Hajduk Split vs Dinamo Zagreb: Croatia's Eternal Derby Dominated by Politics


The eternal derby, or otherwise known as the Croatian derby, pits Croatia's two most successful clubs against one another in a constant battle to claim the bragging rights within the nation.

Sure, there are a number of rivalries that you can claim are quite like no other, but Hajduk vs Dinamo is unique. Normally, such a fierce rivalry would require the two teams to be competing in the other's own backyard. Yet, Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb are 250 miles apart from each other, and by car, that would take over four hours.

While the rivalry between the two clubs can be traced back to the 1920s when Dinamo Zagreb (named Građanski Zagreb at the time) often went up against Hajduk Split in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia championships, it has become most prevalent since 1991.


After World War II, Hajduk and Dinamo continued to lock horns before forming the 'Big Four' of Yugoslavian football. The remaining two clubs were Partizan and Red Star Belgrade of Serbia. However, towards the late 1980s, the two clubs grew supportive of each other, and a sense of unity was visible as the break up of Yugoslavia approached.

Croatia gained independence in 1991, and the Croatian league was formed the following year. As a result, Partizan and Red Star went their own way, as did Hajduk and Split - and the rivalry soon reignited. Focusing their attention slightly closer to home, the distaste became more and more apparent among both sets of fans. This was especially the case between 1991 and 1995 when the independence war was fought, violence between both sets of fans became an almost unavoidable event.

Football is a game of passion, of love for one's club. But sometimes, this passion spills over and this has been seen numerous times over the years, there is an ugly side we do not wish to see. A side which involves violence, fights and placing innocent people at risk. The rivalry between the two clubs escalated quickly, and police officers were soon tasked with taking up a very active role on matchdays.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb v HNK Hajduk Split - Croatian Prva HNL
GNK Dinamo Zagreb v HNK Hajduk Split - Croatian Prva HNL | EuroFootball/Getty Images

And this takes us back to why this derby is so unique. This is a rivalry fuelled by politics, but also united by it at the same time - albeit rarely. Croatia's first president Franjo Tudjman was in attendance at almost every Dinamo Zagreb game during the 90s, and even renamed the club 'Croatia Zagreb', with the hope of making Dynamo more reflective of the new nation.

And then came Zdravko Mamic.

Mamic became the executive director of Dinamo in 2003 and upon arrival, he stated that his club would win every league title for the next ten years - and sure enough, Dinamo won every title between 2005/06 and 2015/16. But he has since been accused by the club's own supporters of using Dinamo for personal gain.

Apart from his hostile nature and threatening remarks, Mamic, most notably, signed what came to be known as 'civilian contracts' with prosperous young players, which forced them to give him a certain percentage of their earnings. Players that were involved include Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Dejan Lovren among others.


But in 2014, when Mamic and Dinamo banned Hajduk's ultras group from entering the stadium ahead of a game, Dinamo and Hajduk fans came together to boycott the game as an act of unity and defiance against Mamic. This isn't the first time fans have come together, with both ultras groups uniting in 2013 against footballing authorities, who were deemed to be mismanaging. Both sets of fans marched through Zagreb together in protest.

Make no mistake about it, this is a fierce rivalry, with a dark side. But while politics has taken centre stage to fuel the rivalry, it has also brought the fans together on occasion.

In terms of success on the pitch, Hajduk Split were crowned champions at the end of the first league season after its formation, and the club has gone on to win the league a further five times up to this point. As for Dinamo, they have become the dominant force in Croatia, having managed to pick up 20 league titles since its formation.

However, together, Donamo and Hajduk are by far and away the most successful clubs, having won all but two of the league campaigns since 1992. Both clubs' dominance shouldn't be underestimated, with this also being carried into the cup competitions.

This is a rivalry like no other. The politics has fuelled the hatred between the two clubs, sparking violence and generally unsavoury scenes. But these two clubs are united by hatred, while they are also united against the abuse of power.

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