Pyro On The Pitch #16: Atalanta vs Dinamo Zagreb, UEFA Cup First Round-1st Leg, 19/09/1990

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.

Background

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 eliminated 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.

The Match

Bergamo, 19/09/1990:

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.

Aftermath:

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.

*

YouTube Links:

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

*****

Pyro On The Pitch #15: Hajduk Split vs Olympique Marseille, Cup Winners’ Cup, 05/11/1987

In the last edition of the aptly named Pyro On The Pitch series we finally got around to covering some Italo-pyro, although an Italian pitch was subject to flares in an early “modern” installment also – just not at the hands of Italians.

Like Italy, our main subjects in this episode have a rich history of football-related disobedience, and they just happen to be the Balkan “cousins” of those who caused a mess in Genoa in 2010. They were last seen back POTP#11 and, as promised then, we now return to take a closer look at those crazy and courageous Croatians (or Yugoslavs as they were then) of Hajduk Split (with a healthy dose of the southern France thrown in too).

Background:

The story begins way back at the 1950 World Cup, when among the 199,854 spectators in Maracana Stadium for the final were a group of Croat-Yugoslav sailors and students. Amazed by the colour, noise and co-ordination of the home Brazilian fanatics, the young men took inspiration and decided to borrow the Portuguese name for the supporter groups they had witnessed: ‘torcida’, meaning “crowd” in English.

Thusly, upon returning to their homeland, a “Torcida” for their own club – Hajduk Split – was organised, with the aim of replicating the passion of South American supporters to spur on the team. The league opener against Red Start Belgrade on October 29th, 1950, was the official debut of the group, making them the oldest of their kind in Europe.

The name fell out of use over the coming years, but was revived at the start of the 1980s by young supporters with a new verve for terrace culture. The revival was the culmination of the the previous decade, which had seen a new rise in flags, banners and chants on the east stand of Hajduk’s old Stadion Stari Place, soon to be replaced by the new Stadion Poljud in 1979.


Hajduk Split's Torcida in full-effect vs Dinamo Zagreb, Yugoslav First League, 09/05/80.

Meanwhile, only a year after Torcida formed in 1950, an equally-momentous event had occurred in Italy as Torino’s Fedelissimi Granata (“Maroon Loyalists”) were born – considered to be the godfathers of the ultras. The movement properly picked-up in the 70s with an explosion of tifo-action across the country, now with the “Ultras” moniker as a handy catch-all title for the like-minded groups.

Soon, the concept was adopted by supporters in other countries, as evident by the naming of Real Madrid’s Ultras Sur in 1980 (although Sevilla’s Biris Notre came first in Spain having been founded in 1975). With Italy and Spain now accounted for, it’s seems natural that the one people who bordered both – the French – wouldn’t be too far behind.

The characteristics of ultra-culture were already well established in France by the early 80s, but in 1984 Olympique Marseille would officially lead the way with the formation of Commando Ultra’ 84. As seen in our recent Football Special Report on Euro 84, the club’s Stade Veledrome was also used to passion and pyro on the international stage, as well as domestic.


Home fans celebrate the last minute extra-time winner in a packed Stade Veledrome at France vs Portugal, Euro 84 semi-final, 23/06/84.

That very same year, Hajduk Split had managed to put together their greatest European run of all-time and made it to the UEFA Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur. In England at the time, awe-inspiring masses of flags weren’t uncommon on the terraces (although more and more limited to the Cup by the 80s), but the English players may have been less equipped to deal with the exoticism of the flares let off by the likes of Split supporters on big continental nights.




Flags and a flare from Hajduk Split vs Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA Cup semi final-1st leg, 25/04/84.

From this match can be seen several Yugoslav flags among the Split support, showing that Hajduk was still very much a Yugoslavian-identifying team. The tie is most notable, however, for one of the most bizarre non-football, football related incidents of all time – one which animal-lovers (specifically cockerel-lovers) may want to skip-past reading.


