Old Trafford is widely regarded as one of European football’s most lauded venues, famous for its often raucous atmosphere that’s helped guide Manchester United to many a memorable win.
The Red Devils fanbase is often hailed for remaining loyal to their team through good times and bad, but such wasn’t always the case for United legend Nemanja Vidic.
In fact, it was during the Serb’s days as Red Star Belgrade captain that he incurred the wrath of their supporters for appearing in a fashion shoot alongside his counterpart from bitter rivals Partizan.
A 2004 Guardian investigation into Serbian football hooligans revealed it was common practice for players to find their cars smashed up ‘whenever they perform badly.’
In this instance, Vidic was guilty of an offence that took place off the field of play, but Red Star’s most hardcore followers felt no less obliged to let the defender know he had done wrong in their eyes.
The club’s ultras—those most ‘committed’ fans often involved in gang activity—are known as the Delije (or ‘heroes’).
One among their number, Padja, detailed how he was responsible for wrecking the vehicles of Red Star’s playing staff following poor performances—or for unsanctioned photo shoots.
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It’s all part of the rough exterior Red Star’s fanbase has cultivated over the years. One of the club’s chants featured the lyrics “You're going to get your f***ing head stamped on like a Kosovan,” while another mocked the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster, which saw 39 people—mostly Juventus fans—die in Belgium.
Eastern Europe’s football gangs have escalated their past-time since taking inspiration from their English predecessors, turning hooliganism into something closer to a profession.
Marco, a young leader of the Delije, insisted their acts have evolved beyond hooliganism: “We organise the best choreography in the world. We're not just hooligans; we are ready for anything.
“For example, we showed those English homosexuals from Leicester how to fight a few years ago. We met them in the UEFA Cup and ran them in Leicester and again when we met up with them later in the year in Germany.
“We think that in England you don't realise how tough the Serbs are. We respect the English as the founders of hooliganism, but where are you now? Other nations have overtaken you.”
Vidic spent just four seasons in Red Star’s first team before he left for Spartak Moscow in 2004, playing in Russia for two years before he finally made the jump to Old Trafford.
Nine seasons, 300 appearances, five Premier League titles and one Champions League crown later, he left United celebrated as one of the club’s greatest-ever defenders.
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And Vidic came to revel in those tougher atmospheres thanks to his upbringing at the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade.
He told The Athletic in 2019 that Parkhead was the only venue that compared with his first professional stomping ground: “When you have played at Red Star you don’t really get intimidated.
“Maybe only at Celtic Park for the first ten minutes of a game when the fans breathe fire towards the players.
“I loved playing at Celtic and felt it was like my mentality that I had grown up with.”
That appreciation for stern support likely doesn’t extend off the field or to having his car destroyed, a trend that thankfully didn’t follow Vidic once he left his native Serbia.
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