A banner-dangling partisan drone caused a mass brawl between rivals players, fans and officials during a Euro 2016 qualifying match between Serbian and Albania on Tuesday night.
Suspended beneath the unmanned aerial vehicle was a banner bearing the Albanian flag and a map that included Kosovo, along with the slogan “greater Albania.”
The drone toured Belgrade’s Partizan Stadium, and fluttered its banner beneath the noses of approximately 32,000 stunned and soon-to-be incandescent Serbians.
The game was eventually cancelled as fists and furniture flew and players ran from the pitch.
Serbia lost Kosovo, which has a majority Albanian population, following an independence referendum in 2008. Serbia has never accepted the result, despite the recognition of the newly independent Republic of Kosovo by over 100 nations.
The banner was ripped down by Serbian number 13 Stefan Mitrovic, who was promptly assailed by Albania number 14 Taulant Xhaka.
The banner ended up in the hands of Albania’s Bekim Balaj, who (with officials, substitutes and fans flooding the field) was given the chance to head a plastic chair delivered by an angry Serbian fan.
Violence exploded across the pitch, with one masked Serbian fan grabbing the banner, plus the now hapless drone (propellers whirring helplessly) and dragging both across the pitch towards some kind of trampled and/or burned destruction.
The Albanian team, meanwhile, dived for the tunnel.
Anticipating trouble, UEFA had banned Albania fans from travelling to the Partizan stadium to watch the game.
Confusion remains as to who was operating the drone, but reports fingered the brother of Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, Olsi Rama, who’d been in a VIP box at the match and was arrested in possession of "a remote".
The drone’s incursion is the first time since 1969 that an actual football has become a political football.
El Salvador attacked Honduras in a dispute over treatment of Salvadorians in Honduras after a series of 1970 World Cup qualifiers had helped stoked national pride and political tension between the pair to boiling point.
The resulting conflict claimed 250 Honduran troops and 2,000 civilians, as well as 2,000 Salvadorans. A ceasefire came into force after six days fighting but a peace treaty wasn’t signed until 1980. ®