RIVALRY SERIES: DINAMO ZAGREB vs. HAJDUK SPLIT, ETERNAL DERBY
Updated: Feb 1
This article was originally published on November 27th, 2019.
The near 16,000 fans that packed into the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, may not have received the best product on the field, with a drab 1-1 tie.
Despite this event is known around the world to be home to one of the best atmospheres available in the world of soccer.
Fans often make the stadium shake and flood the stadium with a sea of smoke coming from red flares, that despite being officially banned are smuggled into the stadium. This fan behavior creates a mystical quality missing in other soccer matches.
Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split are two of the biggest clubs in the Croatian First Football League and their rivalry can be traced all the way back to the 1920s.
The two teams were once part of the Yugoslav Big Four alongside Serbian clubs Red Star and Partizan Belgrade. However, since Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the rivalry has received a shot in the arm.
Since the Croatian First Football League began in 1992, a year after the country's independence, the two sides have dominated winning 26 of 28 titles. Along with dominating their domestic league Dinamo and Hajduk have also won 21 of the 28 available Croatian domestic cups.
In 1911, the club Građanski was founded in Zagreb by Andrija Mutafelija and a few of his friends in response to rumors that a soccer team that was meant to play in the Hungarian football league, rather than a local league, was about to be created.
Građanski was founded to be a multi-sports club with a distinctly Croatian identity intended to cater to citizens of Zagreb, with sections dedicated to football, handball, and cycling.
Građanski managed to survive both World Wars. However, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the club was disbanded by the new Yugoslavian communist government and had its archives destroyed in retribution for competing in the wartime fascist-sponsored football league.
Three days after Građanski was disbanded, a new sports club was founded, called FD Dinamo. When the soccer section was added a number of Građanski's old players and front office staff moved to the new team. The team would also go on to adopt a badge that strongly resembled the Građanski crest.
Dinamo would enter the Yugoslav First League in its inaugural 1946–47 season and finished runners-up, five points behind champions Partizan. In the following 1947–48 season, Dinamo won their first trophy after winning the Yugoslav championship with five points ahead of Hajduk Split and Partizan.
Dinamo would go on to become the first-ever Yugoslavian side to win a European competition, after defeating Leeds United in the final of the 1967 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
After Croatia gained independence, Dinamo was part of the initial season was played in 1992. The same year, the club would controversially change its name to HAŠK Građanski, and another name change followed in 1993 when the club was renamed to Croatia Zagreb, a move designed to distance the club from its communist past.
As Croatia Zagreb, the club won six Croatian championships, of which five were won in a row from 1996 to 2000.
However, the name change never sat well with the clubs supporters, leading to the club renaming themselves back to Dinamo Zagreb in 2000.
Success continued to follow as Dinamo Zagreb went on to win eleven league titles in a row from the 2005/06 season through to the 2015/16 season.
The club was the brainchild of a group of students from the city of Split, who were currently residing in Prague (both cities were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time). It was decided after attending a match between Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague, that on their return to Split they should launch their own professional club.
It would be an old professor of the students Josip Barač who would coin the name Hajduk, Split, explaining that the name Hajduk symbolized “that which is best in our people: bravery, humanity, friendship, love of freedom, defiance to powers, and protection of the weak.”
In 1911, the club would play its first game a 9-0 victory over Calcio Spalato. As the club gathered a supporter base they started to receive support from the Croat unionists who supported the reunification of Croatian provinces and against Austrian-Hungarian rule. The club would also utilize the Croatian checkerboard on their badge, a symbol of the medieval Trpimirović Dynasty that had ruled Croatia in the 9th century, highlighted their support of Croat nationalism. The club's image and their message began to turn heads within the empire and the monarchy considered disbanding the club, this decision was only stopped by the argument that soccer is helpful in training soldiers. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the formation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Hajduk would enter the Yugoslav league in 1923. By the late 1920s the club would see its first period of glory, winning their first two Yugoslav championships in 1927 and 1929. During World War II, Yugoslavia was invaded, occupied and carved-up by the Axis powers, with Split being annexed directly into Italy. The occupying Italian Fascists would offer the club the ability to play in the Italian league. Members of the club unanimously decided to disband the club, rather than let the club fall into Italian hands. As the city was liberated by Allied forces the local area became a haven for the resistance, which prompted the clubs rebirth, in 1944. The club began playing as the official soccer team of the Yugoslav resistance, competing against other Allied service teams. This included a friendly match against the British Army in Bari, Italy, which saw 40,000 spectators watch Hajuk lose 7-2. After the war was over Yugoslavia fell under communist rule and Hajduk was invited by the communist party to move to the Yugoslav capital Belgrade and become the official Yugoslav People's Army team. Hadjuk would refuse, stating that they could not detach