Politics On The Pitch #7: Groups Of Death Part 4 – 1990-99

Finally, after nearly an exact year since Groups of Death Part 1 in Politics On The Pitch, we come to the final chapter of this epic mini-series looking at politically and militarily uncomfortable match-ups (and many resulting withdrawals) in world football throughout the 20th century. Although it took a while to get going, as you’ll see, we now finish with the fascinating 1990s, which despite the slow starts culminates in probably the most politically fascinating group of all time.

World Cup 94 Qualifiers

With the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, a period of relative world peace and prosperity began on many parts of earth (ahem) meaning there are vast swathes of the 90s with nothing much to report on… Reflecting this, Euro 92 qualifiers had featured a reunited Germany, a soon to dissolve Soviet Union, and an Ireland-England pairing that, although still juicy, had been done many times by now.

Sure, the break-up of Yugoslavia the following year led to significant violence, and there was still tension in Northern Ireland, but no other powers were yet involving themselves in the Balkans and the North’s Good Friday agreement would soon be signed in 1994. While Yugoslavia’s situation removed them from world football, Ireland and Northern Ireland were again drawn together in World Cup 94 qualifying leading to an infamously tense final game in Windsor Park, with only a few brave souls from the Republic venturing up to see their side qualify amid safety concerns for away fans in the British loyalist stronghold.


Northern Ireland fans sending provocative gestures in the general direction of the Republic of Ireland, World Cup 94 qualifier, 17/11/1993.

One situation that raised eyebrows elsewhere was in Asia’s AFC Zone, where the possibility of certain countries qualifying for USA 94 rather than specific match-ups was the issue. From 6 preliminary groups, the winners who made it through to the final group round consisted of three US allies in Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, and three countries with US economic sanctions against them – Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

As each team would play the other four once in Doha, Qatar, throughout October 1993, with the top two advancing to the finals, it also meant a meeting between North Korea and South Korea. This too, however, was a match that had already taken place as many as seven times since 1978, but after the Doha game – a 3-0 win for South Korea – the fixture would not return until a heartwarming 2005 friendly to celebrate 60 years since all of Korea’s independence from Japan.

In the end, the United States had nothing to worry about when it came to letting in their economic enemies. Iraq, Iran and North Korea finished 4th, 5th and 6th in the group, while 1st and 2nd placed Saudi Arabia and South Korea could look forward to a rousing welcome from Uncle Sam the following Summer.


South Korea's third goal in a 3-0 win over their Northern cousins in Doha, Qatar, World Cup 94 qualifier, 28/10/1993.

Meanwhile in Africa, withdrawals from the opening group stage were as rife as they had been in the past, signaling the poverty and conflict still experienced across the continent while the western economies prepared to boom. Out of the nine groups, ten teams withdrew without kicking a ball: Uganda, Sierre Leone, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sudan, Malawi, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Gambia, and Mali.

Two other African nations would also end qualification early for off the field reasons, as sanctions relating to both serious international incidents and internal problems (to put it mildly) again effected those who just wanted/were lucky enough to play a game for a living. Group D’s Libya, originally scheduled as have all matches away from home, left in protest in March 1992 after UN air and arms embargoes were placed on the country’s regime for not handing over suspects of the 1989 Lockerbie Bombing, and in Group B Liberia withdrew after two games in November 1992 as it’s civil war (1989-96) degraded into one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world.

Euro 96 Qualifiers

The qualifiers for the Euro 96 were momentous as many newly independent nations – formerly within the socialist unions of Czechoslovakia, USSR, and Yugoslavia – were taking part in their first campaign of any kind (plus Lichtenstein). Israel, having competed for World Cup qualification through UEFA many times as we have previously discussed, also competed for the chance to make it to a Euros for the first time, with a precedent already set through Eurovision Song Contest entries since 1973.

This all pumped the number of teams from 33 in the 1992 qualifiers to a whopping 47 for 1996, and that was still without the excluded Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s rump state, later to become simply Serbia and Montenegro). It also created interesting religious dynamics such as in Group 1, where Azerbaijan (99% Muslim), France (50% Christian; 39% non-religious) Israel (74% Jewish) Poland (87% Catholic) and Romania (81% Orthodox Christian) all battled it out for supremacy.

