So, did we go to Serbia for four days? Did we drink a shed load of beers? Did we tour three of the biggest clubs in the Jelen Super Liga? Did we see a game of football? Did we all get out alive? We might have! By the way, the ‘all getting out alive’ bit surprised us too.
So now I have your attention ladies and gentlemen, here is the first instalment of our Serbian adventure. Now get sat comfortably, because you are in for a three part thrilling roller coaster ride. And boozing. Standby, as we are good to go…
Awoken by the sound of my alarm, it’s 3:34am and I wake up in a place I’m not familiar with. I crack open one of my eyes and it’s all OK, it’s Dukey’s spare room. Thank god! Heading downstairs I find Dukey already sticking the kettle on. Top man. The first thing I need at this time in the morning is a shot of coffee, ok well fuck it a cappuccino will suffice, followed by a smoke. Nothing quite beats this for a cornerstone to start each day. Coffee downed, time for the three S’s, Shower, shit and a shave.
All completed we head downstairs and await our collection from Taz. 10 minutes pass and we start to think, has our leader over slept and not awoken from his kip? A shrug of the shoulders and we think sod it, let’s get moving. So we walk down the road and about 5 minutes in we see the shape of a blue toaster heading towards us down the road. For a second I thought I was tripping, no, no in fact it is our Firm Leader for the weekend, Taz. As we pile into the Cube he tells us he got stuck behind some lorry in the high street or something. Sounds more like he fancied an extra 5 minutes kip.
En route to the agreed meet, we swerve into a side road to pick up the Welsh Man (now known as ‘4 Days’. This will be explained in more detail later) . Some 5 minutes later we rock up the Club, where we are greeted by Mr X and an anxious looking taxi driver. We all pile into the cab and head off via the back route to Heathrow where our plane awaits. No need for check in’s as superstar Juan (that’s me!) checked us all in the previous day. So what could possibly go wrong? With Security and Passport control cleared without delay, we head into the departure lounge to locate the Wetherspoons for Duke as he loves a cheap pint. Sadly it seems Heathrow won’t offer Duke his pint and there ain’t a Spoons! So instead we settled for one of those Bistro Cafe places for a quick bite to eat and a morning brew. The overpriced bacon sarnie was a huge disappointment as it looked like it had been run over and left as roadkill. Overpriced grub paid for we headed off to say our goodbyes, depart the UK for 4 days and board our Air Swiss flight bound for Zurich.
Now there’s hand luggage and then theirs fucking guitars as hand luggage. On boarding, we find some divvy twat thought it would be funny to take one of the musical instruments on as hand luggage and use all the storage space above our seats, what a two bob, I can tell ya. Despite being sat near the front, Dukey & Taz’s bags wind up in a locker some 10 rows back.
The fight from Heathrow to Zurich passes in record time for me, others felt it dragged. How time flies when…you are having fun. Oh dear shit joke! Touch down in Zurich and the smokers within the crew headed off for a nicotine fix, as you can smoke in this Airport you see. Very sociable! A quick chain smoke session and we regrouped and boarded our next flight. This one destined for Belgrade, thank fuck as I was getting a little bored of airports. A further 1 hour and twenty minutes later and we landed in Beograd as they say in these here parts. Touchdown! As they don’t say in these here parts. Now I should point out here, this is where the first fuck up is discovered. Dukey, the twat, decided to see how durable his pocket camera was by sitting on it for the entire plane journey and then realising he had cracked the screen. So that put his Dukeness in a right old mood and we’d only been in the country for 5 minutes! Right, time for us to experience Serbia and Belgrade. First up was a stamp in my passport for the privilege. Thank you very much nice passport lady! How you doin…? Works like a charm every time.
