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 8th 2008)
While Dinamo players have been on the receiving end of racist abuse in Split, their fans have a hard-core reputation for hooliganism. It is a major problem in the former Yugoslavia. Bad Blue Boys – the uncompromising hooligans of Dinamo – followed their team all over Croatia and previously to every country in the former Yugoslavia.
Their fights with the Delije – their notorious counterparts of Red Star Belgrade – were fearsome. One clash in particular indirectly led to the war that resulted in the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but what caused this rivalry to spill over from the usual tribal fighting of football fans to fully fledged war?
In order to understand that it is necessary to examine the history of both clubs and the history of modern Yugoslavia.1
Josip Broz – later President Tito – holds the distinction of having successfully stood up to Adolf Hitler: Ante Pavelić’s fascist Ustaše and later Josef Stalin. However, his partisans rapidly avenged themselves on the remnants of the Ustaše. Atrocities occurred, but Tito was a Croat, who unusually believed in a federal ‘socialist’ republic of Yugoslavia.
Tito’s government allowed relatively free travel. Many Croats, for example, worked abroad and returned to Croatia to retire. He pursued a non-aligned ‘socialist’ policy and held the Yugoslav federation together with an iron fist. That involved using some thoroughly disreputable people to do so.2 Tito died in 1980.
A decade later Yugoslavia was on the point of the war that would dismember it and ultimately destroy it once and for all. It is no coincidence that violent football supporters of both Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb fanned the flames of that war.
Both clubs were formed after the Second World War and were bitter rivals – sharing many Yugoslav titles between them, before proceeding to dominate their own respective national leagues.
Rivalry Leading to War
Red Star was formed on March 4th 1945. They became a byword for Yugoslav football. They won twenty-five national titles up to 2007 – nineteen before the war. They have also won twenty-two national cups – twelve of them before the break up of Yugoslavia. That tally included five doubles as well.
After the break up of Yugoslavia Red Star competed in the league of the Federal Republic of Serbia and Montenegro. They won five league titles and nine cups, including the double four times. The inaugural season of the Serbian league, following Montenegro’s decision to end the federation, was 2006-07. They won the double again.
The Stars of Red Star
Fifty years ago disaster struck current European champions Manchester United. The Munich Air Disaster claimed the lives of eight of the Busby Babes. Their opponents in that tie were Red Star. It took Manchester United a decade to recover and beat Benfica in 1968. Red Star had a longer wait for European success. Nevertheless, they remain the only Yugoslavian team to have won the European Cup or its successor the Champions League.
They defeated Olympique de Marseille 5-3 on penalties to win the European Cup in 1991. One of the penalty-taking heroes, as far as Red Star is concerned, was the Croat, Robert Prosinečki – currently assistant to Slaven Bilić with the Croatian national team. Prosinečki is one of the few to have played for both Red Star and Dinamo.
Red Star honours their greatest players with the Star of Red Star. Only five have ever been awarded. The recipients are Rajko Mitić: Dragoslav Šekularac, Vladimir Petrović, Dragan Stojković and probably their greatest ever player Dragan Džajić. The last of the five to receive the honour was Stojković. He missed out on the European triumph because he left for Marseille that year.
Stojković later became President of Red Star. He wanted to bestow the sixth Star of Red Star on one of the European Cup winning team, Dejan Savićević. There was even talk of awarding the sixth star to the entire European Cup winning team. It hasn’t happened yet.
1 For further information on the history of Yugoslavia since the First World War see the series of articles The Birth of a Problem that was published by the magazine previously.
2Among the criminals that Tito’s régime utilised to eliminate opponents was a violent criminal named Željko Ražnatović. He would later be known as the genocidal warlord Arkan.