In Group 4, Italy found themselves in the interesting situation of being “surrounded” entirely by the debutante quintet of Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Ukraine (although the Baltic states had achieved independence early enough to have made it into World Cup 94 qualifying, along with Russia taking the Soviet Union’s place). With one new competitor at England 96 therefore all but guaranteed (the worst group runners-up would still have to meet in a play-off) the Croats displayed that the Balkan tradition of football excellence would live on without the Yugoslavian banner, as they pipped the Italians for top-spot by goal-difference.


Croatians en route to a great 1-2 victory away to Italy in only their third ever competitive match, Euro 96 qualifier, 16/11/1994.

Group 4 also demonstrated the numerous possibilities of states, who had previously been united under old regimes, now facing off against each other. In World Cup 94 qualifying, Lithuania had already been drawn against neighbours Latvia and this time it was Estonia, as well fellow-former Soviet Republic Ukraine, while Croatia and Slovenia had both been part of the old Yugoslavia.

In all of these cases, the teams involved were representing states that had effectively been on the same side in their independence movements. But particularly with the break-up of Yugoslavia, which was still on-going as the Bosnian War lasted until December 1995, future nasty “dream matches” between sworn enemies once again became inevitable in world football.

World Cup 98 Qualifiers

In Europe all remained calm for the 98 qualifiers – up to 50 teams from 36 last time – with the only semi-notable situations arising in the likes of Group 1, where three former Yugoslav republics were placed together for the first time (debuting Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia); Group 6 for the return of the Yugoslavia name itself, along with the former-Czechoslovak derby for the first time in a competitive setting; and the pairing of Latvia and Estonia in Group 4, meaning the three Baltic sides had now met. In Central and North America’s CONCACAF zone, economic sanctions again effected matters as embargoed Cuba played their first round home game against Cayman Islands, second round 1ss and 2nd-legs against Haiti, and third round home fixtures against El Salvador, Honduras and Panama either on neutral soil or in the opponent’s ground.

Even in Africa things improved as the only sides to withdraw were Mali and Niger, while Liberia also returned, however Libya were still absent, In final round Group 5, Sierra Leone’s game away in Gabon was also postponed and later cancelled, as the team were unable to leave Freetown due to events arising from the country’s long civil war (1991-2002), but they returned to defeat Ghana 0-2 in an inconsequential match at the end of the group (ending ahead of the Ghanaians despite playing one less game).

World Cup 1998

Group F

Germany
Iran
United States
FR Yugoslavia

While the US did not have to confront the issue of allowing “rogue nations” in at World Cup 94, their participation at the following edition in France threw up a whole group for them filled with political undercurrents. Joining the Americans in Group F were their former World War enemies/current militarily base ally Germany; a country with whom relations had been fraught since the 1979 “Islamic Revolution”, Iran; and a state that would soon feel the wrath of US-backed military might, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Of course with WW2 a distant memory, the first game against the Germans held little significance to most, although their inclusion in this group of American “enemies” can’t have been lost on some. After a 2-0 win for the Europeans, a more current affair was up next for USA with what FIFA themselves call the most politically charged match in World Cup history.

The US had previously supported the old Iranian government following a CIA-backed coup in the 1950s, until the aforementioned Islamic Revolution in 1979 removed the Shah and installed the Ayatollah’s Islamic Republic, breaking relations. Later that year the Iranian hostage situation at the American embassy in Tehran, followed by retaliatory sanctions, an American backing of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-88, and American strikes on Iranian targets in 1988 including a commercial airliner, all contributed to the bad-will between the two countries.

Ahead of the game against Iran in Lyon on the Summer solstice, June 21st, 1998, there were concerns for both the safety of the American team from extremist attacks and for the possibility of dissident Iranians using the high profile occasion to protest against the own government. There was also a disagreement on the night before the match on who would walk towards who to shake hands before kick-off (approaching the other side with a sign of submission was out of the question for the Iranian authorities), with a compromise reached for a presentation of flowers instead and a joint team line-up to symbolise the uniting power of sport over nearly every other human division.


The US and Iranian teams join forces for peace ahead of their World Cup 98 first round match, 21/06/1998.

