Eastern Europe isn’t a force on the world football stage like Western Europe, or South America, but the fans are incredibly passionate.
I enjoyed attending club football matches across Eastern Europe in 2017. Not all were great atmosphere wise, but there were some standouts. Memories that will stick around for the rest of my time on this planet.
The following are four Eastern European football experiences I loved. Plus one game I can’t not mention because of the two teams & players involved. The most famous athletes inspire constantly, which drew me to this match.
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Partizan FC vs. Mladost Lucani in Belgrade (9/9/17)
Caption: A glimpse into the eery atmosphere
This game kicked off at 9 pm, the late starting time that became a norm in Eastern Europe. On arrival at the stadium, there were few fans, but wow, the number of riot police was incredible.
Inside the concrete cauldron, we sat with the Partizan Ultras, known as the Grave Diggers. Their presence is intimidating!
Little did I know taking out my phone for pictures wouldn’t always go down well. And standing up on our seats for all 90 minutes? Do as the locals do I guess.
Final Result: 3 – 1 win to Partizan FC
Red Star Belgrade vs. BATE in Belgrade (14/9/17)
The fans were squeezed in to cheer on Red Star Belgrade.
Red Star is the other club based in Belgrade. Red Star vs. Partizan FC is regularly rated as one of the top rivalries in the world. I was too late for that unfortunately.
I was about two weeks late to see that played out but did get to see one Red Star Belgrade play a UEFA Europa League Group Match.
I scalped a last-minute ticket and walked into an absolutely packed stadium. There was no chance I was reaching my allocated seat. The crowd energy was incredible, especially see thousands waving what appeared to be shiny cardboard at the same time. That made the game worth seeing alone!
Final Result: 1 – 1 draw
Zeljeznicar vs Zrinjski Mostar in Sarajevo (30/9/17)
Sarajevo and Mostar are two of the most well-known cities in the country, so I wasn’t sure what to expect derby-wise. Thankfully my blue hoody matched the home team’s colours after again noticing a large riot police presence. And the police dog who gave me a massive fright!
Throughout the game, there were some flares lit, but the other thing to note was the ~35 Mostar supporters in the far corner. They had been quiet all game until they took the lead.
For the next 15-minutes, they were dancing up a storm with some kind of strobe light giving the appearance they were in a club. Interestingly, and perhaps wisely, they departed 10 minutes before fulltime.
Final Result: 0 – 1 win to Zrinjski Mostar
Turkey vs. Albania in Antalya (13/11/17)
At the time of writing, this was the most recent football match I’ve attended. There was little build up to the match with no advertisements around the city.
The game was a friendly, with little on the line. Both sides were out of World Cup qualifying contention. I didn’t see any Albanian flags at the stadium, but there were at least 32,529 flags. Why such a specific number?
Every single seat was draped with a flag. This was incredible, and must must fire up the players when they see so much pride as the run out onto the pitch.
Final Result: 2 – 3 win to Albania
Bonus: Barcelona FC Legends vs. Manchester United
Legends in Barcelona (30/6/17)
Before heading to Eastern Europe, I was in Barcelona. This match was never about the quality, with some of the football players clearly not keeping up their fitness levels. Having already visited the Camp Nou museum twice, getting to see a game at Camp Nou Stadium was magic.
It wasn’t a sellout, and the fans didn’t care about the result. They were grateful to see some of their favourite players of all time lace up the boots and show off a few tricks. Me too! Because of the match, Ronaldinho is now one of my favourite sports personalities.
Of course, deep down, a player’s burning desire to win never goes away.
Final Result: 1 – 3 to Manchester United Legends
What Can You Learn From This?
If I was a truly passionate fan of football, watching the matches might have been boring. Some of the games weren’t of the highest quality. That’s true.
But I never would have got to experience:
- standing on seats for 90-minutes
- waving flags with 20,000+ others
- Stadiums with no alcohol sales
And so many more intricacies that make up the culture of each country.
Experiencing culture through sports is something you should do more of. It’s truly incredible.
Jub is a sports-loving travel blogger. As a kiwi (New Zealander), sports played a massive role in his childhood. Realising the influence of sports on himself, like so many other Kiwis, he wants to understand how sports influences cultures around the world, and encourages others to do the same.