Serbian Red explains Belgrade's special bond with United

Saturday 24 February 2024 06:00

The two cities most associated with the Busby Babes will forever be Manchester and, tragically, of course, Munich.

But it’s often overlooked that a third location has a particularly special relationship with arguably United’s greatest team: Belgrade. 
Poignantly, the home of Partizan Belgrade, then known as the JNA Stadium, was where the Babes played their final game – a dramatic 3-3 draw against Red Star Belgrade that ensured United progressed (5-4 on aggregate) into the European Cup semi-final. 
Afterwards, the Babes enjoyed a pleasant evening at the Majestic Hotel, where Tommy Taylor is said to have regaled the party with Yorkshire anthem On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at.
United fan Pero Radovanac at home in Belgrade with his family.
The next day changed the entire complexion and tone of Manchester United’s future. It also planted huge sentiment for our club in the Serbian capital. 
The latest fan to feature in the iconic ‘handshake’ image in our matchday programme, United Review, Pero Radovanac symbolises this as well as anyone. Though Red Star Belgrade were his first love, his affection for United has only grown and grown since the 1990s. Largely, because of the events of February 1958. 
“I’m a fan of United since the nineties,” Pero tells us. “I think my first memory was Eric Cantona kicking the fan [at Selhurst Park]! I was intrigued by that, and started following. Of course, after the historic Treble, I fell in love with everything about the club. 
“I never liked German football, so I was delighted that United beat Bayern in the 1999 final. That won my heart; it was the breakthrough for me. And when Nemanja Vidic came, everything changed again...”
But it was Munich that elevated that initial bond – largely due to Belgrade’s place in the Busby Babes’ story. 
“Once I fell in love with United, then I researched the history,” he says. “I learned everything about the flight, the dinner, the Majestic and the Metropol [the hotel where the players and staff stayed in 1958]. I know all the details about the first leg in Manchester and the second leg in Belgrade. 
“I know a lot about it, and that only made the bond with my two clubs even bigger.”
This famous photo of the Babes was taken on their last night in Belgrade.
When the late, great Harry Gregg – sometimes called ‘The Hero of Munich’ (to his chagrin) – encouraged the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation to try and direct some of the money they raise to youth organisations in Belgrade, Pero was instrumental in helping them seek the right projects. 
But most of the time, you can find him simply watching United matches in local cafés and bars with his fellow Belgrade Reds.
“I watch literally every game, including the pre-season games,” said Radovanac. “My friends all follow it too, and we have a plan to make it [the supporters’ group] official this year. My friend has something like a club, and maybe we can make that as our base. Our plan is to expand a little bit.
“I must be honest, the last 10 years I follow United more than Red Star. In Serbian football, things are not as great as they should be. In Serbia there are different types of problems. The first thing is that there are ultras that are connected with the clubs in a wrong way, in my opinion. The last years, I follow United more – I even watch the Under-21s and Under-18s games!

“The whole group of people I socialise with are United fans. We follow all the games and when we can, we watch together. Every day we are speaking about United.”
Pero is the latest fan in United Review's famous handshake illustration.
Earlier in February, Pero met up with those United fans traveling to Belgrade to mark the anniversary of the Babes’ final match, and whenever Reds come to his city, he loves to show them around or watch a match with them. 
“I met some boys from Dublin last year,” he smiles. “We watched the game against Crystal Palace. We were in the coffee shop I used to run and they were singing all the songs. I still have the video on my phone and am very proud of it!”
Radovanac still takes his sons to some Red Star games, and when we bring up the 1991 Super Cup final – which United won 1-0 at Old Trafford against our visitors from Belgrade, despite being tormented by Dejan Savicevic all night – he can’t help but laugh and label the result “totally unfair”. 
But there’s no doubt this is a man with Manchester United deep in his heart – another acknowledgement of the Babes’ legacy. Belgrade, like so many other places across the world, will never shake their impact.