Rajko Mitić Stadium, also known as the “Marakana”, is the largest venue in Serbia, where both the country's national team and its most successful club, FK Crvena zvezda, play their matches. It appears that within the next few years it may disappear from the map of Belgrade!
There is probably no arena in the region with such a rich history and prestigious status. The predecessor of the “Marakana” already stood on the same site in 1927, hosted at the time by SK Jugoslavija. The club was dissolved after World War II and was replaced by the well-known Crvena zvezda. The team's tremendous successes, not only in the domestic backyard, led to thoughts of a larger stadium that could hold more than 30,000 people. Construction of the new facility on the site of the old one began in 1960 and was completed three years later.
The opening match against Riejka has been watched from the stands by more than 55,000 people. The prestigious Belgrade derby against Partizan, played a little later, was followed live by nearly 110,000 fans! The monumental appearance of Crvena's home strongly resembled the world-famous arena in Rio de Janeiro, hence the nickname “Marakana” taken from it. In the 1990s, seats were installed throughout the venue, reducing its capacity to less than 60,000 spectators. A roof over the upper rows of stands has also appeared. It is in this shape that the stadium is known today.
However, there has been a talk for nearly 15 years that the arena should be extensively modernised or replaced with an ultra-modern facility that meets the criteria for the fourth and highest category of UEFA stadiums. Although the subject has been known for almost two decades, it was only recently that Crvena zvezda's general manager Zvezdan Terzić outlined the club's plans for the coming years regarding the “Marakana”. In an interview with Serbian Sportal, he has revealed that the legendary arena is to be demolished in the near future.
Terzić announced that the club should start to build a new training centre in Surčin soon. For this purpose, 25 ha of land located near Nikola Tesla International Airport, Serbia's main airport, has been purchased. In addition to the expansion of the training infrastructure, Crvena zvezda has plans to go much further, so the upgrade is also expected to involve the run-down “Marakana”. The club's general manager points to one of the reasons why the venue would be demolished and replaced with an entirely new stadium. The current stands are deeply dug into the earth embankment. Because of this, there are no business facilities and the commercial space is very modest. Terzić admitted that Crvena only pays for the use of the arena, without being able to make money from it in any way.
The club is aware that fans may be unhappy with the decision, but it cites the example of the legendary Highbury, to which Arsenal fans had to say goodbye to in 2006. Construction is still a long way off, but it is already clear that the new venue will stand on the site of its predecessor. It will most likely be built in stages so that Serbia's most successful team can use it without any obstacles throughout the period of construction.