Which side of me will win?

Ubi Žabara! Svi’ja Policija!

This weekend I went to a proper professional football match for the first time ever. I’d been invited to ‘The Eternal Derby’ by Vasja, a hardcore NK Maribor supporter whose piercing, homicidal stare belies a warm, friendly disposition. The Eternal Derby is the biggest grudge match in Slovenian club football NK Maribor versus NK Olimpija Maribor – the PrvaLiga (don’t ask me to say it… actually, it’s probably like, “ProwerLeega”) league’s two best teams representing the country’s two biggest cities.

I live in Ljubljana, but decided it best to become an honorary member of Maribor’s Viole, the club’s ultras group, with friendships taking priority over geography. My first task then was to get from Ljubljana to Maribor without drawing the attention of any Green Dragons to my treachery. Green Dragons are what the Olimpija supporters call themselves. I’ll get to what we Viole call them a bit later on.

A large group of Dragons had gathered across the road from Ljubljana’s train station, accompanied by a small group of police. On my way to my train I passed the station’s car park, in which more police were donning riot gear in preparation for potential violence that has quickly become a part of the Eternal Derby tradition. I feel safer already, I suppose.

I’d half expected to be surrounded on the train by Green Dragons heading to the game, but the train is actually pretty quiet, and the only other passenger in my compartment is a Slovene lady who looks a bit like Joan Bakewell. I while the two and a quarter hour journey away by listening to music, snacking and staring out of the window at Slovenia’s always spectacular scenery. A sunset featuring every colour of the rainbow caps off a nicely chilled trip.

When I arrive at Maribor, I nip to the gents for a piss. I’m standing there at the urinal and this tall, slightly weird looking old geezer wanders in. I can’t help noticing that as he shuffles across the floor towards the piss pots, he’s staring right at me. I avoid eye contact, but watch him out of the very corner of my eye. All of the other pissers are free, but he chooses the one next to mine. And he isn’t watching what he’s doing, he’s watching me. My face, at least, but it’s still pretty weird. I get out of there ASAP.

Kat, who’s coming to the game, and Marko, who’s not but lives in Maribor, are waiting for me at the station. We have a bit of time to spare, so we pop into a fast food joint for burgers. While we’re eating, the weird old geezer walks past, and Marko nods to him and says something to Kat about him having a huge dick. I tell them that he’d been staring out me in the toilets and Marko says he had the exact same experience, only he’d been unable to avoid making momentary eye contact with the guy’s dick, which was apparently huge. I sorta thought I saw something substantial swinging about down there myself…

He looked a lot like this, which is weird because this is actually Mel Gibson.

Marko’s pleased that I got stalked by this same weirdo too, as Kat had been reluctant to believe his tale. Anyway, just as we’re finishing our meals, we hear a large bang coming from the direction of the station platforms, then a lot of shouting. We eat up and don’t stick around to find out what colours the noisy new arrivals are wearing. As we’re heading away from the station, more loud bangs behind us and, circling above, a police helicopter with a powerful searchlight. Our immediate surroundings are actually very calm and quiet but yeah, there’s something in the air…

Kat and I are pointed in the direction of the stadium by Marko, who heads home to watch the match on TV. We have a bit of difficulty getting hold of Vasja, but eventually find him on the south side of the stadium, accompanied by a handful of his mates, most of whom I’ve met before. We buy our tickets then start heading through the gates. The security staff search everyone pretty thoroughly, but not that thoroughly. My gentleman’s special area is left well alone – for all they know I might be carrying explosives down there. I’m not – aside from, y’know, my cannon and balls – but I could be for all they know. As could anyone else. Some people, it turns out later, definitely are.

The size of Maribor’s stadium has clearly impressed Kat, who keeps remarking on how huge it is. I try my best not to contradict her too harshly. It’s about the size of the average English Npower League 1 side’s ground. Bigger than Brentford FC’s Griffin Park anyway.

But only a bit bigger.

We take our places on the south stand, the Viole’s spiritual home, about 10 minutes before kick off. A handful of Viole are milling about trying to organise their brethren, getting everyone to bunch together behind the goal and such. One even has a microphone, which is wired up to the stand’s PA, and he has the very important duty of leading the Viole chants. I’m going to refer to him as the cheerleader. He wasn’t wearing a pleated skirt of carrying pompoms or anything, but I can’t think of a better name for him.

The chanting starts before the game and I do my best to join in, with a bit of help from Kat. Some of them are really easy – “Maribor!”, “Viole!” etc. – others just about easy enough to pick up – “Zoki jebeš!” (or something like that anyway), which means “Fuck Zoki!”. Zoki is the nickname of Ljubljana’s mayor, Zoran Janković – a bit of a tool by all accounts.

