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Official Review by Peter Miles, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Red Star, and indeed Partizan, were formed in 1945 when several existing clubs were dissolved by Marshal Tito as they had played matches during the war without permission. One such club was SK Jugoslavija who had played on the site of the current stadium since 1927. The new club, Crvena Zvezda, were given the stadium of the old Jugoslavija while the club formed by the Yugoslav People’s Army (the JNA) were appeased with a piece of land not half a mile away which would in 1951 be ready for use and is still the stadium that FK Partizan use today.
The old Jugoslavija Stadium held 20,000 and after Red Star’s ill fated match against Manchester United in 1958 had to be moved to Partizan’s ground to cope with demand, it became clear to the board the popularity of the “people’s club” meant a much bigger stadium was needed. The old Jugoslavija Stadium was razed to the ground and Zvezda decamped to Partizan’s ground for a few seasons.
By the time the stadium was ready for inauguration in September 1963, people eagerly clammered in the vomitories to see the vast new bowl which could hold 110,000 people on its terraces. The locals at once declared “It looks like the Maracana” after Rio’s famous amphitheatre and so the nickname was created. Its all time record attendance was set in 1975 when 117,000 people watched a match against the Hungarian club Ferencvaros. Nowadays it’s an all seater, though seats are removed from the away end for derby matches, and has a more manageable capacity of 55,000.
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There is a "Red Star Cafe" lounge type area where food and drink can be purchased, but access can be restricted to invitees and guests only on match days.
The ubiquitous nut and seed sellers scale the steep stands of the Marakana with impressive athleticism. Other than this there is no food or drink available once inside the stadium.
No drinks are available inside the stadium.
Many of the bars around the stadium will stock Serbian favourites like Jelen (the current Super Liga sponsor) and Lav.
I had been to the Marakana (or Stadion Crvena Zvezda or Stadion Rajko Mitić, take your pick) before for the legendary Eternal Derby against Partizan so I was more than interested to see what support, particularly that from the Red Star's massive ultras group "Delije," was like for an ordinary league game. The crowd might have been a quarter of the gathering for a derby match but the noise and support from the north stand was loud and relentless and, of course, there are pyrotechnics galore illuminating the night sky at regular intervals.
The stadium features an old fashion "communist" style oval bowl. The seats in the South Stand (away end) are removed for the visit of FK Partizan to prevent breakages and seats being thrown on the pitch.
With a set of ultras like the Delije there is little need for stoking up an atmosphere. There is a stadium PA and the team line ups appear on the electronic scoreboard mounted on the roof of the South Stand. The singing, flag waving and infamous pyrotechnics of the Delije are right up there with the best crowd atmospheres you will ever experience.
It is highly recommended that seats are purchased in the "safe" West Stand ("Zapad") as the seating particularly in the North Stand can be combustible to say the least! Better safe than sorry.
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 area itself does have restaurants and eateries and is a safe neighborhood.
There really are many choices, though any vegetarians will most definitely feel hard done by.
To experience a typical Serbian kafana, try Restoran Klopka on Stanislava Sremčevića, where quite frankly preposterous amounts of meat can be 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 excellent. This can be found at Krajila Milutina 33, 11000 Beograd.
More upmarket is the Bohemian quarter of Skadarlija where you can find Tri Sesira, where the food is once again top notch.
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 Celtic times. 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 building in situ as a monument to this horrific period of recent history.
If you are looking for a place to stay, then 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.
Loud, proud and in your face! The "Delije" (roughly translates as "Heroes") are immense in number and noise. The mark of their support is that some thirty minutes after the final whistle several hundred are still singing inside an otherwise empty stadium. Truly incredible support.
A derby match with FK Partizan requires segregation for obvious reasons and therefore around 45,000 is the usual attendance for the "Veceti" (Eternal) Derby. For run of the mill league matches, Zvezda attendances range from 12,000-20,000.
The noise from the "Delije" ranges from noisy to noisier! If you don't like loud singing and prodigious amounts of pyrotechnics, then this stadium may not be for you.
The lights of the Marakana can be seen for miles around, as can near neighbours Partizan, and the stadium can be walked from the city centre in around 30 minutes.
The stadium has its own bus stop located on Ljutice Bogdana. Buses that stop here are 42, 59, 78 and the E7. The Belgrade tram system stops at the nearby Trg Oslobodenja which is in between the two stadiums of Red Star and Partizan. The trams from the city center that stop here are 9, 10 and 14. Buses and trams are extremely cheap to use.
There is no official car park but ample free street parking is around the stadium.
The safe area of the West Stand ("Zapad") is accessed through gate 6 and this is also where the club's fan shop and ultras shops are located.
Once inside your sector you cannot relocate to another sector, but the concourses are roomy and pace of crowd movement is adequate. I could not see any specific accommodation and access for disabled spectators.
A ticket for an average league match is 300 RSD ($3) with a ticket for the derby game rising to 1,500 RSD to 2,000 RSD.
It's an excellent value for the money. Crvena Zvezda are one of the rare clubs in Serbia that do issue an "English style" programme which are available from red tents outside the stadium.
The club shop is very well stocked with all manner of merchandise. This includes a "Panini" style sticker album collection detailing the club's proud history.
This is one of the greatest experiences a stadium enthusiast can experience. The volume and intensity of the crowd will stay with you always.
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Belgrade, Serbia 11000
+381 11 2411 020
Belgrade, Serbia 11000
+381 11 2433886
Svetog Save 1-9
Belgrade, Serbia 11000
+381 11 308 48 00