Politics – The Bane of Football’s Existence

COS columnist Lord of the Foot take a closer look at a dark night in Genoa.

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There have been a number of theories behind the events of Tuesday evening in Genoa when Serbian Ultras sabotaged the European qualifier against Italy. You may have read Tom Victor’s column here on Caughtoffside about Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic, a former Red Star Belgrade player who moved across town to rival Partizan. It is true that the fans stormed the team bus and specifically targeted Stojkovic with missiles and other explosive objects. But in all due respect, one player’s move to a rival club is but a fly on the wall in the grand scheme of why the events of Monday took place. Here is the real reason.

Ian Traynor of The Guardian gave an excellent insight yesterday into the ugly workings of Red Star Belgrade’s Ultra supporters, the delije, and the politicians who fund and manipulate their actions. The delije came to prominence during the Balkan Wars in the 1990’s serving as members of genocidal militias carrying out crimes against humanity. Since then, the delije have served as the “muscle” to carry out political agendas of neo-fascist and ultra-nationalist leaders.

So how do we get to Monday? Very simple. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a 3-day tour of the region, visiting Serbia and Kosovo. She urged dialogue between both nations to find a peaceful solution to their long and bloody conflict. Most Serbs do not recognize the independence claimed by Kosovo two years ago. As a result, Secretary Clinton’s remarks provided the perfect opportunity for the ultra-nationalist Serbs to issue their response.

Undoubtedly instructed by certain politicians, who knew of Clinton’s visit well in advance, you can be certain they made arrangements for these hooligans to acquire tickets and permission to travel to Genoa. As for their orders, it probably went something like this: “Football match? There’s a football match? No.  You are there to wreak havoc. Tear that city and stadium apart in the name of Serbian nationalism so that the entire world can see how strong and influential we still are. All those bombings by the West didn’t weaken us one bit!” My own creation, but I’d bet my life savings that it was not much different.

That’s why Kosovo flags were burned. That’s why that mug sitting on the barrier unfurled banners reading “Kosovo is Serbia.” Clinton was touring the region in the name of peace, and these punks sought to undermine everything she was attempting to achieve.

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Out of this carnage, UEFA will make a ruling in a few weeks, and nothing short of expulsion from the remainder of qualifying would be acceptable. Unfortunately, it is all they can do. No matter how many sanctions or disqualifications UEFA and/or FIFA issue, the deep seeded connection between politics and sport in that region will never die.  It is  terribly tragic not only for the rest of the population but the players and coaches.

Of all the pictures and videos from the other night, the shot of Dejan Stankovic being helped from the field in tears really hits the hardest. He broke down again in the Italian locker room as he attempted to apologize. For Stankovic and the rest of the squad, club football will be their only theater over the next few years, and it’s a damn shame.

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