Arkan widow's team visit Hull to play friendly

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The Independent Online

Even by the quirky standards of pre-season friendlies, the visitors to Hull City's Boothferry Park stadium on Friday, Obilic Belgrade of Yugoslavia, are a somewhat unusual choice of opponent.

Their former owner was the notorious Serbian warlord, Arkan, whose brutal paramilitary troops spread fear among non-Serbs during the Croatian and Bosnian wars. He took over the club in 1995 and his critics said he financed the deal with money from smuggling and other criminal activities. He was indicted for war crimes and only escaped trial because he was shot dead 19 months ago.

Arkan bequeathed Obilic, the only privately-owned club in Serbia, to his widow, Ceca, who also happens to be one of her country's most famous folk singers and high-profile personalities. Ceca is very much a hands-on president, with the mission of fulfilling her husband's dream of turning Obilic Belgrade into a renowned name in Europe.

The 28-year-old almost always travels with her team and although the Home Office said yesterday it could not comment on individual cases, it is understood she has applied for a visa to visit Hull and will find out today if her application has been successful.

The third reason Obilic are unusual opponents is that Hull had no idea precisely who they were until a few days ago and are only playing them because their first-choice visitors dropped out.

"We were supposed to be playing Athletic Bilbao but that didn't work out," said Adam Pearson, Hull's chairman, yesterday. "Instead, the agent who'd arranged for them to come over said he could offer us another team instead. He said Obilic had a game in the Uefa Cup next week and were looking for a warm-up and we said, 'Yes, fine'.

"It wasn't until last weekend that we realised who they were. We'd even contacted the Foreign Office before that and they'd told us they were delighted for us to promote any fixtures with Yugoslavian teams. Quite honestly, I now can't wait to get it all over with," Pearson said.

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