The City Stadium sits right in the heart of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica with the main strip of the city’s thriving nightlife sitting just a few hundred yards from the rusty entry gates. Despite feeling somewhat aged compared to some of the more modern international football stadiums, it remains the premier footballing venue in Montenegro. The international fixtures of the Montenegro National Team continue to be played at the Gradski although today it’s the turn of local club Budućnost.
Budućnost vs. Grabalj
First League of Montenegro
Saturday 31st August 2019
Pod Goricom ‘Gradski’ Podgorica
Saturday 31st August 2019
For a nation of just over 620,000 people the Montenegrin national team (Fudbalska reprezentacija Crne Gore) continues to be a team that punches way above its weight in international football. The likes of Savic and Jovetic continue to play for a team which has also been lucky enough to have the services of former AS Roma and Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic in recent years.
Rich in its traditions of producing highly technical footballers (the Brazilians of Europe as they were once known) the one time Yugoslav national side had a number of Montenegrin’s who played a pivotal role in pushing Yugoslavia onto its years of success. The likes of Pedrag Mijatovic and Dejan Savicevic also both played for Budocnost Titograd before finding fame at Real Madrid and AC Milan. Prior to his Milan days Savicevic was part of the all star Yugoslav team of the 1990 World Cup the core of which led Red Star Belgrade to European Cup success in 1991.
These days the headquarters of the FSCG (Fudbalski Savez Crne Gore) sits alone in a modern distinctive building on the Cemovsko Polje; a barren dusty plain on Podgorica’s outskirts between the districts of Stari Aerodrom and Konik. The man in charge of the FSCG is non other than its most famous ever footballer – Dejan Savicevic; making him alongside Platini one of the most famous former players to become a football executive.
The FSCG complex consists of six pitches each of which is a training base for one of Podgorica’s club sides. All the pitches have stands and floodlights with the actual administrative building being known as the House of Football – the seat of Football Association of Montenegro.
In consecutive qualification attempts for both the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championships the Montenegrin team has failed to qualify for any finals tournament since it started competing as an independent nation. But results are such that they can rightly be regarded alongside Iceland as a leading smaller European nation someway ahead of Malta, Macedonia and Cyprus.
In terms of both the talent produced and results attained Montenegro have shocked quite a few countries including drawing with England, defeating Norway and delivering a win in Denmark. Moreover, despite a recent high profile controversy (previous manager Ljibisa Tumbakovic was sacked due to refusing to lead the national team against Kosovo) the intimate and hostile nature of the City Stadium ‘Gradski’ means it makes for an outstanding match day atmosphere whichever national team is visiting.
If the Montenegro National Team are doing respectably well then its club sides unfortunately continue to struggle both in the domestic football set up and when competing in UEFA competition. Budocnost Titograd were a major player in the former Yugoslav Top League but they have now fallen behind current champions and derby rivals Sutjeska in the Championship with the team from Niksic being crowned recent title winners.
In this years qualification rounds of Champions League qualifiers Sutjeska shocked Slovan Bratislava on penalties before losing to APOEL Nicosia. Slung into the Europa League they then lost to Linfield in the Europa league 3rd qualifying round. Meanwhile, the other qualifiers including Budocnost and Zeta crashed out at the first attempt of Europa League competition.
The current league set up consists of a top division of 10 and a 10 teamed second league. Below these sits a regional Third tier which consists of 25 teams who are split into Central, North and South divisions.
Of the teams in the top tier three of these currently hail from the capital (Budocnost, OFK Titograd and FC Kom). The other major side is the aforementioned FK Sutjeska who come from the second largest city Niksic which is north west of Podgorica.
Domestic crowds have dwindled to such an extent in Montenegro that many clubs are now forced to let supporters into some matches for free or for the relatively small sum of €2. VIP’s and business support bases are not being tapped into due to the lack of success in European football and the limited media interest in domestic football competition.
Essentially both water polo and basketball are more popular than football in Montenegro with the former regarded as the national sport.
