A continuation of the rivalry between Serbs and Albanians
Partizan Belgrade is known for its intense home atmosphere, and my trip to Belgrade lined up with a really interesting match. For my visit, Partizan Belgrade was hosting a Europa League match against Albanian team Skenderbeu.
Albania and Serbia are not the best of friends, considering the Kosovo War in 1998-1999 (which involved a genocide) and the following independence declaration of ethnically Albanian Kosovo from Serbia. The dislike between these two countries has translated to the pitch in a very aggressive form. Albania and Serbia were part of the same qualifying group during Euro 2016. When they played their qualifying match in Belgrade, it didn’t go well:
The game obviously did not finish, and UEFA awarded Albania a victory due to “security lapses of the organizers and acts of violence exerted on the Albanian players by the Serbian fans and at least one security steward”. That match was also at Partizan Stadium. Would the same behavior repeat itself? Partizan issued a stern warning to their fans to behave, knowing that poor behavior could result in a ban from European competition.
Considering the troubles between Albanian and Serbian teams playing in the past, the two clubs agreed to not have away fans travel to either game. In the match at Skenderbeu a few weeks before, the fans at Skenderbeu chanted “Serbs must be killed, destroyed, slaughtered.” Not very nice! Skenderbeu, as a result, had to play their next home Europa League game in an empty stadium.
So, what’s interesting about Partizan Belgrade?
Partizan Belgrade is historically one of the two biggest clubs in Serbia, along with their rival Red Star Belgrade. Both clubs were founded in 1945 – Red Star by the Communist youth, Partizan by the Yugoslav Army. As a result of their army founding, Partizan was historically in favor of a united Yugoslavia. Red Star, on the other hand, is more associated with Serbian nationalism.
However, the most interesting thing to me about Partizan is not the history or any of the players. It is the fans, known for their passion and intensity. The Red Star/Partizan rivalry, known as the eternal derby, is one of the world’s most fierce. This video by COPA90 does a great job of highlighting the rivalry and the Partizan supporters.
Now, for the game I attended……
Match day experience at Partizan Belgrade
Entering the stadium, the most noticeable thing is the crowd in the south stand, occupied by Partizan’s ultras, known as Grobari. They are loud, sing constantly, and were the main source of energy for the stadium at around 65% occupancy.
While I could not understand the fans chants, some were a bit nationalistic (i.e. chanting Serbia.) I can’t speak to whether the chants were appropriate or not, although Partizan didn’t get punished for bad behavior after this match….so maybe that’s a good sign? Either the club’s warnings worked or the fans are becoming better behaved. My guess is the former, although considering the circumstances, it should be considered a positive that no one threw anything at the players.
As for the game itself, Partizan won 2-0. The game was pretty competitive and Skenderbeu better than expected, but Partizan had better goal scoring opportunities and took advantage. The result put Partizan in position to qualify for the knockout stages of Europa League.
Overall, the passion in the stadium did not disappoint and is the biggest reason to check out a match here. One thing that isn’t a draw are the amenities. Similar to most European stadiums, they are limited, and alcohol was not sold inside.
If being in a crowd with some of Europe’s most passionate, and at times aggressive, fans interests you, you’ll want to know about….
Buying Partizan Belgrade tickets
Here’s the short story: go to the stadium an hour before kickoff and buy from the ticketbooth (the line doesn’t move quickly.) Unless Partizan is playing Red Star, the game is very unlikely to be sold out.
And the long story: when planning for this, I couldn’t figure out how to buy tickets online (aside from Viagogo, which is a ripoff.) I did, however, find out that you can buy tickets from the Ticketline office. On the day of the match, I went to their office in New Belgrade near the train station.
From Old Town, it takes a solid 40 minutes to get to this office via bus and walking past lots of old Yugoslavian bloc housing. Once I was there, however, no tickets! They do sell tickets at this office, but not on the day of the game.
Therefore, we bought tickets at the stadium. The supply was plentiful, but the lines were slow. Really, really slow. We had to wait 40 minutes to buy tickets, causing us to miss the first ten minutes of the match. For this match, they also checked everyone’s ID and registered everyone’s name, presumably to ensure no away supporters attended.
Pricing options were pretty straightforward: center tickets were 2000 dinar ($20 USD), corners are 1500 dinar ($15 USD), and behind the net is 1000 dinar ($10 USD.) Behind the nets is also where you get the most intense fans, while the center sections have lots of empty seats.
Getting to Partizan Stadium
The easiest way to get to Partizan Stadium is via bus, and the 34, 40, and 41 bus lines all go to Partizan Stadium. Expect a 20-30 minute trip if going from Old Town.
More information for visiting Belgrade
Hotels: Most visitors stay in or around Old Town or nearby. Check TripAdvisor for the best deals.
Getting In: Nikola Tesla International Airport has connections throughout Europe and there’s a sleeper train to Budapest. Bus connections can get you into Belgrade from cities such as Sarajevo, Sofia, and Pristina. I personally came from Timisoara, Romania – a doable but less easy connection via Gea Tours (which I’ll be writing about soon.)