A friend of mine, who is an FC Augsburg-Fan searched in our Facebook-Football-Group (some kind of a private groundhopping group to plan trips with friends of mine and also for football information), for people,who want to join him for the Europe league away game in Belgrade against Фудбалски клуб Партизан (Cyrillic spelling of Partizan Belgrade). He is member in an Augsburg-Fanclub and he travelled also to the Europa League away games in Alkmaar (The Netherlands) and Bilbao (Spain).
When I read his post for the first time, a lot of questions popped into my head: Belgrade? Partizan Belgrade? Serbia? Old-Stadium? Violence? Traditional Football? And also pictures of the derby against Red Star, which I saw some days before on an groundhopping page. After I looked at pictures of the stadium and some YouTube Videos of Partizan in the Europe League and also of the Derby with Red Star, I was certain: I have to be there. I had seen Copa90’s video and was curious to go a Partizan game and see the stadium and experience the atmosphere with my own eyes.
The game was to be my first game in the Augsburg-sector. But I’ve seen Augsburg twice before. Once on an groundhopping tour in Augsburg and one time in the Volksparkstadion, where I’ve been in the Hamburg-sector naturally, as HSV is my favorite team besides Holstein Kiel. But, I’ll write about them another time. (Here is their website, in the mean-time).
Стадион Партизанa (Stadion Partizana) was opened on the 9th of October 1949 with a World Cup qualifying match between Yugoslavia and France (2minutes of footage, here). The stadium had a capacity for up to 55,000 spectators, but since 1998 due to FIFA criteria it has a capacity of 32,710 spectators (see, here). When playing international games a maximum of 25,000 spectators is approved because of violence hooligan action. Many people still use the old stadium name Stadion Jugoslovenske narodne armije, which was used until 1989. Partizan’s rival Red Star also played from 1959 to 1963 in this stadium, before the move to their own – Marakana Stadium.
Partizan (Фудбалски клуб Партизан) itself has won a total of 40 trophies, including 26 national championships (a record shared with Red Star), 12 National Cups, 1 national Supercup, and the Mitropa Cup 1978. Partizan is so behind city rivals Red Star the second most successful team of Serbia and the former Yugoslavia (see: here). Red Star was subordinated to the Interior Ministry, and Partizan to the People’s Army. Partizan is still regarded as a pan-Yugoslav club, while Red Star has always been considered as a Serbian club. Both clubs have a connection to the Croatian War of Independence and the war in Yugoslavia. In some ways, the hooligans of both clubs are in agreement and both teams have strong right wing support.
So we met with six people and many beers on 10 December at Dortmund Airport to fly to Belgrade. Only Daniel was a real Augsburg fan. The other four are Bremen fans. But I would like to say that we all have sympathy for FC Augsburg. No one of us has been to Belgrade before, so we were also very excited for the city itself. It was planned as a mix of Groundhopping/Football and Tourism, but I’m not lying when I say that the stadium visit and also the stadium and country point was crucial for me.
There were also other Augsburg fans in the aircraft, with whom we spoke a little. After more than two hours and a few beers we landed in Belgrade. There we were picked up by the apartment owners, which drove us first to the apartment and afterwards to the stadium.
Upon arrival in the vicinity of the stadium, we were immediately received by the first policeman with the words “Drinking is not allowed, you go to jail. I’m not joking”. So we went a few yards away from the stadium, where we were addressed from the next policeman and he accompanied us towards the away section. The police presence outside the stadium was enormous, maybe comparable only with the squad at high risk games in Germany – but honestly not really. We had to leave our beers in front of the stadium and had to go into the stadium. Lighters and coins had to be discarded at the two step security check. In the stadium itself there was also a plethora of “military police”, who were equipped with shields, batons, gas masks and further equipment. The huge police presence and harsh entry controls fit into the image that I had from the Serbian Football. It was also comparable to games in Poland, so the question arises why is this so often common in Eastern Europe?
The stadium was almost full, with around 20,000 visitors. In the beginning it was relatively quiet in the stadium which astonished me. During the game, you could hear the Partizan fans loudly – especially impressive it was when the entire stadium sing and jump. The non-covered Partizan stadium offers this perfect acoustics for that. All of us really liked the stadium with it’s Eastern Europe charm.
At the beginning of the game pyrotechnics were ignited in the guest block, whereupon Partizan followers tried to enter our block and could steal four flags. They were immediately pushed back into their block by the “military police” with the help of batons. Then, the support in the Augsburg sector was as good as terminated (see, here). I was shocked that it happened so quickly, but I had wasted a thought of riots before the game.
So, let us talk about the game, which could have been the last international game for Augsburg for years. Augsburg had to score at least three goals and win by the difference of two goals to get into the second round. In the eleventh minute Oumarou scored for Partizan to 1:0. Augsburg was the better team and was just rewarded before the half with the 1:1 after a Trochowski free kick. Verhaegh scored in the 50th minute the earned Augsburg advantage. Afterwards Partizan was almost exclusively in their own half and tried to save the game over time, but at the same time they continued their dangerous counter-attacks. In the 80th minute Zivkovic saw a second yellow card, so Partizan had to play with ten men. One minute before the end of regulation time the miracle happened and the Peruvian national Bobadilla headed the third goal for Augsburg. After the final whistle the away section was a pure party section and there have been speculations made shortly thereafter, who will be the next opponent in Europe. After a good hour we were allowed to leave the stadium and made our way by taxi towards the apartment.
The stadium visit of Стадион Партизана was a unique experience and from it many questions arise. Why this violence in football? Why is this seemingly commonplace? What a role play football for these fanatical people in their daily life? How important is politics here? Why does Partizan write on their Homepage Yugoslavia and not Serbia (for example, see here).
After the Game
I talked to some locals at a bar about Partizan, the Violence and also the rivalry with Red Star. They said that most would immediately associate football fans with hooligans, due to the violence that takes place around the city due to the rivalry between the two major clubs. According to the statement of my interlocutors there are three types of people in Belgrade: either not interested in football or Partizan or Red Star Fan.
We used the second day in Belgrade to do some sightseeing. I particularly enjoyed the Belgrade fortress and the view from the fortress grounds to the City. By coincidence we visited a kind of evening classes for a German language course, so that students can actively use their knowledge of German – we were approached on the bus from the teacher, if we were so inclined to come over.
It was weird, however, when we saw buildings, which had been destroyed by bombs in the Yugoslavia war, and belong today to a part of everyday life of the city – still in the destroyed condition. It was a strange feeling, because you do not just think of war at the present Belgrade and also in today’s Europe is a war far away.
Belgrade is pleasant: an Eastern European city with some of the charm of the distant Soviet Union. I will come back for a game of Partizan’s rivals: Red Star. One of my traveling companions stated that Belgrade is a kind of blend of socialist history, the heritage of the Habsburg Monarchy and present day EU Eastern-enlargement. Football fandom here is intense, noisy and violent.
*photos by Hendrik Kren