Many of the larger clubs such as Buducnost and Sutjeska are multi-sport clubs who do have large traditional football supporter bases but for a number of reasons attendances have declined to record low levels over the last 5 years. Supporter violence at the major Buducnost vs Sutjeska derby clashes can be pretty brutal (more often than not occurring between police and visiting supporters) with riot police often outnumbering those in attendance.
Average Attendances 2018-2019
Budocnost – 733 (was 821 in 2014)
FK Sutjeska Niksic – 561 (was 1,494 in 2014)
FK Zeta – 448
OFK – 331
Saturday afternoon in late summer and the baking Montenegro heat might sound ideal for those of us more used to watching football in more cooler climates. But on this particular Saturday for the footballers of Buducnost Podgorica and the visiting Grbalj it was sure to be a challenging afternoon.
For about a week the capital Podgorica had seen little rain and what rain had fallen drenched the city in the middle of the night the previous weekend. All of this largely meant the average daytime temperature of 31c had left the playing surface very dry and scorched.
Outside the ground, in truth, you’d be hard pressed to guess that a match was being played by the capital’s most famous football club. Several call to arms have gone out to the traditional fan base of the club from locals.
Indeed the statement ‘Buducnost Zove! Svi na Stadion’ (the future invites everyone to the stadium) plasters a number of the surrounding buildings but it doesn’t seem to be working.
For a city that has many colorful fan murals dedicated to the main club only around 250 fans have bothered to turn up with the traditional home end being sparsely populated.
In front of that group was something both quite telling and symbolic. A blue and white flag (the colors of Buducnost) was emblazoned with the words ‘Slabota Novacimina’ or in English ‘Freedom for Fans’. In the middle of those two words was the symbol of a fan behind bars in jail waving an FK Buducnost flag.
Like in many areas of Europe the backlash against organized fan groups has come to the fore at Buducnost with the local ‘Varvari’ (blue & white vandals) group being targeted for heavy handed treatment by both the club and the local police. The club for its part see attracting more business minded family fans (they call them VIP’s) as being crucial to the clubs future and financial model. As a consequence many of the traditional fan groups have become unwelcome at home games and a sense of tension pervades between the two.
What chanting happens on a match day can be both negative and positive depending on how the team are doing on the field. When the club are losing then chanting from the hardcore fans who turn up is often directed at the club executives in the VIP areas. If winning the home fans can be a positive force for good – driving the home team onto victory with noisy support however small in number they may be.
OFK Grbalj have travelled to the Gradski Stadium from Radanovići, a small town located in the municipality of Kotor. The club have been competing in the Montenegrin First League since 2007 with a high of third place – achieved at the end of the 2006-2007 season – being the best position the club has attained to date.
At the end of the 2016-17 season OFK Grbalj achieved its greatest success by reaching the Montenegrin Cup Final where they lost 1-0 to Sutjeska.
Due to the respective diaspora of peoples across the former Yugoslavia both sides are a mix of players with Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin heritage. The star player for Buducnost at the moment is probably the midfielder Luka Mirkovic who is part of the Montenegro international squad. But it was a Serbian Milos Mijic who won the game for the home side thanks to two goals either side of half time. The visitors had led at half time thanks to a double from Boban Dordevic.
The season ahead will see Buducnost once again in a tight title race with FK Sutjeska with the ever improving Zeta chasing just behind. Holding onto his top players will be a challenge for legendary manager Branko Brnovic although the nature of Balkan football means that its likely any players who are poached will move to the much stronger Serbian league or Croatia.
Buducnost Podgorica: Dragojevic Milos, Mirkovic Luka, Perovic Mihailo, Damjanovic Slavko, Grbic Petar, Mijic Milos (Serbia), Vucic Milos, Boljevic Dejan, Milic Stefan, Terzic Vasilije, Zarubica Dejan
Grbalj: Popovic Balsa, Babic Anto, Zecevic Milos, Perovic Dejan, Dordevic Boban, Vranes Andrej, Merdovic Marko, Kotorac Dejan, Macanovic Aleksandar, Petrov Nemanja (Serbia), Dukanovic Marko
Full image set from Montenegro is here