One must fall, so the other could rise. That sentence was taken literally by the Communist Party regarding the newly established clubs, police-led Red Star and the army’s beloved Partizan, Belgrade’s finest products in the post-war era. Hajduk were simply not good enough, and even without the ever-present support from the football federation, the state and the media that the Belgrade-based duo received, Hajduk couldn’t reach its past highs. Yugoslav league football was in its renaissance period during the 1960s.
Partizan reached the final of the European Cup in 1966, where they suffered a tight defeat against Real Madrid. Vojvodina made it to the quarter-finals the following year, when the famous Lisbon Lions tore them apart. The point is the Yugoslav league was becoming formidably strong, and even expanded, counting the best 16 from around the country. But as the league grew, Hajduk weakened.
The show behind the curtains continued, and Hajduk was continuously sabotaged. The club was even accused of rigging matches, without any proof given.
The verdict delivered not only brought shame to the team but also a five-point reduction.
Hajduk were furious, but continued with what they are best at: fighting.
Hajduk was chained to the bottom of the league. In the first 2 matches after the punishment, that were played in the span of four days, the ground was packed, to remind them that this still is the people’s club, no matter the score.
Hajduk barely evaded relegation that season, and the main culprit was young striker Petar Nadoveza, who became the league’s top goalscorer with 21 goals in that dire season of 1965/65, which kept their heads above the water. Only one trophy was won during that decade, the national cup in 1966/67. Hajduk denied a double to the league champions FK Sarajevo in a single-match final in Split. That victory launched Hajduk to its first UEFA-organized competition the following year, the Cup Winner’s Cup.
I love the simplicity of that name. You know exactly who’s in. Anyway, Tottenham Hotspur kicked them out, the scores were 0:2 in Split, and 4:3 up north. Spurs won, but Hajduk left a good impression. More importantly, the 12-year silverware drought finally ended, and the club took a chance to breathe some fresh air in, and what amount of air it was.
After they tasted Europe, ambition came back like an old forgotten tune to the joyful ears of Hajduk. The proven modules of the football academy were fruitful once again.
The combination of skilled veterans and talented youngsters proved best yet again. Hajduk were simply flying on the field, playing total football throughout all season of 1970/71. It was a mesmerizing and irresistible style that left opponents with no time to react. Game after game, victory after draw, the season unfolded with the narrow table top. Hajduk was trying to squeeze between Željezničar and Dinamo Zagreb.
Late in the second half of the season, they saw a chance.
It was hot in June of 1971. Hajduk needed a full plate in Belgrade, where their step-brother awaited, without a “Welcome” and a smile. Partizan was not in a title chase, but a UEFA Cup spot was on the menu for the hosts. And they took that one personally, because it was Hajduk. The score was 3-0 for the Belgrade team in the 50th minute, the situation looked hopeless for Hajduk. But they kept pushing.
Half of the ground were Hajduk’s fans, and, as it can be heard on the video at 3-0 for Partizan, still cheered ”we want victory!”. And he heard them. Then just a boy that saved Hajduk from relegation a few years previously, the now experienced striker Nadoveza shined again with a 12-minute double. Bošković made Hajduk’s second half blitzkrieg complete in the 64th minute, and the score was even again. The crowd went riot. Down south, Split waited. Rumours stopped spreading, pigeons stopped shitting, shops and factories simply stopped, traffic paused, ships anchored, and the babies in the hospitals were kicked back in for the next 26 minutes. Split waited too long, and could wait a bit more.
And luck did come to those who waited.
2 minutes before the final whistle, Buljan pierced the home keeper from the edge of the box with style and the place erupted. What a way to end a 16 year drought, eh?
That was just a start.
They got eliminated from the Cup Champions Cup by the English again, this time Leeds United, under Don Revie
Tomislav Ivić, whose list of international achievements deserves their own article, took over Hajduk’s bench in 1973. He refreshed the team, promoting the youngsters with whom he conquered the Youth league the previous season, implemented his vision, which meant Hajduk dominated Yugoslavia for the next decade. As fans of other clubs do not hesitate to admit, those boys could play.
Ivić is a father of modern football, and was an impeccable strategist. Just to give you the full picture, Italian sports media powerhouse La Gazetta Dello Sport named Mr. Ivić the greatest manager in the history of football. Even now, when you mention “Little Napoleon” in Split, people nostalgically nod their heads with approval. Split still misses him. There was something special between them. He made them achieve, and more importantly, he made them believe. He left this world shortly after Hajduk’s centennial celebration.
But when he was around, he made every second count. His path led him to win seven championships in eight different countries, but during his time with Hajduk, five national cups in a row and three league titles were taken, although arguably it should’ve been more.
