I had been dying to go the Belgrade derby after watching a video on Copa90 youtube channel called: Most Explosive Derby Ever! Red Star vs Partizan … or Crvena Zvezda vs. Partizan. Some call it the world’s most dangerous derby… Which is why I wanted to go there so badly! I am often drawn to situations in travel that elicit such hyperbolic speech as “most dangerous” or “most intense atmosphere!” And as an American, we do not have epic, highly contentious, classic footy battles in the US. With that being said, the Belgrade derby, or the večiti derbi as Serbians affectionately call it, was not as dangerous as some would have you believe. So if you are traveling to Serbia for the derby, here are some things I am happy to tell you that others might not. You can also watch my vlog to see the atmosphere for yourself.
1. Sitting with the hardcore fans is not as scary as it seems!
This derby took place at the Marakana stadium–the stadium of Red Star. Red Star fans, or Delije, sit in the north. Partizan fans, or Grobari, sit in the south. Many tourists are told to sit in the neutral sections–so the east or the west to avoid all the “danger” from the hardcore sections. But I was like, screw that! I sat in the south with the Partizan fans… as I am a Partizan fan. Duh! Also, when I travel, I like to live on the edge a little bit. I find that places with a “dangerous” reputation are often either a myth or only dangerous in a specific context. Sitting with the “dangerous” hardcore fans… I never once felt unsafe. But that is because I did my research about WHERE in the south to sit. If you are reading this far, you probably have learned that some hardcore leaders are criminals and/or part of the mafia. Of course, you want to try and stay out of their way. From talking to a few friends, I learned that the leaders of the Partizan supporters sit in the middle rows of the south and conduct cheers, banners and manage flare assignments from there. So I avoided that section, naturally. I also discovered that the right wing/east side of the south historically has more fights that break out because it is right beside an annexed section between the east and the west, and these two sections occasionally have problems behaving with one another. So from this deductive reasoning research, my friends and I came to the conclusion that the safest place to sit was in the left of the south/west side of the south. And the research worked. I felt totally safe AND got to experience the game alongside passionate supporters.
2. Okay, Okay… So I felt a little scared sometimes
I never at any moment felt like I was in any danger. But there are a few moments where I was freaking out a little bit. One of them was during the 2nd half of the match. Fans were getting more antsy and impatient for a goal as the game had gone about 60 minutes in with nobody scoring. All of a sudden, in the row just before me, a mosh pit broke out–a fucking mosh pit. What the hell! I’m a musician–I’ve been apart of a few mosh pits in my day so I wasn’t scared to see people moshing. But I guess I was shocked that people were moshing at a football game. The moshers got so close to me and my friend that we had to climb back two rows. …That’s another interesting thing about the derby. People are constantly climbing up or climbing down to different rows. In western Europe footy matches, you buy a ticket for a specific seat, and you sit there the whole game. In Serbia, apparently not. The other moment where I was freaking out a lot is when the flares started! I was so excited to sit in the south with the hardcore fans because I knew they would set off a lot of flares and to me, that was the main event of experiencing this grungy derby. But once the flares started, it became real how dangerous this COULD be! You can see the flares at minute 6:10 of my video, but that was even after they started to die down. Before that, there were 10s and 10s of flare-holders and it felt like being too close to a brick oven! One of the flare holders was 2 rows in front of me. I could feel the heat of the flare–that was the first time I had even ever seen a flare up close. Then, all of a sudden, he started swinging it and I was like, woah! My friend and I jumped back another 2 rows! I find it hilarious that we finished the game four rows back from where we started. But anyway, those were the moments I felt the most scared. And now you know that if you go to a derby, and some moshing, fighting or flares occur, just jump back a couple of rows. Nobody will care. It’s just a normal day at the derby!
3. Don’t bring a lot of stuff
Something you should be prepared for if you are attending the derby is that a lot of your stuff will be confiscated as they search you before you enter the stadium. The security “say” they are trying to make sure you do not have anything on your person that can be used for harm or start a fire of some sort—which is why the confiscated my mini hair brush, and a sample size perfume I had! Because I intended to start a fire with those things apparently. I was really glad I did my research and anticipated these things happening. I knew some things would be confiscated, so of course I brought my least favorite perfume and didn’t bring my current favorite lipgloss! I don’t know what could be confiscated if you are a guy, but I have heard of coins even being confiscated so that no one could throw them to try and injure someone below.
4. HEAVY police presence
There is a heavy police presence at these derbies. There are riot police everywhere! As you can see at minute 6:43 of my video, the police even escorted everyone out as we left. They formed a barricade wall to prevent fights or attacks from Red Star against Partizan fans, or the opposite: attacks from Partizan fans against Red Star fans. This was a very clever tactic by the riot police. When the match was over, the police blocked the exit for the south section so that the Red Star fans could all leave first to safely find their cars or walk home. For what felt like 25-30 minutes, me and my friend were stuck at the exit of the south, waiting for when the police would finally let us leave! That wait sucked, but it was really clever that they do that and it made me feel so safe. And of course, once the Red Star fans had been safely escorted to their cars or had long walked home, they then allowed us Partizan fans to leave and gave us the same service. So thank you Belgrade riot police for containing everything so well. 🙂
5. To record or not to record
The biggest the cardinal sins of the derby is that carries the biggest punishment, should someone disobey it, is “THOU SHALT NOT BE A SNITCH!” Yes, people! Snitches get stitches! As stated above, a lot of criminals are involved with the crazy things that happen at the derby. And the only way they can keep up these illegal antics like throwing flares and organizing fights is by not getting caught. So if you are a silly girl like me, sitting with hardcore fans, and intend to record, just be aware that some people may not like that. One guy behind me told me to stop recording in the middle of the 2nd half. I also saw on someone else’s blog that they attended the derby and sat in the Red Star north. They were also scolded about recording at one point. In regards to recording, the moment when hardcore fans are most vulnerable is when the flares start because these flares are brought in illegally up to weeks before the match is set to take place and hidden in the stadium. So if someone holding a flare is caught on video, this can be evidence for the police. So if you go to the derby and want to sit with the hardcore fans, just beware that you could be scolded for recording. Also, I did not bring my bigger camera to record because I didn’t want anything to happen to that camera just in case anyone was especially ticked off by me recording, if you know what I’m saying!
I don’t think the Belgrade derby was as dangerous as people and blogs I read made it out to be. I felt totally safe. There are way too many riot police to feel unsafe + I think all the fans were pretty well-behaved as well comparatively speaking to previous derbies! So there you go! Come to the Belgrade derby!!!