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Official Review by Peter Miles, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The hilly suburb of Karaburma plays host to the once mighty Stadion Omladinski, home of OFK Beograd. Omladinski Fudbalski Klub Beograd were formed as Beogradski Sport Klub in 1911. Initially the club played on a racetrack field next to Tašmajdana and the building that houses the National Archive of Serbia. The club rebuilt this ground in 1919 after it had been destroyed during the War. The club soon outgrew this venue and moved to a new athletics stadium in Topčider which held 30,000.
The club enjoyed big success and won five national championships before World War II. With most sporting clubs being dissolved after World War II, the club became Metalac in 1945 before reverting five years later to BSK. In 1957 the club became OFK with Omladinski translating as “Youth” and the name change coincided with a move to the current stadium in Karaburma. The club won the Yugoslav Cup four times in the 1950’s and 60’s and were rarely out of the top six in the league. They were regulars in European competition until the mid 1970’s and hold victories over the likes of Napoli, Juventus, Feyenoord, and Panathinaikos. In 1962-1963 they reached the semi-final of the Cup Winners Cup, but fell to Tottenham Hotspur. Then almost without warning “the Romantičari” fell from grace and spent two decades flitting between the first and second levels. Only in the 2000’s did European competition return to the Omladinski.
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The stadium does have a bar inside the venue just past the ticket booth at the entrance. Service is good and the small bar serves a good selection of Serbian and imported beers. There is a good selection of bottled and draught beers including local beers like Jelen and Zaječarsko.
There are no food or snacks for sale other than the Serbian staple of nut and seed sellers that climb up and down the stands selling their paper wraps of produce.
The club has always struggled for support, living in the shadow of Red Star and Partizan, but in 2016 it finds itself in dire straits.
The stadium looks much older than its 58 years and its poor state of repair and lack of investment is evident for all to see. Only one side of the stadium is open for home fans while a small sector behind the goal is segregated for visiting supporters. While everything needs replacing, seats are broken or missing altogether, and the toilets are awful, it still has a charm about it. Like a destitute elderly relative, OFK must cast envious glances across town to the big two, Red Star and Partizan.
There are no announcements or music played at any point during the match.
As only one side is open for the majority of matches you get very little choice. There is no ticket upgrade available for the VIP seating area.
The stadium is an eight minute or two mile bus ride from the city centre which will always be the preferred choice of visitors. The Karaburma area itself does have restaurants and eateries.
There really are so many choices though any vegetarians will most definitely feel hard done by.
To experience a typical Serbian kafana, I would suggest Restoran Klopka on Stanislava Sremčevića, where quite frankly preposterous amounts of meat are consumed. A kafana will offer authentic Serb dishes accompanied by Serb music.
Closer to Slavija Square the more Western and Asian offerings at Absinthe are also excellent. This can be found at Krajila Milutina 33, 11000 Beograd.
More upmarket is the bohemian quarter of Skadarlija where I would suggest Tri Sesira, where the food is top notch.
Please be aware that smoking in restaurants in Serbia is still very much permitted and only a few have a no smoking policy.
The magnificent Kalemegdan Fortress marks the confluence of the mighty rivers Sava and Danube and has been fought over countless times since it was initially built in the early 6th century by Justinian I. No visit to Belgrade is complete without a visit to this stunning place.
Also well worth a visit is the former Interior Ministry building on the junction of Kralija Milana and Kneza Milosa. This building was subject to a direct mortar strike during the Balkan War and the Serb government have left this incredible contorted carcass of a building in situ as a monument to this horrific period of recent history.
The city has a hedonistic reputation for nightlife and both the Danube and Sava have nightclub barges known as "splavs" which are extremely popular. The stretch of barges on the Danube are close to the Hotel Jugoslavia and have such names as Blaywatch, Bibis, and Bahus. The Sava does not miss out and barge nightclubs like Babilon, Freestyler, and Exile can be found close to Brankov Most.
The modest Hotel Slavija in Slavija Square charges around $30 for a twin room. It does have a three star sister hotel, the Slavija Garni, directly opposite. The major advantage of this hotel is its location. The terminus for the airport transfer bus, the A1 (300 RSD), is right outside the hotel. Also as it is on the bustling Slavija Square, the busy shopping area of Kneza Mihailova is metres away and this in turn leads down to the magnificent Kalemegdan Castle.
Traditionally known as the Romantics, sadly the OFK supporter base has been eroded season after season as both the team and stadium desperately need investment. It is a hard fact of life that in Serbia it is estimated that 60% of the entire nation support Red Star so you feel for clubs like OFK who very much live on scraps by comparison.
OFK have recently drawn in crowds of under 1,000. Only the matches against Red Star and Partizan will see the place truly rocking.
The very quiet home fans are outsung by a small band of visiting supporters. It is a great shame that a club with a plentiful history have fallen on such hard times.
Plenty of buses are available to access the stadium and although uphill from the city centre it is also walkable within 30 minutes. The side of the stadium that is open is roomy and accessible although facilities in general are run down.
The following buses all stop at the stadium: 3, 101, 104, 105, 107, 108 and 202. A cab ride from Slavija Square will be no more than $3.
There is plenty of parking at the stadium and surrounding streets, all free of charge. There is only one ticket booth, a bright blue hexagonal kiosk right by the entrance. Tickets for standard league games cost 300 RSD (under $3).
At less than $3 a ticket you cannot complain about the cost of entry. Easily accessed, cheap entry and cheap beer allow you to almost forgive the dirty seats and broken concrete.
No programmes are issued, not untypical in Serbia, but team sheets and colour squad posters are available from the office and VIP areas.
A visit to the Omladinski leaves an impression, and the overwhelming emotion is that of sadness. The club is on its knees financially and a once fine stadium is crumbling and falling apart. A great shame but a visit is recommended for what might have been.
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