Derby games are fiercely-contested fixtures between two teams from the same city, and these two teams are 250 miles away from each other, so this shouldn’t be considered as a derby, right? Tell that to the Croatians. This is the Eternal Derby between Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split – the most viciously contested fixture in Eastern Europe, and a true spectacle for any football fan.
This Eternal Derby isn’t only exclusive to Croatia. It’s a prominent term in Eastern European football with countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia and Greece and teams such as Olympiacos, CSKA Sofia, Red Star Belgrade and FK Željezničar Sarajevo amongst so many others contesting such fixtures in their respective nations. The Croatian version is arguably the one that brings out most the true hallmarks of a frightening derby atmosphere, despite the two teams not sharing the same city.
The rivalry between the two traces back to the 1920s when Dinamo Zagreb were called Građanski Zagreb and they often contested with Hajduk Split for the Kingdom of Yugoslavia championship. Zagreb’s disbandment following the Second World War didn’t change much apart from their name. They continued to clash with Hajduk and formed the “Big Four” of Yugoslavian football along with Partizan and Red Star Belgrade of Serbia.
Following Croatia’s decision to become an independent nation in 1992, Hajduk and Dinamo have formed a dynasty in the Croatian football scene, having won 23 out of the 24 league titles since as well as 19 of the 24 domestic cups since. The two are the most dominant sides in the country and have cemented their legacy as the region’s most dominant footballing sides ever, but it is Dinamo Zagreb who feel a greater sense of pride.
The team from the capital, Dinamo, feel a greater sense of superiority over Hajduk Split and their ambitious owner, Zdravko Mamić has helped them form a dynasty in the country over the last decade. Upon taking the helm of the club in 2003, he proclaimed the club would win every league title in the next decade and they’ve done just that.
He’s also been quite a success for the club in terms of finances, with some high-profile sales, including that of Mario Mandžukić to VfL Wolfsburg, Luka Modrić to Tottenham Hotspur and Mateo Kovačić to Inter Milan amongst so many others to stabilise the club and help them progress amongst the European elite.
But while Mamić has reaped so many benefits for the club, he’s equally hated by the Dinamo faithful as well as the rest of the Croatian footballing fraternity. Despite the club being a citizens’ association where they aren’t required to pay taxes and all members are given equal right to be elected, he’s used his lawyers to alter elections so that he can win them, and has often been highly abusive of the media in public.
Furthermore, he’s signed “civilian contracts” with several past and current Dinamo Zagreb players which enables them to pay off a percentage of their wages to Mamić for as long as they are playing. That list includes Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić, Dejan Lovren, the prior two who currently play at European Champions Real Madrid and Liverpool respectively, earning a large amount of money between them.
Perhaps the most heinous act concerning both sides of the rivalry fell in 2014, when Mamić and Dinamo Zagreb unceremoniously blacklisted the Torcida—Hajduk’s ultras group—and subsequently banned them from entering the Stadion Maksimir for the first derby of that season. Six months later, ahead of the final derby of the season, the Hajduk supporters themselves announced they would boycott the fixture, and the Bad Blue Boys—Dinamo’s own ultras group—followed suit in an act of unity to defy Mamić, who then had the audacity to host an empty stadium on the nation’s biggest footballing date.
The fans are of a different calibre on a day like this, with the tifos, confetti, banners and chants being on a different level to most derbies. Hajduk Split’s Torcida ultras are one of the oldest in European football history, having being formed in 1950, and occupy the North Stand of their Poljud Stadium where they form an incredible atmosphere before most Eternal Derbies to rally their team to the maximum.
Dinamo’s supporters, the Bad Blue Boys, are arguably the most passionate set of supporters a football fan is likely to come across. Having being formed in 1986, they’ve gone from strength to strength in terms of support and are always in full voice. Very often they are accused of hooliganism and indecency and have disciplinary punishments placed on them by the respective footballing federations.
The Hajduk supporters always garner a sense of pride, claiming they are the real fans as Dinamo receive support from the men in the royalty as they are the team from the capital.
“Dinamo fans get financial support from the Mayor of Zagreb and local government. We rely on money from our members, and you know what, we prefer it that way, because when politics and sport mix it always ends badly. That’s what makes us real fans, not puppets for the politicians.”—Torcida member Ivan Pupacic
The rivalry is one with hate and abhorrence and fans will be willing to go to any length to support their team. Each supporter regards the name of the other with disgust and that’s what makes the Eternal Derby one of the most hotly-contested football fixtures in the world.
PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF THE DERBY SERIES: BENFICA VS SPORTING CP | FENERBAHÇE vs GALATASARAY | ATLETIC BILBAO VS REAL SOCIEDAD