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Belgrade Derby: An Interview with David Vujanic

The Eternnal Derby of Serbia between Partizan and Red Star Belgrade is one of the strongest felt derbies in the world.  The Grobari, are Partizan’s supporters while the Red Star supporters refer to themselves as the Cigani, or gypsies. In Serbia these groups are known as Delije, and their rivalry extends to football, basketball and handball matches. Copa90 host David Vujanic, who was born in Serbia, and headed to Belgrade for this weekend’s derby sat down with us to talk about his experience at the match in 2014, and the historical significance of this fixture.

Tell us about your connection to Serbia?

“I was born in Croatia of Serbian nationality, and came over to the UK in 1998, when I was 5 years old. The difficult situation going on back then made it impossible for us to stay. “

What was this derby like when you were a kid?

“The derby was the only game that you had to watch. You wanted to see it because you knew something was going to happen. I remember watching it for the first time here in England.  We didn’t have satellite TV so we had to go the this Serbian hotel thing where this guy was showing it.  And at the time in the UK you could only watch it with an hours delay and I remember all of us pretending it was live, and avoiding finding out what had happened before. But it was so difficult to watch them.

How has it changed over the years?

“I think that all people of second generations think about how the league used to be when Jugoslavia had a full league.  The quality of the play on the field was immense. Then you had 100,000 people standing in Belgrade, which looked amazing.  But after the war it became a kind of feeder league for Europe.  However being that it is such a big rivalry everyone looks forward to it all season and it’s the only games that still sells out. What is great about it is that it has kept that fandom and that culture in the terraces.  So the quality has dropped, but the whole city still talks about that game.”

When were you last at the derby, what happened?

“Last year I was at my first Derby at Partizan stadium and that was amazing.  The greatest part of that experience which ended in a late 2-1 winner for Partizan was the stands.  You see the faces and emotions of people divided over 90 minutes by red and black.  I was so amazed by how much emotion was in the stands, and how it was such a release for people do be there and forget about everything else for 90 minutes.

Who do you Support?

“Over the past years I have become neutral about it.  Anyone in your family who supports one side or the other will try to bring you over to their side.   So my uncle supports Partizan and my father supports Red Star, and over the years I have just become a supporter of Serbian football in general.  So in Europe I always rooted for who ever was making it farther in competition.  During the derbies I’m generally more interested in the stands and the passion around it.  I hope Red Star wins it this year so European fans can see how they are amongst the best fans on the continent.”

What are you looking forward to going back there this weekend?

“This time I am looking forward to the noise, the colour, the passion, the electricity.  I am looking forward to experiencing something that you might only get to see once in a lifetime.  I also can’t wait to be in the Maracana.  Its bigger, 20,000 extra people is bound to be a lot more electric.

Beyond the match I can’t wait to get back to the food, people and music.  I love the warmth that Serbia has managed to maintain despite all the difficulties.  But the reputation that precedes it could not be more wrong, the people are just wonderful.”

Why do people regard this as such a dangerous match?

“If you look at it, there are isolated instances, but for me that is all part of football.  Sometimes you want to see that passion boil over, without the potential of that you lose out on the atmosphere.  It’s not a premier league game where they’ve castrated the football atmosphere.  If you want to go have a fight with someone anywhere in the world you can find a fight.  People seem to have this image of Serbia from the 90’s and its hard to get past that, but calling it dangerous is unfair.”

Anything else for the Copa Fam?

The Belgrade Derby has to be on your list of 100 things to do before you die.  If its not on that list get in on there as soon as possible.