In its first three seasons under Ivić, Hajduk almost won three trebles. The last one was denied, again from “above”. Hajduk humiliated Partizan 1-6 in their own yard, in their title chase derby, with everything to be played for in the last match, hoping that Partizan won’t win. Hajduk’s manager Ivić spoke briefly to the press after the match:
“Not only you’ll fear us, you’ll keep your windows shut when Hajduk’s around!”
The decisive match came, and Hajduk played their part. It was Partizan’s turn. Partizan played Olimpija Ljubljana, and after 90 minutes, it was draw.
However, the game kept rolling for the next six minutes. Mind you, there was no additional time then, a rule was introduced some 20 years later.
Partizan did score the goal worthy of the title, but was it really worth it?
“Always a goal short”
If that wasn’t enough, we’ll skip to the good bit, whether you like The Streets or not.
In 1979, Hajduk moved to the new stadium Poljud, which could hold some 55,000 people before it was reduced to 34,000 seater. The stadium is very different from Hajduk’s old ground, in which the stands were an inch away from the row Z. Now, the pitch has an athlete running track between itself and the stands.
Playing in the new stadium, the 80’s team won three cups, and finished second in the league three times. Good football was played in Split, but it wasn’t enough for the title. However, the results brought a European spot. Hajduk needed Europe. Hajduk craved for it.
As we probably said, Hajduk is a well-known face in European competitions. Since its first appearance on the international stage back in 1927, Split’s Whites played 230 European matches across 53 seasons, scoring 330 times along the way.
However, Hajduk has this sort of curse, or a blessing, depending on your willingness to soak your feet into this deep lake of a hopeless romantic’s view of it. Joy wouldn’t feel good if it weren’t for pain, as CJ said.
Always a goal short.
As the late Mr. Dorić, the club’s lifelong friend and employee once said:
“We’re always a goal short, and it was written in the stars when we were founded..”
Just a few brave defeats:
1971/72 Hajduk 1-1 (0-0) Valencia Champions Cup
1974/75 Hajduk 4-1 (1-5) St. Etienne Champions Cup
1975/76 Hajduk 2-0 (0-3) PSV Champions Cup
1976/77 Atl. Madrid 1-0 (1-2) Hajduk Cup Winner’s Cup
1977/78 Austria Wien (P) 1-1 (1-1) Hajduk Cup Winner’s Cup
1978/79 Hajduk 2-1 (0-1) Arsenal UEFA Cup
1979/80 HSV 1-0 (2-3) Hajduk Champions Cup
1981/82 Valencia 5-1 (1-4) Hajduk UEFA Cup
1982/83 Hajduk 4-1 (0-4) Bordeaux UEFA Cup
1983/84 Hajduk 2-1 (0-1) Tottenham UEFA Cup
I’ll stop there, you got the point.
They got hooked on Europe and, although they weren’t doing as well as they hoped, and just couldn’t shake off the damned thing. Hajduk went out of its way to get the fix, from the docks of Edinburgh through the canals of Amsterdam, from London’s underground to the mosques of Istanbul, from ancient Rome to the sands of Tel Aviv, snowy Moscow to the sun-lit Athens… It was never enough, and never will be.
But as Hajduk is a serious addict, expect them to show up around the corner, any minute now.
Old winds blew over Balkans, and you could smell the new war in the air.
Disruption of the old Yugoslavia was inevitable and the times, they were a changing. Hajduk were touring Australia in 1990, a country in which a huge number of Croatians resided, either as the political enemies of the regime or purely for a different life.
During a friendly in Sydney, the players themselves removed red-starred badges from the shirts, and sew the original ones back on during half-time. It was the first time since the formation of Yugoslavia in 1945 that Hajduk excluded the red star from their logo.
Once they returned to the field, the ground exploded in joy. Telephone lines from Belgrade were burning, and few players were advised not to come back, as safety could not be guaranteed for them. The country was on the verge of war, which could happen at any minute. Again, Hajduk showed that heritage is never to be forgotten.
Before Yugoslavia broke into pieces, Hajduk said their final goodbye to Belgrade in their own unique way. 1991 was the year when Red Star Belgrade won the Champions League, becoming the first and only club from the Balkans to reach the pinnacle of European football. It really was an astonishing feat. A few weeks before their CL historical victory, the future champions of Europe hosted an average Hajduk team in a cup final, which proved to be their last match to this day.
Previous months were full of tensions, which unfortunately brought the first victims on the Croatian side of the border in a massacre that occurred in Borovo village, next to Serbia. The conflict was about to escalate into a war for freedom, which would last for the next 5 years. In those dire circumstances, Hajduk flew to Belgrade with a military plane on their own but flew back to Split the same day a few pounds heavier, accompanied by a 17kg trophy and two ridiculously brave fans.
Hajduk boycotted the Yugoslav anthem and played with black armbands in honour of the victims. They had everything to play for. At some points, it was rather a boxing match than a football one. Igor Štimac and Siniša Mihajlović both received red cards as the fight broke out on the pitch. Alen Bokšić’s 60th minute moment of brilliance made difference and history, as Hajduk won the last ever trophy of Yugoslavia.
