Traditionally Serbia’s third club behind Red Star and Partizan, FK Vojvodina represent the country’s second city of Novi Sad. Halfway between Belgrade and the Hungarian border, Novi Sad was ruled from Budapest at the time when Vojvodina were formed in secret in 1914, local students following the lead of Slavia Prague in a show of defiance against their Habsburg masters.
After World War I and the gradual creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, these students were able to support their new club openly, kitted out in the red-and-white shirts provided by Slavia. As they progressed to become influential members of Novi Sad’s professional classes – doctors, lawyers, professors – so Vojvodina gained more and more financial backing.
In 1924, a stadium was built, the Karađorđe, named after the legendary Serbian leader whose grandson had recently been proclaimed the first post-Habsburg king of the new nation. Players such as striker Dušan Marković – the club’s only representative in Yugoslavia’s World Cup squad that made the semi-final of the inaugural tournament in 1930 – helped Vojvodina make the top bracket of the national league.
At the same time, a regional league was formed, dominated by Vojvodina and their rivalry with fellow locals NAK, the team formed from the ashes of pre-1918 ethnic Magyar side Újvidéki AC.
Nicknamed ‘The Millionaires’, Vojvodina continued to lord it over NAK, persuading key forward Jožef Velker to move over to the Red-and-Whites. With the Axis occupation of Novi Sad in 1941, Velker was reintegrated to NAK, then in the top Hungarian league. Vojvodina players and their families were put in concentration camps, murdered or perished in the war.
The Vojvodina club that emerged afterwards in Socialist Yugoslavia would prove, under the circumstances, to be extraordinarily successful. Without a real city rival – NAK were disbanded, Proleter never reached any great heights – Vojvodina were free to call upon a wealth of great young talent that had survived the war. Winger Vujadin Boškov was part of the Yugoslav team that the Hungary of Puskás and Bozsik had trouble beating in the Olympic final of 1952. Striker Todor Veselinović, also locally born, later moved with him after a prolific stint at Vojvodina for Sampdoria in 1961.
Boškov returned as technical director in 1964 to revive and modernise the club that had waned after strong showings in the equally strong all-Yugoslav league of the early Tito era. Another local, Silvester Takač, emerged as a powerful front man, helped the Red-and-Whites claim a first national title in 1966 and beat Atlético Madrid in a play-off in the subsequent European Cup. Even without Takač, sold to Rennes, Vojvodina still took eventual winners Celtic to the 90th minute of the quarter-final second leg with the aggregate pegged at 1-1.
The late defeat at Celtic Park remains the high point of the club’s many campaigns in Europe.
The next great Vojvodina side was developed under coach Ljupko Petrović, who brought in young midfielders Slaviša Jokanović and Siniša Mihajlović. Packed crowds at the Gradski Stadion – the royalist name of Karađorđe didn’t survive under Tito – saw the Red-and-Whites beat all major opposition to take a second Yugoslav title in 1989. While Petrović led Red Star Belgrade to a European Cup in 1991, taking Mihajlović with him, Vojvodina crumbled under civil war and sanctions.
Without funds from major transfers or European tournaments, Vojvodina stumbled along in the weaker Serbian league. Players who emerged were sold quick and fast. The situation had become untenable.
In stepped Montenegrin entrepreneur Ratko Butorović. This former bouncer, bodyguard and owner of a chain of general goods stores in sanctions-hit Novi Sad, Butorović had recently bought two hotels in the city. Pouring money into the club and its crumbling stadium, now renamed Karađorđe, this controversial chairman reinvigorated Vojvodina, now Serbia’s de facto third force behind Red Star and Partizan. In 2009, they even finished second. As it to celebrate the club’s centenary in 2014, the Red-and-Whites won the Serbian Cup – but without Butorović, found dead in a room in his own hotel, the Park, the year before.
As well as an unsolved match-fixing controversy, Butorović left behind him a top-notch training facility, named after Vujadin Boškov, which now needs produce the kind of players who can lift Vojvodina back into European contention.
The stadium where Siniša Mihajlović started his career and ended it in 2007, the Stadion Karađorđe (‘Karadjordje’) has been slowly improved and modernised since that emotional testimonial game.
With a capacity of 14,500 – more than twice that packed into it for the visit of Celtic in 1967 – the Karađorđe now features a new scoreboard and floodlights, with the addition of a running track.
Karađorđe, the patriotic leader who fought the Turks 200 years ago, was the name given to the stadium when it was opened in 1924, on June 28, a red letter day in the Serbian calendar. After World War II, it became the more prosaic Gradski (‘City’), hosting a number of memorable European nights and Yugoslavia home games.
After 2007, it again became the Karađorđe and has staged a number of noteworthy international fixtures, including the Euro U-17 Championship of 2011 starring Liverpool’s Emre Can and Manchester United’s Memphis Depay, and Serbia’s 6-1 demolition of Wales in 2012.
The stadium lies directly south of Novi Sad train and bus stations and city centre, just off main Bulevar Oslobođenja. It is completely surrounded by two levels of bars, shops and small businesses, though these close in the immediate pre-match build-up.
The home ultras, the Firmaši, occupy the North Stand or Tribina Sever. Away fans are usually allocated the East Stand, or Tribina Istok.
From the train/bus stations, several buses run down Bulevar Oslobođenja, to the junction with Braće Ribnikar/Maksim Gorkog, some 1.5km immediately south. These include Nos.7A, 7B, 12 and 13. It should be 4-5 stops and a maximum of 10min from the station.
A taxi from the station should cost around 300RSD/€2.40. It’s a 15min walk from the city centre.
For Serbian international matches, prices are set at 600RSD/€4.80 for the North and South Stands (Sever, Jug) behind the goals, 1,000RSD/€8 for the East Stand (Istok, away) and 1,500RSD/€12 for the main West Stand (Zapad). The ticket office is open 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat. See www.iticket.rs/ for details.
Ticket prices for FK Vojvodina games are much lower.
For Vojvodina ones as well as a full range of Serbia gear, there’s an outlet at the Hotel Park.
The stadium is completely surrounded by two storeys of shops, bars and small outlets. There are too many spots to focus on individually but the main venues are the Café René, themed after the bar owner in British TV sit-com ‘’Allo ’Allo!’, and the Caffè Sting above it on the same north side (Tribina Sever) of the ground, with a vague Newman-Redford/pre-war theme. Note also the portrait of Albert Einstein, whose first wife Mileva was from Vojvodina.
Fans and players gather at both bars to watch sports action, either football or basketball, with occasional live music staged at the René, which is cheaper and more down-to-earth.
Next to René, Prozorce is a little, local restaurant offering specialities from the hills of Zlatibor, in huge portions. Also on this side of the ground, the popular Bubi Grill provides satisfying Balkan meat dishes – ćevapi, pljeskavica – for 150-200RSD.
In the build-up to the match, stadium venues close or at least stop serving alcohol.
The nearest and best choice within a short walk is The Pub (Braće Ribnikara 1/junction with Oslobođenja), another popular spot where the focus is more on music than football – though matches will be shown. Guinness and pub grub are the order of the day.