Passing through the Airport we were greeted by our ride to our digs for the next four days, a chap called Dusan and a friend. A short ride in Dusan’s motor while the other lads jump in with his colleague, the conversation was mainly aimed at our chances of actually getting a football game this weekend. Dusan filled us in on the facts, with the country was in a state of emergency and 3 days of mourning following the recent floods, so reckoned our chances were pretty low, approx 10%. Well I guess we live in hope, (do we make a game? Read parts 2 and 3 to find out!) Having been in Belgrade for 30 minutes, I’ve decided it’s quite warm and I’m starting to sweat out like Jimmy Saville in a dressing room with a velvet curtain. Our Dusan also gives us some handy pointers. Be respectful, don’t go out on our own and don’t show items like cash or phones as we may get robbed. I felt like I was back in Sutton for a moment! Or maybe Croydon.
|Belgrade sights! Oh, and the airport.
Fast forwards a little and having settled into our luxurious digs, it’s time for us to get used to our environment and surroundings for the next four days and we head off to change up some Euros into the local currency , which is called Dinars. Mr X changes his up first. He goes for a steady 200 Euros and gets his Dinar. Myself on the other hand goes large & lays down 600 to change the lot in one go. Bosh, ave it! I nearly give the geezer in the kiosk a heart attack and well, I damn near clear him out of Dinars. Thank you very much kind sir, take 20 of the top for your trouble! Right then it’s time for supplies and us knobbers looking totally British head off to the local supermarket to pick up the essentials, like bog roll and beer! Walking back down the streets every Serbian is looking at us funny, like they’ve never seen Brits abroad before. Maybe it was just the mount of bog paper and beer we were carrying? Back at the Apartment we had hired, cheap as chips, we discover the wonder and magic of free WIFI so every one logs on. Apart from Duke who has bought his Nokia phone from the 1991 era instead of his smart phone. They do have 3G here you know mate!
Fast forwards a little more and it’s time to go out and explore. Or as Mr X puts it ‘get cunted’. Which means to drink one’s self into a near oblivion, nearly loosing control of ones bodily functions and stumbling around a fair bit. Challenge accepted! We head off into the centre of Belgrade with the first stop at a local Irish bar called The 3 Carrots, approx 30 yards from our apartment. We got far didn’t we? This exploring lark might take some time! Still, a quick pint is required to get ourselves oiled up for the night before we venture deeper into the city.
At this point I briefly leave the boys to finish their booze and head off to the Red Star shop I’d spotted earlier and grab myself a jersey for my collection.
|Beer. And stickers.
The Welshman (aka four days) had been to Belgrade before, but of course not mentioned it like 100 times previously. So he took the lead and we ended up walking past many interesting places in the city centre before we rock up at the Old Belgrade Fort and a nice viewing point looking out across the River Sava. Now I know that you think we are all piss heads and blah blah blah. Well you are correct we are. However if there is a little bit of culture that requires our attention, then we’ll offer it at least 1 hour of our time before we again smell beer in the air. This time we combined the two and fucked off to a little quaint bar located in the fort itself, where we of course we took in some more local culture. Some local beer called Lav. Lav is a smooth sipping, with a small amount of bubbles, 5.5 percent beer. An enjoyable tipple. So we sat in this gaff for a fair few hours taking in the sun (well all except Taz, who sits in the shade ‘cos it’s fucking 34 degrees and he’s a ginge). Here we get to admire our first Belgrade sunset. How romantic! Oh wait, 5 blokes and a romantic sunset, er yeah, say no more.
With the sun now passing the yard arm & it still being fucking warm we decided to leave this nice little bar and back into the main town for some more local brewskies. Mr X pointing out that he had spotted some historical ex military tanks. We and especially Dukey held ourselves back and did not attempt anything involving armoured vehicles. A few more bottles however and we might have.
