Meet the drunkest footballer EVER: Breakfast booze, night-long sessions and pre-game liquor
These days only bare walls are left of the Vila Rebar, one of the most mythical places on the outskirts of Zagreb. Situated on the Medvednica mountain overlooking the city, it was once a retreat for Ante Pavelic, leader of the Croatian fascist puppet-state in the Second World War.
Later it became a popular destination for hikers and housed a restaurant which remained famous until 1979, when fire swallowed all of its wooden fixtures and fittings, leaving only foundations and the basic stone structure at the mercy of weeds and graffiti artists.
But 12 years earlier, it was also the site of the most surreal accident in Croatian football history.
On a lovely morning in June 1967, the Vila Rebar guests were enjoying the sunshine and fresh air on an open terrace. However, this wasn’t a typical day for the people of Zagreb. The night before, their beloved Dinamo had done what had seemed impossible: after losing the first leg against Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0, they defeated the Germans 4-0 to reach the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
There awaited Don Revie’s mighty Leeds United. But the two final legs had been scheduled for late August and early September, so Dinamo had more immediate concerns – there were three more league matches to be played, and the Blues were title contenders. Over coffee or spritzer, people on the restaurant terrace discussed Dinamo’s chances. If they beat FK Sarajevo and won at least one of the remaining two away games, they would win the trophy that had eluded them for nine years.
Could he do without the Zagreb nightlife, which made him even more of a city icon than his on-pitch achievements?
Surely the team, re-energised after this fantastic, improbable win against the Germans, could do it? They had the best players – including Stjepan ‘Stef’ Lamza, the genius playmaker. Jack Charlton surely couldn’t stop him, let alone any defender in the Yugoslav league.
Lamza produced a magical display against Eintracht and the newspapers were full of praise for him. There were also rumours he’d leave for Inter, Milan or Barcelona. But could he do without the Zagreb nightlife, which made him even more of a city icon than his on-pitch achievements?
“Suddenly, there was all this commotion,” says Zvonko Orsag, an eyewitness at the Vila Rebar. “A man fell from the balcony upstairs onto the table next to where I was sitting. He hit it with his shoulder, rebounded off it and banged his head on the ground. We all jumped from our chairs.”
The man appeared conscious, but he wasn’t moving and his head was covered with blood. Every one of the terrace were horrified when they recognised his face. It was Lamza himself. His eyes were blinking uncontrollably and he reeked of alcohol.
It wouldn’t be the last time Dinamo were affected by their players’ drinking culture. In 2013, their Brazil-born fantasista Sammir spent the night in police custody when he was apprehended for driving drunk as a skunk the morning after partying all night.
In 2012, defender Domagoj Vida was thrown off the team bus for casually opening a can of beer in front of his coach. Later, tabloids broke the story of Jozo Gaspar, a club legend from the 1990s, stealing a credit card from the locker room of a lower-league club and using it to buy 36 bottles of Jagermeister.
There are many more examples from previous decades. One player was found intoxicated and passed out in his doorway before the team was due to depart for an important match. Another bragged to journalists: “I drank half of the city’s booze...”, while one player urinated in front of reporters on leaving the team bus at an away match.
"I was afraid"
But all that is nothing compared to what was happening in the 1960s, when Dinamo were a riot squad and won their only piece of continental silverware. Their story is soaked in alcohol and almost all anecdotes begin and end with Stef Lamza: probably the most boozed-up player of all time.
Born in 1940 in Sisak, 35 miles south-east of Zagreb, Lamza came to Dinamo as a 20-year-old. The team had just won the Yugoslav Cup and narrowly lost the title to Red Star. They also had Marton Bukovi, the Hungarian coach famous for pioneering the 4-2-4 formation and developing the role of the deep-lying centre-forward.
“I was afraid,” Lamza tells FFT, his piercing and dramatic blue eyes staring from behind white eyebrows and white moustache.
“To me, Dinamo players were like aliens – they were like these football gods and it took me a while to gather the courage and join them. They all had their rituals and I was left out as the youngest. I even had to knock on the door when I entered the locker room.”
The road to acceptance, it would seem, led through Zagreb’s bars and restaurants. It’s no secret that Dinamo players were, at that time, epic booze hounds, known as much for their all-night parties as they were for their football.
An urban legend has it that all taxi drivers had to drive them in reverse between two popular bars, because the players were keen to leave an impression: they were proud of their lifestyle and made little effort to hide it. And the fans appreciated them for it – the Zagreb crowd always preferred bohemian characters who played beautiful, technical football.