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Vladimir Stojkovic: When Club Rivalries Go Too Far

COS columnist Tom Victor discusses the shocking reason why Serbian supporters went on the rampage in Genoa.

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Last night, Genoa played host to some shocking scenes, the kind of which we hoped we had seen the last of at top-level football.

The Euro 2012 qualifier between Italy and Serbia was called off amid behaviour to which the words ‘crowd trouble’ would not begin to do justice.

According to reports, Serbian fans threw lit flares onto the pitch, missing Italian goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano by a matter of metres, while flares were also launched in the direction of policemen whose riot shields and plexiglass offered little in the way of protection.

It later transpired that a group of away ‘fans’ (although do they really warrant such a positive description?) set off smoke bombs in the Serbian team bus, and the travelling goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic feared for his safety to the point where he was forced to hide in the Italian dressing room as the unrest spilled from the streets into the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

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So, what was the supposed reason for all of this? If reports are to be believed, it stems from former Wigan ‘keeper Stojkovic – once of Red Star Belgrade – moving on loan to city rivals Partizan.

Despite endearing himself to fans of the national side by saving Lukas Podolski’s penalty in the 1-0 World Cup win over Germany, Stojkovic seemingly knew the risks he was taking by joining Partizan: he insisted on a clause in his loan contract stating that he could skip the two derby games this season, tense affairs where tempers are sure to be flared even during the dullest of goalless draws.

At its best, local rivalry can lead to wonderful footballing spectacles, the drama of which is increased exponentially by an unparalleled atmosphere. Games like El Superclasico, between River Plate and Boca Juniors, or its Mexican namesake where Chivas take on America, make the world sit up twice a season and take notice of a team or even a league which they ignore for 10 months every year.

But at its worst it can lead to ugly scenes which remind us the tribal element of football can sometimes boil over into hatred, abuse, and ultimately regret.

Who can forget the timeless image of Luis Figo lining up to take a corner at the Nou Camp months after leaving for Real Madrid and seeing Barcelona fans throw a pig’s head at his feet? Or the relentless personal abuse aimed at Sol Campbell by Spurs fans for almost a decade after his exit from White Hart Lane.

It does not always have to turn out this way. Nick Barmby received some friendly abuse from Everton fans in the immediate aftermath of his move to Liverpool, but nothing like what Campbell has had to deal with, while Inter fans saw no reason to begrudge their former idol Ronaldo his move to city rivals Milan in 2007.

In the case of Stojkovic, however, it seems as though four years and five clubs are not enough to lessen some Red Star fans’ bitterness at his move to their city rivals. But regardless of whether or not you agree with a player’s move, there is no excuse for the behaviour of that small group of supporters last night.

In the end it is a player’s decision how he makes his living, and his personal safety should not be threatened on the basis of a professional decision.

To read more from Tom Victor visit his excellent blog Pele Confidential by CLICKING HERE

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