Rovers fans given top-level security amid hooligan fears
THE small band of visiting Shamrock Rovers supporters will enter the intimidating Stadion FK Partizan in Belgrade tonight with the same security escort as the team.
Local officials are taking no chances, with past experience having taught them to take every precaution with respect to travelling fans.
Hoops supporters who arrived into the capital's airport yesterday were individually given the phone number of a policeman and told to call him if they run into any difficulty during their stay.
It served as a reminder of Serbia's dark reputation when it comes to hooliganism surrounding football matches.
Partizan Belgrade have 'previous' in this department. They have some fanatical supporters, with one section, known as the 'Gravediggers', containing a particularly nasty faction. Two years ago, before a Europa League match, a Toulouse fan died after he was attacked in a bar by a group of thugs wielding iron bars and baseball bats.
In 2007, Partizan were thrown out of the UEFA Cup after their hardcore fans went on the rampage on a trip to nearby Bosnia. The club didn't bother appealing.
Various punishments have been meted out domestically in an effort to solve the problem, but the trouble continues.
Belgrade itself is a welcoming city, but if Rovers manage to pull off an upset, players and supporters alike should expect a hostile reaction.
Rovers supporters travelled in large numbers for the Champions League ties in Estonia and Denmark, but there's a tiny contingent on this trip by comparison.
Between 30 and 40 supporters have made the journey, with plans for a day-trip charter flight having fallen through. Those who are here have been encouraged to be vigilant about where they wear their colours.