Even the greatest of football players have missed important penalties in their careers, though very, very few have been threatened with a gun for their failure. But when Novi Pazar's Zarko Udovicic cheeky Panenka attempt flew over the bar in a recent Serbian SuperLiga match, his club's own fans became so furious they broke into the dressing room and threatened to shoot him in the face.
The incident took place after Pazar lost to FK Rad on Saturday. Trailing 1-0 late in the game, Pazar were thrown a gilt-edged opportunity to level the scores when the ref handed them a penalty. Udovcic stepped up to take it, but instead of going for a conventional kick, he tried the difficult Panenka, which fooled the keeper but also sailed over the crossbar.
It was a horrible miss, but what happened next will go down as one of the most disgraceful incidents ever involving the Beautiful Game. According to the world players' union FIFPro, two days after that miss, some ultras broke into Pazar's dressing room and threatened to kill Udovcic.
But despite the gravity of the situation, the local football authorities are yet to take action and nab the violent supporters behind the incidents.
"Must we wait until some hooligan actually kills one of our players?" Mirko Poledica, president of the Serbian professional footballers' association Nezavisnost, asked. "What worries me is that there is no reaction from the football association. They remain quiet. They must do something to guarantee the safety of the players. But they don't. Next time a player could be murdered.”
He further said: "The only positive thing from this situation, is that our Deputy Prime Minister (Rasim Ljajic) has spoken out and acknowledged the serious problems we are facing. In Serbia, no fan has ever been prosecuted or convicted after violent behavior against a football player. That's why players are afraid. Each day they hope that there will be nobody knocking on their door to beat them up, that there will."
FIFPro, meanwhile, added: "Like every professional workman, each professional footballer is entitled to a safe working environment. It is up to the football and national authorities to provide such safe environment."
Udovicic has since left the club, but the menace of hooliganism in Serbian football still exists. Just a few months ago, a match between the Serbian national team and their Albanian counterparts had to be abandoned midway after mass brawl between the two teams and their supporters broke out.
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