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When the referee Ante Vučemilović-Šimunović blows his whistle to mark the start of the biggest Croatian derby game, the one between Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split, it will be the 210th time these two eternal rivals meet. However, at the moment Hajduk is trailing second-placed Dinamo by 18 points, a huge gap that has been even bigger in recent years. In football terms, the Eternal derby lost its touch some time ago.
Despite that fact and the fact that Hajduk last won the Croatian championship, rigged with serious controversy, more than ten years ago (twelve, to be exact), the away support this Saturday will most likely match – or even top – the attendance of the northern terrace of Maksimir stadium; the one where the home supporters, the Bad Blue Boys are stationed. In a very bizarre and paradoxical situation Hajduk, Croatian powerhouse that suffered a great decline in terms of results and success in the past decade, will nevertheless have same amount of vocal, hardcore support as their rivals, the twelve years in a row champions, Dinamo Zagreb.
This is due to the fact that Zagreb grew apart from their pet club, where the hardcore fans, the afformentioned Bad Blue Boys are in the long lasting war with the club’s controversial chairman, Zdravko Mamić. But that should not undermine the fanatical support that Torcida, Hajduk’s ultra group and the oldest organised supporters group in Europe, have for their club. And it goes like that for almost seventy years now.
Torcida was established way back in the year 1950, when a group of students and workers decided to form a supporters group that would provide Hajduk with vital support for the crucial match of the 1950 Yugoslav championship against another historical rival, Red Star Belgrade. Enchanted by the support from the fanatical Brazilian home crowd during the 1950 World Cup, they’ve decided to name the group Torcida, to acknowledge their role models or the torcidas, as they call them in South America. Hajduk won the match and ended the title race on the backs of Torcida, and that’s when the eternal bond was made.
Hajduk had its share of success on both national and international stage. With almost forty major trophies in its cabinet Hajduk was also a three time Champions cup/League quarterfinalist; as recent as 1995., when they got eliminated by the later champions Ajax. That’s when the club’s fame remotely started to fade, with the worst to come in the new millennia. As it’s often the case in modern football, dodgy investors acclaimed by local politics brought the club down on its knees. That was the time when Torcida stepped in and decided that they need to do even more than to create frenetical atmosphere. This time, they literally needed to save the club from extinction.
From the group itself came the initiative called „Naš Hajduk“ („Our Hajduk“), that fought its way against the opposing tides that brought the club to its low in the first place only to finally have the right to organise valid democratic elections for the clubs board back in 2011. In only six years, Hajduk went from the verge of bankruptcy and complete chaos to a club back on its feet, with more than 43 thousand paying members; a number that puts numerous European giants to a shame. The road to recovery was long and painful, and it still isn’t fully done, but if anyone knows that no road is too long to cross for something you love, it’s Torcida who knows. After all, they followed Hajduk around the globe, from the coasts of Atlantic to the far away friendlies in Hong Kong.
The images of Split and couple of other Croatian cities with large Hajduk fan population on the night of the club’s 100th birthday travelled around the globe. Thousands of flares lit the night sky, creating a breathtaking scene. Nowadays Torcida is hoping that once again Hajduk will be the one that will make the headlines, with his success on the pitch. It is true they might not always behave accordingly, with brawls and nationalist chanting giving them a bad name from time to time, but they will always turn it down to the Mediterranean temperament incorporated in one of the banner that appears on the northern terrace of Poljud stadium: „My father is the street and my mother is Torcida“.
For a street-bred ultra group they embodied people of all backgrounds, not fearing to get involved in legal actions that shape the future of deeply sickened atmosphere in Croatian football long-term. With pure love and clear hearts, they are the force that drags both their beloved Hajduk as well as the Croatian football as a whole into a bright tomorrow.
Lit with thousands of fireworks and flares.