Not long into the game, rumours of protests became a reality as a whole section of Iranians unfurled political banners and flags against the regime, prompting clashes with some of their fellow supporters. Riot police moved in to surround the group and prevent them from invading the pitch, on which their team would go on to record a famous 2-1 victory over the Westerners.


Iranian political protestors make their presence felt during the World Cup 98 first round clash against USA, 21/06/1998.

A hat-trick of poor performances for the Americans was completed four days later against Yugoslavia, as another 0-1 defeat left them eliminated at the bottom of the group. This will have been particularly satisfying for the winners as, although US-led sanctions against the Yugoslavs during the Balkan conflicts had been lifted in October 1996 following the peace accords of 95, the sanctions had just been reinstated mere months before the match at the outbreak of the Kosovo War in March 1998.

Euro 2000 Qualifiers

Group 8

Croatia
Republic of Ireland
FYR Macedonia
Malta
FR Yugoslavia

Finally, and staying with the Balkan theme, Euro 2000 qualifying Group 8 produced what was definitely the ultimate grudge match of the of the decade: Croatia vs Yugoslavia, featuring the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (aka Forgotten Yugoslav Republic) thrown in for good measure. With the aforementioned Kosovo conflict in full flow also, the bewildered Irish and Maltese each had three separate trips to the war torn region to come over the next 13 months in what was one of the most politically tense groups of all time.

Since the initial break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic, the Serbian-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was determined to block any attempts at secession from the semi-autonomous region of Kosovo – inhabited by a majority of ethnic Albanians but with a sizable Serbian minority – prompting the Yugoslavian army to enter the territory in March 1998. With the situation degrading, the Irish went to a tense Belgrade in November for the first of their eastern journeys and were defeated 1-0 by the Yugoslavs.


Celebrations in Red Star Stadium as the home side take the lead, Yugoslavia vs Ireland, 18/11/1998.

As atrocities were committed in Kosovo under the guise of suppressing rebel forces – namely the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA – and international intervention loomed, on March 2nd, 1999, Red Star Belgrade agreed to move their remaining Champions League fixtures to Sofia, Bulgaria. It would only be the start of the turmoil that, in football terms, mostly happened to revolve around Group 8.

On March 23rd, NATO began it’s strategic bombing of targets in Belgrade. The next day, UEFA postponed three upcoming fixtures in the group that were set to take place in the Balkan area: Macedonia vs Ireland and Yugoslavia vs Croatia, both originally scheduled for March 27th, and Yugoslavia vs Macedonia on March 31st.

Proving that sport and politics definitely do mix, star defender Siniša Mihajlović pledged his support for president Slobodan Milošević while leaving the country on March 24th, before the Yugoslav football federation urged any players at clubs in NATO countries to boycott their employers. Real Madrid’s Predrag Mijatović, draped in the Yugoslav flag, and three others proceeded to protest outside Spain’s US embassy on March 27th/28th, while Crystal Palace’s Sasa Curcic picketed outside 10 Downing St in London – they were among 40 Yugoslav pros to strike around Europe.

On the 25th UEFA also postponed the imminent visit of Scotland to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group 9, as flights to the area could not be guaranteed safety. On the same day, the Irish demonstrated their desire to take advantage of the tragic situation by outlining intentions to ask the governing body to have their defeat in Belgrade the previous November annulled and replayed on a neutral ground, should other countries fixtures away to the Yugoslavs also be moved out of the conflict zone.

As NATO’s operation intensified, UEFA were forced on March 28th to suspend more upcoming qualifiers in the area – Malta’s visit to Croatia, and Slovenia vs Albania from Group 2 – before on March 29th the saga continued to rock the world of football when Metz’ Serbian forward Vladan Lukić vowed to down tools for three months in protest against the strikes (which surely had NATO bosses shaking in their boots). And on April 1st, the Yugoslavs’ own league was suspended for the duration of the war.

Over the coming weeks, developments included Real Madrid issuing a £23,000 fine to Mijatović for his absence from the team, and Albania’s Group 2 qualifier with Latvia being moved from Tirana to the Latvian capital of Riga. The next area of contention would be far away from eastern Europe, however, as peaceful Dublin unexpectedly became the focus ahead of Ireland vs Yugoslavia on June 5th.

