 192

Games since a 0-0: 10

MILESTONE

Highest Ever Attendance

1st ever match in Serbia

SOUNDTRACK

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hols Us Back – Public Enemy

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