Hajduk Split fans displaying a Yugoslavia flag at the match vs Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA Cup semi final-1st leg, 25/04/84.

Before kick-off at the first-leg in Split, a Torcida member ran on to the field clutching a live cockerel (grabbed from a local bar, which in itself tells it’s own story), as seen on the badge of their opponents, and proceeded to break it’s neck. Recounting events years later, the over-enthusiastic fan embodied a general sense of disgust with perceived English arrogance and had spontaneously (perhaps drunkenly) decided to make a symbolic point, while also manifesting his love for Hajduk through the majesty of bestial sacrifice.

UEFA were not at all impressed by the stunt, issuing a hefty fine to the club and banning the stadium from hosting international matches for three years, while Hadjuk themselves were forced to play in Osijek the following season against Dynamo Moscow. Now a lawyer and wracked with guilt, the supporter responsible has since apologised for his actions, having originally made it off the pitch unhampered (whether he left the poor bird laying on the grass or brought it back to the stands is unknown).

Over in France – by chance home of the cockerel – Marseille’s ultras had been making their presence felt in the stands, with a late 1986 home game against PSG being one of the earliest examples of the amazing colour and chaos created in the Velodrome. The game also gives us a good look at some unique numbering of the back of L’OM’s jerseys, which are also uniquely surrounded by “houses” due to the club’s property-based sponsors at the time Maison Bouygues.




CU'84 banner and flags followed by a huge pyro display from Marseille's ultras vs PSG, Division 1, 28/11/86.

The unusual numbering style seen on the back of Marseille's 86/87 Adidas shirt.

As the dynamic new supporter culture continue to grow, CU’84 were joined on the terraces of the Velodrome in 1987 by the groups “Yankee” in the north of the stadium and “South Winners” in the Command’s own Virage Sud tribune. More tremendous scenes from the stands greeted players as they emerged onto the pitch, such as the sea of white and blue flags ahead of Marseille’s 87/88 Cup Winners’ Cup first round-2nd leg match against East Germany’s Lokomotiv Leipzig (with the first leg having taken place in a stadium that could not have been more communist), in which a single goal was enough to give the French side an 1-0 aggregate win.


The view from the back of Virage Sud in Stade Velodrome, as Marseille prepare to take on Lokomotive Leipzig, Cup Winners' Cup, 30/09/87.

Elsewhere in the competition, none other than Hajduk Split had been entered as cup winners of Yugoslavia and were drawn against Denmark’s Aalborg BK for an all-round more civilised affair. There would be no flares or animal sacrifices when the two teams met on Danish soil, which obviously gave the home side an advantage as they took a suprising 1-0 lead going into the the return game.


Polite but enthused clapping as Danish cup winners Aalborg take the lead at home to Hajduk Split, Cup Winners' Cup first round-1st leg, 16/09/87.

Torcida, who were de-facto now an ultras group, had also been joined by new factions in Stadion Poljud such as White Boys. Even this ominously named group must have been impressed by the design of the visitors’ shorts at the second leg, sublimely continuing the thick stirpes of the Aalborg shirt (for a Scandinavian team, it works) which itself displayed huge “Denmark-style” numbers on the back.




Aalborg's all-stripey shirt and shorts, and large Hummel numbering on back, away to Hajduk Split, Cup Winners' Cup first round-2nd leg, 30/09/87.

Another single goal for the home team meant penalties, which the Croats won 4-2 to progress. For the second round, the draw threw up some interesting ties such as Hamburg vs Ajax and Den Haag vs Young Boys Berne, but the pick of the bunch as far as off the field antics went was Marseille vs Hajduk, with the first leg to be held in France.

It was Split’s fourth time taking on French opponents in Europe, after Saint-Éttiene (European Cup 74/75), Bordeaux (UEFA Cup 83/84) and Metz (UEFA Cup 85/86), while the only Yugoslav club that Marseille had played to date was Hadjuk’s great Croatian rivals Dinamo Zagreb, at the same stage of the same competition in 1969. What’s more, Dinamo had even defeated their Gallic opponents in the tie, but a repeat result seemed unlikely here as Marseille comfortably took the first leg 4-0, much to the delight of their flag and flare waving supporters.




