Brothers in armed conflict: Why Dinamo Zagreb vs Hajduk Split is more than a game

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Getting an alternative viewpoint is not so straightforward. “I can’t talk on the phone,” says Bogdan Urukalo of the Bad Blue Boys. “The cops will be tracing this line. And I can’t meet you in ‘Shit’ either. The police will be on our trail and you won’t be able to get near us. It’s best if you meet us somewhere outside the city before we head to the stadium. I’ll e-mail you.”

Three years ago, a convoy of Dinamo fans was ambushed by the Torcida. When Dinamo fans in one car refused to get out, flares were thrown inside, leaving them no option but to evacuate

Three hours before kick-off, FourFourTwo is in a quiet café in a sleepy village 20 miles outside Split. Inside, Bogdan and three pals are drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. “This will have to be quick,” he says anxiously. “We could be attacked at any minute. We’ve hired cars with Split number plates so there’s less chance of the police trailing us, but you never know.”

Their fears are understandable. Three years ago, a convoy of Dinamo fans was ambushed by the Torcida. When Dinamo fans in one car refused to get out, flares were thrown inside, leaving them no option but to evacuate. Shocked and dazed, the four supporters were then badly beaten.

But if ambushing cars is an increasingly common tactic – and it is – so too is pre-emptive action by the police. Driving back from our pre-match meeting with the Bad Blue Boys, the news on the radio is that 20 Torcida members have been arrested and detained in dawn raids. They won’t be at the match tonight. Bogdan will and, in our brief interview, he sums up his thoughts on the derby. “They’re jealous of us. We’ve won more Croatian league titles than them and have more money than them.”

The Bad Blue Boys

Crossing the divide

Dinamo’s superior financial muscle has often lured Hajduk’s best players to the capital, but the most notorious move between the clubs, in January 2005, saw Niko Kranjcar move the other way. Kranjcar was not just Dinamo captain, he was a product of their youth team and the son of famous Dinamo player and coach Zlatko.

When Nico Kranjcar joined Hajduk from Dinamo, the Bad Blue Boys lit 200 blue candles in a ‘D’ shape outside his home with a banner saying ‘To us, you are already dead’

It’s difficult to grasp how much of a stink his departure caused. The Bad Blue Boys told the midfielder, now with Portsmouth, that he’d never be safe walking the streets of Zagreb and, just in case he didn’t get the message, lit 200 blue candles in a ‘D’ shape outside Kranjcar’s home with a banner saying, ‘To us, you are already dead’.

Yet Kranjcar, who admits to “getting really caught up in the rivalry”, still believes the move was justified. “Dinamo had been playing badly for six months and everybody blamed me,” he explains. “I didn’t agree and I didn’t agree when they cut my salary. The vice-president then said I wasn’t wanted anymore, so what could I do? I could have moved to Russia but it was two years before the World Cup and I wanted to keep playing in Croatia.”

In Split, 10,000 Hajduk fans turned up at his unveiling and Kranjcar was an instant hit with the Torcida. Yet as he reflects on his days in Croatia, Kranjcar puts his finger on one of the more intriguing elements of the rivalry between Hajduk and Dinamo. “There’s too much violence and hatred,” he says. “We’re the same people from the same country – I don’t know why we can’t have the same goals in life.”

Familiarity breeding contempt

Strip away the mutual hatred, and the Torcida and the Bad Blue Boys are very similar creatures. One common theme is an alarming level of anti-Semitism and racism.

It should hardly come as a surprise given that 60 Croatia fans created a human swastika in the stands during a friendly against Italy last August, yet seeing the Nazi symbol daubed outside the Poljud Stadium and talking to members of the Torcida with ‘Eighty-Eight 88’ T-shirts on (the number represents the letters HH which means Heil Hitler) is still disconcerting.

And Dinamo’s supporters are just as bad. “Hajduk are Croatian nationalists, they’re right-wing, just like we are,” says Bogdan. “We don’t care for black people, Arabs, Jews or Serbs because thankfully they don’t live in our country.” 

Dinamo were almost relegated two seasons ago, but it wouldn’t be the same without them. We just want to see them playing s**t

- Torcida member Ivan Pupacic

His comments back up the theory that the rivalry is formed out of necessity rather than a genuine mutual hatred. You can’t help thinking that if football reverted to an Adriatic League, as there is in basketball, comprising teams from the former Yugoslav state, the Serbs would return to being the enemy. 

Until then, the Torcida and the Bad Blue Boys will have to be happy hating and fighting each other. Torcida member Ivan Pupacic even admits he wouldn’t want to see Dinamo relegated. “They were almost relegated two seasons ago, but it wouldn’t be the same without them. We just want to see them playing shit.”

