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In a rare show of unity, Dinamo Zagreb fans were joined by their Hajduk rivals in a protest against the former’s chief executive, who is awaiting trial.
The opening day of 2015-16 was special for Dinamo Zagreb fans. Almost 20,000 of them turned up at the Maksimir Stadium for the derby against Hajduk Split; with about 5,000 away fans, that made for the biggest crowd at a Dinamo home game in almost two years.
But it wasn’t because of the opposition that all these people came. The previous derby was boycotted by both sets of supporters and, in November last year, not even Hajduk’s team showed up for the kick-off. When some of their travelling fans were denied tickets by Dinamo despite not having a criminal record, and others were held up by the police on the other side of the city, the Hajduk board refused to let the fixture go ahead. They were punished for it with a points deduction and a fine but their chairman, Marin Brbic, said: “Hajduk is a people’s club. It is our duty to stand by our members, our fans – like they always stand by the team. Croatian football is set up to serve one man, Zdravko Mamic. We had to say that enough is enough.”
On July 12 there was no fan boycott or secret “black lists”, which led to more than a thousand Dinamo and Hajduk supporters banned from the stadium for reasons such as chanting against Mamic or wearing a T-shirt with his silhouette crossed out – and no serious incidents. Hajduk’s Torcida supporters’ group showed up in numbers and supported their rivals, the Bad Blue Boys, in their chants against Mamic, the man who has taken away their identity.
Most notably of all, there was no Zdravko Mamic, the Dinamo chief executive, or his brother Zoran, the Dinamo sporting director who also doubles as manager – although he has no previous coaching experience. At the time they were held in custody, arrested by the USKOK, the national Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organised Crime, on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion and bribery. They were (and still are) believed to have made illegal personal profits on big-money transfers of players to foreign clubs, depriving Dinamo of at least €15.5 million (£11.2m), alongside a further seven-figure sum in unpaid taxes to the state with the help of a corrupt tax official.
It seems that they devised elaborate schemes of drawing money out of the club, where players they sold received large portions of transfer fees only for that money to later appear on the Mamic brothers’ accounts. Stars such as Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren are among those involved and their testimonies are part of the investigation. The Mamics are also alleged to have used Dinamo money to fund other business interests, both their own and those of other people. Their lawyers are not even trying to dispute that some of those transactions took place, only that there wasn’t anything technically illegal about them.
The brothers don’t even own Dinamo. In fact, they never invested any of their money into the club, which is set up as a citizens’ association and, as such, supposed to give all of its members the right to elect their leadership. Supporters have been campaigning with a “one member – one vote” motto for years now; helped by some famous former players, they gathered 50,000 signatures for the petition demanding free elections. But that can’t happen as long as Mamic has a say: upon seizing complete power at the club more than a decade ago, he has used various bureaucratic tricks to prevent it.
His malign influence spread to the federation, the referees’ organisation, the league and the national team – Mamic, it is said, has friends within politics, the judicial system, the police and the mainstream media.
At first, the bail appeal was rejected for fear of witness tampering, but then the court decision was somehow changed. The Mamic brothers walked out, even making it to Maksimir for the Champions League qualifier against Fola Esch of Luxembourg. That was four days after the derby with Hajduk. Thousands of Dinamo fans, having already arrived at the stadium, simply turned around and walked away before kick-off upon hearing the news of the Mamics’ arrival. In the days that followed, the brothers resumed their regular duties. At the time of writing, no trial date has been set yet.