With the exception of Boggy the Younger in goal, Boggy the Elder up front, and Horvat on the left wing, it was hard to see how Novi Sad were going to make an impression. Boris also added to the confusion with an extremely aggressive tactic, although the real heart of the team seemed too defensive. With a flat back four, supplemented by a defensive midfielder, I did anticipate a slow and methodical approach. However, the three midfielders formed an attacking trident up the pitch, with two very fast strikers (speed taking precedence over finishing ability, it seemed), the hell-for-leather approach was given a trial.
The first friendly was away at Sevejno, a non-league semi-pro outfit. The crowd of 72 was treated to a handful of Novi Sad fans singing that bloody dirge – it was the first time I had heard it. However, their misery was silenced after 18 minutes when Boggy the elder popped up with an extremely fortunate tap-in after a goalkeeping error. Horvat limped off after 26 minutes, and at half time Boris changed the entire team. The second half saw better control, with left footed striker Darko Drinic picking up a long ball at the half way line, taking it past a defender before slotting it away from a tight angle on the edge of the six yard box. Drinic was involved in the 75th minute, again carrying a ball to the six yard box, this time putting in an inch perfect cross to Vladimir Markovic for a simple tap in. The final whistle saw Novi Sad walk away 3-0 winners. Luckily, Horvat had only picked up a slight knock. He also picked up bids from both Red Star and Mallorca for £65,000; both of which Boris had the balls to reject (although it seems that Red Star are still in the hunt).
Another away day saw a visit to non-league Radnicki Zorka. A Novi Sad 6-1 victory might have brightened up the gloom, were it not for the fact that Radnicki were down to 9 men before the first half had ended. Boggy the elder opened the scoring with another less than convincing strike. The second half, however, belonged to Ilija Babic and Darko Drinic. Ilija took over as the centre prong of the trident, and scored a long-range effort before being set for his second by Darko. In the dying moments, Darko stamped this authority on the rout by sliding a late goal home from a tight angle. However, whilst the score line seemed impressive, the 85 fans in attendance knew they had seen a 9-man lower league team play poorly against a bunch of wastrels.
The third friendly was the test, at home against first division opposition. Zeleznik’s appearance saw over 5,000 pack into the Deterlinari stadium, and Boris decided to give them something worth seeing. He paired Boggy the elder with Darko up front, and Ilija as the middle prong of the trident. The result dripped of inconsistency. The game dragged slowly like a sack of shit being hauled through treacle, and when Markovic scored a fluke goal in the 85th minute, Zeleznik grabbed an easy equaliser in the 87th minute. However, the blight of the match was that bloody song, droning on and on. “Sister, do not scream, for the men have jam and dried snails. Eat and be happy, for your womb will be filled with a brighter dawn”.
It was on the bus to Big Bull Bacinci, another semi-pro non-league outfit, that I decided to try and press Boris about how he saw the coming season. Whilst the friendly results thus far were not too bad, I sensed he also realised that a lack of consistency could be a problem. He explained: “It is like having a fat wife. Sometimes, when you are drinking much, and can see the photograph of her sister on the fireplace, you can stay hard all night. Other times, you cannot look upon her. My job is to keep the team drunk and looking at the fireplace”.
The match against Big Bull was a non-event. Ilija set out to make up for his poor performance against Zeleznik and scored an early goal, before blowing two clear-cut chances. When Branko Markovic, the defensive midfielder, had a few long-range efforts scrambled off the line, it became clear that this was a mismatch in every sense. Sadly, the Novi Sad players thought so too, and before you could say “walkover” they were chatting with the crowd of 63 and trying to buy a few turnips. As the bargaining reached fever pitch, and the going rate for a marrow topped out at three horses and a virgin, Big Bull defender Vukmir took advantage of the lethargy, walked into the penalty box, and nodded an equaliser past the sleeping Boggy the younger. At half time I was introduced to Nikola Topic. I shoved my hand up her jumper and found out she was actually a 19 year old striker with a girl’s name. Still, fair play to her, after two second half goals and an assist, she pulled Novi out of a hole.
The next match at Jedinstvo was a different affair. The team played in the Serbia and Montenegro Second Division East, and as such could be considered to be the equals of Novi Sad. Boris made a few changes, leaving Boggy the elder out. On the journey, he also intimated at one point that Horvat could go for the right price. He seemed to be taken control at last. Milan Visekruna started in place of Boggy the elder, and scored a sensational long range goal after 11 minutes; the first sign of class from Novi in all the friendlies so far. Jedinstvo took advantage of a defensive cock-up to equalise, before Darko scored another trademark tight angled goal. The crowd of 86 grew agitated as Jedinstvo, including ten on loan players from Red Star, pushed for the equaliser. The home fans became confrontational, chanting: “Turnips? We throw them away half eaten!”. Things could have got ugly if anyone had been bothered. Then Darko latched onto a through ball from Ilijah and scored, effectively knocking the resistance out of Jedinstvo.
One elderly crone lifted her top to reveal two sagging and wrinkled breasts with hairy nipples. On one was written Novi, and the other bore the word Sad. It would have been even more impressive if she had got them the right way around!
Perhaps the team was ready; perhaps Boris was the smart one all along; perhaps Nikola Topic was a girl; perhaps Novi Sad were going to win the league. I must have been thinking out loud, because a small boy mouthed the word “cunt” at me and walked off. Oh well.
The final friendly was a local affair. Kabel, a non-league club from the town of Novi Sad, including six on loan players from Vojvodina, the largest team in the town of Novi Sad, were hosting Novi Sad, the most shambolic team in town of Novi Sad. All we needed was some hooligans from Veternik, the scummiest team in the town of Novi Sad to turn up, and we’d ourselves one hell of a Balkan crisis. As one local pointed out on the terraces before kick off: “I hate these fuckers more than the Croats”. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about Kabel, Vojvodina, Veternik or Novi Sad, so I just smiled and a lit a cigarette. Luckily, he was actually talking about the match officials. The match itself was the usual lack of consistency. Until Ilijah popped up with a goal after half time, it carried all the hallmarks of a bore-draw. A second from Visekruna made the ordeal more palatable.
NB. As I said before, this is not my own work. It is Vic Flange’s. The original work can be found on TheDugout, right here. TheDugout is dying, so I’m rescuing the story and giving it the attention it deserves.