Last time in Pyro On The Pitch (the flagship series here on the coincidentally named PyroOnThePitch.com) we looked at Balkan behemoths Hajduk Split and their historic Torcida group. Of course, Croatia is home to more than one infamously supported team and for fairness it is to Hajduk’s great national rivals of Dinamo Zagreb that we now turn, as well as their Italian hosts on the day Atalanta.
Starting with the home side in our featured match, 1976 was a pivotal year in the supporter culture history of Atalanta due to the foundation of the club’s first ultras group: Brigate Neroazzure (Black-Blue Brigade; BNA). With an organised support-base of that swung to the left, the BNA were later joined on the home Curva Nord by many other groups such as: Armata (Army); Biamo Persi (We Lost); Berghem Blues; Brigata Suicida (Suicide Brigade); Fellows; Nomadi (Nomads); Panthers; Ragazze Curva Nord (North Curve Girls), Sbandati (Stragglers); Stoned; Teste Matte (Dull Heads – stoners); and Wild Kaos, amongst others.
The amazing banner of "Ragazze Curva Nord" (North Curve Girls), Atalanta vs Genoa, Serie B, 14/06/1981.
As the club’s only initial appearance in continental competition was a Cup Winners’ Cup cameo in 1963, the new style of fan had to wait until the 1987/88 season to travel outside Italy when Atalanta’s 87 Coppa Italia win meant entry to the same UEFA competition. A great run – the highlight being a quarter-final victory over Sporting Lisbon, the same opposition who had caused elimination back in 63 – was only ended by eventual champions KV Mechelen in the semis, giving the hardcore support their most exciting year to date.
A sea of sparklers in the Curva Nord of Atalanta's Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia ahead of the Cup Winners' Cup quarter final-1st leg against Sporting Club, 01/03/88.
Supporters hold up the letters "SIAMO CON VI" (We are with you) during Atalanta's 2-0 UEFA Cup quarter-final victory over Sporting, the greatest European home night in the club's history, 01/03/88.
The following season, a 6th place finish in Serie A secured more European football with qualification for the UEFA Cup, although the club’s debut campaign in the competition was cut short with a 0-2 aggregate loss to Spartak Moscow in the First Round. In 89/90, the Bergamo-based side dropped a place in the league to 7th, but this was still enough to qualify for Europe; even 8th would have been enough as 4th place Juventus and 5th place Sampdoria were both entering the Cup Winners’ Cup as Coppa and CWC holders respectively, lowering the last UEFA Cup spot from 6th to 8th.
A banana display (presumably not racist) and text banner from Atalanta's ultras, with their team on their way to a UEFA Cup qualification league finish. Atalanta vs Roma, Serie A, 21/01/1990.
In comparison, Dinamo Zagreb held a rich continental tradition that dated back to 1958 when the club first represented Yugoslavia in the European Cup. Since then, many Cup Winners’ Cup and Inter-City Fairs/UEFA Cup appearances had come in the 60s, 70s and 80s, with another European Cup spot not achieved until 1982 (the middle of three successive eliminations in the first round of European competitions by the three big Portuguese clubs – Benfica in CWC 80/81; Sporting in EC 82/83; Porto in CWC 83/84).
Somewhat surprisingly (considering the mythical 1950 foundation date of Hajduk Split’s Torcida), the club’s main support group were not yet around for this period. But of course being one of the top Balkan sides, a passionate support base adequately encouraged the team even without an organised fan unit.
Dinamo Zagreb supporters ahead of a Yugoslav First League match against Red Star Belgrade, 1982.
In 1986 things changed forever with the founding of Dinamo’s most infamous support group, the Bad Blue Boys (BBB), who quickly demonstrated a propensity for pryo much like their hated Hajduk enemies. Unlike with Atalanta’s many ultra groups, BBB was an umbrella for different branches of support to come together under the same name, resulting in a lot of a BBB banners representing different areas of Zagreb at games.
Hell is unleashed by the BBB pyromaniacs, Dinamo Zagreb vs Hajduk Split, Yugoslav First League, 17/09/1989.
The club’s next appearance in Europe was the 88/89 UEFA Cup, defeating Beşiktaş before elimination at the hands of Stuttgart. The following year they would compete also, but without even getting to the first round – quite a feat in the days before qualification stages.