Niko Kranjcar hugs his former teammates

With the best Balkan players playing abroad, interest in domestic football isn’t exactly flourishing in this part of the world and even derby matches can fail to live up to their billing. A week ago, Red Star and Partizan contested Belgrade’s ‘eternal derby’ in front of 21,000 fans, just half the capacity of the Stadion Partizana, while only 8,000 attended last season’s cup semi-final between the two sides.

World's Greatest Derbies

But there are no such concerns 200 miles away in Split. Half an hour before kick-off, the 45,000 capacity Poljud Stadium is jammed solid. The only empty seats are either side of the 2,000 Dinamo supporters, flanked by two lines of heavily-armed police. The stadium is a sea of flags, flares and banners and the noise is deafening.

Slaven Bilic is watching the game with his nine-year-old son, Leo, from the safety of the VIP area, but there isn’t much to encourage the national team coach. It’s a scrappy affair, blighted by mistakes and play-acting. Hajduk look particularly nervous, and who can blame them? Their fans may be renowned for their loyalty, but it comes at a price. 

When Hajduk lost a Champions League qualifier, fans broke into the stadium, dug 11 graves on the pitch in a 4-4-2 formation and left a banner saying ‘Be league champions or you’re dead’

The Torcida expect success. When Hajduk lost to Irish champions Shelbourne in a Champions League qualifier in 2004, fans broke into the Poljud Stadium, dug 11 six-foot deep graves on the pitch in a 4-4-2 formation and left a banner saying, ‘Be league champions or you’re dead’.

Tonight, the only players who seem capable of rising above the dross are Dinamo’s Luka Modric and Eduardo da Silva. Every time Brazil-born Croatia international Eduardo gets the ball, a chorus of monkey chants fill the air, but he seems oblivious.

Meanwhile, the rest of the players are more intent on fighting than winning. Seventeen minutes in, a couple of hefty challenges prompt a ruck involving all 20 outfield players. Seven minutes later, the match explodes again with Hajduk’s coach, Zoran Vulic, also getting involved. How nobody is sent off yet is anyone’s guess.

Then, on the half-hour, Hajduk take an undeserved lead from a dodgy-looking penalty, Mario Carevic converting from 12 yards. Cue the lighting of a dozen or so flares. Five minutes before half-time, the stadium still engulfed in smoke and the choking smell of sulphur, Eduardo waltzes past four Hajduk defenders and is up-ended in the box: another penalty, another goal.

Eduardo celebrates by kissing his Dinamo badge and running directly towards the Hajduk fans, who respond with more monkey chants and a hail of mobile phones.

Flares are lit as Dinamo play Hajduk

In the second half, another 20-man brawl ends in Carevic’s dismissal and the visitors capitalise when Davor Vugrinec stabs home from five yards after a well-worked move: 2-1 to Dinamo. 

Up in the VIP area, Dinamo staff are on the receiving end of torrents of abuse, including one skinhead accusing the club president of paying the referee, but with eight minutes to go, it’s the Hajduk fans who are indebted to the official Drazenko Kovacic when he awards their side a second dubious penalty.

The Poljud Stadium is said to be earthquake-proof and it needs to be when Pablo Munoz converts the penalty. The whole place trembles and the fireman whose job it is to put the burning flares into buckets of water is soon working overtime. 

A bus carrying Dinamo fans is pelted with bricks and stones, smashing all its windows; this is “nothing special” for derby day

As the final whistle blows and fans stream out into the streets, FourFourTwo reflects on a classic derby, low on quality but with four goals, three penalties and one red card, played in an electric atmosphere. In the next day’s newspapers, the game enjoys front and back page coverage.

Almost as prominent as the scoreline is the arrest count – ‘Torcida 30, Bad Blue Boys 9’ reads one headline. The only major off-field incident occurs when a bus carrying Dinamo fans is pelted with bricks and stones, smashing all its windows, but according to Torcida member Ivan Pupacic, this is “nothing special” for derby day. 

On the field, the result means the sides stay level on points at the top of the Croatian championship. Going into the winter break, the title race is, again, between the country’s big two. There will be a lot at stake when the sides meet in Zagreb on February 24. Bogdan Urukalo, for one, has the date ringed in red in his diary. 

“We wait the whole year for this match,” he says, excitedly, like a child talking about Christmas. “I’m already thinking about what we will do for the next derby, it’s in my head all the time, I can’t wait.” 

This feature originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe!

World's Biggest DerbiesMore Than a Game