Celebrations in Stade Veledrome as Marseille easily defeat Hajduk Split, Cup Winners' Cup second round-1st leg, 22/10/87.

Although the tie seemed effectively over, the ever-active Hajduk supporters made the second-leg in Croatia essential viewing.

The Match:

Split, 05/11/1987: 22,000 are in attendance at Stadion Poljud, located in the Poljud neighbourhood of the city, and as always the home end is draped in banners. After using a red and blue change shirt in the first leg, the hosts are back in their familiar white shirts and blue socks and shorts, while the visitors don the inverse with blue/white/white:

In the 9th minute, the passionate fans behind the goal – which is in inhabited by their own ‘keeper – throw some smoke bombs that land near the pitch. This isn’t so unusual but it quickly becomes clear that something is not quite right, as Zoran Varvodić in goal covers his mouth with his jersey while fans can be seen traveling across the stand in the background:

As orange and white mists plume, it turns out that the one of the bombs is not actually smoke but industrial grade tear gas, burning at 2000 degrees. As the gas spreads back up into the stands, the effected supporters begin to make their way out of the end and into the next section, with the terrifying threat of mass panic and crushing now a distinct possibility:

Whether this was a mix-up and the ultras had intended to use a regular smoke bomb, or the gas was intentional, we don’t know. The match goes on, but, as can be seen from the man that comes into shot below, soon those on the sideline can smell what is happening:

The white smoke can next be seen drifting on to the pitch…:

…before the referee finally realises what is going on and stops the game. The players run for the safety of the dressing loom, with some of the Frenchmen clearly in a far greater hurry than their Balkan counterparts:

Through the lethal fog, which is now an awe-inspiring sight, some supporters are clearly reveling in the mayhem as flags continue to be waved and more pyro lit:

At this point we get our first attempt to land a flare on the pitch, because “jebi ga“. It is an admirable effort, but just falls to the left:

With all the smoke, the gas, the flares, the flags, the streamers and the fleeing fans, it is quite the chaotic scene, and there is possibly clashes with police in there somewhere. It is probably just as many like it, to whom this is all far more fun than the match:

Another attempt is made to get a flare onto the grass, but the throw is just about lacking:

Meanwhile there is more mass movement along the terraces, with what may or may not (we’re really not sure) be a line of riot-cops moving in:

The camera man keeps himself busy with a nice, smooth panoramic shot of the “war-zone”:

In one section of the ground, perhaps where the wind was blowing, the gas seems to still be causing people to climb over fences and escape out of the stand:

Either for protection from the smoke or to conceal their identity in the unfolding riot, that is happening for no apparent reason, some young supporters below cover their faces with scarves as guards idly stand by:

More smoke bombs are also thrown, with their vivid yellow and orange clouds creating a striking artistic effect. Again, they have just about fallen short of the pitch:

Even though the tear gas alone would have qualified this whole incident for Pyro On The Pitch, we finally get the moment of truth as a flare is lit just as everything else seems to be settling down. First comes the wind-up…:

…And then (to be truthful, several seconds later) the throw. It’s good:

We officially have pyro on the pitch. Another supporter runs on to try and retrieve the flare, but it quickly burns out:

From a wide shot, we see that another one had nearly made it too:

The officials, a West German contingent (as can be seen by their Erima kits and a DFB badge on one of their shirts) led by referee Dieter Pauly, re-emerge to inspect the situation. The gas has dissipated, so they return to tell the cowering teams that it is ok to come out now:

We lastly see one stoic cameraman, who has been caught up in all this, retake his post position right in the middle of where the action had been. Business as usual:

Fifteen minutes after the interruption the game restarts, and a few minutes later Hajduk take the lead through a penalty. The score is doubled in the last ten minutes to give the home side a 2-0 win, but they still go out 2-4 on aggregate.