themselves from the city of Spit. The decision would lead to the creation of one of their biggest future rivals Partizan Belgrade. The club did, however, change its badge to a red star logo to conform with the communist government. The years following the war the club would return to winning ways in the Yugoslavian league. This included going the entire 1950 season undefeated, a record that other teams failed to accomplish before the breakup of Yugoslavia 40 years later. The 1950s would also see the first organized supporters' group in Europe being created by Hajduk fan Vjenceslav Žuvela. The group called the Torcida utilized the slogan 'Hajduk lives forever‘ to demonstrate the unbreakable bond between the club and its supporters. The Communist authorities began to see the Torcida as a potentially hostile organization, that could pose a risk to the national consciousness of the Yugoslavian state. The political authorities began to affect the league in a bid to prevent the club from achieving success, this included imposing sanctions on club owners and imprisoning players. As the Yugoslav Wars began to kick off in 1991 the club restored their traditional emblem with the checkerboard, omitting the red star and sparking massive crowd celebrations upon its return. As the new Croatian league began in 1992 Hadjuk began strong winning three of the first four league titles, before falling behind rivals Dinamo Zagreb. In 2012, poor management from club presidents meant that the club fell into a financial crisis, with more than 100 million kunas ($15 million) in debt. Supporters formed a line in front of the City Hall to convince town leaders to loan the club €4 million ($4.4 million). Now a group of board members, fans and city officials have an equal say in the running of the club, and much of the responsibility is shared.
As the performance gap has grown between the two teams on the field, the bitterness and the lingering threat of violence have remained. In 2004, a car of Dinamo fans was ambushed and flares were thrown inside to force them out into the open to be systematically beaten. After Hajduk suffered one defeat around the same time, a group of supporters broke into Hajduk'd stadium and dug 11 graves into the pitch. In 2010, violence inside Dinamo's Maksimir stadium spilled onto the streets. In the running battles between supporters and with police, one officer lost his eye and a fan was shot in the stomach. In recent years over 40 police and riot vans along with countless private security guards patrol an area outside the away supporters sections. When Dinamo supporters visit Hajduk police vehicles are used to guide supporters to the ground from a designated area at the edge of the city. United
However, for everything that divides these two teams, there is plenty that unites them. One thing that unites the fans is their hatred of the country's soccer establishment. Both sets of fans believe there are individuals who have left the Croatian soccer leagues severely underfunded. The hatred is aimed at two main figures Davor Šuker, a former superstar forward turned president of the Croatian Football Federation, and former chief executive of Dinamo Zagreb, Zdravko Mamic. Many have accused Davor Suker of being a front for Zdravko Mamic, who is officially a soccer agent, offering him the ability to become the true power broker of Croatian soccer. Upon seizing power at Dinamo, he proclaimed that the Blues would be champions for the next 10 years. This promise was kept as Zagreb marched to eleven titles in a row. Under Mamic’s management, Dinamo became a financially stable club, their annual budget began dwarfing those of all the other teams in the league. A lot of this is helped by the club receiving the opportunity to regularly play in the Champions League or in the Europa League group stages and they sell their players for figures other Croatian clubs could only dream about. Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Eduardo, Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic and Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic were all sold by Dinamo. The club received more than $60 million in transfer fees just for those four players. Despite the ability to create a strong Dinamo many of the club's fans turned on their chief executive, with fans taking every opportunity to protest against him. Most of this stems from the fact that the club is legally a citizens’ association, which means it receives public funding and is exempt from paying income tax, which means it is meant to be run for the benefit of the people. Despite this, the club was instead being run as a family business, with Mamic and his lawyers using various bureaucratic trickery to prevent free elections for the Board and preserve his hold over the club. Mamic would also sign "civilian contracts" with highly-rated players in the club's youth academy. This would force players to share a percentage of their future career earnings with him. Luka Modric is one of these players, due to the contract is required to give up 20% of his salary to Mamic. Mamic was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for transfer fraud in 2018 and subsequently fled to exile in Bosnia. No matter how much success Mamic brought to Dinamo, the clubs supporters will never forgive him feeling they were robbed of their identity. In 2013, Torcida and Bad Blue Boys, the ultras of both teams, came together in an act of defiance against alleged mismanagement by football authorities, a lot of the issues caused by Mamic. They stood on the same terraces for two matches and marched through Zagreb together to protest.
As Hadjuk begins to redevelop itself after years of bad management and Dinamo have freed themselves from the clutches of the rivalry looks to be receiving a newfound passion. Come rain or shine, win or lose, the volume of the voices and the raw emotion in the supporter's chants towards the away end will never change. "If you don't become the new champion," the Torcida sing, "Torcida will mourn, we'll forgive you. Because all of us still know that you're the best, and so we'll never turn our backs on you."