The silverware remained hidden for the next 20 years in one of the club’s associates’ homes and extremely few people knew where it was, before finally being unveiled for the club’s centenary celebration. Players described this victory as their favourite, because of the terms and situation it was won in, and I believe most of the fans agree with them.
The team produced some artists in this beautiful game over the recent few decades.
France’s favourite reverend Zizou the Great, when asked who was his childhood favourite player was, simply said:
Hajduk’s Blaž Slišković. The way he dribbled…
The names that stand out are Bajdo Vukas, Blaž Slišković, Dragan Holcer, Ivica Hlevnjak, Petar Nadoveza, Jurica Jerković, Ante Mladinić, Ivan Gudelj, Ivan Buljan, Vujović brothers, Slaviša Žungul, Slaven Bilić, Aljoša Asanović, Igor Štimac, Alen Bokšić, Ivica Mornar, Milan Rapaić, Zvonimir Deranja, Stipe Pletikosa, Darijo Srna, Nikica Jelavić, Nikola Kalinić, Mario Pašalić, Nikola Vlašić, and now Marko Livaja, amongst many others.
However, I assure you that no kid ever shouted “Štimac!” when we played footy on the streets. If there even was any, he won’t admit it, as well as the rest of his family.
Hajduk’s greatest season was probably 1994/95. They won the domestic treble and reached the knockout stage of the Champions League. In the quarter-finals, Hajduk was shown doors by young Van Gaal’s mighty Ajax, which went all the way with the CL and Intercontinental cup. Hajduk earned a fair 0-0 at home but lost 3-0 in Amsterdam. Hajduk was a very durable, agile team able to create that moment of brilliance within seconds, with players like Štimac, Vulić, Asanović, Mornar, and Rapaić.
They played a fearless first leg at Split, but they couldn’t cope with the Dutch in the second. That side of Ajax, with the likes of Van der Saar, Seedorf, Kluivert, Rijkaard, Litmanen and the rest of the magicians is considered one of the finest in football history. Hajduk never repeated such feat, and soon fell under constant insecurity.
There is a light that never goes out
High-spending, ridiculous financial management and complete incompetence cast a long, black cloud above Split. The officiates in charge of running the club almost ruined it, bringing the club into serious debt which resulted in the club’s account being blocked. Hajduk was on the verge of bankruptcy. The (now convicted) criminal organization that controlled the Dinamo Zagreb, along with most of the league, just helped Hajduk’s free-fall. The club reached its lowest lows and the board often changed, resulting mostly in people that held their own interests in front of club’s. Just one league title and three cups were added in the whole of the 1995-2011. period. Such a shame for a club of its reputation. But things started to change.
In 2009, Hajduk’s most loyal fans organised a wake-up campaign called “People’s child” in order to gain control of the club’s shares, and to have a voice over what was happening inside. The action didn’t give the outcome they hoped for, but they didn’t give up.
In 2012, when the City council discussed whether to “reset” the club and throw it down to the 5th tier of Croatian football, the fans gathered in front of the Council house. The tensions were sky-high. Police came in numbers, as fans occupied the building, urging the City of Split to give Hajduk one last chance, in a view of a loan. After a 4-hour meeting, the City finally announced that they would help Hajduk.
Fans didn’t stop there. They organised themselves better this time and upcoming Hajduk’s 100th birthday, they threw such a celebration that I can not and will not try to describe, as well as promoting the idea of fan ownership of the club, as the only safe and transparent way for the club to rise back from the dead. And they were right.
Shortly after Hajduk’s birthday party, the fans made it official. The club became the only fan-owned club in the ex-Yugoslavia, joining the likes of SL Benfica, Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund and FC Barcelona.
The following years brought only two more cups, and Hajduk are still waiting for the league title as we speak. It is now 18 years since that precious trophy was lifted. But the energy remained. After the necessary financial stabilisation, the club finally got on its feet. Fans now play a significant part in the club itself, owning 33% of the club’s shares, a number which is rising. Even through its desperate period, Hajduk’s army never stopped with their love and affection through numerous ways and actions, setting attendance records wherever they played, and breaking them again later. As that prick Danny Dyer said in one of his show’s episodes visiting Split: “That’s passion.” That surely is passion, Danny-boy, I’ll give you that. That’s devotion. A light that never goes out.
Hajduk is growing. The club breached 90,000 members this December, which puts them among top 20 fan-owned clubs in the world. Last season saw them back in the title chase up to the very last leg, which hasn’t been seen in Croatian league for too long. The club is now as competitive as ever. Things have certainly changed around Split, and with club’s current energy, anything is possible. Plus, they have something extraordinary this time. Imagine all of the club’s values mentioned, and spice it up with some good old street-football fashion and persistence. Southampton had Le Tissier, Napoli had Maradona, Split has Livaja.