On Sunday I went to see a live sport that I have never seen before. Water polo. To many this may not sound exciting. It is not a globally followed game, in fact it is not well known outside a relatively small number of countries, largely in the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
But anyway, for me - a man irrationally obsessed with sport, especially when witnessed in the flesh - this was a treat.
The Kombank Arena in Belgrade. A vast and solid grey demonstration of the supposed permanence and power of the former Yugoslavia was conceived in the early 90s and planned for the 1994 Basketball World Championships but construction halted in 1995 due to the conflicts. When it was finally completed in 2004, it was in a new country.
This 25k seater concrete-columned cathedral of sport and music now serves up entertainment to the people of Belgrade and the wider region on a regular basis. It has hosted Davis Cup Tennis, EuroLeague Basketball and concerts from Bob Dylan to Beyonce’.
This week, perhaps the most audacious event to take place got under way as it hosts the 2016 European Waterpolo Championships. Don’t ask me how you install a temporary Olympic size swimming pool in such a venue. Picture Madison Square Gardens or the O2 with a vast body of water, centre stage.
This in itself tells you the significance of waterpolo, as a sport, in this part of the world. The players are bona fide stars, perhaps without the financial rewards that can accompany sporting triumph. But what they may lack in earnings they often make up for in terms of integrity and respect in what can be a brutal sport.
The underwater "wedgie"
Sunday was the first day of the championships and who better to grace such an occasion than the hosts Serbia and their neighbours Croatia.
Top class Sport is hard enough on land, where last time I looked humans are supposed to live. What happens under the surface in this game, God only knows! But where swinging arms and legs grapple I think it may go beyond the odd underwater "wedgie".
Above the water these mountainous men, buckets for lungs, rise at full stretch to throw canon ball shots at the opposing goal. All the time fighting their opponents as well as the water to seemingly maintain control of possession if not their lives.
The game was fairly one sided and Serbia never looked like losing as they waltzed to a 13-6 victory. Given the considerable presence of armed police outside the arena, perhaps it's just as well. Tensions still ride high as evidenced by the barrage of whistling whenever Croatia had possession which, in true Serbian style, was matched only by the home crowd whistling at their own politicians during the opening ceremony.
Stripey-shirted twits straddling swimming horses
Before Sunday I understood little of waterpolo, but then again I suspect that many of my countrymen would imagine it to be a bunch of stripey-shirted twits straddling swimming horses.
Fortunately familiarity is not a prerequisite to the enjoyment of live sport. In the right circumstances the collective fervor of the crowd can elevate any sporting spectacle to something more than a competition of skill. It can become a quasi-religious experience for the viewer.
A close encounter would have made for an even better atmosphere, but on Sunday the crowd was like no other waterpolo match. But I'm a novice so don't take my word for it, for those are the words of Andrija Prlainovic, Serbian stalwart, world champion and mild mannered hero of his sport. Despite the consistent success of the Serbian national team crowds are relatively small for a sport that, for all its passionate regional following remains in the shadow of its louder and brasher rival for public attention, football.
On Sunday night, in a reduced Kombank Arena, 12 thousand people sat, stood, jumped and cheered incessantly, in front of a temporary swimming pool full of world-class athletes.
So if you get the chance to watch any sport live, even if you are unfamiliar with it, take that chance. One man’s trash is often another man's treasure. You might be that other man.