Few football teams are as closely associated with their home city as Hajduk Split. Formed in Prague’s U beer hall in February 1911 by Croatian students inspired by Czech teams Sparta and Slavia, the club is named after the Robin Hood-like brigands who opposed both Ottoman and Venetian authority from the Middle Ages onwards. Hajduk was an explicitly Croatian team at a time when Split was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, later, towards the end of World War II, the entire squad was shipped to Italy by the Partisans in order to play demonstration matches as an explicitly anti-fascist team. They were also the first team in Yugoslavia to play with a petokraka (communist five-pointed star) on their jerseys, and the first team to remove it when it became clear that Yugoslavia’s days were numbered.
A large part of the Hajduk mystique comes from their success on the pitch: they were Yugoslav champions twice in the 1920s, three times in the 1950s, four times in the 1970s and went on to become champions of Croatia five times between 1992 and 2005. They’re also famous for their loyal fans, known as the torcida (after the Brazilian fans that Hajduk supporters had seen footage of during the 1950 World Cup). Split’s version of the torcida launched itself in October 1950, providing the team with maximum, Rio-style support for the title-decider against Red Star Belgrade – the first time that torches, banners and massed chanting had been seen on the terraces in this part of Europe. Hajduk won the match, but the communist authorities were shocked by the levels of popular frenzy displayed. Horrified by the idea that football supporters could organize themselves without the leadership of the Party, the government came down hard on the torcida. Today, Hajduk and their fans remain an unavoidable part of the urban landscape, and victories over traditional enemies like Dinamo Zagreb are still celebrated with citywide rejoicing. Some would argue that the team has become all-important to the local population as other symbols of Dalmatian identity are gradually eroded and the act of supporting Hajduk becomes one of the few communal experiences left. And although over the last two decades they’ve fallen from being a major European force to ineffectual east European minnows, if the number of freshly painted Hajduk murals is anything to go by, they still retain the status of number-one local religion.
The team plays in the Poljud Stadium (8. Mediteranskih igara 2; t 021 323 650, w hajduk.hr), a strikingly organic structure originally built for the 1979 Mediterranean Games. The season lasts from September to April and matches take place on Saturday or Sunday; tickets (20–50Kn) are sold from kiosks at the southern end of the ground. Most of the torcida congregate in the northern stand (tribina sjever), while the poshest seats are in the west stand (tribina zapad). Beer and popcorn are available inside, and there are numerous snack bars offering drinks and grills immediately outside.