Millwall called to Serbs' den

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The Independent Online

Millwall, the sometime scourge of English football, have been invited by the Bosnian Serbs, until recently the pariahs of international diplomacy, to play a friendly match in Banja Luka. The game is being staged to celebrate Bosnia's return to the international fold following the end of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

The Bosnian Serbs are keen to renew sporting ties around the world and are using an English agency, First Artists Corporation, to help them do so.

Having decided to invite an English club to play in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb football authorities were advised that it might be too ambitious to seek a Premiership club. They then checked the most recent English newspaper in their possession - an October edition - and chose Millwall because they were then top of the First Division. The London club have since slipped to mid-table.

The fact that their prospective opponents are a club whose supporters rejoice in the slogan "No one likes us; we don't care" is purely coincidental, as is the fact that Millwall have recently signed two players from Russia, traditional close allies of the Serbs.

"We'd be delighted to take Millwall to Bosnia to help with the peace process," Jon Smith, of First Artists, said last night.

Banja Luka was at the centre of the Yugoslav war. The biggest town in the Serb-held part of Bosnia, it was the power base of the notorious military commander, General Ratko Mladic, and was the scene of some of the worst ethnic cleansing during the war. Prior to the war, 50 per cent of the Banja Luka population were Muslims and Croats. Now only Serbs live there.

Sports stadiums were the scene of some of the worst atrocities in the war (as they have been in other conflicts around the world), but the ground that the Bosnian Serbs have in mind was not one of them.

Millwall, who would be playing against Borac, a club side, are understood to have reacted positively to the invitation to play the match, hopefully within the next four weeks, fixtures permitting. Peter Meade, the chairman, said that he would discuss the idea with his manager, Mick McCarthy, when he returns shortly from business abroad.