Persistent Problems (Part Three) – Bad Boys


Editorʼs Note:

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.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)


The formation of Dinamo Zagreb was more controversial. It was established at the end of World War II on June 9th 1945 following the punishing of pre-war Croatian clubs by the Yugoslav state by disbanding them and the traditions both footballing and culturally that they stood for. Three clubs in Zagreb – HAŠK,1 Građanski and Concordia – ceased existence at the end of the war.

Players from those clubs were split between Dinamo and Partizan Belgrade. Dinamo played in blue – the colour of Građanski. In 1969 Dinamo took a new emblem. Provocatively it was strikingly similar to that of Građanski. Nevertheless, the word Dinamo was associated with the previous government of President Tito and that led to name changes later, which were opposed tooth and nail by the traditionalists led by the club’s ultras, Bad Blue Boys.


They have won the Yugoslav championship nine times, although five of them were won by the previously disbanded clubs before the Second World War. Dinamo has already had greater success in the Croatian league with eleven titles. The national cup tells a similar story too – seven in Yugoslavia compared to nine in Croatia.

They never achieved the double in Yugoslavia, but have already bagged five in Croatia, including both of the last two seasons. They have almost achieved a monopoly on the Croatian league title, but the last time they won the Yugoslav title was in 1982 – a full decade before Red Star’s final triumph in that league. Their only European triumph was in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – now known as the UEFA Cup – in 1967, although they were runners-up in 1963.


Dinamo was again used for political purposes in the 1990s after the riot that contributed to the demise of Yugoslavia. Its name was changed to reflect the rise of Croatian nationalism. In 1992 it changed its name to HAŠK-Građanski, after two of the Zagreb clubs that were disbanded in 1945.

The following year the government of Croatian President Franjo Tuđman succeeded in getting the name changed again to Croatia Zagreb to reflect the image of Croatian nationalism that he favoured, but the team’s hardcore supporters, especially Bad Blue Boys never accepted Tuđman’s choice. They agitated until it was changed back to Dinamo Zagreb in February 2000.


The club’s academy is named after two former players with ties to the club – Ico Hitrec and Ratko Kacijan. Hitrec is a former HAŠK legend from the 1930s who embarrassed Spanish goalkeeping legend Ricardo Zamora – after whom La Liga’s goalkeeping award is named – with a brace against Real Madrid in 1931.

Hitrec is acknowledged as probably the best Croatian player in before World War II. He was also the first technical director of Dinamo. Meanwhile, Kacijan won the Yugoslav league with Dinamo in 1948. It was the new club’s first title. A decade earlier he won it with HAŠK. Dinamo is as important therefore tied to Croatia’s modern history and to its nationalism – warts and all.

1 HAŠK (Hrvatski Akademski Športski Klub) – Croatian Academic Sports Club – was founded in 1903.



Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:

These articles were originally published by us as one article. We have split the original into four  articles for ease of reading. We think it timely to remind readers, especially now, that football’s greatest tournament has been subject to political exploitation by despicable people previously. It is fitting that despite his interference Francisco Franco never lived to see Spain become the dominant force in football – consecutive European Championships and a World Cup – let alone benefit from it. There must be no return to such exploitation of the world’s most popular sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)


The South American challenge was weak. Argentina was enraged by the poaching of top players by Italy – the Oriundi – so they sent a weakened team to the 1934 World Cup in Italy. Uruguay, the defending champions were incensed by Italy’s boycott of their tournament four years earlier. They refused to defend their title. Brasil had yet to become Brasil.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini knew that despite the weakened field there were still European countries to deal with, so Mussolini left nothing to chance. There were scandals aplenty and that was before the controversy over Swedish official Ivan Elkind, who refereed the final.

Shameful Officiating

Spain drew Italy in the quarter final. The first match ended in a 1-1 draw, amid complaints that Belgian referee Louis Baert allowed the Italians too much latitude. Baert was a linesman in both the semi final and final, which were refereed by Elkind as well.

The rustic nature of their challenges in the first match, particularly on Spanish goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora1 caused him to have to miss the replay, which was even worse. It was so scandalous that the previously highly rated Swiss referee René Mercet was disgraced over it.

His refereeing was said to be so biased in favour of the Italians that the Swiss FA withdrew him from any further appointments for internationals. Just as Zamora had been persistently fouled by the Italians in the first game, Mercet allowed them to get away with it in the replay too.

Giuseppe Meazza benefited from yet another foul on the keeper to score the only goal of the match. Mercet was accused of shamefully favouring Italy and allowing the crowd to influence his decisions. Italy progressed to the semi final.

