‘I went to a Serbian bar to attempt to outdrink the regulars forward of Euros conflict’

As Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions prepare to take on Serbia in their opening game of Euro 2024 this evening (Sunday, June 16), I went down to London’s best Serbian bar to fly the flag and out drink the opposition.

Robert, 49, took over the Fulham Kitchen alongside his business partner Tom in 2015 and together they have turned the small neighbourhood spot into a lynchpin of the Serbian-British community, slowly migrating to a full Serbian menu. A stone’s throw from Craven Cottage, the form of ex-Fulham striker Alexander Mitrovic (and Serbia’s star player) galvanised the bar and resultant’s position on the match day beer circuit.

My visit to see Robert came amid fears in the British press over possible clashes between English and Serbian fans, with some reports claiming 500 Serbian ultras were heading down to Düsseldorf for a punch-up.

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Robert, however, had no such concerns.

In fact, he headed to Germany himself on Saturday (June 15) and is planning to follow his team to their following group stage matches against Slovenia and Denmark.

It's a hard job...
It’s a hard job…

“There’s not going to be trouble at all. I don’t know who made it up — I guarantee you. Serbia and England it’s not going to be any trouble. We don’t play [each other] many times in the past and every time we have played there’s been no problem at all. We’re going for fun — plus I’m going in my car which has an UK number plate.

“I don’t know where it came from, ‘500 hardcore fans going to make mega trouble’ — there’s no reason for that, instead of saying it’s going to be good playing Serbia for the first time in how many years.”

And how did he feel about reports that only low-strength booze was going to be served at the game? “Personally, I don’t care, I’ll drink non-alcoholic beer. For me, no problem at all. I think English people drink more than Serbian people so it will be more trouble for Brits!”

It’s fair to say Robert is a serious football fan
It’s fair to say Robert is a serious football fan

He ontinued: “My friends and I have “been to the Russia and Qatar world cups and there was no trouble. We stayed in Dubai and went to watch the games [in Qatar], it was an out-of-this-world experience. It was so good.

“Russia was good too. It was nice for us because we are close to Russia. No trouble at all, the transport is good, the fan zones, good. Really nice.”

“We are great Serbia supporters. We’re very excited for the game, he said. “My brother’s flying from Serbia [on Saturday to meet him in Germany] and we’re expecting a good result.

The Fulham Kitchen is a great find
The Fulham Kitchen is a great find

“If we survive the first 20 minutes and don’t concede two goals I think at the end of the game it’s going to be 2-2.”

He added: “We follow Serbia everywhere — everywhere.” Despite no doubt having a soft spot for Fulham, he was quick to point out: “We are great Red Star [Belgrade] supporters.”

It’s fair to say Robert is a serious football fan then, and as he shows me around the Kitchen this point hammers home.

On a covered terrace at the front of the bar I sit down and meet his mates who smoke cigars and sip on orange juice. After a well-deserved bit of mocking for being late, he orders me an eagerly anticipated bottle of Jelen, a beer hugely popular in Serbia that’s hard to come by in the UK.

I had to join in with the celebrations...obviously
I had to join in with the celebrations…obviously

From here he takes me through to the the restaurant’s back room, where a temple to football lies in wait.

Scarves and shirts adorned every inch of the wall, many of them signed.

The signatures of the likes of ex-Premier League stars Mitrovic, Dusan Tadic and Nemanja Matic are everywhere, scrawled on shirts the players have brought to the bar themselves on visits to town. He knows many of them by name and says they bring their families to eat there.

Even though Robert is having it large in Germany, The Fulham Kitchen is open for the game and fully booked with what he says are 80% Serbian fans and 20% English.

Scarves and shirts adorned every inch of the wall
Scarves and shirts adorned every inch of the wall

He’s not expecting any trouble at his place either. “About 60% of our customers are English, they’re local — it’s going to be a friendly atmosphere here.”

He added that they were “turning it into a fan zone here. We are fully booked for all Serbian games.”

Before it was time to head off, he and his bar team Sara and Obliv insisted I have a shot of the nation’s favourite spirit, rakia.

My Friday now fully underway, they gave me their two pence on what they thought the score would be.

“Sadly I have to say England is going to win, let’s say 3-1, I hope not —” Sara says as Obliv jumps in with a “3-1 Serbia! Mitrovic!”

Robert says the fans are no trouble
Robert says he doesn’t expect trouble at the game

It seems the fans are split just as much as the English. “Hopefully we’ll get a draw,” Sara adds nervously.

Since they started up, Fulham Kitchen has been going from strength to strength. “You can come in trainers or a suit, everyone feels relaxed. It’s a cosy, homely atmosphere.

“We’re open all day and people come for breakfast, lunch, dinner we have locals who come in three or four times a week. Everyone knows everyone, and If you come by yourself to you’ll find someone who who you’ll end up talking to for hours. We’re a local place off the high street focused on good quality and good value for money.”

He’s bang on too. Robert, his team and regulars had made me feel more than welcome at the Kitchen, a relaxed place that feel like a homely hang-spot more than anything else. Regardless of the result between England and Serbia, I’ll certainly be heading back there soon.

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