FROM pitch raids to mass brawls and death threats, Serbian hooligans could create carnage when they descend on Qatar for the World Cup.
Die-hard groups of hooligans are intertwined with football in Serbia – and they are known for ruthlessly attacking players on the pitch and storming opposition stalls when the match turns against them.
With their first game today against Brazil – the last time the two sides met at a World Cup the game ended in violence.
Serbian and Brazilian fans were pictured brawling in the stands in Russia in 2018 – and Qatari organisers will be keen to avoid any such scenes.
Hooligan firms in the Balkan state have chilling names such as The Gravediggers, Head Hunters, Zulu Warriors, and the Red Devils.
And one of their most vicious leaders is known as: “Ivan the Terrible”.
Tracing their lineage back to the Balkan war of the 1990s, Serb football hooligans are renowned for the tough-as-nails attitude and love of violence.
In the past, the Ultras have killed rival fans – including a Toulouse supporter in 2009 who was beaten to death with iron bars and bicycle chains.
And with fears of repeat of the 2018 carnage against Brazil, Serbia also face bitter rivals Switzerland next week which could also fuel the possibility of violence.
Qatar however is taking no chances with disorder – drafting a multinational policing team to try and control the fans.
Belgrade football authorities have been keen to crack down on violence – but high profile domestic games still can be marred by violence.
Serbian hooligan firms are linked heavily to far-right politics, Neo-Nazi sympathies, and organised crime.
Cops raided football fan groups linked to clubs Partizan and Red Star – arresting 17 people linked to drugs, murder and other “monstrous crimes” in February 2021.
And while the crackdown continues – with Serbian football keen to jettison the unwanted reputation – insiders have warned the firms still wield “terrible power” in the state.
In 2012, Ivan Bagdanov – a firebrand hooligan leader with links to Serbian far-right paramilitaries – forced a Euros qualifying match between Serbia and Italy in Genoa to be abandoned after trying to attack rival fans and police.
“Ivan the Terrible” Bagdanov rallied supporters to lob live flares and bangers onto the pitch as players warmed up and ordered them to break down barriers separating them from Italian fans while taunting police.
Serb hooligans are particularly known for throw live bangers at players who have switched sides and invading the pitches when games don’t go their way.
Some are said to have links local politicians and private security contractors who rely on them to do their dirty work, according to Balkan Insight.
We are black sheep of the society. Real rebellious… We don’t like mainstream in any form
These self-styled hooligans are expected to show up in force at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Tensions could boil over when Serbia takes on Switzerland at Stadium 974 on December 2.
When the rivals last met in 2018, Serb supporters were recorded chanting “Kill the Albanians” and wore T-shirts of Serbian war crimes general Ratko Mladic in a heated snub to two ethnic Albanians in the Swiss squad.
Kosovo fought Serbia in a bitter war for independence in 1999 that resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers on both sides.
In 2014, a mass brawl broke out between fans at a Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania.
Fans stormed the Partizan stadium in Belgrade and attacked players before riot police were called into to break up the bloody fight, forcing the match to be abandoned.
Bagdanov’s supporters may be joined by their bitter rivals known as “The Gravediggers” in Serbian.
Supporters are known to plan their violent parades days before a match and have repeatedly said they would die for their club, according to Vice TV.
Some have their own keys to local stadiums and describe themselves as “knights” of “principles and honour”.
“We are black sheep of the society. Real rebellious… We don’t like mainstream in any form,” one ultra is heard telling Vice TV.
“We just want to tell our story to the world, to the Serbian people, that we are the best… We have knight principles and honour. We have a code of honour and behaviour.”
In 2013, die-hard fans of a Serbian third-tier side dug a grave on their own pitch in a thinly-veiled threat to players.
The hooligans – who snuck in after a match – pinned a crucifix to the ground which read “second division or this”.
And earlier this year, Rangers fans were ambushed in Belgrade when Serbian hooligans attacked them ahead of a Europa League match.
The travelling supporters had already been warned not to travel around Belgrade in small groups or late at night for fear of trouble.
But that didn’t stop a section of supporters coming under attack outside the city’s Metropol Palace hotel by a group dressed all in black and throwing bottles.
Those inside the hotel captured the action as the Gers supporters tried to defend themselves with chairs and other objects as sirens wailed in the background.
The incident went on for several minutes with no sign of intervention from hotel staff or police.
A group of the players clashed with stewards when they were stopped from going over to their fans in the wake of their side’s 3-0 Europa League defeat at Ibrox.