Back in town we found a little bar not far from the centre square and sat down for some more beers, this time a brew that goes by the name of Jelen, another awesome beer (aren’t all beers?). It’s much smoother than the Lav and a better choice for me. Now, seeing as we’d been up for hours and been on the evil juice for a good few of those now, we thought is best to get some solids inside us, and Pizza all round does the job very nicely. By now we were indeed a little pissed & decided to play a game of ‘name the players in various squads’. I decided not to bother really so I could just enjoy my Jelen and think of the greater good in life. Beer bottles empty we left this bar and headed back to the Three Carrots (or ‘the local’ as we now called it) for a night cap or 6 and the ‘name that player game’ continued, right down into non league where we upped the stakes and went for naming Sutton goalkeepers and left backs until you ran out of answers. Fuck me, we were blitzed by the Belgrade booze only 14 hours in.
|Partizan, trophies & Brasso fumes.
Friday morning I am once more awoken stupidly early, this time by some Church bells banging together like you wouldn’t believe from the large god squad house that is opposite the apartment. Fuck off lads, it’s not even sunday!! Dukey is up too and seeing as he’d busted his camera the day before, we decide to head down through the streets of Belgrade to locate a shop we’d found online where Duke can procure a cheap digital jobbie to replace his broken one. Eventually we find the shop and discover it’s closed, not due to open for another hour or so. So we head off for a walk before realising we’ve ended up nearly walking all the way down to F.K Partizan’s ground. We get as far as we can but decide to head back as the shop must be open by now. Here Dukey makes his purchase of a new camera (which turns out to be better than the one he had originally!) for a small wad of them there Dinars and we head back to re-group with the others back at our digs. A quick change of t-shirt (as it’s still fucking hot) before we head off back out onto the streets to locate a cab for the short journey back to F.K Partizan, where I had organised for us to partake in a little tour of the place, seeing as there was a chance we’d get no footer at all this weekend. With Mr X doing the best bit of bartering ever between two taxi drivers for two cabs, our ride is secured for the reasonable price of 500 Dinar to the ground. At least I think it’s reasonable anyway, but as I’ve still no idea what these funny notes are really worth yet, I’m not too sure.
On arrival at the stadium, we are greeted by our contact Atilla who shows us the tickets for the tour and we pay over our monies to the man. He then takes us up two flights of stairs to show us the trophy room. My word, if ever you wanted to some trophy porn then this, my friend, is the place for you. Their yearly Brasso bill must run into fucking fortunes keeping this lot shiny! With so much silverware on offer we of course snap away like Japanese tourists and discover that Atilla has some knowledge of the sixth level of football in the UK as he’s been over about 14 times. He starts to name various clubs at our level, like Dover and Staines, but he hasn’t seemingly heard of the famous Sutton United! Surely some mistake old bean!
Before we move on, he asks if we have any questions? Dukey naturally pipes up and asks if they play in a county cup. Basically meaning “Atilla, have you heard of the Surrey Senior Cup?” to which he looks blankly and says no. Not a surprise really eh Dukey boy! Just as we go to leave the trophy room, Atilla points us in the direction of a team picture of the Partizan side back in the mid-1960’s. The squad apparently features his dad (it turns out his old man put in a fair few goals for Partizan. Yeah, we googled that shit) and was a European Cup runner up with the club in 1966!
|Views of the JNA, FK Partizan….
The tour continues and we head down and out the back of the club and into the arena. Now it’s best to point out here that all Serbian clubs have the traditional running tracks which go the whole perimeter of the ground., which makes it all a bit spread out. But it at least feels tighter than Chelmsford or Hornchurch. Atilla then takes us round the ground, pointing out where the away fans go on match days (“And this is where we put the gypsies”). Myself and Taz reconise a little bit of Serbian gaffiti on the away end (multi-lingual us!), which we’re pretty sure reads ‘Gypsy Cunts’! This being the Partizan nickname for their near neighbours up the road, Red Star. We both know this thanks to reading a book called ‘Grobar’, which Taz has of course reviewed for this very blog a while back. Next we head towards the home end of the Grobari (Grave diggers) and their many fan groups such ‘Alcatraz’. The home end is covered in Ultra stickers across all seats (which Taz loves of course) and plenty more graffiti, although not as rude as the stuff at the other end! I must say at this point our guide is top notch and he overloads us with facts and history about the club, the stadium etc. He even tells us that he could take us into the changing rooms if we liked, but advises us it’s a bit shit and is “just a room”.
|Stickers. We like Stickers!
