The best atmosphere in European Football?

Posted on May 7, 2012


Believe it or not, but Belgrade was once home to the winners of the European Cup, the competition that would become the Champions League. Not only that, but the football they played on the run to the final is widely spoken of in awe by those in the know. Serbian football has gone downhill since then, and Red Star Belgrade have gone from being the top side in Europe to the 2nd best side in Belgrade. Take this seasons league for example, Partizan have already wrapped the title up, and this is despite having Avram Grant as a manager. This past Saturday was the Belgrade derby, and I went along to the game with a few people who were staying in the hostel. It’s got a reputation as being a spicy dinner, but surely a meaningless game would be pretty tame?

Put simply, I have never experienced an atmosphere at a football match that comes close to this. We got to the ground at around 6.30pm, and the sheer number of the police was jawdropping. Not just police either, but police in full on RoboCop gear. Intense. We found the gate where our stand was (after being briefly recognized from Couchsurfing, bizarre), and had body checks before entering the ground. By body checks, I mean very, VERY strict checks. I was checked 4 times, and had to leave behind a lighter as well as all of my small change. Dan, an English chap who formed part of our group, was told he could not bring pens in with him. I could sort of understand all of this, as any possible missile would be used by some of the more hardcore elements of the two clubs. The sheer ridiculousness kicked in however, when we got inside the stadium and the Red Star fans started throwing chairs at the police. Of course, this was after a small group of Red Star fans jumped the fence and pushed over a speaker stack that was blaring Partizan songs into their stand, as well as part of an ADIDAS sign. They weren’t stopped either, they just did it and went back into the ground. Insane. The songs were being sung, hands were constantly clapped and it was incredibly easy to forget that there was supposed to be a football match. A simply mind blowing intensity.

The game itself proved to be rather mediocre, but this mattered not a jot, as it was all about the intensity of the fans. We were sat practically next to the Red Star hooligans, and it was all very intimidating. The singing was non stop, and whenever there was a momentary silence from the stand it was almost more terrifying. These guys were fueled by testosterone, adrenaline, who knows what drugs and more testosterone. Back home we talk about Man Utd v Liverpool being an intense rivalry, but some of the songs on show here, as well as the passion of the fans, made that Mancs and the Scousers look very much like Welshpool v Guilsfield at under 12 level. And that’s probably giving Utd and Liverpool too much there. This is a rivalry. This is without mentioning the flares. It took all of about 6 seconds for the first flare to be lit, and it didn’t stop from then on. At one point in the first half the Red Star fans seemed to be setting off a never ending conveyor of flares, so much so that their stand became a sea of bright red and thick smoke. It didn’t lull in the second half either, when the Partizan fans brought their own flares to the party. Heck, there was even some sort of flare show from the section of the crowd diagonally opposite us, which was supposedly neutral. Right. I know I’ve said it a number of times already, but wow, intense.

The match seemed to be petering out to a boring 0-0 draw (which I had called beforehand), with neither side looking particularly threatening. There was a neat bit of football by Red Star down the left side of the Partizan defence however, which led to an opening. A 92nd minute opening. The ball was laid back and everyone took a collective sigh, as the long range shots had been abysmal to this point. Not this one though. Smoothly cracked, the ball nestled in the bottom corner, and everyone in the Red Star end (the end where the goal was scored) proceeded to go completely mental. And by mental, I really can’t put into words how mental. I have never experienced a rush of energy like it in my life, and would definitely put it in the top 1 of momentary experiences whilst traveling. Incredible feeling. Red Star had won, and then the real singing started. The fans rushed the pitch and one was detained by the police, only for a Red Star player to intervene and stop the arrest. Imagine Gerrard, or Rooney, or however doing the same thing? Wouldn’t happen. In terms of football rivalry and passion, this is a different world. A dark world, yes, but there was no sitting on hands here, no boredom. This was the most captivating atmosphere I have ever experienced.

Roll on next season.