Bad to Worse

Elkind refereed it with Baert as one of the linesmen. Italy won 1-0 with a goal scored by Enrique Guaita.2 Elkind was appointed to referee the final. Mussolini still wasn’t satisfied. Leaving nothing to chance the dictator dined with the Swedish referee the night before the final. Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1.

Mussolini had his trophy. It was perhaps the most scandalous World Cup ever. Despite allegations of bribery and corruption against them over the 1934 World Cup, both Baert and Elkind enjoyed long careers as referees. Elkind refereed a total sixteen World Cup matches and Baert took a prestigious appointment with the Belgian FA after his retirement as a referee in 1952.

Basking in Undeserved Glory

Meanwhile, Mussolini basked in the glory of a World Cup triumph that allowed Italians to forget their problems while they celebrated. He also used the success to bolster the credibility of his government. Knowing what World Cup success could bring Mussolini wanted more of the same, but four years later as the world veered towards war he could not interfere as outrageously as had been achieved in 1934.

And Italy would have to win by fairer means in 1938. Nevertheless, they received some unexpected assistance. The threat of war resulted in some nations withdrawing early. The tournament was weaker than it should have been. And top European teams would miss it too. England apparently believed the World Cup was beneath them.


Spain was the first country to miss a World Cup due to war in 1938. The Spanish Civil War stopped international football, but not the Cup of Free Spain, which Valencian club Levante won. The World Cup continued without them. Austria – semi-finalists four years previously – qualified, but withdrew due to unification with Nazi Germany.

The Austrian Wunderteam was torn asunder by reunification and the ‘unified’ German team did not gel. It lacked Austria’s greatest player Matthias Sindelar. Rather than play for the Nazis Sindelar retired, claiming his age and injury and did so after thumbing his nose at the Nazis in a ʻunificationʼ match.



Sindelar was no Nazi and celebrated his goal against the Germans in that match in an exuberant manner. Sindelar had revolutionised forward play in the Wunderteam under legendary coach Hugo Meisl. Sindelar refused to play for Germany. He died in mysterious circumstances a year after the World Cup in France aged just 36. There was no shortage of conspiracy theories. Another pair of opponents had neutralised themselves.

Wringing Value

Mussolini was determined to wring whatever propaganda value he could from the defence of their title. The quarter final pitted the Italians against the host nation. Baert refereed the match with Elkind serving as one of his linesmen. The Italians wore the infamous black-shirts. It was highly provocative.

Nevertheless, Italy beat France 3-1. They faced a bizarrely chosen Brasil team in the semi-final, winning 2-1. Leading scorer and one of his country’s first super-stars Leônidas da Silva missed the match – possibly rested. His absence was attributed by some to interference by Mussolini, but that has never been verified.

Italian great Giuseppe Meazza scored the controversial winner from the penalty spot, but according to objective reports Italy deserved their win anyway. It was fitting that Brasil finally sent their strongest team to the World Cup, but somehow conspired to get tactics and selection wrong. Italy retained the trophy in 1938, beating Hungary 4-2 in the final. They were the best team, even though their physical approach, especially that of enforcer Luis Monti, had critics.

An Uncertain Future

World War II meant that there was no World Cup in 1942. It would probably have been held in Brasil. The world had other priorities in 1946. It was therefore unclear if would even be a World Cup ever again. Football and the World Cup survived. A World Cup in 1949 was mooted. The Superga Disaster ended that possibility. FIFA wanted Italy to defend their title, but after the tragedy Italy did not want to. They had to be persuaded to come, but the Azzurri were understandably deeply affected by Superga.


Brasil was chosen to host the next tournament, but insisted that it be held in 1950 rather than 1949 as FIFA originally intended. Germany was partitioned and originally banned. Football had not been organised in either East or most of West Germany at first anyway, so there was no German representation in Brasil in 1950.

Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans in 1944, so Italy – the defending champions – were permitted to come, but originally decided not to play in spite of FIFA’s offer to meet their expenses. However, Italy defended their title, but deeply affected by the Superga tragedy the Italian FA refused to allow their team to fly. Instead they sailed, depriving the squad of training opportunities.

They were the first World champions to go out in the first round after a woeful defence of their title even though there were exceptional circumstances. Not only had they suffered poor transportation, they has lost the flesh of a truly great team – il Grande Torino. Two years before the Superga Disaster that team contributed ten out of eleven starters for Italy. Not even the world champions could afford to lose that amount of talent.

The 1950 World Cup finals ensured that the tournament would continue. But twenty years later the hosts of the first post-war tournament would abuse the World Cup again for political ends, as another vile dictatorship would seek to profit from the World Cup.

