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Saturday 26th April 2014 ko 11.00

Prva Beogradska Liga Grupa A (First Belgrade League Group A)

FK SLAVJIA 2 (Vzglats 10 Dragutinovič 63)

13 MAJ 3 (Pantič 50 66 Bustič 52)

Att 28

Entry FREE

No Programme

Team Sheet FREE

Bag of Nuts 100 Serb Dinar (100 RSD = 71p)

Played at Stadion Mladi Obelić, Beograd

We’d flown into Belgrade late Friday night and by the time I was ensconced into the Hotel Slavija Lux it was well into Saturday. Here’s a tip for you. Since it’s almost impossible to get Serbian Dinar in the UK, make sure your cards are cleared for use abroad. There’s a cash point in arrivals, and that may well be your only way of getting money for the bus or taxi into Belgrade if the Bureaux de Change are closed.

From the moment we landed it became obvious that Serbia thinks it has an image problem, and so a proud nation is doing its best to make foreign visitors welcome. Getting to this game was a case in point, we’d established that the game was on and when kick off was, but the location was a real problem. There appeared to be two stadiums and one office block for the home team, but with barely a word of Serbian between us we’d reached an impasse.

I asked at reception and they sprang into action, and 10 minutes later they’d found a phone number for the club, contacted them, established where the game was, told them we were coming, and booked us two taxis both to take us there and return us afterwards. It was only when I returned after the game to collect my key, that they realised I was even a resident there. So I know which hotel I’ll book again when I’m next in Serbia!

That said, I did question their information when we arrived. Yes this was for a game at the 5th tier of Serbian football but to all intents and purposes the Stadion Mladi Obelić looked derelict; I was pleased to see players and the inevitable nut seller. It was easy enough to get a team sheet printed out in the house converted into an office, and then to pick a seat that wasn’t broken and watch a game on easily the worst pitch I have ever seen.

It’s the history of the ground that gives the reasons for what it is, and why it’s in such a dreadful state. Mladi is Serb for Young, and Mladi Obelić were the youth section of FK Obelić still the only team, other than Partizan and Red Star to win the Serbian League after the collapse of Yugoslavia. That was in no small part to the “Efforts” of Željko Ražnatović better known as war criminal “Arkan.” He took over the club in 1996 and from November 1997 to March 1999 they were unbeaten for 47 matches. In that time the FY Yugoslavia League title was won, but it was well-known that opposition players were threatened, and one opposition player commented he was locked in a garage for the duration of the game!

The club played European football despite the issue of their President being unable to travel due to an International Arrest Warrant hanging over them, and with UEFA considering prohibiting Obilić from participation in continental competitions altogether due to his presence, Arkan stepped down and handed the club to wife Svetlana, better known as the folk singer “Checa.” When Arkan was assassinated in 2000, the club sank without trace and fell all the way down to the Third Belgrade League, Group A, although they won the championship last season.

FK Mladi Obilić last played in the 2005/2006 season. The corruption had extended to Mladi with Checa serving a period of 8 months house arrest, and being fined 1.5 million Euros for physically and verbally assaulting, with her son in law Predrag Ocokoljic, Mladi’s sporting director Alexander Olarević during 2000. With the money having run out it was obvious why the ground is in the state that it is, with a half built clubhouse block, and the tower sporting a number of broken windows.

FK Slavija’s history is altogether more humble, they’ve been relegated twice in two seasons, but they do have one small claim to fame. At the end of World War II Red Star Belgrade had no kit and actually played their first post-war game in a yellow kit borrowed from Slavija! The opponents looked interesting too, their name the 13th May is symbolic to Serbs as it was the date in 1990, of the riot at the match between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade that was reckoned by many to be the spark that started the Croatian War of Independence from Yugoslavia.

Whatever the truth of that, the game was turgid for the most part as both sides found passing almost impossible on the appalling pitch. The key moment was when visiting right back Sasha Pantič placed himself up front for 20 minutes in the second half. He scored twice sandwiching an effort from Marko Bustič, and despite a late rally from Slavija the better side won.

We strolled outside, and at 1 o’clock our taxis arrived. Whilst we never took the good service for granted it was typical of the friendly Serbs we found on our visit. But nonetheless hearing “Arkan” again after so many years did send a shiver down my spine. Still one should always look forward, and the next game had the potential to be interesting.