Eli From Copa90 Explains Why Sarajevo Is A Top Football Town

17 April 2015

“From the people to the landscape to, of course, the football… Sarajevo affected me in a way no city yet has. The people, despite having very little, are desperate to give you all they can.”

Sarajevo has long been at the crossroads of Europe. A famously diverse city and the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the city is one of the focal points of the Balkans and a melting pot of cultures.

Yet for travellers of a certain vintage, Sarajevo is perhaps known for darker reasons.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKc7RYvnrzE[/embed]
Once renowned for its architectural beauty, today the city bears the scars of the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, with Sarajevo shelled incessantly in the mid-1990s at the height of the Bosnian War.

The pockmarked remains of the city bear testament to Sarajevo's resilience and this eclectic capital – which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics – is a surprisingly compelling place to watch football, as Eli Mengem from popular YouTube channel Copa90 explains.

 The abandoned bobsled track from the '84 Winter Olympics (Getty)

"This is possibly the city that had the most effect on me on my travels with Copa90," Mengem says.

"We barely paid for a single beer shared among the gathering of pubs and bars across the city," he says. "And when we were in need of suggestions for locations to shoot a sunset time-lapse, we weren’t just pointed in the direction of the nearest high-rise building, but instead driven half an hour up one of the four looming mountains that surround the city to get a view that took our breath away."

"The city is completely obsessed with football, as you will quickly realise when you exit out of the arrivals area at the airport and observe the many ‘ultra’ stickers planted on everything from rent-a-car booths to the exit screendoors," he says.

"In fact, so obsessed is Bosnia with the game that when the Zmajevi (Dragons) qualified for their first ever World Cup in 2014, there were said to be more than 200,000 people that took to the streets of the capital in celebration."

 Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Getty)

Mengem, who travels the world documenting the round-ball game, says that Sarajevo left an indelible mark on his psyche. He was in town to cover Bosnia and Herzegovina's biggest football derby, the clash between bitter rivals FK Sarajevo and Željezničar, at the latter's unique home ground in Grbavica.

"Grbavica was at the centre of the battle between Serbian and Bosnians forces and so, like the neighbourhood, the stadium is riddled with bullet holes and other physical memories of the war," Mengem explains.

"Like so much of the city, the Grbavica neighbourhood is slowly reconstructing. The blemishes have not been removed and while to a newcomer that may seem confronting, the landscape serves as a necessary reminder of what the people of Sarajevo suffered."

 The sebilj fountain in Sarajevo in winter (Getty)

The match itself finished in a 2-1 win for visitors FK Sarajevo, though the result itself hardly mattered to Mengem.

"Not only did I leave the match having enjoyed an incredibly unique and passionate display of the people of the city for their beloved teams, but I also experienced and learned about an incredibly important chapter in the history of the world," he says.

"If all of this doesn’t leave you feeling culturally enriched, then the novelty full-sized train (in honour of Željezničar's railway worker founders) on the terraces at Grbavica, or the bridge you walk across where Franz Ferdinand was shot (sparking World War I), or the array of churches that sit peacefully among mosques and synagogues (leading some to label Sarajevo 'Little Jerusalem') definitely should."

Sarajevo as one of the best places in the world to watch football?

It may sound unlikely, but if Mengem's experiences in Bosnia's historic capital are anything to go by, he could well be on to something.

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Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.