The odd situation had occurred due to the continuing ban on English teams following the Heysel disaster (it’s last season in place), meaning extra spots were up for grabs in continental competitions. To decide one of the places, two clubs from the nations of France and Yugoslavia, who were level in UEFA’s own ranking system, were selected for a play-off: 5th placed Ligue 1 side Auxerre, who would have missed out except for 3rd placed Monaco’s Cup Winners Cup entry as Coupe De France holders; and 5th from the Yugoslav First League Dinamo Zagreb, who only received the nomination due to 4th placed Hajduk Split’s European ban following to the events discussed in POTP#15.
Another pyro-fest courtesy of BBB during the Dinamo Zagreb vs Auxerre UEFA Cup preliminary round-1st leg match, 23/08/1989.
Despite the early elimination at the hands of Auxerre, Dinamo did progress that season by finishing second in the league behind Red Star Belgrade and hence returned to honorably securing a UEFA Cup spot rather than only thanks to the Hajduk and English club bans (this time that went to Partizan Belgrade who finished in 4th behind a Hajduk still in continental exile). The draw for the 90/91 tournament pitted Dinamo against, of course, Italy’s Atalanta, who’s first ever meeting with a club from a socialist state the previous year in Spartak was now followed by a second (although neither would be for long).
Thankfully for our needs, Dinamo fans (and perhaps Balkan folk in general) are great videographers, with two to three dedicated camera-fans present to record events before and during our featured match. One of these videos, which are now on YouTube, is over and hour and a half long and includes scenes from the BBB road trip to Bergamo. Well worth a watch on a lazy sunday afternoon withe family.
After making the 6+ hour journey from Zagreb to Bergamo, some Dinamo fans head for the stadium early to watch a light training section and erect a large flag. Even with the middle obscured, the colourscheme of red/white/blue indicates that it is the flag of Croatia, rather than the blue/white/red of the country Dinamo was officially representing, Yugoslavia (although pluralist elections had already taken place in the Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Croatia, the results of which indicated independence):
One supporter – clearly a BBB leader – chats with one of the youth players before being approached by, and shaking hands with, an older Dinamo staff member:
The same supporter makes a speech to some of his fellow hardcore fans (one of whom looks slightly out of place) in which he says something along the lines of “Let’s go to that lake, if someone fucks with us, we’ll fight them, if the players don’t give a fuck about us, and we came two days early, we’ll go against everyone”:
So from this was can gather that some fans had in fact already been in town for a couple of days. As the supporters take down their flag and leave the stadium for now (presumably heading for a lovely lake) elsewhere in the city more Croatian flags are paraded through various tree-lined boulevards:
As fans make their way towards Atalanta’s ground, there is more than one instance of pyro on the pavements:
Some skirmishes with local police also occur, including running battles in the car park of outside the away sector of the stadium:
Some who are already inside lend their assistance from an excellent vantage point:
Those who do make it inside begin adorning the sector in Dinamo banners and Croatian flags. There are many reference to BBB, but also separate or sub-group called Total Chaos are represented:
With kick-off growing close and the stand filling up, bar those who had been apprehended outside, the atmosphere grows:
It quickly becomes clear that the passionate Dinamo fans display more ultra-actions before the players even come out that most club’s fans do during an entire match:
One supporter can be seen in a Glasgow Celtic shirt, presumably in reference to the Catholic faith shared by many Croatians and, traditionally, Celtic fans:
On the other side, another gives a salute that most likely be met with disgust by the quite left identifying Celtic hardcore:
And in the background, a Union Jack – in theory a representation of many who would find the Nazis and/or Celtic abhorrent, but used as a right-wing symbol in many eastern European countries at the time – completes the trifecta, demonstrating the unique complexities of supporter culture symbolism and ideology:
The TV broadcast opens displaying the beautiful crests of both sides, which incidentally both feature left-to-right diagonal divides, in rectangular form:
Cutting to to the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia – Blue Athletes Stadium of Italy, a ground ironically built and associated with the Mussolini era – a nice view of some downtown Bergamo architecture sets the backdrop as the player profiles are flashed on screen:
