A year on to the day from when a few of us wandered along to watch Banants Yerevan play Sarajevo in a Europa League Qualifier we were paired up with our old friends from Bosnia. Last time round we all supported Sarajevo on the basis we had all bet on them, this time we had our own team to support.
With no direct flights to Sarajevo I had a choice of where I was going through so decided to make this my summer holiday and tick off a couple of Countries I’d never visited before. On the way out, I went via Belgrade and spent a couple of days exploring the city. I did the usual football tourism to both stadiums of Partizan and Red Star, which doubled up a reconnaissance mission for a potential visit to the Marakana just in case we need to go there later in the season. The stadiums are located next to each other, not quite Tannadice Street close but within a 5-minute walk. Being the off-season work was being carried out on each stadium but I managed to get in to each of them for a quick look and grab a few photos, thanks to friendly security guards.
I tied in with my mate Allan from Inverness and we left Belgrade and made our way to Sarajevo, upon landing it wasn’t long until I along with the majority of the travelling support made out way to the Celtic Bar. It was strange to see a bar dedicated to the club in a far-flung corner of Eastern Europe and it was definitely appreciated they kept the beers flowing for a few days whilst we were there.
My pre-match prediction of 2-0 to a local TV crew never quite came to fruition but wasn’t too far away from the eventual 3-1 victory. We won fairly comfortably without playing too well which is alright at this early stage of the season, it’s all just as long as we get through to the next round. The biggest battle of the day was the elements. Like most I travelled with just shorts and t-shirt, so when a massive downpour happened I knew I was getting caught out. The stadium was entirely uncovered, so the locals took their spots in the stands with their umbrellas aloft. A few in the away section managed to pick up ponchos outside to save them from the elements, I on the other hand wasn’t so lucky like most and spent the match with my clothes hanging to me which was slightly uncomfortable and thankfully it was still warm so hypothermia didn’t quite set in.
As the final whistle went the team came over to show their appreciation which lead to the inevitable surge toward the front from the small travelling crowd. This led to a small timber bridge above the dry moat which surrounded the pitch giving way as Kirstoffer Ajer threw his jersey into the crowd. One of the funniest moments of the trip then came when one of the boys wanted to try on the player’s issue slim fit top over his less athletic body which seen him struggle getting it both on and off.
We were kept in the stadium for the usual short time after full time until the local police let us back out into the streets, which was just enough time for the rain to start again, so we all got soaked again for good measure. The combination of being soaked and a morning flight meant that it wasn’t a late one and I went back to the hotel straight after the game.
On the way home, I again took the chance to visit a different city and stopped off in Budapest. Here I got lucky and was in town as Ferencvaros were hosting Ludogorets in another Champions League qualifier.
There were a lot of Celtic jerseys amongst the locals given our shared colours which was slightly surprising, but I’m not entirely sure their politics are quite aligned with ours and I’m not certain they would be the most accommodating should we ever pull them out the draw.
It was interesting to see a couple of teams who have been potential opponents in the past couple of years, and could yet be this year. I was impressed with Sergei Rebrov’s Ferencvaros team, they seemed to be very good going forward, similar in style to us in that they play with wingers. I was particularly impressed with their Norwegian Winger Nguen who would cause us problems, especially in the absence of a right back. However, they did look like they are prone to mistakes at the back so hopefully French Eddy would have enough to see them off, but overall, they would be one to avoid.
The holiday continued as I planned out the next one to either Macedonia or Estonia as the planning for round 2 starts.
Scott Crystal has been travelling to the games on the Renton CSC for longer than he can remember. He has been watching games on the telly with the Hayes Bhoys since 2010 when he moved south. You’ll find him in one of these 2 places if he’s not off to Hamburg to see St Pauli. He is currently on a mission to tick off every country in Europe so he is always hoping for help from the UEFA ball guy to achieve this.