Come on Zelje !!! by BobK

Posted by Rushian on June 5, 2001, 02:18:32 PM

Of all the teams we might draw in the 3rd Qualifying Round for the so-called Champions League I hope we get Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, a.k.a Zelje (pronounced "zhel-yeh", where the "zh" is like the "s" in "measure" !)

Zelje are the team most likely to win the Bosnian League this season; they'd then have to win their first and second round ties, so it seems unlikely. But I have my reasons ...

Zeljeznicar Sarajevo were originally the railway workers' side (as were the "Lokomotiv" sides elsewhere in the former Eastern block, Leipzig for example.) Although they play in blue, and FC Sarajevo play in red, Zelje are very much the team of the people, whereas FC Sarajevo were the team of the establishment and communist party officials. Despite that one of the finest men I ever met played for FC Sarajevo. Predrag Pasic - "Paja" - is an ex-Yugoslav international and a Serb who stayed in supposedly "Muslim" Bosnia throughout the war, running a children's football club/league/school called Bubamara. I worked in Sarajevo at that time, and Paja was one of the first people I met. On several occasions he invited myself and colleagues to dinner, and he remains one of the most impressive people I've ever encountered. However, the passion that the young, defiant, pluralistic Sarajevo punk crowd had for Zelje drew my sympathies to their side.

One of my fondest memories is of going to see the first Zelje v FC Sarajevo game since the war. It was May 1996. Zelje's ground is in Grbavica, a residential area close to the city centre which had been held by the aggressors until after the peace agreement. The area around it was heavily mined, and the stadium was bombed to fuck. But it was an amazing experience, showing the power of football. Both sets of fans streamed on foot from the city centre to the stadium keeping carefully to the paths between the mines marked out by warning tape, as old folks in damaged apartment blocks who had been trapped in this tiny suburb for years looked out the windows at the singing masses, grinning and waving down to them ...

In a move that some Liverpool fans would applaud, there was a totally discriminatory policy towards out of towners at the game - it was 1 mark to get in if you were Bosnian, 5 if you were foreign. Totally justifiable too, as most foreigners were on good salaries, and most locals were struggling to survive financially.

The game seemed like a carefully stage-managed 1-1 draw, with the president kicking-off the match, and the football itself was park quality. But as an event it was truly memorable, and I don't recall seeing a set of fans more "animated" than the Zelje crowd prior to seeing Olympiakos.

Now they've (hopefully) patched the ground up, it would be an extraordinary buzz for me if Zelje got through the first couple of rounds and we drew them. I'd love to return to Sarajevo with the travelling Kop.

© Bob Kurac 2001

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