We first published this series of articles six years ago. Then as now the aim is to develop an understanding of how that nationʼs history and experience contributed to the development of what has become a major problem in its football – one that threatens to tarnish Croatiaʼs experiences on the pitch. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th – the opening match of Brasilʼs second World Cup. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)
The new Croatia is a comparatively young country. It had been conquered by Celts and ancient Greeks, before the Romans subdued what was then known as Dalmatia and Pannonia in 168 BC. It was ruled by the Western Empire until the final collapse of the Roman Empire.
It then passed into the hands of the Huns and Ostrogoths. The Byzantines replaced them before the ancestors of the Slavs settled the land in the seventh century. The Croats continued to settle the land which was organised into two duchies – Littoral Croatia and Pannonian Croatia.
In the middle of the ninth century Duke Trpimir I, expanded his domain. His nineteen year rule ended in 864. Christianity became entrenched as the dominant religion to such an extent that Duke Branimir was given the title Dux Croatorum by Pope John VIII in 879. Croatia’s pre-history was almost at an end.
The Kingdom of Croatia
The Kingdom of Croatia would emerge within half a century. Tomislav ruled from 910-928 – the vast majority as Dux Croatorum. He succeeded in uniting the two Croatian duchies into one state and was crowned the first King of Croatia in 925. He expanded the kingdom as well.
The Croatian Kingdom reached its zenith during the rule of Petar Krešimir IV. He died in 1074. Within thirty years of his death Croatia would once again come under foreign rule.
The Battle of the Gvozd Mountain saw the Hungarian King Coloman emerge victorious. In 1102 Croatia recognised him as King of Hungary and Croatia. It marked the beginning of almost a millennium of foreign rule that suppressed Croatian aspirations.
Hungarian rule officially lasted until 1526, although in 1409 the Angevins sold all of Dalmatia to Venice. After the defeat of the Hungarian King Louis II in 1526 the Hapsburgs, Venice and Ottomans vied with each other to seize what they could.
Bosnia came under Ottoman rule in this period. It is still a predominantly Muslim country thanks to their influence. The first defeat of the Ottomans in Croatia occurred at the Battle of Sisak in 1593. Much of the territory lost to the Ottomans in previous skirmishes was regained, except for the land in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Perhaps this explains Croatia coveting Bosnian territory in the war of 1991-95 as well as Serbia.
The Ottomans were forced out of both Croatia and Hungary in the early eighteenth century. By the end of that century, 1797 to be precise, the Venetian Republic collapsed. Austria then squabbled with France for possession of former Croatian land. The Austrians emerged victorious in 1815 thanks to the final defeat of Napolèon Bonaparte.
Austria controlled Dalmatia and Istria, while Croatia and Slavonia came back under Hungarian influence. That century marked the beginning of the emergence of Croatian nationalism, based around the Croatian language and culture. The following century would be the defining one, not just for Croatia, but its neighbours too. It also played a part in Croatiaʼs football history and the problems it now faces.