Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Serbia v Northern Ireland: An over-the-top police presence added to a truly bizarre night

Northern Ireland fans party at FK Crvena zvezda Stadium, Belgrade
Serbia 2 Northern Ireland 1
Serbia 2 Northern Ireland 1

It’s fair to say last night’s game is not something I wish to replicate any time soon.

Overall the day felt very strange and lacking in that normal atmosphere buzz.

Arriving in Belgrade and seeing no supporters was strange, although it felt very relaxed. And there wasn’t a whiff of trouble. A few Serbians were complaining about not being able to go to the match.

Prior to the game I felt the fact that there weren’t any Serbian supporters might be in our favour.

The atmosphere continued to be strange when we got on the bus.

Then closer to the stadium the heavy police presence was evident.

When we got off the bus there wasn’t a Serbian supporter in sight, but police were everywhere and the security was very tight.

There were about 260 Northern Ireland supporters but it took a very long time to get into the stadium.

I saw a UEFA representative give off to the police for taking so long to clear us all.

They were frisking everyone and putting us all through metal detectors. The level of security was really immense. I have been to quite a few Northern Ireland games and I have never seen so many police and security at a match before. They weren’t letting anyone in with coins, not even a few. I had to throw some away.

The atmosphere continued to feel unusual when we got to the stadium. We knew in advance that we would be sitting at the very top of the stadium in a VIP section. We were squashed right at the top, which wasn’t great. But I suppose we just felt grateful to be allowed to go to the match.

Despite the result, the supporters were all in really good spirits, although we definitely felt like we couldn’t be heard because we were stuck so high up.

Aside from the result, it was an OK day, mainly because it felt well-organised.

The security felt over-the-top, but at the same time you have to wonder what might have happened if the security wasn’t as tight.

Perhaps there would have been trouble.

And although it was a real hassle getting into the stadium, we all felt very secure once we got in there. The result was obviously disappointing, and I wouldn’t want to replicate the day again.

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