1  The goalkeeping award in Spain’s La Liga is named after him. He became a controversial figure as he represented both Cataluña and Spain and accepted awards from both the Spanish republic and fascists. He also won trophies for both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

2Enrique Guaita: Raimundo Orsi and Luis Monti had previously played for Argentina.




Béla Guttmann – More Than The Curse

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 24th 2010)

The Return

Pioneering coach Béla Guttmann had proved a footballing nomad – in two decades of management admittedly interrupted by World War II – he had never stayed at the same club for more than two seasons. He had won titles, walked out on clubs in a fit of pique, or been sacked despite results, such as at AC Milan. However, Guttmann had influenced the play of one of the greatest international teams of all time, the Mighty Magyars before returning to Hungary and Honvéd.

After an uneventful spell in charge of Vicenza Guttmann rejoined Honvéd – a team he walked out on previously when his instructions were ignored – understandably. He found a team that was developing into a great side, containing many of the Mighty Magyars. Despite their previous differences Guttmann and Ferenc Puskás found a way to co-exist. Honvéd also boasted the talents of Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsics, József Bozsik, László Budai, Gyula Lóránt and Gyula Grosics as well as the legendary Puskás. It was an exceptional team, but it was overtaken by events.

An Historic Decision

Honvéd was drawn to play Athletic Bilbao in the European Cup. Political events overtook the tie as the Soviet Union sent tanks into Hungary to crush the Revolution. There were immediate ramifications for football as the Hungarian Football Federation was taken over by the Soviet Union. Honvéd’s players found themselves in an impossible position.

They narrowly lost 3-2 to Athletic in Spain and insisted that the return leg was not played in Hungary. They hastily the ‘home’ leg to be played in Belgium at the Heysel Stadium. They drew 3-3, which meant they went out 6-5 on aggregate, but that started a new chapter for the very talented team and Guttmann. The team refused to Hungary, preferring to tour Spain, Italy and Portugal instead. FIFA strongly objected. This was not FIFA’s finest hour.

Hungarian football – the country too – had been hijacked, but FIFA sided with the oppressor. Despite the strong condemnation of FIFA and the Hungarian Football Federation which was little more than a puppet to the new masters of the country, the players and Guttmann stood firm. They were determined not to return and did not. Instead they embarked on an unofficial tour. They played Spanish giants Barçelona and Real Madrid, acquitting themselves well.

So Wrong

FIFA ordered them not to use the name Honvéd and banned them. This should not have happened. This was a clear case of political interference in the administration of football. Subsequently other Federations have been suspended for far less and that should have happened to the Soviet Union’s Football Federation at that time too. Instead players were punished and a great club side and indeed national team was broken up, but for Honvéd there would be a swansong.

México invited Honvéd to join their league and offered them asylum too. Honvéd declined preferring to play Brasilian teams Botafogo and Flamengo instead. Once that tour ended the players returned to Europe. Honvéd was finished as a major force in European football before they had the chance to establish what a truly great team they were.

It should also be noted that Hungarian football had tolerated political interference that culminated in a pre-arranged atrocity five years earlier to prevent players trying to leave the country. Újpest defender and Hungarian international Sándor Szűchs was tricked and black-mailed by the State Police1 into a plan to flee. He was arrested and judicially murdered by the Hungarian State on June 4th 1951. It was and remains a crime against humanity. We shall highlight his story soon.


Puskás and his team-mates eventually joined other teams in Europe, or returned to Hungary. Some like Grossics played for other teams in Hungary. Having profoundly influenced Hungarian football Béla Guttmann remained in Brasil. He joined São Paulo, coaching them to the Paulista Championship in the season of 1957-58. Among the players he coached was future World Cup winner Dino Sani and Mauro Ramos, who was part of the 1958 Brasil Squad and lifted the World Cup in 1962.

The attacking style of football favoured by the Mighty Magyars under the great Gusztáv Sebes and at club level by Márton Bukovi and Guttmann led to Bukovi trying a new and revolutionary formation 4-2-4. Sebes adopted it for the national team and Guttmann used it too. He brought it to South America. Guttmann used it to win the Paulista Championship in his one season with São Paulo. The Brasilian national team under Vicente Feola who had been Guttmann’s predecessor and successor at São Paulo adopted the tactics. They succeeded and a footballing dynasty began in Sweden, thanks at least in part to Guttmann. The football world was at his feet. He would not disappoint.


1The headquarters of the ÁVH – the State Police – had previously been that of the fascist Arrow Cross Party. Between October 1944 and March 1945 the Arrow Cross thugs were responsible for an estimated 15,000 murders and 80,000 deportations to concentration camps. Its leader was tried and executed as a war criminal. The building that housed both vile organisations is now a museum demonstrating the brutality of both political systems.