My Belgrade, by Dejan Stankovic

I love Belgrade very much. It’s my city. I was born in a hospital close to
Partizan Stadium. You passed the highway and were in "Jnoa", which is
what it was called then. My parents are peaceful people and back then they were
labourers. We were happy. We liked the same things then and now: the tasty
food, evenings with our friends, the city centre where the two rivers (the
Danube and the Sava) meet. Perhaps that’s the spot with the best view in
Belgrade. There, in Kalemegdan, you can find a statue we call "The Winner". It’s the
symbol of the strength of my people.

The war left its mark on Belgrade. It was something that perhaps also changed
the way the city is seen by those who arrive there from abroad. But life is
good there. The Italian friends
I’ve taken there have always returned with a smile. Of course, you can still
see signs of the bombing, but those of us from Belgrade are still alive and well
and we like to enjoy ourselves. We have survived this ordeal too.

When I return it doesn’t seem very changed to me. At 19 years old I went to play
in Italy, but this is where I grew up and have my memories as a kid, a teenager
and a player. I was at Red Star and we played at the Marakana. Back then for
the derby we packed in ninety thousand people. I dreamed in Belgrade and was
lucky enough to see my dreams become reality. I dreamed of the derby with
Partizan and I played in it. I scored important goals. I was a fan who became a
player, so in those games I felt twice the joy if we won or twice the pain if
we lost. The fans were very passionate, and that’s how it will be at the
stadium tonight. Football is our number one sport. When teams like Inter come
people get excited and it’s a beautiful atmosphere. The derby matches against
Partizan take me back. I was nineteen when I left. I only heard an echo of
the war in 1999. A nightmare three and a half months long that seemed to have
no end in sight.

Tonight there’s the game and it’s a shame I won’t be playing. I was tempted,
but I don’t want to miss two days of work. I’m doing everything I can to get
back on the pitch. I’ll be in Milan watching a game that has so many meanings
for me. It’s in my city and reminds me of Red Star, my first love in football.
My Inter team-mates will be there taking on Partizan.

It will be one of those big, fiery evenings that I remember so well.

Dejan Stankovic

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