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Why the Belgrade derby remains the best derby in Europe

Partizan vs Red Star: A calendar fixture for every football faithful.
Partizan vs Red Star: A calendar fixture for every football faithful.
ANALYST
Modified 11 Nov 2020, 16:20 IST
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No derby in Europe brings as much passion as the Belgrade derby in Serbia. A former part of the Yugoslavia region, Serbia has a long history of war crimes and human genocide. Amidst the gloom following the Cold War, the Belgrade derby has become a calendar event for the locals to cherish and celebrate.

The Belgrade derby itself stretches a long way back in European football history. Both Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade emerged during the post-World War II reconstruction of Yugoslavia.

Red Star was created by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1945 while Partizan was created six months later by the Yugoslavian People's Army. They played their first match in the winter of 1947 and the Belgrade derby was created.

The most intense of all European derbies: The Belgrade derby

Since then, the two clubs have emerged as the best in the country, enjoying European success, and the rivalry has only intensified. When it comes to the Belgrade derby, Serbians across the country have only two options, either support Red Star or Partizan. Support for any other local club is pretty much non-existent. 

Former Red Star striker Mihaljo Pjanovic once said in an interview:

"From a young age, you choose Red Star or Partizan, even if you are not from Belgrade."

What adds more spice to the derby is the geographical location of the two clubs' stadiums. Located only 400 meters from each other, in the heart of Belgrade, rival fans never compromise when it comes to turning up for the big night.

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What makes the Belgrade derby truly the best in Europe is the atmosphere created for the derby. No other derby in Europe, except for the Istanbul derby, comes anywhere close in terms of raw emotion, passion, flares, and flames.

The Belgrade derby is the fiercest in Europe and violence during the derby is not uncommon. The fireworks, choreography, and the passionate war-cries from both the ultras are a spectacle to behold for any football fan.

Slavisa Jokanovic, the former Serb international, aptly summed up the matchday atmosphere during the Belgrade derby:

"I watched, have played in, and coached the Belgrade derby- I cannot be surprised by anything. But it's loud and it's incredible. I remember when we played the game, it was impossible to talk to your team-mates and give instructions."
"That game (against Red Star in the 1990s) was in front of 100,000 people with a hot atmosphere- big crowds and big ultras who don't stop supporting the team. It's impossible to hear what's happening around you."

This Belgrade derby sticks to the proper definition of a derby. Other anticipated derbies across Europe essentially boil down to the spectacle of good football and the individual class of players. However, the Belgrade derby is a spectacle of anything but those qualities.

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The long association with violence - most notably in 1999, when a teenage Red Star fan got killed by a rocket fired by the Partizan fans - gives the derby a scary touch. The intensity of the rivalry and the bad blood between the two ultras, the Heroes of Red Star and the Gravediggers of Partizan, has never died and crowd trouble has remained a constant feature.

The patrolling of riot police during the derby across the grounds may have prevented violence resulting in deaths in recent times. However, fans have resorted to other ways of enhancing the atmosphere of the derby.

March 2020: Footage of fan chaos in the 162nd Belgrade derby

In 2013, police arrested 104 supporters after the game for setting fire to the seats during a derby. In another instance in 2015, fans threw stun grenades at opposition players and flares at the riot police. The match ended up being suspended for an entire half.

While many football fans may not like such a raucous atmosphere, without it, it is just another match. The soul of the derby is the fans, and Belgrade has some of the most loyal fanbases in Europe.

Fans in Belgrade have not turned to support expansive, vibrant football outside their country and that, in itself, is a testament to what the Belgrade derby means to them.

Published 11 Nov 2020, 16:20 IST
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