The cameras also catch the away fans at a rather uncharacteristically subdued moment:
At Curva Nord, with the banners of groups such as the aforementioned Wild Kaos at the back of the stand and BNA and Teste Matte at the front, a ginormous blue and black crowd-cover emerges and unravels upwards from the bottom of the section as the players are about to walk out:
One Croatian camera-wizard gets an excellent shot of this through the fence at the other end:
The players walk up a flight of stairs from the deep, mysterious labyrinth beneath the pitch and proceed to a superfluous, white tunnel for sponsorship purposes that extends far onto the grass. On cue, red glares and smoke begin to light up the home end:
The two teams finally emerge into daylight just as many flares come raining down onto the pitch:
Thanks to the tunnel’s length, the players are safely out of range from the firestorm, suggesting that perhaps the purpose of the tunnel wasn’t merely for ad-space after all but also protection from such events as this:
The pyro is quickly cleared from the pitch and the massive crowd-cover retracted, but the Atalanta ultras aren’t done yet. A just as impressive spectacle is next as huge mass of blue smoke engulfs the entire end:
All seems suspiciously quite in the away section as the game begins, but less that ten minutes later the suspicions are confirmed. Another inferno erupts from the Dinamo faithful and many of the flares are quickly sent pitchward:
The referee has no choice but to stop the match as the hot-hail continues:
As the rest of the stadium waits around in annoyance, or probably more like bemusement from the ultras, the travelling supporters relish their pyro party in Bergamo:
A fearless photographer and coach confront the disruptives, casually side stepping the very real threat of the flares raining down around them in a way that demonstrates years of experience with such fans:
As other rush to help remove the hazards, one Dinamo player uses his skills as a professional football to kick a flare away:
Others simply watch on in mild concern:
Soon though, concern levels probably do rise as it becomes apparent that several fires have started; unsurprising considering the sheer scale of pyro still being launched:
Some of the away fans’ banners have been destroyed by the heat of their own flares, but the memories will last a lifetime:
One flare lands a little too closer to some of the home fans in the main grandstand, prompting several frustrated hand gestures:
Most BBB and the rest of the Dinamo fans care little however, including at least on pensioner as seen below enjoying the festive scenes. More supporters can be seen capturing the magic moment including both photo cameras…:
…and large camcorder, perhaps even one of the those who filmed some of the very gifs we are using:
As the referee walks over to inspect the situation with the clock just past ten minutes, a graphic displaying the time and 0-0 scoreline reveals an oversight with the inversion of Dinamo’s crest/flag for presentation purposes – Binamo?
With the flares finally all burned out, the Croats continue following the home fans lead by now unleashing some smoke in yellow and purple:
Inevitably, some of this also ends up on the pitch right in front of an Atalanta group banner for the “Fedelissimi”, Loyalists – an incredibly common title used used by fans of most clubs in Italy:
Both sets of supporters are now fully out of ammo and it proves to be the high point of the match, which ends in a scoreless draw.
While the return leg in Zagreb deserves it’s own specific look, needless to say there was plenty more pyro from the soon to be free Croatians in attendance. One player who had already been involved in a pivotal event in the lead-up to the war of independence, Boban, scored to make it 1-0, but an equalisier shortly thereafter was enough to give Atalanta the tie on away goals.:
The game would turn out to be the last that Dinamo Zagreb would play under that name as a Yugoslav club. In the following season’s competition, they competed as HAŠK Građanski, reflecting the clubs original identity of “HŠK Građanski” (First Croatian Citizens’ Sports Club) in 1911, before becoming the unpopularly titled Croatia Zagreb by the time of the 93/94 Champions League, but doing so as the first side from an – by then – independent Croatia to compete at Europe’s highest level.
Atalanta vs Genoa, 1981
Atalanta vs Sporting, 1988
Dinamo Zagreb vs Red Star Belgrade, 1982
Dinamo Zagreb vs Hajduk Split, 1989
Dinamo Zagreb vs Auxerre, 1989
Atalanta vs Roma, 1990
Atalanta vs Dinamo Zagreb, 1990
Atalanta vs Dinamo Zagreb, 1990
BBB in Bergamo A, 1990
BBB in Bergamo B, 1990