Novi Sad is home to Vojvodina, the only Serbian club outside Belgrade to have won a league title in a century of domestic competition.
In recent seasons, Vojvodina have invariably finished third to Red Star and Partizan in the Serbian SuperLiga. But there’s far more to this venerable club than picking for scraps behind Serbia’s big two. Halfway between Belgrade and the border with Hungary, the fortress city of Novi Sad has a patchwork history, reflected in its football lore.
Until 1918, Novi Sad, Újvidék to Hungarians, was part of the Habsburg Empire and ruled from Budapest. Újvidéki AC were formed in 1910, playing in the Southern District of the Hungarian Provincial Championship along with teams from Szabadka, today’s Subotica in Serbia, and Szeged.
Across town, a select group of young Serbians was meeting in secret, six months before the outbreak of World War I. Like the Dalmatians who had recently founded Hajduk in Split, they were students home from Prague, keen on forming a club on the same lines of Slavia. A club of Czech nationalists and intellectuals, Slavia Prague wore red and white and five-pointed stars as symbols to spite their Habsburg masters. Impressionable young Serbs and Croats studying in Prague became members of Slavia as a matter of principle.
Once home, Novi Sad’s future professors, industrialists and scientists chose a firmly Serbian name for their own club: Vojvodina, after the surrounding region.
In November 1918, Novi Sad became part of the Kingdom of Serbia, later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. While Újvidéki AC were renamed Novosadski AK, Vojvodina proudly adopted the shirts of Slavia, sent by the Prague club from newly created Czechoslovakia. The Serbs only changed the badge from red to blue in honour of the flag of their new nation.
A rivalry quickly developed between the Crveno-beli (‘Red-Whites’) and the ethnic Hungarian NAK. Hungarian goalkeeper Károly Nemes, a title-winner with Rapid Vienna, first played for NAK then coached both Novi Sad rivals.
In 1930, the Novi Sad Football Subassociation broke away from its Belgrade counterpart and a provincial championship formed. Vojvodina and NAK won all but one of the ten titles before Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941.
Novi Sad was annexed by Hungary. Many Vojvodina members and those of the city’s third, Jewish, club, Juda Makabi, vanished as thousands were murdered by the régime.
At the same time, Novosadski AK once again became Újvidéki AC and competed in the top Hungarian league until 1944. Players such as former Ferencváros star József Turay, controversially left out of the 1938 World Cup Final, left Budapest to don the blue-and-white of Újvidéki against Hungary’s top clubs.
Liberated by Tito’s Partizans in 1944, Novi Sad became part of Yugoslavia. Újvidéki were disbanded and surviving members of Vojvodina reestablished their football club, which became a major force in the domestic game.
Joining his native Vojvodina in 1946, young winger Vujadin Boškov played at the venerable Karađorđe Stadium for 15 years before a move to Sampdoria. He later coached his alma mater to a first Yugoslav title in 1966 and was behind the outstanding Sampdoria side of Mancini and Vialli who won Serie A in 1991.
Vojvodina also won the Yugoslav title in 1989, just ahead of a world-class Red Star side. Invariably third in the current two-horse race that is the Serbian SuperLiga, Vojvodina have appeared in five recent cup finals, winning one in 2014.
The city has two other clubs. RFK Novi Sad played in Serbia’s second flight from 1991 until 2006. Their 6,000-capacity Stadion Detelinara, painted in blue and yellow, stands close to Novi Sad train station, at Rumenačka 152, near the junction with Partizanska.
A recent demise has seen the club slip down the ranks, change its name to RFK Novi Sad 1921 and, bizarrely, take on representative team from Luhansk, the self-proclaimed pro-Russian state of eastern Ukraine.
Currently in Serbia’s second flight, Proleter Novi Sad are based at Stadion Slana Bara, on the corner of Sentandrejski put and Ritska, about 1.5km north of the train station.
Novi Sad Airport is not yet ready for commercial use. Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla 18km (11 miles) west of the capital, is the main arrival point. It is served by bus Nos.A1 (300RSD/€2.40) and 72 (170RSD/€1.40) that take about 30mins to reach the city centre. Taxi prices are now fixed at about 2,000RSD (€16).
A standard train ticket to Novi Sad is 300SRD/€2.40, with extras for Inter City services and reservations. Trains run every hour or so and take 1hr 40mins. The bus is quicker, more frequent and around the same price to cover the 80km (50 miles) or so from Belgrade.
Alternatively, a local company such as Novi Sad Taxi has a set rate of €35-€40 per vehicle from Belgrade Airport to Novi Sad.
In town, Novi Sad is served by local buses. Tickets are 50RSD/€0.40, paid on board. The main No.4 runs from the bus/train stations to the city centre.
The Tourist Office downtown has a list of accommodation options.
Closest to the stadium, the three-star Hotel Panorama Garni occupies the sixth-floor of a business centre. The same distance to the east of the ground, the Voyager Apartments are flats or rooms that can be rented for varying periods of time.
Also within easy reach, the Hotel Park is the city’s first five-star, with a sauna, gym, pool and commercial outlets, including a shop for Serbian and Vojvodina football gear. Opened in 2009, the Planeta Inn is set in a shopping centre even nearer to the Karađorđe.
Slap opposite the stations, the Hotel Novi Sad (Bulevar Jaše Tomića, +381 18 526 208) has 100-plus simple rooms, plus a sauna, disco and restaurant.
Bar-blessed Novi Sad is lively and party-focused, as evidenced by a stroll down central Laze Telečkog, a partly pedestrianised street behind the main square. There the London Pub (No.15) has the widest range of beers, including Guinness, beyond the standard local Jelen and oft-found Belgian or Czech counterparts. TV football and pub grub, too. The other main spot is the Irish Pub Red Cow, tucked away in a courtyard where Zmaj Jovina meets Dunavska.
From late spring onwards, outdoor spots by Slobode Bridge, the continuation of Bulevar Oslobodjenja, bring to life the beach (‘Štrand’) area, with live TV sports and a party atmosphere.