BELGRADE, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Serbian Football Association (FSS) President Zvezdan Terzic believes the country's first division clubs face a long and uphill battle to draw respectable crowds back into their eerily empty grounds.
Terzic told a round-table debate attended by leading Serbian soccer officials and media that the country's football 'is a direct reflection of the state its society is in.'
He continued: 'We must keep both feet on the ground and bear in mind that we can't compare ourselves to leading soccer nations like Germany, England and other European giants,' he said.
'The average first division crowd of 2,000 fans per game needs to double for a start, at which point sponsors would take more interest and a consequent chain reaction would result in a dramatic all-round improvement.'
The break-up of the former Yugoslavia and its respectable soccer league has reduced top level competition in the region to poor quality top divisions devoid of any real strength in depth.
In Serbia, it boils down to an annual two-horse battle for supremacy between 1991 European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade and their 'eternal foes' Partizan, with others making up the numbers and figuring exclusively as also-rans.
Also detrimental to getting fans back into dilapidated stadiums, many of which lack the most basic facilities, is the local television network screening a dozen or so matches from Europe's top leagues every weekend.
'New generations of fans in Serbia don't see Red Star and Partizan players as their new idols. They worship the world's modern-day soccer heroes like Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane,' Terzic said.
Last season's league fixture between Partizan and Red Star drew an all-time low of 10,000 fans with both die-hard sections either failing to turn up or walking out at half-time.
In September, twice as many came and jeered both teams off the pitch after being treated to another tepid 0-0 draw.
With trophy-laden sports such as basketball and volleyball attracting bigger crowds than first divsion soccer teams, Terzic hinted he might entertain the idea of asking the clubs to grant free entrance to fans after the upcoming winter break.
'We will give it a thought. We will talk to represntatives of first division soccer clubs during the winter break and make a decision after consultations with them,' he said.
'In spite of all the hardships, there are some good soccer matches here worth watching. The recent one between Vozdovac and Smederevo was a cracker, I only wish a capacity crowd of 7,000 had turned up to see it.'