Let's get a few things straight; I am an honorary Croatian. A Croatia mug sits proudly on my teacher's desk. The first #Football match I ever watched abroad involved Dinamo Zagreb, and this experience culminated in my adoption of the Modri as my second team - and it stuck! (Before this, I had a new second favourite every three or four years; Dinamo have lasted seven.)

So why am I singing the praises of their hated Eastern neighbours? It all started in April this year, when I went to Partizan vs Red Star. As I've written elsewhere, this should have been the Dinamo-Hajduk trip, but I won't set foot in the Maksimir again until Zdravko Mamic has his claws out of Croatian football.

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Sensible Serbian friends suggested that I should buy a ticket in the west stand, the safe option. I wholeheartedly agreed - I'd seen Partizan before, twice, but as a non-Serbian speaker who took far too long to work out that in Belgrade you had to say hvala puno and NOT hvala lijepa, I didn't want to be in their hardcore ultras section at the Veciti Derbi. Not my first Veciti Derbi, anyhow. Besides, I have no idea which Belgrade team I actually prefer. The aforementioned sensible Serbs are Partizan to a man, but Crvena 'Red Star' Zvezda do tend to capture the neutral imagination.

So I acquired my ticket in the west stand, through a friend, and rocked up at the Partizan Stadium an hour or so before kick-off. Finding my seat, I noted that quite a few of the people around me were drinking beer.

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Within sight of the pitch. Rock and ROLL! I immediately went and bought my own, for the same reason I drank a beer with my breakfast omelette in Paris in 2005 - because I couldn't do the same at home in the UK.

As we moved closer to kick-off time, the amount of pyrotechnics being lit in the north-east corner began to increase - very much the odd flare dotted here and there, but on a fairly regular basis. I learned afterwards that Partizan didn't have a proper 'pyroshow' because the security services had confiscated a large amount of material before kick-off, but they still managed to create a spectacle. The Red Star fans, meanwhile, displayed some incomprehensible military-style banner with a tank on it before kick-off, and just before the start of the second half turned the south stand bright, blazing red with flares.

In the West Stand - nothing. Not only was there no pyro, no aggro and the freedom to have a cheeky pint (sorry, demilitre), but people were openly cheering for both teams.

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Grandparents, children, women and the very drunk twentysomething next to me were free to follow their teams in any way that did not impinge upon their neighbours' ability to do the same. Meanwhile, everyone in the north and south stands knew that nothing less than 100% dedication would be expected from start to finish, and those in the east accepted the need to chant a lot, and were resigned to the fact that a cheeky flare was likely to appear in front of them at some stage. In short, people had decided which football experience they wanted, and bought a ticket accordingly.

I've been trying to get this concept through to a friend who's against pyro: it is perfectly possible to allow others to light things on fire without being personally affected. All it takes is a system that everyone knows about, and a bit of self-organisation. By this I mean that under such a system, people would accept that if they left it until the last minute to buy a ticket, they might get stuck with a ticket in the ultras section whereas really, they wanted a quiet life (or, of course, vice-versa). In practice, the more vibrant stands contain more season-ticket holders and sell out sooner; the casual observer is unlikely to be able to acquire a ticket in such a stand without contacts.

Let's move onto something I have been unfairly accused of not caring about: what happens on the pitch. (My accusers are usually people from countries where the only interesting action happens in the stands. They fail to understand that my culture has the opposite problem and I am enjoying the unfamiliar, as they do when they watch Arsenal play before a reverentially silent crowd.) Serbian league football isn't in the best place at the moment; Red Star, who won the European Cup in 1991, can't even qualify for it anymore, and when in 2014 they finally did, UEFA threw them out over financial fair play. Now I don't know what they're meant to have done, but I do know that the sums of money involved would pale into insignificance compared to the misdemeanours of Man City, Chelsea, PSG and all the violators UEFA are afraid of.

In spite of a war on small countries by Platini and the gang, the former Yugoslavia contributes more than its fair share of talent to the European stage. I can't remember the exact statistic that was mentioned on ITV4 when Spurs played Partizan away, but it's something like Ajax produce the highest number of academy players who make it at the highest level in Europe, and Partizan are second. Not bad for a team from a country of seven million people who live on an average of US$450 per month.

I was reading the Metro this morning and noticed that English clubs are scouting 20-year-old Serbian forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who currently plays for Anderlecht. He started his career at Partizan, and left for Anderlecht last summer, aged eighteen. On Wednesday night, I missed my train and dived into the pub for a swift one, catching half an hour of Roma-Man City; I noticed that Adem Ljajic, who moved from Partizan to Fiorentina at the age of nineteen, was in the Roma side. Working on this article has really brought home the fact that Balkan footballers are abandoning the clubs that made them at an incredibly young age, and it's a recent phenomenon. Luka Modric joined Spurs at 23; Eduardo signed for Arsenal aged 24; when Mario Mandzukic, also 24, left Dinamo Zagreb for Wolfsburg, the move and its timing (between two legs of a Champions League qualifier which Dinamo ended up losing on away goals) were so controversial that a supporters' boycott ensued. That was in 2010. These days, if you're Croatian and playing in the Croatian league past your teens, people are looking at you funny.

My point is that although there's an awful lot wrong with Balkan football, it has a fair amount going for it, too. What UEFA, club owners and the football authorities in former Yugoslavian states must not do is assume that lifeless stadiums are a necessary ingredient of successful football. Instead, they must cherish their diverse, self-regulated supporter culture and find some way of helping these proud old clubs retain their players for long enough to mount a serious challenge on the European stage. What that solution will entail is open to debate, but for now, I'm planning my next trip to the countries where people's names end in -ic to watch my football in a manner that suits me.