At the end, we thank our guide for the tour and pass on to him a few Sutton United stickers as a gift. Leaving the ground we head off to the shop where I buy an FK Partizan shirt and scarf to add to my collection at home. We then head off up the road to take a few more landscape pictures of the ground.
Now seeing as we know that both Partizan and Red Star are both within spitting distance of each other we decide it’d be rude not to head off towards Red Star and check it out. En route, many Ultra stickers are spotted and we stop to take a few snaps. Then, walking up a slight gradient we arrive at the Marakana and start to get even snap happier. I leave the group for a moment and head down the North end of the ground, where each entrance and exit wall is covered in a mural. I have to say I’m really impressed by the quality of work, in my opinion it’s certainly better than any Banksy.
|Red Star graffiti & murals….
I head back towards the group, continuing to get snap happy. The ticket office is covered from top to bottom in Ultra Stickers, mainly local, but a few others are spotted. We Carry on towards the main entrance behind the stand to see if we can get a look inside but it seems the whole place is on lock down, until myself and Taz are approached by a chap walking out of the ground. He starts to talk to us in Serbian but we explain we are English and once he realises we’re tourist wankers, he asks us if we would like to come see! So nursing a semi (about the ground, not the bloke you fucking wrong’uns!) we take him up on his offer and go inside. This lad then introduces us to some of his fellow mates, who we’re sure must be part of the Deljie, the nutters who inhabit that northern section of the stadium. These boys are friendly enough but they look like fucking serious folks. For a few minutes we keep our distance, but after showing them our Sutton United stickers our relationship starts to build and we start talking bollocks about football in a mix of English & Serbian and show them pics of Gander Green Lane on our mobiles (they were dead impressed. Not!).
Talk then turns to the chances of a potential game on Sunday. They tell us that it’s not confirmed yet, but there’s a good chance, probably 70%. Which is promising. Then comes along another Ultra who speaks perfect American English and he volunteers to take us off to Red Star’s Trophy Room. More Brasso porn! At this point Mr X and Dukey decide not to join us and they head into the ‘Red Cafe’ instead, the uncultured swines.
So, off we plod with this Ultra lad to the Trophy Room, where again if you have a silverware fetish this is another place that should be on your ‘to do’ list. Here we lay eyes on the clubs’ most prized possession a replica of the European Cup that they won years back in 1991. This excites Taz and the Taff as they’ve not laid eyes on the big ol’ pot before. There’s so much to absorb and take in in such a short space of time. Like Partizan, the Red Star guys are very proud and like to show all thier history and collections of trophies from over over the years. As we look around, the fella that looks after the Trophy Room & Museum asks us which team we support. When we tell him, he nods and mentions that Red Star have never played Sutton. Well, if you’re not busy this summer lads and fancy a friendly over in the UK…..
We then get taken out into the V.I.P area of the stand, where the American Speaking chap gives us a low down on some of the history of the club. For example a number of their fans being sent into war zones, especially during the Yugoslavian civil war in the 90’s and how there is a plaque of remembrance at the North Stand where the Ultras are based. He also tries to convince us to stand in the North if the game goes ahead on Sunday. But tells us to avoid the middle sections as that’s where it properly goes off on match day (or where “The magic happens” as one of the lads put it earlier!). However he also tells us the safe areas where to stand and tells us that we will be alright with the locals. Whilst he does, I think to myself “I’ve seen the videos on You tube and I know what goes on mate!”. He then lets us know that should Sundays game be on, there will be a 29 minute silence from the Deljie as a mark of respect for a fellow member who was recently killed, aged 29.
Having taken in as much history as we could, we said our goodbyes to our newly found friend and headed back towards the bar to meet Dukey and Mr X. Where we find one of them tucking into a frankly fucking massive yet very tasty looking cheesy, turkey omelette thing. Hungry were we?
Right, beer anyone?
…..TO BE CONTINUED