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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

"A game on everyone's mind" - FK Beograd captain Natsiopoulos previews Croatia derby

One of the centrepieces of the 2024 NPL SA season is the resumption of hostilities between FK Beograd and the Adelaide Croatia Raiders. Beograd captain Andoni Natsiopoulos spoke to Front Page Football about his experience growing up around the derby, the atmosphere around the club, and his role in the upcoming grudge match this weekend.

Front Page Football: Andoni Natsiopoulos FK Beograd Adelaide Croatia NPL SA

Andoni Natsiopoulos is FK Beograd's captain for the 2024 NPL SA season. (Image: Pagonis Photography)

Round 22 of the 2023 State League One season saw Adelaide Croatia as masters of their own destiny. A win meant the proud club would return to the NPL SA for the first time since relegation in 2021.

In the near-capacity crowd at the Croatian Sports Centre, soon-to-be FK Beograd captain Natsiopoulos watched on as the Raiders entered halftime a goal down on the live ladder, a predicament that saw Vlado Blazeka's side drop from first to third on the table. A barnstorming second half saw the hosts score four unanswered goals to emphatically earn promotion.

Despite playing for Adelaide Croatia's traditional rivals, Natsiopoulos' reaction reflected that of most of the South Australian football community when understanding that one of the state's biggest rivalries would recommence in 2024.

"I was actually at the game when they got promoted against Cobras," Natsiopoulos told FPF.

"I’ve got some friends that play for the Cobras, but yeah, as soon as the game finished and they knew that they were promoted, I turned to the President behind me and went, 'Thank God!'

"It is a huge game, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about pretty much every day since they got promoted. I think it (the derby against Adelaide Croatia) is a game on everyone’s mind."

As part of his background is Serbian, Natsiopoulos explained how the FK Beograd community means a lot to him. 2024 is the midfielder's sixth year officially involved with the club, but he has been a member of its community for much longer.

"It (the community) means a lot to me, obviously coming from a half-Serbian background. It’s always been my club; even though I played for Pirates (Port Adelaide) in the past, I’d always be out at the Beograd games when I could.

"The community at the club has a big support home and away, and if we get some good results, based on the last couple of years, we get a good crowd. It is always good to have a good backing."




Despite the two clubs avoiding each other for most of the past decade, Natsiopoulos has previously played for Beograd against Raiders. His U18s team may have lost on the day but the midfielder's memory of the encounter remains vivid.

"The whole club was behind us. They told the first team and reserves to shorten training on a Tuesday night so they could come out to the Parks and watch us. We had very good backing there for an Under 18s Semi-Final, which was pretty good to play in," he shared.

Natsiopoulos has watched his fair share of FK Beograd matches on the other side of the fence and knows how much a win against their archrivals can galvanise the Serbian community.

"I remember watching one Cup game. I think it was 2016 or 2017. We played the Raiders at home. I was a spectator and we won 1-0. The crowd went ballistic when, I think it was Mohammad Nazari, scored in the 78th minute and we won 1-0," he said.

"I just remember the scenes and singing the song right where the crowd stand by the race. That was a very fond memory and hopefully we can make more in the next two games that we’ve got against them this year."
Front Page Football: FK Beograd Adelaide Croatia NPL SA

FK Beograd celebrate a goal by Ahmad Mosawee Nejad against Adelaide Croatia Raiders in 2017. (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

With the two sides meeting each other again for the first time in years, Natsiopoulos shared that the excitement in the club is palpable, and he is receiving questions about the derby from all corners.

"Obviously, I am always at the club; I am there seven days a week, coaching juniors, training and all that. The parents and the old boys are always asking me about how the team is going and they now always ask about the game against Croatia!" Natsiopoulos said.

"I think that is the one thing they really want, for us to win that game, show a lot of passion, and come away with something. I think that if we don’t come away with anything, there will be some pretty angry people, and it is understandable because I feel their emotions."
Front Page Football: FK Beograd Adelaide Croatia NPL SA

The whole community is involved in the derby between FK Beograd and the Adelaide Croatia Raiders. (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

The departures of Josh Mori and Gideon Arok opened the door for Natsiopoulos to take the reins as FK Beograd captain this season, a position he relishes. Unfortunately, the club will miss their captain this weekend due to a ruptured hamstring.

While he is disappointed to miss out on an encounter of this magnitude, Natsiopoulos is focused on working with his leadership group to ensure the team is mentally prepared for the challenge at the Croatian Sports Centre.

"You can tell the boys are looking forward to the derby," he remarked.

"We have shown fight every single game this season, and we have got results. For example, beating Adelaide City, all our boys showed fight. I think we have to bring that in for that derby, but we have to raise that level by 10-20% because it is a huge game that everyone is looking forward to. Ninko (Beric), Jared (Clark), and I will ensure that we pump up the boys and tell them how important that game is for our club."

While the battles on the field can often get heated, Natsiopoulos shared his respect for a club of the stature of Adelaide Croatia and his satisfaction at seeing them return to the NPL.

"Croatia also gets good backing from their fans and sponsors; big clubs like that deserve to be in the NPL. They deserve to be on the big stage, and the big games like our derby against them get all the fans excited. They are the ones you circle on the schedule, which I am sure is what their fans have done and what our fans have done," he said.

The two sides meet in an NPL match for the first time since 2015 on Saturday, and Natsiopoulos concluded by painting a picture of what that first encounter may look like.

"The first game is at Raiders, so you can expect one side to be full of Serbians and the other full of Croatians," he remarked.

"I think they may need some backing to separate the tension, but if you are watching, the Croatians like standing in front of the bar there, so our right back on the day may get a bit of stick. You might have to listen through the audio for that!

"It will be a great game and I am sure most people in the state who are interested in soccer will keep up to date and watch it, whether there or through YouTube."

As Natsiopoulos mentioned, live coverage of the FK Beograd-Adelaide Croatia Raiders derby will be free via Football South Australia's FSA Leagues YouTube channel from Saturday at 5pm local time. Or, you can head down to the Croatian Sports Centre to witness this special rivalry from the stands.


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