Aftermath:

The gas had resulted in two male supporters ending up in hospital that night and UEFA, naturally even more furious than over the cockerel incident, decided to take drastic action. First, the result was declared void and Marseille awarded a 0-3 win (not that they really needed it), but more importantly Hajduk Split were banned from European competition for two seasons and not allowed use their own stadium for a season more when they did return.

Having served their suspension, the “Bili” (Whites) would next appear in continental competition again in the Cup Winners’ Cup of 91/92 playing in the neutral venue of Linzer Stadium, Linz, Austria, and who were their opponents only their old friends from Tottenham. It was somewhat of a momentous occasion, as the final time that Hajduk – the last winners of the Yugoslav “Marshal Tito Cup” in 1991 – would be playing in Europe representing Yugoslavia.

For since the dictator himself died in 1980, the Balkan superstate had been on an inexorable slide into fragmentation as the stability, peace and prosperity that Tito had brought, died with him. By the Spurs game in 91, the flags baring the red star of Yugoslavia were gone from the Split supporters, now replaced by their own standard which would soon, after many had paid the ultimate price, take it’s place among the flags of the nations of the world:

*

YouTube Links:

Hajduk Split vs Dinamo Zagreb, 1978/79
Hajduk Split vs Tottenham Hotspur, 1984
Hajduk Split vs Tottenham Hotspur, 1984
Marseille vs PSG, 1986/87
Lokomotiv Leipzig vs Marseille, 1987
Marseille vs Lokomotiv Leipzig, 1987
Aalborg vs Hajduk Split, 1987
Hadjuk Split vs Aalborg, 1987
Marseille vs Hajduk Split, 1987
Hajduk Split vs Marseille, 1987
Hajduk Split vs Marseille, 1987
Hajduk Split vs Marseille, 1987
Hadjuk Split vs Tottenham Hostpur, 1991

*****

 

 

Pyro On The Pitch #14: Venezia vs Hellas Verona, Serie B, 19/10/1997

We took our first look at Italy’s rich domestic fan scene back in People On The Pitch #9, with Salerntiana’s invasion of Pescara and their pitch. Check out that article for our original introduction to Italian ultras but we are certainly not stopping there, as we now once again head to Serie B in the 1990s.

Background:

The idea of two clubs merging together is one that most supporters instantly balk at, and understandably so. Most modern mergers involve smaller clubs, but some examples of famous teams who exist as the result of mergers include Ipswich Town (1888) and Newcastle United (1892) in England; FC Twente (1965) and FC Utrecht (1970) in the Netherlands; Hamburger SV (1919) and 1.FC Köln (1948) in Germany; and Fiorentina (1926), AS Roma (1927) and Sampdoria (1946) in Italy.

All of the above became huge staples of the community, and any opposition to a union with a local rival at the time of the merger has been long forgotten. Of course these were of a different era, with the proposed merger of Sampdoria with enemies Genoa in 2001 being an example of a modern mash-up that was never going to fly.

Many other Italian clubs have complicated histories of name changes and mergers, one of which being Venezia FC from the city of Venice, founded as Venezia Foot Ball Club in 1907 after the union of Palestra Marziale (Martial Gym) with Costantino Reyer. Over the years they would also be known as Association Calcio Venezia, Società Sportiva Serenissima, Associazione Fascista Calcio Venezia, Calcio Venezia, Calcio VeneziaMestre, Associazione Calcio Venezia 1907, Società Sportiva Calcio Venezia, Foot Ball Club Unione Venezia, and Venezia Football Club Società Sportiva Dilettantistica before finally simplifying back to Venezia FC in 2015.

The main merger in question with regards Venezia occurred in 1987, as club chairman Maurizio Zamparini took over as owner of financially weak neighbours Mestre, also of Serie C2 at the time. The clubs were fused together and became Calcio VeneziaMestre, moving to Mestre’s Stadio Francesco Baracca and adding orange to Venrzia’s traditional black and green strip.

