Fans of bitter Serbian club rivals present united front in Dublin
The Serbian fans’ confidence ahead of the match against Ireland proves well-founded
Serbian fans outside the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The Irish advance on Moscow was still officially under way on Tuesday night, with two games to go in the World Cup qualifiers. But like Napoleon’s campaign in another September, it was in big trouble.
Not even the local version of the Little Corporal, Wes Hoolahan, could inspire the home side to the win that would have left them favourites to qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia.
Instead it was the red, blue and white flags of Serbia – the Russian colours in reverse – that left the Aviva Stadium in triumph. Ireland are now playing for second place in the group at best.
The invaders of Dublin were a small but noisy group. The main body seized the key strategic position of Crowe’s Pub in Ballsbridge early in the evening.
From there, fortified by local beer, they marched down Shelbourne Road to the stadium together, behind a banner proclaiming the Serbo-Croat version of “No Surrender”.
Away from the main phalanx, however, the Serbs seemed somewhat less intimidating. In many cases this was because they lived here already and, while cheering for Serbia, were wearing the souvenir half-and-half scarves that honoured both teams.
One of these scarves was around the neck of Marko Maric (6), who has spent all of his short life so far in Dublin. He had predicted a draw but his father Misha Maric was only slightly less diplomatic.
“I’ll be supporting Ireland after tonight,” he said. In the meantime, being from Belgrade, he rightly foresaw an away win. This despite the fact that he works in a food company called Irish Pride. The breadmakers?
“No,” he laughed. “Sausages.”
The big divide
Belgrade football fans tend to be divided between the city’s two big clubs: Red Star and Partizan. There is no political or sectarian significance to this split – both teams were formed by communists just after the second World War.
But even so, their recreational hatred has been sufficient on occasion for them to be segregated at Serbia’s home fixtures and to spend games abusing each other instead of the opposition.
Last night, by contrast, they presented an ominously united front. One of the bigger travelling groups had come via Brussels, where they now work. There were about 20 of them, evenly and peacefully divided between Red Star and Partizan.
And they were confident of victory, too, although as chief spokesman (“Janko”) said: “We’d be happy with a draw. And we need at least a draw, because Wales will win.” He was right about Wales, but he needn’t have worried about the draw.
Another with the half-and-half scarves last night was Snežana, who with her husband Miro also now lives in Dublin. She knew all about conflict, footballing and otherwise, being a Serb from the Croatian city of Vukovar, where some of the worst fighting of the Yugoslavia break-up happened.
So she was particularly reluctant to predict an Irish defeat. But as a barista with the Insomnia cafe chain, she will on Wednesday be helping local football fans to wake up and smell the coffee.