Friday, 3 March 2017

Latest in the series of extracts from my forthcoming book 'CROWDED HOUSES.' Please note that the single-column stats seen here will be formatted in double columns in the book, which is presentationally more attractive.


Serbia is regarded as the successor state to the old Yugoslavia and comparing attendances between the two is instructive. The Serb League is a shrivelled husk of what was once a thriving, vibrant organisation that, with large and passionate crowds and clubs of great renown, was the envy of much of Eastern Europe for many years despite being riddled with match fixing problems for much of its existence.

Like the West, Yugoslavia enjoyed boom years after the Second World War though circumstances were rather different. Whereas the English League kicked off in 1946-47 by simply playing the fixtures scheduled for 1939-40, it was all change in Yugoslavia. In December 1944 for instance all existing Serb clubs were abolished as punishment for wartime collaboration – whether guilty or not. New clubs, with names reflecting the wartime struggle like Red Star and Partizan, were formed and took over the facilities of the former occupants. The same happened in Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb but Hajduk Split voluntarily closed down rather than play in a Mussolini-organised league, joined the partisans and reformed. Their most prominent supporter was none other than partisan hero and new ruler Marshal Tito himself.

The important factor was that new though many of the clubs were, supporters of the former sides were just as football-starved as elsewhere and flocked to see the new teams in action. Pre-war the Yugoslav League had never averaged 6,000. It exceeded that figure in 1947 and exploded over the next few seasons to reach 16,000 by 1950. Gates were still over 14,000 in 1952 which is when records run dry for over twenty years. Fortunately this was just a few seasons before the introduction of competitive European club football and records there show how well supported Yugoslav teams were. 

By the time documentation is available again in the 1970s Yugoslav football still averaged five figures though a decline in the 1980s saw that drop to 8,500. Figures for the last few seasons of the old Yugoslavia haven’t so far come to light but it’s safe to assume that the final years followed the declining pattern of other eastern European states. It was in that time though that Yugoslav club football peaked when Red Star Belgrade won the European Cup in 1991.  UEFA sanctions forced them to defend their trophy in the new Champions League by playing home games in Hungary and Bulgaria. They finished second in their group (the equivalent of the semi-finals) but from that day onwards have never played in the group stage again.

George Orwell famously said that sport was “war minus the shooting.” Would that had been the case in the 1990s when, instead of hurling insults or even cracking heads inside a football ground a very real war broke out in much of the old Yugoslavia as ethnic tensions, suppressed not only in the Tito era but essentially since the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes out of the ashes of the Habsburg Empire, broke out with a vengeance.

Football was very much of secondary importance during these years and even now the peace that holds these lands in check is of a fragile nature.

By the end of the century Serbia (still at this time united with Montenegro) had rejoined the European fold though the league was a pale shadow of its former glory. Gone were the major sides from Zagreb, Split and Sarajevo. Instead, as in Russia, inferior teams from lower tiers found themselves making up the numbers. The dismal figures tell their own tale. Not once has the Serbian League averaged as much as 4,000. It has on occasion dropped below 2,000. In 2003, Red Star, a side that had played in front of six-figure crowds in Europe and frequently averaged over 20,000 per season, were watched by a pitiful average of 3,629.

They were still the best-supported side in the league.

Red Star have improved since, topping 20,000 again in 2014 and in 2015-16 had three league crowds over 37,000 with 42,300 v Radnički Niš highest of all. But the rest of the league has poor gates, even Partizan – the first team from Eastern Europe to play in the European Cup Final, in 1966 - can’t average 5,000. Some Serb clubs have played before as few as 100 in the league.

Those European glory days of the Belgrade clubs lie long in the past. Partizan have played in front of 70,000 in Europe and Red Star have had twenty-two attendances higher than that, three in six-figures with 110,000 in the Cup-Winners’ Cup the Serb and Yugoslav record. Although an estimate there’s no reason to doubt its accuracy as Red Star have had detailed attendances of 96,070 and 89,806 in European games. But the paucity of support in modern Serbia is apparent in crowds of around 500 on a few occasions in the Europa League from the likes of Bežanija, Sevojno and Belgrade’s Cinderella club OFK.

The parting of the ways with Montenegro allowed Serbia to introduce a new ‘Super League’ in 2006 with just twelve clubs. Surprisingly, given how low standards had become, the authorities decided to increase that to sixteen in 2009-10 and it retains that number. Although this depresses average attendances, perversely, because of the low capacities of many clubs, it prevents the occupancy rate from dropping below the already pitiful 19.21%.

19027 (34.26) Red Star Belgrade
4900 (14.98) Partizan Belgrade
3078 (16.96) Radnički Niš
2953 (24.61) Novi Pazar
2153 (14.89) Vojvodina
1988 (60.02) Radnik Surdulica
1782 (38.74) Metalac
1388 (17.35) Borac Čačak
1263 (8.42) Jagodina
1071 (21.42) Javor Ivanjica
840 (6.46) Spartak Subotica
767 (12.78) Rad Belgrade
686 (9.80) Čukarički
674 (8.43) Mladost Lučani
571 (11.04) Voždovac
486 (2.53) OFK Belgrade

1946-47             6176
1947-48             10247
1948-49             14813
1950                 16000
1951                 13705
1952                 14139
1974-75             10859
1975-76             11670
1976-77             10850
1977-78             9845
1978-79             11276
1979-80             11415
1980-81             8615    
1981-82             8891    
1982-83             8725
1983-84             9912
1984-85             8533
1985-86             8507
1999-2000          2182
2000-01             2851
2001-02             2087
2002-03             1767
2003-04             2363
2004-05             1978
2005-06             2177
2006-07             2627
2007-08             2473
2008-09             2646
2009-10             2390
2010-11             2468
2011-12             3809
2012-13             3294
2013-14             3744
2014-15             2418
2015-16             2552
The second tier – consisting mainly of clubs from the former third and fourth levels in federal Yugoslavia – is, unsurprisingly, not well supported, with averages regularly lower than 1,000. It’s rare for any game to draw more than 4,000 and occasionally some gates may be as low as 100 with only 11.57% of capacity in use.

1967 (10.93) Napredak Kruševac
1530 (27.82) Bačka Palanka
1393 (23.22) Loznica
1307 (43.57) Dinamo Vranje
650 (32.50) Bežanija
617 (20.57) Čelarevo
547 (4.56) Sloboda Užice
543 (18.10) Sloga Petrovac
487 (24.35) Proleter Novi Sad
467 (18.68) Kolubara
413 (10.51) BSK Borča
413 (4.30) Zemun
353 (7.35) Indjija
347 (5.78) Sinđelić Belgrade
297 (1.97) Radnički Kragujevac
293 (7.33) Donji Srem

2010-11             857      
2011-12             746      
2012-13             881
2013-14             804
2014-15             744
2015-16             723

Below this the Serb pyramid extends three levels down with three regional third tiers, ten in the fourth and a further thirty-one after that. Barring the occasional drop down to the third level in the higher attended western region support is counted in dozens rather than hundreds.

No comments:

Post a Comment