After watching football at all-sorts of different levels and in numerous nations over the last 20 years or so, you start to think you’ve seen pretty much everything that could happen on a football pitch in the professional game.
But that was taken to a new level for me on Wednesday evening, as I was given the opportunity to watch the Serbian Cup Final between FK Vojvodina and Partizan Belgrade.
With the European U17 Championship semi-finals taking place on Thursday morning, I spent the best part of Tuesday evening and Wednesday making sure I had done enough work to be able to make the trip down to the Marakana Stadium in Belgrade, home of Red Star.
The UEFA officials here in Novi Sad had generously put on a coach and sorted out tickets for delegates and staff at the competition to go and watch the match, so it was an opportunity I didn’t really want to miss.
And what an incredible atmosphere awaited us! The kick-off had to be delayed by 30 minutes due to traffic in the Serbian capital which prevented many of the Vojvodina supporters from arriving on time, but that allowed the massed ranks of Partizan fans to really get things going.
Flags, flares, fireworks, banners and synchronised, loud chanting, they had it all. I really haven’t heard anything like that at a football stadium in years.
Whilst outnumbered probably by three times, the Vojvodina supporters were exactly the same too, but it’s what followed in the game that left me feeling a little sympathy for the fans of both clubs on the way home.
The first-half was a fairly scrappy affair, which Partizan no doubt edged and they took the lead through their rangy striker Prince Tagoe to hold the advantage at the break.
It was in the second half that all of the drama started to unfold, as Vojvodina tinkered with their formation and started to cause Partizan one or two problems before getting themselves deservedly level through big defender Daniel Mojsov.
They were on the front foot, but things then switched back in Partizan’s favour remarkably quickly, as Tagoe’s theatrical fall in the penalty box was rewarded with a penalty kick by the referee. Substitute Zvonimir Vukic stepped up to restore their lead.
After initially complaining strongly about the award of the spot-kick, Vojvodina hit back again and it appeared they equalised with ten minutes or so to go, when Mojsov rose unchallenged in the area to head a free-kick from the left past Vladimir Stojkovic. However, the referee immediately ruled that goal out, much to the disdain of everyone in the Vojvodina team and dugout.
Moments later, Nikola Lazetic appeared to be tripped in the Partizan box and when that appeal was turned down, pandemonium broke out as the Vojvodina team left the pitch in some sort of protest against the officials with just less than ten minutes to go. It was almost like something you would see on a park on a Sunday morning and myself, veteran youth scout Bernie Dickson and Youth Committee members Brian Adshead and David Edmunds just looked on in disbelief.
It was hard to tell whether the Partizan players were trying to stop them deserting the pitch, or just happy to let them get on with it and when things appeared to calm down, it looked as though we were going to finish the game as the majority of the team returned sheepishly to the field.
However, after a few more minutes of debate, they then headed en masse to their band of supporters to start orchestrating chants and applause. With players now apparently throwing shirts into the crowd, it was quite apparent the game wasn’t going to get going again anytime soon.
So when the stadium scoreboard clock showed 90 minutes, the Partizan players suddenly darted off to celebrate in front of their fans. They had won the Cup.
We quickly departed to beat the traffic and get back to Novi Sad at a reasonable hour and everyone else on the coach was as equally stunned as us, including Serbs, Danes, Germans and Italians.
It’s certainly a game I won’t forget in a hurry, with a remarkable atmosphere but what took place on the pitch was quite unbelievable and in the end, it’s the fans who you have to feel sympathy for. Although, the Partizan support certainly didn’t let the manner of how the game ended stop their celebrations, that’s for sure!
For now though, it’s onto this morning’s European U17 Championship semi-final, which is live on Eurosport at 10.30am BST. I’m fairly sure this game won’t end in the same manner!