When travelling in Eastern Europe, BTLM likes to take advantage of any opportunity to visit the major club stadiums of the Communist era. A recurring and somewhat disappointing theme is how little the great clubs that reside in them seem inclined to share their histories and achievements with the public. Pick any random Dynamo, Legia, CSKA or Sparta from Belarus to Bosnia, and, typically the best you find will be a tired looking shop selling the ubiquitous overpriced replica kit. Trophies and mementoes from decades past must, we assume, be locked away for the benefit of Presidents’ eyes only. As most of the stadiums themselves are fairly unsightly graffiti strewn concrete bowls, there’s really little reason for people to visit outside match-days.
A trip to Belgrade earlier this year threw up a welcome and unexpected gem. Partizan’s scruffy and soulless stadium duly conformed to Eastern European type, not at all worth BTLM’s dutiful trudge through snow and -20 degree temperatures to get there. A fifteen-minute walk further on is the Red Star Stadium and our hopes were a little higher. The club does have its own museum open to the public, one that was an enthusiastically recommended visit by a Red Star supporting receptionist at our hotel.
We were told that the museum was a source of great pride for the club, although this pride did not necessarily extend to signposting its location for the benefit of confused visitors. After having to ask for directions twice, we eventually found it around the back of the stadium, through a noisy Red Star café and at the top of an unassuming set of stairs. The Red Star Museum is a welcome oasis of calm within the garish and noisy stadium complex and the large wood-paneled room housing its collection immediately reminded BTLM of the trophy room at Ibrox – elegant, old-world, sponsor-free and a throwback to a less corporate, branding-free age.
The centrepiece of the room is the main trophy cabinet and sitting atop the large collection, with justifiable pride of place, is the European Cup replica from 1991. It’s a trophy that you quickly discover two decades on is still the source of tremendous pride for every Red Star fan you meet. Separate cabinets of exhibits host mementoes, pennants, photographs and keepsakes from the modern-day Serbian League, the old Yugoslav League years and of course the European competition nights that have been such an important part of the club’s history.
With its tastefully composed section about the Munich Air Disaster, the museum is a place that will be a particular draw for Manchester United supporters. Red Star were, of course, United’s last opponents before the tragedy and there is real poignancy about some of the exhibits – United’s match pennant, the two sets of players and officials smiling for photographs together at a dinner after the game and a menu replete with the last autographs many of that United team ever signed all stand out.
Our visit was a much richer experience thanks to the club curator, Predrag Trkulja, who showed great pride in his club and the exhibits on show. Predrag was very friendly, chatty and fortunately spoke excellent English which made it easy for us to have a lengthy chat about past meetings between Red Star and Rangers, our respective clubs. He was even gracious enough to acknowledge that Rangers have historically the slightly better head-to-head record, a fact I’ll just casually drop in – us Rangers fans have little else to crow about these days after all.
We caught up with Predrag a few months laster to ask him some questions about the Red Star Museum.
BTLM: How long has the Red Star museum been open to the public?
Predrag: It’s been open since 1985. The club decided to create it on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding the club.
BTLM: How long have you been working as the curator?
Predrag: I’ve worked here for six years now.
BTLM: It must be a dream job for a lifelong Red Star fan?
Predrag: Ah yes, it’s always a dream to work for the famous FC Red Star!
BTLM: What is the most unusual item in the Red Star collection?
Predrag: Koala the Bear from the first time Red Star played a tournament in Australia in 1977. We played against Arsenal, Celtic and national team of Australia.
BTLM: How many visitors do you get a week?
Predrag: During the season we have anything between 500 and 2000 in a week.
BTLM: Have you had many famous footballers, sportsmen, politicians or movie stars come to have a look round?
Predrag: Pele, Maradona, Mancini, Lippi, Platini, Jesus Zamora … domestic and foreign politicians and movie stars like Ralph Fiennes.
BTLM: Who is your all-time personal favourite Red Star player?
Predrag: Dragan Stojkovic
BTLM: Which current Red Star player do you think will be the next big thing to come out of Serbian football?
Predrag: Darko Lazovic
Thanks to Predrag for his time and for compiling a Red Star Belgrade Eleven (see the following post) for our regular BTLM series. If you are travelling to Belgrade, taking a trip south from the city centre to visit the Red Star Museum is a must. Admission costs around 80 pence, an absolute bargain.