Blackmailed by hooligans, probed by police and fined by soccer authorities, its bank accounts blocked over unpaid debts, Red Star Belgrade are in dire straits.
Its violent fans, Delije, are the tottering club’s most acute problem, costing fines and sanctions such as having to play matches behind closed doors, including the clash of the season against arch-rivals Partizan on Sunday.
Red Star were fined on Monday for the unsportsmanlike conduct of fans and players who showed support for a hooligan, Uros Misic, whom a judge sentenced to 10 years in prison after a near-fatal assault on a plain clothes policeman at a match in December.
But the woes of Red Star — Serbia’s most famous club, European Cup winners in 1991 — go far beyond fines and possible loss of revenue from 42,000 tickets already printed for the Partizan game.
A day after the Misic was sentenced, on Sept. 20, Red Star players showed up for a match wearing T-shirts demanding “justice for Uros Misic” and supporters posted a sign threatening the judge who delivered the verdict.
The affair brought police into Red Star offices and dressing rooms. All, from acting president Dobrivoje Tanasijevic to janitors, were questioned, but nobody said who ordered players to wear the shirts.
“Red Star afraid of Delije,” was one of newspaper headlines describing the menacing atmosphere at the club.
Enraged by poor results, hooligans attacked a dozen cars belonging to club management and players, interrupted a practice and slapped winger Ognjen Koroman.
Speaking in Wednesday’s edition of newspaper Press, Koroman downplayed the slapping incident as “not so bad” and said “players were told in the club” not to discuss the shirts with the media.
Thugs also barged into Tanasijevic’s office, threatening him.
Red Star are perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy — its accounts were blocked for days over unpaid credit instalments until money finally arrived from the transfer of defender Dusan Basta to Italy’s Udinese on Monday, reports said.
Former Red Star player Sinisa Mihajlovic has said “individuals” had become involved in Red Star “to make a buck.”
The situation was further aggravated when the club’s top sponsor, Toyota, apparently became fed up with everything and quit.
The current crisis follows the February arrest of its former star player, then top executive Dragan Dzajic, who faces trial for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from player transfers.
Now, after the club’s worst-ever start in the national championship, Red Star are lingering in mid-table, eight points behind Partizan and with hopes of challenging for the title fading fast.