A Partizan Welcome

Photographer Steven Paston took a midweek trip to Serbia for some Thursday night Europa League action.

general view of the riot police after the gameSteven paston keep
Riot police after the math. Photo Steven Paston

“It’s Europa League week and I’ve been assigned to cover FK Partizan v Tottenham Hotspur, which is taking place in Belgrade, Serbia. One of the joys of my job is that I get to travel to a lot of places that I wouldn’t normally visit. Last year I had a number of trips including Moscow (twice within 5 weeks!), allowing me to explore the Moscow metro system which has always fascinated me with its unique architectural design.”


A general view of the Metro in Moscow. Photo: Steven Paston

“I also travelled to cover FC Sheriff in Tiraspol, Transnistria, which is a self-proclaimed independent state that is not recognized by any UN member state (except for Russia), and has a tricky relationship with its neighboring countries of Moldova and Ukraine. Finally I visited Tromso in Norway, which sits inside the Arctic Circle. During the winter months the daytime is extremely short, and when I arrived around midday, the sun had already set for the day! Both of the last two games were to cover Tottenham Hotspur in Europa League fixtures.”

General view of Alfheim Stadion, Tromso, Norwaysteven paston keep
General view of Alfheim Stadion, Tromso, Norway. Photo steven paston

“One of the things that particularly appeals to me in these far-flung locations compared to the more travelled cities in Central Europe is the real sense of adventure. I enjoy the challenge of working out how to get about from the airport to the hotel, finding my way to the stadium and then figuring out how to even get inside when faced with a substantial language barrier.”

“To get to Belgrade required two flights, and by the time I arrived it was it was midnight. In the past I have been ripped off heavily in taxi fares travelling to and from the airport, Moscow in particular springs to mind. However on this trip it was fine, I chose to use the official taxi agents and thankfully got to my hotel for a reasonable price for a change. This kind of thing always helps to put me at ease when visiting a new place for the first time.”

General view of Tottenham Hotspurs during training Steven paston keep
General view of Tottenham Hotspurs during training in Belgade. Photo Steven Paston

“As Tottenham Hotspur is one of our contract clubs, part of the package we provide on these trips is the press conference and training session the day before the match. One good thing about that from a personal perspective is that all it takes place in the evening, giving me a chance to explore the city during the day, and on match day I have almost another full day for more sight-seeing. On some other recent trips I have checked into my hotel, headed straight to the stadium to shoot the match, and then flown back to the UK in the early hours of the morning.”

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Tottenham Hotspurs manager Mauricio Pochettino talks during the press conference. Photo Steven paston


“Another bonus of covering the pre match build up is that I have already collected my accreditation from the press officer at the training session, so on match day I know exactly where I’m going. On other trips I have found it challenging trying to explain to foreign stewards that I need to collect my accreditation when neither of us speaks the same language!”

General view of Tottenham Hotspurs players warming up Steven paston keep
General view of Tottenham Hotspurs players warming up. Photo Steven Paston

“Having set up pitch side, amongst the things I like to prepare is a team sheet, and to make sure that I can connect to the internet, either using the stadium wifi or my own mifi. In this case neither was working, and I was under pressure to deliver images for the club, as well as for the live feed. It’s a double edged sword going to these far-flung locations, that a lack of signal can stop you in your tracks, in spite of ever-advancing technology. I have the ability to send directly from the back of my cameras using a wifi transmitter without even opening my laptop, or at stadiums such as Wembley I can plug my Canon 1DX into an ethernet cable and file images back to the office even quicker.”

Tottenham Hotspurs Harry Kane in actionSteven paston keep
Tottenham Hotspurs Harry Kane in action. Photo Steven Paston

“For this game my mifi was only finding 2G signal, very occasionally 3G. Back in the UK I regularly use 4G, so I called the office to let them know that I was having issues sending but I managed to get a small selection out during the first half.  At half time I managed to connect to the stadium wifi which enabled me to catch up a bit so going into the second half I was up to date. It’s a shame that during the course of the whole game there was not much action to send at all, a disappointment not just for me, but also for the 150-odd fans that had travelled over to support the team.”

General view of Tottenham Hotspurs fans during the gameSteven paston keep
The travelling contingent of Tottenham Hotspurs fans. Photo Steven Paston
General view of Partizan fans before the game Steven paston keep
General view of Partizan Belgrade ulras beneath the score broad. Photo Steven Paston

“In the UK, most football clubs don’t have a section of fans that we would openly call “ultras”, but on mainland Europe it is much more common. Partizan’s ultras occupy an entire stand behind one of the goals, singing, shouting, waving huge banners, not to mention the loud bang of firecrackers exploding just behind the photography position all throughout the game! On a side note the local photographers work slightly differently, casually smoking cigarettes at pitch side during the game whilst working.”

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Tottenham Hotspurs Andros Townsend and Partiza Vladimir Volkov in action. Photo Steven Paston

“Serbia has a reputation as a country that is not very open to varied ethnicity, with several England U21 players being racially abused in Serbia a couple of years ago, including Tottenham’s Danny Rose, who didn’t travel for this match. The Partizan ultras displayed a banner which was seemingly directed at the Tottenham fans, which the club reported to UEFA following the match.”


general view of a FK Partizan banner Steven paston keep
Partizan Belgrade fans display a controversial banner. Photo Steven paston

“Overall it’s been a good couple of days, cheap taxi prices, good food, nice weather and an interesting city to explore. As part of my sight-seeing I captured the results of the bombing by NATO in 1999, such as the Ministry of Defense building, which for the past 15 years has been left as testament to the city’s recent history.”

Ministry of defense building in Belgrade damaged during the 1999 NATO
Ministry of defense building in Belgrade damaged during the 1999 NATO. Photo Steven Paston

“Now all I need to do is keep my passport safe, as I’m sure to be jetting off somewhere in couple of weeks’ time!”

A Partizan Welcome

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