Belgrade derby was full of nice not nasty surprises

April 25, 2011

I attended my first Belgrade derby on Saturday and all the preconceptions I might have had were happily blown away in the brisk Serbian wind.

The fixture is widely regarded as the most fiery and dangerous derby in world football but despite the game almost being a title decider, the sting was taken out of the occasion by Red Star ultras refusing to turn up at Partizan’s stadium.

Religious convictions had told them the game should not be played on Easter Saturday so they boycotted.

So there was no violence whatsoever, but that didn’t stop a huge number of riot police being there.

You wonder how the fans manage to cause trouble with the meanest-looking police unit imaginable. Massive men covered in thick riot gear which has led them to be nicknamed ‘Ninja Turtles’.

I also never realised how close Partizan’s ground was to Red Star’s stadium. There are almost as near as Anfield and Goodison Park.

Partizan’s home was smaller than I imagined, an open bowl with a running track, but the fans still made for a decent atmosphere despite the lack of Red Star supporters. There were a few flares and banners but nothing I had not seen in Italy or Marseille.

The press facilities were the best surprise. A carpeted cabin for each reporter with the units running the whole length of the pitch with perfectly-working broadband. You would struggle to get anything better anywhere in the world.

I also was lucky enough to cross the pitch at the end for a prompt news conference with the coaches in a lovely oak-panelled boardroom which somehow did not fit with the grey concrete in the rest of the ageing stadium.

As for the game itself, which Partizan won 1-0 to take a big step to retaining their title, the standard was probably akin to the English Championship or the lower end of La Liga.

The game was a bit niggly, but none of the fouls were more outrageous than any other feisty derby game in world soccer.

Look out for Partizan central defender Stefan Savic. He is only 20 but reminds me of Chelsea’s David Luiz or Inter Milan’s Andrea Ranocchia and will surely end up at a top European club before long. Very composed and decent on the ball.

Nemanja Tomic, Partizan’s tricky winger, also caught the eye and has almost as many tricks as Cristiano Ronaldo.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Belgrade derby and was glad that all the presumptions associated with the fixture are not always true.

PHOTO: Photographers take pictures of Red Star Belgrade’s coach Robert Prosinecki (R) before their Serbian League soccer derby against Partizan in Belgrade April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Ivan Milutinovic

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