Some of the other chants are a bit too complicated for me to pick up so I stick to clapping, but there’s one I’ve been coached on in advance, and it’s definitely the best one – “Ubi Žabara!”, which means “Kill the frog people!” That’s what we call people from Ljubljana, due to their habit of saying “Kva?” instead of “Kaj?” (meaning “What?”). “Kva” is also the sound a Slovenian frog makes, apparently. Anyway, the bit where we in the south stand shout, “Ubi!” and the east stand responds with, “Žabara!” is definitely the best bit of the chanting.

Meanwhile there’s a football match being played but, to be honest, it’s not a particularly good one. An early, and very blatantly deserved, sending off leaves ten-man Olimpija digging in trying to kill the game off, which doesn’t make for much of a spectacle. Maribor have a lot of chances, but lack the killer instinct that saw them put three past Greek heavyweights Panathinaikos (whose stadium is five times the size of Maribor’s) in the Europa League last month. Eventually they scrape a 1-0 victory in the 89th minute when Brazilian striker, and team captain, Marcos Tavares heads home a corner.

Much more entertaining, I thought, were the various off-pitch shenanigans. It all starts a few minutes after the half-time whistle is blown. A lone Viole somehow slips past the pitch-side security and runs the length of the pitch with a very large, and definitely very lit firework in his hand. He’s heading, inevitably, for the Olimpija fans, who are bunched together on one side of the north stand. No one seems to make any effort to stop him, and he succeeds in lobbing his banger into the midst of the frog people with perfect timing – it goes off just as it hits its target. At this point, a security guard tackles the Viole commando to the ground and he’s carted off, his mission complete, but now very much over.

The frogs though, are not happy. Not happy at all.

They start throwing their own flares and bangers onto the pitch, which are eventually extinguished by two fire fighters apparently equipped with buckets of something that fire is totally indifferent to. An announcement is made warning the frogs that they’ll be removed from the ground should their pyrotechnic display continue and within seconds a unit of riot cops files out and lines up in front of the Olimpija fans.

They’re not happy about this either, and those still armed with explosives throw those at the police, while everyone else rips up their seats and throws them. The Muppets lied to me – frogs and pigs do not get along at all.

Apart from being fun to watch, this skirmish gives us Viole the perfect opportunity for a bit of “Ubi Žabara!” action. I must admit, I hadn’t expected to see the police actually following our command, but they kind of were. When the robo-pigs head into the stands to force the frogs to leave, most of them don’t want to go, so the coppers start hitting them really hard with their batons until they decide that, on second thoughts, yes they do.

Video footage of the fracas shows one Olimpija fan (centre of the picture – black jacket, green shirt) trying to persuade his fellow dragons to back off.

The camera cuts away for a few minutes. When it comes back the same man is touching a bleeding wound on his head. He then turns to the police and claps sarcastically.

At one point in the video, one little piggy can clearly be seen attempting to push his way to the front of the police line in a desperate bid to get a turn at beating some unarmed civilians.

You can see the full video for yourself here – it’s the second of the two on that page. Setting dumb jokes about pointless football rivalries aside for a moment, it’s clear to me who the real enemy is here – the police. While their actions aren’t entirely unprovoked, there’s no doubting that they’re all too keen to exert violence upon people who pose them no threat. Olimpija have accused the police of over-reacting in a statement given to the press, and I’m inclined to agree with them.

Anyway, the second half has kicked off by the time the frog pond is emptied and the Viole cheerleader isn’t quite sure what to make of the situation. Sure, we’ve all enjoyed seeing the frogs getting an ass wupping, but nobody likes the police, and “Svi’ja! Svi’ja! Svi’ja policija!” (roughly translated – “The police are pigs!”) has become our new favourite chant. What’s more, the Viole leaders have decide that we should all sit down in silence by way of a protest at having our verbal punchbags taken away. So we sulk like this for the first 15 minutes of the second half then, at the 60-minute mark, the cheerleader orders us to get up and shout a bit again, but his heart isn’t really in it and, within a few minutes he’s decided to tell us all to leave. Most of the Viole do then start making for the exits, but we don’t. It then turns out that the exits are locked and the cheerleader then starts complaining that we’re caged like animals and that if that’s how it’s going to be that we have no choice but to force our way out.

I think it was at about this point that some bangers, flares and smoke bombs are let off in our stand and the robo-pigs, having heard what the cheerleader was up to, file out in front of us. A fan nearby wittily observes that they look like Smurfs. They’re not blue with white hats, but they do march along in a very Smurf-esque line.

Anyway, for the rest of the match there’s a lot of aggressive posturing from some of the Viole down the front, and more cops, with even bigger shields, are brought out but nothing really happens. Oh, except the goal. I’d almost forgotten there was football happening.


Filed under: Fighting, News analysis, Slovenia, , , , , ,

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