BELGRADE (Reuters) - The Serbian government must follow in Britain’s footsteps in preventing soccer hooliganism after yet another Belgrade derby was marred by fan violence, the Balkan country’s senior sports official Nenad Borovcanin said.
Borovcanin, a former professional boxer, made his comments after fan riots before and during Saturday’s clash between Red Star and bitter rivals Partizan.
“The response of the state must be strong like the one Britain made when they removed the fences and replaced them with severe punishment for all offenders,” the 34-year old secretary of sport told state television RTS on Monday.
“If the authorities are consistent and willing to deal with this problem there is no chance that what we saw on Saturday will happen again, but the government must show that it’s stronger than hooligans,” he said.
The violent scenes that blighted English football in the 1970s and 1980s have largely been eradicated with the advent of all-seater stadia in the Premier League era.
Dozens of fans were arrested in the Serbian capital as rival supporters clashed on the outskirts of Belgrade before kickoff, while play was held up for 10 minutes in the second half after Partizan fans lit a massive bonfire in their section.
Seats in the south tier had been removed before the game for safety reasons but that did not stop Partizan fans from creating a billowing cloud of smoke which filled the stadium, after they used whatever flammable objects they could get to start the fire.
It was an all too familiar scene in a fixture which has a long history of crowd trouble, with Red Star supporters burning seats in Partizan’s stadium and pelting their team bus with rocks before the game in May, when 92 fans were arrested after they also fought running battles in the city.
In 1999, a Red Star supporter was killed by a propelled flare launched from Partizan’s end into the away fans section.
Government leniency and lack of initiative to crush hooliganism has also encouraged Serbian fans to export their violence during the country’s painstaking political and economic transition following the ouster of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000.
Serbia’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy in Genoa was abandoned after just seven minutes in October 2010, when Serbian fans hurled dozens of flares on to the pitch.
The Red Star ultras among the contingent also attacked their own team bus before kick off and assaulted goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, a former Red Star player who moved to bitter foes Partizan in 2010.
Earlier this season, a Partizan fan tore the captain’s armband off the sleeve of striker Marko Scepovic, who has since moved to Olympiakos Piraeus, while the die-hard Red Star section ordered the players to hand over their jerseys after a 1-0 defeat at neighbours Vozdovac.
“Club and government officials involved in sports must show a true commitment in dealing with the issue and their action must be strong and decisive in order to deter the leaders of die-hard fan sections from carrying on with the incidents,” said Borovcanin.
“Slaps on the wrist won’t do because that only encourages the ringleaders, who must be isolated from true fans.”
Red Star won Saturday’s tepid derby 1-0 to move within one point of leaders Partizan.
Editing by Justin Palmer