Inspired by Slavia Prague, football-crazy students formed Hajduk Split, keen to display their national identity under Habsburg rule. A photo taken at Prague’s famous U Fleku bar shows a group of idealistic young men in boaters, gathering over beers after watching a Slavia-Sparta derby. In 2014, Hajduk fans made the pilgrimage to Prague to play a celebratory, pre-season friendly with Slavia – the game was stopped because of a pitch invasion.
A hajduk was a Balkan bandit of lore, who stood against Ottoman rule. The name suited, as did the Croatian coat-of-arms that became the Hajduk badge. Coupled with the founding year of 1911, this can be seen on walls all over Split – all over Dalmatia, in fact, for Hajduk represent the region.
After a prestigious friendly against Slavia Prague in 1913, Hajduk won pre-war titles in the Yugoslav league and later became the flagship club for Tito’s Partisan forces on the island of Vis in 1944. Their stubborn resistance to join the domestic game organised under Zagreb’s brief fascist government endeared the club to Tito. While Zagreb’s clubs were disbanded after 1945, Hajduk remained.
The first golden era came soon afterwards. Playing at the Stari Plac and backed by the newly formed Torcida fan group, Hajduk won the Yugoslav League three times in the early 1950s. Split-born striker Frane Matosic was top scorer, though it was goalkeeper Vladimir Beara and fellow forward Bernard Vukas who would go to the 1950 and 1954 World Cups with Yugoslavia.
The next great side came in the 1970s, under ex-Hajduk midfielder Tomislav Ivic. Also coach of the Yugoslav side that included Hajduk stars Branko Oblak, Ivan Buljan and Ivica Surjak, Ivic returned from a stint at Ajax to take Hajduk to a third title that decade, in 1979. Don Revie’s Leeds only beat them 1-0 on aggregate in the semi-final of the 1973 Cup-Winners’ Cup.
Playing at the newly opened Poljud, and with twin brothers Zlatko and Zoran Vujovic in the ranks, Hajduk made another European semi-final, an away-goals defeat to Tottenham in the UEFA Cup of 1984.
At the break-up of Yugoslavia, Hadjuk featured Alen Boksic, Robert Jarni, Slaven Bilic, Aljosa Asanovic and Igor Stimac. Four of them played when Hajduk won the last Yugoslav Cup Final in 1991. All five had started their careers at Hajduk – all headed abroad as war broke out. All became prominent members of Croatia’s newly independent national side.
Hajduk faced Tottenham in the subsequent Cup-Winners’ Cup of 1991-92, playing their home leg in Linz and receiving an appreciative welcome at White Hart Lane. As bombs fell over Dalmatia, an inaugural Croatian League was played in 1992, won by Hajduk, who took two more titles as normality slowly returned to Croatia.
At the club, though, chaos reigned. Hajduk nearly went bankrupt in 2001, despite a narrow title win over Dinamo. Two titles followed in the two-horse championship, with star performances by pin-up boy Niko Kranjcar – but Hajduk’s real quality showed in Europe. A defeat on aggregate to Shelbourne was followed a year later by a 5-0 whitewash at home to Debrecen.
A narrow defeat to Stoke in the Europa League in 2011 was some kind of improvement but 2013 Croatian Cup winners Hajduk trail far behind Dinamo in the domestic game.
Holding 35,000, the Poljud has sadly seen better days. Revolutionary when it opened for the Mediterranean Games of 1979, it was created by Karlovac-born architect Boris Magas, who had had his team work night and day to finish the futuristic, shell-shaped arena and its signature lattice, quarter-moon roofs. With its running track and surrounding sports complex, the Poljud proved a worthy host.
Today it only fills for the derby with Dinamo Zagreb. Even Croatian internationals here are few and far between.
The Tribina Sjever, North Stand, is the home end. Tribina zapad (West) and istok (East) are the decent seats along the touchline. Away fans are allocated a section of the East Stand nearest the otherwise empty south end.
Infrequent Bus No.17 (direction Spinut) runs to the Poljud from the main market place or National Theatre, or it’s a 15-minute walk from the top of pedestrianised main drag Marmontova – via the Torcida clubhouse at Stari Plac, of course.
Little ticket huts dot the concourse around the stadium near the No.17 bus stop. There are no on-line sales – games hardly ever sell out. For advance sales, the Moj Hajduk shop (Mon-Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 10am-4pm) in town, on Trogirska, one street up from the fish market, sells tickets (cash only) during the week of the match – 40kn behind the home, north goal (sjever), 60kn in the East (Istok) Stand, 80kn in the West (Zapad) Stand.
The Hajduk Fan Shop (Mon-Fri 9am-1pm, 5pm-8pm, Sat 9am-1pm) is on the sea-facing, west side of the stadium, beside the Caffe-Bar Hajduk. Similar red-and-blue checkered paraphernalia is available at souvenir shops all across Split. Moj Hajduk (Mon-Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 10am-4pm) on Trogirska, near the fish market off Marmontova, is one example. The best place for sassy white Hajduk tracksuit tops is the row of street stalls between the bus station and the post office, near the entrance to the train station.
The classic Torcida bar by the old Stari Plac ground is where fans still gather. A short walk from the National Theatre, Stari Plac (Zrinsko-Frankopanska 17) is now used for rugby games, but the bars here fill with football fans on match days. Between the standard Stari Plac café and the rugby-oriented Trece Poluvrijeme (‘Third Half’), a tatty, light-blue door could be easily missed. But inside, one floor up, is an authentic fans’ bar, its walls illustrating the history of Hajduk. Trophy-clutching players are carried on the shoulders of crowds, trilby hats are thrown in unison from terraces, glorious European runs are celebrated on newspaper back pages. The bar at opens 10am Mon-Sat.
Nearer the stadium, on the corner of Zrinsko-Frankopanska and Hrvatske Mornarice, the Caffe Bar Marina is a standard but pleasant venue, with a terrace and old pictures of Split inside. On the stadium side of the same junction, Kontra is a bar/kiosk popular with fans pre- and post-match.
At the ground, on the sea-facing side, the Caffe-Bar Hajduk (7am-midnight) by the club shop is decked out in suitable colours. Below gate (‘Ulaz’) G on the same side, the Sport-Caffè Roller attached to the car wash is a little spot displaying framed adoration of Hajduk.
A short distance towards the sea are two neighbouring restaurants: the Stari Mornar (Starceviceva 30) and the Poljud. With its terrace beside bobbing boats, the ‘Old Sailor’ is a typical Dalmatian restaurant offering affordable seafood pastas, charcoal-grilled squid and spiny lobster at 600kn a kilo. The Poljud (8am-4pm) is old-school Yugo, hired out for weddings but happy to accommodate drinkers and diners on its sea-facing roof terrace of a sunny lunchtime.
At the stadium on match nights, grilled meat and beer stalls are set up behind the East Stand on Zrinsko-Frankopanska – there’s a single, overcrowded kiosk under the stand too. Hajduk beer (15kn) can be taken back to your seat.