Trophies are the normal yardstick used to measure a club’s stature, and there are obviously sound reasons for that. However, certain achievements which must be described as momentous may, in fact, not have much to do with titles.
Partizan fall firmly into that category. Their great rivals from across town, Crvena Zvezda, are Serbia's most successful club in terms of championships won, but FKP boast a glorious and often extraordinary record of their own. Moreover, the 'problem' of being only the second most successful club in the country is well on its way to being solved, as Partizan have ruled the roost and set the standards in their homeland in recent years.
Birth of an institution
The club was founded on 4 October 1945 as JSD Partizan, part of the Yugoslavian Partizan sports association, which nowadays still administers some 25 sporting disciplines in Serbia under the name SD Partizan.
Less than two years passed before the black and whites chalked up their first Yugoslavian league title in 1947, doubling their tally another two years later in 1949. However, that glorious start soon evolved into a long story of near misses and close-run things, for although the club frequently finished runners-up, at least one rival always topped them in the final standings throughout the next decade.
The domestic knockout cup is another story altogether, as Partizan lifted the trophy three times in the 1950s. The highlight for the still youthful club came in the 1955/56 European Cup, where Partizan stunningly knocked out Lisbon giants Sporting and racked up a historic 3–0 quarter-final victory over mighty Real Madrid, although even that was not enough to prevent their exit following a 4–0 reverse in the first leg. The meeting with the Portuguese side was historic, as it was the first-ever match in the inaugural European Cup competition.
The making of a legend
The 1960s brought a return to success in the domestic championship, kicking off with a title hat-trick between 1961 and '63. On the European stage, the men from Belgrade earned respect and recognition with victories over the likes of Werder Bremen and Manchester United.
The next highlight, neatly following on from their role as one of the teams involved in the inaugural European Cup fixture, came in 1966 when Partizan were the first eastern European team to make the final of the elite continental competition. In 2003, the black-and-whites became the first Serbian team to appear in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
As early as the 60s, a fierce and intense rivalry grew up between Partizan and Crvena Zvezda from across the city. Veciti derbi (The Eternal Derby) rates as one of the great cross-town clashes in the world. “Red Star is my life, there's nothing more important", rings out from the terraces, countered by the opposing fans chant of “I'd give my life for Partizan".
The anthems express two essential components of the derby: the passion in the stands and on the pitch, and the deep attachment of the fans to their respective club. For some 65 years now, Crvena’s Delije (Heroes) and Partizan’s Grobari (Gravediggers) have spearheaded the rival supporters’ camps, creating an intense and often hostile atmosphere.
Former Crvena Zvezda stalwart Milan Bisevac recalls the special atmosphere prevailing at the Belgrade derby. “In the build-up to the match, there was a smouldering atmosphere for the whole week. From Monday onwards, the tension and pressure rose with every passing day. It's a genuinely classic match in a wonderful atmosphere. At the Marakana, the unofficial name for the Crvena Zvezda stadium, you'd be sitting in the dressing room and hear the fans singing and chanting long before kick-off. It gave you goose bumps."
Over the last decade, the Belgrade clubs have continued to dominate the Serbian championship, with either one or the other emerging triumphant, although Partizan can point to slightly greater success than their chief rivals.
Another groundbreaking move came in 2002 with the hiring of Germany's most capped player Lothar Matthaus as head coach. “Serbian football is very strong technically, and I have a number of players who will go on to achieve great things," the 1991 FIFA World Player of the Year said at the time. Indeed, it was Matthaus who led the Serbs to the Champions League group stage for the first time.
Partizan added another chapter to their history in May 2011 by becoming the first Serbian club to win the league four times in succession. The men in black and white also secured a third double in the space of four years, their fifth in total.
Respect is due to Partizan for their consistent success in nurturing stars of the future, despite the relatively lowly international status of their domestic league. Exporting youth products to bigger clubs has been a vital source of revenue for many years, and the club has won many awards for its exemplary youth development work, including a European honour in 2006.
This successful effort at academy level should guarantee Partizan’s place right at the top of the Serbian game.
There can hardly be a finer name for a football stadium than Partizan’s home ground, as Fudbalski Hram literally means Temple of Football. Constructed in 1949 with a capacity of approximately 55,000, the stadium has been dramatically altered and renovated on a number of occasions and now boasts a capacity of some 33,000. It is the second biggest stadium in the country behind the 55,000 capacity Marakana, home to eternal rivals Crvena Zvezda.
24 national championships: 1947, 1949, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1976, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
12 national cups: 1947, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2008, 2009, 2011
1 Mitropa Cup: 1978
European Cup runners-up: 1966
Vukotić Momčilo, Klinčarski Nikica, Damjanović Milan, Paunović Blagoje, Mihajlović Ljubomir, Ilić Saša, Stojković Nenad, Kovačević Vladimir, Bobek Stjepan, Trifunović Aco, Belin Bruno, Radaković Miloš, Đorđić Svemir, Valok Marko, Varga Zvonko
*The honours listed above are considered to be the club’s major titles and, as such, are not intended to be a full list of achievements.