By: Florian Gheorghe
Who do you root for?
In Serbia and its capital Belgrade, there can only be two answers: FK Partizan, the former Army’s team or FK Crvenazvezda or commonly known throughout Europe as Red Star.
According to pools, almost half of the Serbian population supports Red Star; in absolute numbers that means around 2.7 million people. Partizan is the second most popular football team with 1.7 million. Counting Serbian diaspora and the former Yugoslavian republics, the numbers are actually much larger.
And why wouldn’t they be as the two teamsdominated the region since their foundation: each has 26 national championships – Yugoslavian First League, Serbia and Montenegro First League and Serbian Jelen SuperLiga combined; the national cup has been won 36 times by either team; one is European Cup runner-up and the other is actually a winner. Since Montenegro’s independence in 2006, only two teams have won the SuperLiga. Going back to Yugoslavia separation in 1992, only once the First League has been won by a team other than Partizan or Red Star. In fact, since the 50s, the two powerhouses won 52 trophies out of a possible 55.
Welcome to Serbia, where the blood in the veins can be either red or… black.
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, the more bohemian Red Star had the edge over Partizan. Since then however, the Black and Whites have closed the gap dominating the Serbian competition. The same can be said about the season that has just ended: FKPartizan won yet another title, its seventh in the last eight years and its 26th overall. The title was sealed two weeks after the traditional Eternal Derby and two rounds before the finish-line. For many fiery fans, the Eternal Derby or Večitiderbi is the heart and soul of the season, the difference between a successful and a disappointing season.It’s one of the biggest rivalries in sports and one of the most spectacular fan-made shows – putting aside the unfortunate violence that shadows the contest more often than not. This year, the game played at Marakana was scoreless; last autumn Partizan won it 1-0 announcing yet another year of domination over their rivals.
Their only wrong step came in the Serbian Cup. They made it to the Final but there, underdog FK Čukarički beat them 1-0 thanks to a goal scored late in the first half by forward Slavoljub Srnić.
Still, the loss can’t overshadow what Partizan has achieved this year: holding their eternal rivals at bay, denying them yet another championship and tying Red Star’s record for most national top-tier trophies.
Now they are in for another hunt, this time outside Belgrade and the national border: to qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stage for the third time in team’s history and cash in. At the other end of the two-way affair, faced with many financial problems and forced to sell all their potential whizz kids for scrubs, Red Star will regroup and try once more to oppose the Black and Whites. Can they beat the odds?