Naturally none of this went down well with many supporters in Venice, particularly the team being moved out of town. In response, Calcio Venezia – a new amateur team claiming the true spirit of the club and wearing the traditional black and green strip – was formed and entered the lower leagues at the start of the 90s.

But there was those who were not opposed to the changes and accepted it as part of football. While old ultras groups at the club such as Panthers, Brigate Neroverdi (Black-Green Brigades) and Gioventu’ Neroverde (Black-Green Youth) had already dissolved pre-merger, Vecchia Guardia (Old Guard) of 1986 continued to offer support into the new era and were joined by a large new group who’s name reflected the reality: Ultras Unione VeneziaMestre.


Banners of groups such as Front, Kaos, and Ultras Unione, Venezia vs Casale, 90/91.

The name VeneziaMestre only officially existed for two seasons and the club moved back to the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo in Venice upon their promotion to Serie B in 1991 (a result of the combination of talent from both former teams), the popularity of which saw the collapse of the amateur Calcio Venezia side. The change of ground also gave rise to new legacy sides in Mestre, who were now without a team.

The memory of the merger was still maintained through the kits (the neroverdi now the  arancioneroverdi) and through the terraces, as the huge Ultras Unione VeneziaMestre banner hung for many more years. The progress that had seen the club rise from Serie C2, to Serie C1 to Serie B continued, and hopes were high as the 97/98 season started that this would be the year top flight football would return to Venice for the first time since the 1940s.

Another side in Serie B that season with an eye on promotion were recently relegated Hellas Verona, who had been unexpected Serie A champions in 1985. Financial collapse soon after brought demotion and the folding of the club, reborn simply as Verona in 1991 before becoming Hellas Verona once more in 1995.

Verona of course possess one of the top followings in the country with dozens of ultra groups throughout the years, spearheaded by the historic Brigate Gialloblu’ (Yellow Brigades) to which many sub-groups claim allegiance. Despite the name being originally drawn from left-wing influences (based on the terrorist Brigate Rosse group, founded in 1970), the Verona curva became known as mostly right-wing by the 1980s, although the peaceful co-existence of left-wing groups such as Rude Boys prove that love of the club trumps politics.


Hellas Verona supporters following a goal during a home match against Udinese, 90/91.

The Match:

1997: A fine sunday in October sees a packed Stadio Pierluigi Penzo in Venice, named after a World War 1 fighter pilot. The ends of the ground are unusual in having no discernible sides or roof:

Many Veronese have made the 121km journey for the clash between two of northern Italy’s famous historical cities:

Before the teams come out, it’s scarves in the air time in Venezia’s curva sud:

With the arrival of the two squadrons green and orange smoke is let off, thickly billowing in an impressive  effect:

Zooming back we can see the reason that this match is eligible for a POTP entry, as a white smoke bomb has made it’s way into the penalty box. A fireman dutifully jogs over to remove it:

The rest of the smoke continues to rise:

A text banner is also unfurled among the home fans, but unfortunately we cannot make out what it says:

Demonstrating a common expression of displeasure, the Venezia ultras banners are placed upside down, probably in lament of some sort of disagreement with the club. From this shot we can also see the “VeneziaMestre” portion of the Ultras Unione banner.

With the comparatively short distance between the cities, the two clubs are among each other’s known rivals and as always security personal are on hand:

While nothing major occurs, carabinieri are on the scene at the away end as the traditionally belligerent Verona supporters get extremely animated at some sort of injustice:

At the other end, Venezia’s capos watch on pensively:

In the end, a single second half goal is enough to give the home side the win and send curva sud bouncing to see out the day:

The scoreline would be repeated when the sides met again in March 1998 with both results being crucial in Venezia’s ultimate 2nd placed finish and promotion to Serie A, while Verona would have to wait another year. The dream of Zamparini had been realised, but whether the merger from 11 years before was a success for the city or remained a soulless selling out of the Venezia’s football tradition, is up to you.

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