Adding an extra element to the fixture, in May the Irish government accepted more than 1000 Kosovar refugees from the 80,000 forced to flea the area (who were lucky compared to nearly 9000 Kosovo Albanians killed or declared missing during the 16 month disaster). Although Ireland wasn’t a member of NATO, the government held grave concerns about the situation in Kosovo and refused to grant visas to the Yugoslav squad for their upcoming visit (citing overwhelming public outcry in support of cancelling the match, which wasn’t exactly the case).

UEFA threatened Ireland with football sanctions of it’s own – including possible expulsion from the competition at worst – should the match not go ahead, while the Football Association of Ireland plead it’s helplessness in the face of the government’s decision (with one FAI official coyly commenting on how few international fixtures would be left if every state’s human rights records were held to account). Calls from Geneva (UEFA’s base) reiterated that sports and politics should not meet in their domain and hence there was no reason for the match to be cancelled, but some in the Irish media argued that accepting the Yugoslavs as guests would legitimise their regime’s war crimes.

Although on June 3rd Milošević accepted terms of a peace plan, it was too late and the match that weekend did not go ahead. But on June 8th, the Yugoslav players would be accepted into Greece for their game against Malta on the neutral soil of PAOK’s Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki. With the War officially coming to an end a few days later on June 11th, Yugoslavia’s trip to Dublin was finally rescheduled for September 1st, as a light fine and reimbursement of the Yugoslavs’ original travel costs turned out to be UEFA’s only punishments for the Irish.


FR Yugoslavia vs Malta on neutral soil gets underway in PAOK's Toumba Stadium, Greece, Euro 2000 qualifier, 08/06/1999.

But before that, there was the small matter of the rescheduled first ever meeting between Yugoslavia and Croatia on August 18th, 1999, in Belgrade. The Croats’ victorious but brutal War of Independence against the Serbs had concluded less than four years previous, with the final months running concurrent to the national team’s own successful Euro 96 qualification campaign.

The country’s star debut at the Euros, followed by third place at World Cup 98, had put it on the footballing map ahead of their former federal partners, as Yugoslavia’s return to tournament was less inspired (one can’t help but wonder at far they might have gone had the original SFR Yugoslavia remained united, which was never going to happen of course). While on-the-pitch superiority mattered some, the approx. 15,000 dead or missing Croats between 91 and 95 (compared to less than 7000 Serbs) made the the two games to come in Group 8 as charged as any in football history.

If the crowd in Windsor Park in 1993 had been 99.9% home supporters, 100% of the nearly 50,000 in Red Star Stadium were there hoping to see Yugoslavia win. Of course, for their own safety, no away fans were permitted, as evident by the overwhelmingly booed Croatian national anthem. Despite the away side hitting the woodwork more than once, a 0-0 draw was played out in the hostile atmosphere.


The players line-up ahead of the history FR Yugoslavia v Croatia match in Red Star Stadium, with a flag hanging in the Serbian national colours visible on the left, Euro 2000 qualifier, 18/08/1999.

Croatian players sing their national anthem as boos reign down from the home Yugoslavian fans in Red Star Stadium, Belgrade, World Cup qualifier, 18/08/1999.

Over the coming weeks, an Irish win over Yugoslavia in Dublin, a Croatian win over Ireland in Zagreb, and back to back Yugoslavian defeats of the Macedonians (with all sides picking up maximum points against Malta along the way) meant that everything was to play for going into the last series of games. While a win for either side in the upcoming Croatia-Yugoslavia match on October 9th would guarantee at least a play-off place, with a draw favouring Yugoslavia, the Irish could top the group if they were victorious in Macedonia at the same time – a location where they had already infamously been defeated in April 1997.

Before the hot game in Zagreb, locals concluded that it was wise for no away supporters to be allowed at the stadium as their presence may have resulted in the use real weapons such as grenades and machine guns, rather that mere football hooliganism. Around the city anti-Serb graffiti was common sight, accompanied by the colours of Dinamo Zagreb, with the match set to take place in the very same Stadion Maksimir where the infamous riot in 1990 between home fans/players and Yugoslav police at a domestic game against Red Star had been credited by some as a pre-cursor to the war.


