Last week, I was able to experience the feeling of supporting your country on the football pitch for the first time, as I visited Podgorica, Montenegro to see Denmark play against Montenegro in the last round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia.
Ever since I was a kid watching the World Cup on TV, seeing the fans full of pride go crazy for their country always made me dream of the day that I would be a part of that vibrant atmosphere, being able to cheer for your country and its colors is a wonderful feeling.
When I arrived in Podgorica, you could feel the nationalism within the Montenegrins and the Danes preparing for the match, as they headed to the pub to drink before the game.
The Danes and the Montenegrins got along perfectly, enjoying beers and singing songs of their country together. It was a great environment to be in, with no tension whatsoever.
And then that changed when the police came.
Rows and rows of policemen walked into the street to patrol the crowd, along with police cars. It made me feel as if there was something about to happen, as if we were going to start fighting with the Montenegro fans.
The policemen then began to direct us to go somewhere else away from the Montenegro fans, to a street that was fenced off and patrolled by the police. I was appalled, nothing remotely violent was even occurring beforehand.
It created an underlying tension between the two teams that would not have occurred had it not been for the police regulating the fans.
I understand that this may be protocol, but is this really necessary?
At the end of the match, after Denmark had won 1-0, we had to wait about half an hour for the Montenegro fans to leave first, in case a fight would break out afterwards. Once again we were directed to walk between the fenced off streets, avoiding the Montenegro fans.
If this is how a match is treated between two countries with absolutely no political or historical tension between one another, I cannot even begin to fathom what it would be like if there were actually tension between the two.
This is not an article about Balkan history, or politics. I am merely attempting to make a call to football fans around the world and in the Balkans to stop bringing politics into the beautiful game of football.
Take the Albania - Serbia game in 2014 for example, where fights broke out between the Albanian and Serbian fans after a drone flew over the field wielding the “Greater Albania” flag which represents Kosovo as a part of Albania, featuring the faces of two Albanian nationalists, Isa Boljetini and Ismail Qemali.
The words “Autochthonous” were displayed on the flag, and is considered offensive towards the Serbians. Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic tore the flag down, and it provided as a catalyst for clashes to break out between fans and players of the rival countries.
“We came to Belgrade to play football, but we were physically attacked by the Serbian supporters," said Albanian player Lorik Cana told reporters.
The game was suspended as it could not continue, with both football federations of Serbia and Albania being fined by UEFA for their inability to prevent the fighting.
This unfinished match serves as a prime example as to why politics and football should never mix. Of course some people would argue it is inevitable, but it is not difficult to attend a match to support your country rather than just shout insults at the other country to make things turn violent.
Rivalry matches such as Serbia and Albania are considered rivalry matches for a reason due to political and historical issues, so it is easy to understand why there will be tension at a match such as this.
But why bring hate into a sport that is not meant for political discussion? Do it elsewhere, but do not spoil what is supposed to be a great experience for everyone.
I understand the reasoning behind the protocol for the police to enforce security during these events, but the fact that they took extra measures to divide us from the opposing team is what struck a chord with me.
The purpose of football is not to bring people apart, it is to bring people together that share love for their country and for the sport. Passion filled with hate never accomplishes anything, especially when it is somewhat ‘expected’ of the fans to start fighting one another leading to the police believing it is entirely necessary to intervene in a unjust manner.
Let’s keep the beautiful game beautiful, not divided.