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September 19, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 362
Another Football Scandal

Justice for All

by Uros Komlenovic

Red Star's 2-1 win over the French side Metz was witnessed by a near capacity crowd at Belgrade's Marakana stadium last Wednesday, but the victory was overshadowed by the club's decision to refuse a request by arch-rivals Obilic to play Atletico Madrid at the biggest Yugoslav stadium. Obilic lost the first leg in Madrid 2-0 and its officials believe that the club has a fair chance of overcoming the deficit. There is no doubt that they would love to play the Spaniards on their own turf, but the Yugoslav champion's ground is completely inadequate for international matches.

After a meeting on September 16, Red Star issued a statement to the effect that the club is unable to let Obilic play Atletico Madrid at the Marakana stadium. The statement had no seal or signature, as "FC Red Star Belgrade" were the only visible letters at the bottom of the page. "We remind that Red Star Belgrade informed FC Obilic in writing on September 4 that the club was unable to meet Obilic's request. We hereby reiterate our position, as we are convinced that it reflects the position of our management and fans.
We regret that there has been a misunderstanding and we believe that FC Obilic had an agreement with Partizan Belgrade on using their home ground for international matches. We believe that the sides involved in the issue can find a principled solution with the mediation of the Yugoslav Football Association (FSJ)", the statement said.
What we have here is a new episode of a quite disgusting show called Yugoslav football, involving gangsters, politicians and folk music stars.

The problem is well known to all those who follow football in these parts; UEFA regulations don't allow international matches to be played at stadiums resembling high school backyards, like the one FC Obilic proudly boasts of. After a crushing 4-0 defeat against Bayern Munich in Germany, Obilic got a 1-1 draw in the return leg at Partizan's stadium in the European Champions League qualifying round. UEFA's regulations came in handy for another reason too; many Germans and an unspecified number of people called local traitors by Yugoslavia's post-war communist leadership were executed in 1944 at the exact location where Obilic's stadium stands today. Partizan's arena was the obvious solution, as the two clubs shared the spoils in brotherly fashion last season. Obilic won the title ahead of Red Star after a 1-0 away win against Partizan, whose players did not have a shot at a goal throughout the 90 minutes. One month later, Partizan Belgrade lifted the Yugoslav Cup after a 2-0 aggregate victory over FC Obilic, who duly "returned the favor".

The problem emerged as Obilic is due to play Atletico Madrid next Tuesday, while Partizan Belgrade is host to Newcastle United in the Cup Winners' Cup only two days later. Partizan's officials promptly extended their apologies to life-long friends from Obilic and a reasonable explanation that two international matches and four practice sessions would be too much for the club's mediocre turf, especially if it rains. Obilic's chairwoman Svetlana Raznjatovic and her special advisor and husband, one Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, went to Red Star Belgrade, the only other club in Yugoslavia apart from Vojvodina Novi Sad whose stadium is eligible for international football.

Red Star's club officials and fans agreed to say no to Obilic. The club's managing director, Dragan Dzajic, told Arkan over the phone and later in writing that Red Star couldn't meet Obilic's request for "well-known" reasons as stated in the letter dating September 4.

Red Star's reasons are very obvious. Arkan's Obilic snatched the league title from Red Star's grasp last season by rigging matches and threatening rivals with crude force. Instead of boosting their budget by playing in the European Champions League, Red Star's officials had to sell the team's best player Dejan Stankovic to Lazio. Arkan himself made a number of insulting statements about a club whose leading fan he had been for a long time. Red Star's supporters, who had elected Arkan as their leader some years ago, retaliated by insulting him every time the two teams met. Last but not least, Red Star failed to win a single trophy last season because FC Obilic and Partizan apparently joined forces to share the spoils. After all, said Red Star's officials, Partizan promised FC Obilic that they could use their stadium to play home matches in the UEFA Cup, so what has Red Star got to do with all this?

Having failed to win anything last season, Red Star's management, more precisely Dragan Dzajic and Vladimir Cvetkovic, yielded to three basic demands made by the fans. After a blessing by the ever-present Socialist Party officials, the fans demanded more power to Dzajic, more power to the fans and a non-political management. Only the first demands has been fulfilled completely, as Dzajic was elected the club's president. The fans were also promised that they would get a few seats in the club's new managing board to be formed "some time in September", but they will wait for a very, very long time to see the third and final demand through. Red Star is too big and too profitable a company for the communists to let it go just like that.

Rather than taking a stand and standing behind every word they said to Arkan, Red Star's officials told the ever-so-eager reporters that they refused Obilic because the club's fans threatened them with riots. Belgrade's leading newspapers duly reported that "Red Star's officials said the fans were opposed to Obilic's request because of a number of things that happened last season".

This was music to Raznjatovic's ears. He wasted no time and invited Red Star's leading fans for talks held on Friday, September 11. He informed the press on the results of the "peace talks" almost immediately.

"We talked for an hour and put all our differences aside. The leading Red Star fans agreed that we should play Atletico Madrid at the Marakana stadium", the daily Vecernje Novosti quoted Arkan and added that "all problems have been resolved as Dragan Dzajic said he would be glad to let Obilic play at Red Star's stadium if the fans agreed".
According to the daily Sport and Sportski Zurnal, Arkan said that "a number of hard-core Red Star fans just walked into his office and told him they would come in numbers to support Obilic against Madrid, in the team's quest to win another battle for the Yugoslav club football".

Red Star's fans did not deny Arkan's statements. The probable reason is that they felt much the same as the bank clerks in Brussels and Stockholm that Arkan used to visit with a gun in his hand a decade or so ago.

The interesting thing is that the Yugoslav Football Association told UEFA that Obilic will play Atletico Madrid in Belgrade on Tuesday, September 29, at 8.30 p.m. without specifying the stadium. "They want to know where and what time the match will kick off, the exact venue can wait", the FSJ secretary general Branko Bulatovic told the weekly Vreme. UEFA gave FSJ a September 14 deadline to determine the exact venue of the match.

Arkan was exalted and mentioned a lady he has often offended in the past. "It looks like we will be playing on Red Star's turf. That's justice for all, for Justicia, the goddess of justice, was on the right side", he said.

The fact that Red Star's fans refused to deny Arkan put the club's officials in an impossible situation. The fans also spoiled the chances of their demands being met in full, for Dzajic and Cvetkovic apparently got very angry because none of them had enough courage to get Arkan off their backs and stand up to him!

Having gone too far by using the fans as an excuse, Red Star's officials tried to find a way out by delaying the decision. Although they knew that UEFA was expecting a reply from the Yugoslav Football Association by September 14, Red Star's officials called a session of the club's council (comprising the team's legends and veterans) for Wednesday, September 16. The Yugoslav Football Association went along stone cold and said it could wait! In the end, Red Star's face was saved by its legends and veterans, who still signed the "historic no" to Arkan with Red Star's name rather than their own full names. They all know who Arkan is what he is capable of, and you only live once.
Partizan Belgrade has agreed to let Obilic play at their stadium. It was apparent that the FSJ could count on Partizan Belgrade from the very beginning. So, why the whole mess in the first place?

Perhaps because someone wanted to demonstrate that none of Red Star's officials had the guts to say no to Arkan. Fortunately, the reorganization of the league enabled FC Milicionar (in English: FC Policeman) to play in the first division this season. The club's first match in top flight was against Obilic. It ended in a 0-0 draw, but several Obilic's players were thoroughly roughed up during the encounter and left the pitcher injured long before the final whistle. After the match, Obilic's officials moaned that their key players had been sidelined for the first leg clash with Bayern Munich. Well, it was about time to put cops and robbers in the right place in this country. 

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