Anti-Serb and Dinamo Zagreb's Bad Blue Boys graffiti in Zagreb ahead of the Croatia vs Yugoslavia Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

On the evening of the match, the Maksimir filled up hours ahead of kick-off, with banners and songs celebrating the war plentiful. Particularly highlighted was Vukovar, the city that had been destroyed and taken by the Serbs in 1991 after a 87 day siege, before finally being handed back in 1998 as part of the Croatians’ 1995 Erdut Agreement with ethnic Serb leaders in the east of the country (working under instruction from Belgrade).


A huge Croatian flag commemorating the battle and siege of Vukovar in the war of independence against the Serbs, Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 09/10/1999.

The atmosphere builds inside the Maksimir Stadium ahead of the Croats vs Yugoslavia Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

When the teams emerged and lined-up for the anthems, the negative noise that greeted the Yugoslav’s ‘Hej, Slaveni’ (Hey, Slavs), which several of  the Croatian players had once stood for while representing Yugoslavia pre-1992, was even louder and more vitriolic than that heard at Red Star Stadium. Somewhat surprisingly, only Serbian patriot Mihajlović and captain Dragan Stojković sang their country’s song in the face of the torrent of abuse.


The Yugoslavian national anthem is played and sung in Zagreb ahead of Croatia vs Yugoslavia, Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

With the contest at last underway, the home side took the lead after 20 minutes thanks to a goal from Alen Bokšić, one of those who had been selected for Yugoslavia – at World Cup 90 no less – but never actually been capped for them. Besides a shared love of football, something that actually united Croats and Serbs was also a love for pyro, of which there was in abundance from the jubilant home fans.


Pyro on the pitch during Croatia vs Yugoslavia, Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

But only five minutes later, and again in six further minutes, the away team stunned Zagreb into silence twice with near identical goals: in-swinging Mihajlović free-kicks from the right met by glancing headers from Mijatović and Dejan Stanković, the latter of which agonisingly slipped through the hands of Croatia’s Dražen Ladić in goal. Mario Stanić equalised shortly after half-time to give his country hope, but 2-2 it remained until the end.


Disaster for Croatia as Stanković's header and Stanić's slip-up, as well as Macedonia's draw with Ireland, ultimately send Yugoslavia to Euro 2000, 09/10/1999.

Meanwhile down the road in Skopje, Ireland played out a living nightmare in the Gradski Stadium for the second time in successive campaigns by conceded a last minute equalisier against FYR Macedonia, dropping them into the play-off position. For Croatia this meant that not only had their mortal enemies knocked them out of the Euros, but a fellow-former Yugoslav republic – who also even had the word “Yugoslav” in it’s title – had contributed to Yugoslavia in fact topping the group by sheer luck on Croatian soil.

As Yugoslavia’s stars celebrated a ticket to the low-countries for the following summer on Maksimir’s cold pitch that night, Croatians could only wallow at being struck by an unexpected ghost of the break-up of the region years earlier. But it would turn out to be the last time that the fixture would take place in this form, as well as ‘Yugoslavia”s last ever qualification, as FR Yugoslavia morphed into Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 followed by an independent Serbia in 2006.


Yugoslavia's players celebrate Euro 2000 qualification, while Croatia's fans come to terms with the harsh reality that they won't be there, 09/10/1999.

With even Kosovo officially declaring independence from the Serbs in 2008, Croatia finally met this new streamlined Serbia in 2013 via World Cup 2014 qualifying, signaling the start of a new era. And with the renaming of FYR Macedonia to North Macedonia in 2019 (the reasons behind which we don’t have time to get in to even here), the last trace elements of Yugoslavia disappeared from the map, footballing or otherwise.

*

YouTube Links:

Northern Ireland vs Ireland, 1993
North Korea vs South Korea, 1993
Italy vs Croatia, 1994
USA vs Iran, 1998
USA vs Iran, 1998
Yugoslavia vs Ireland, 1998
Yugoslavia vs Malta, 1999
Yugoslavia vs Croatia, 1999
Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 1999
Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 1999
Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 1999

*****

 

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

*****