Zagreb’s ‘other’ club, Croatian champions in 2002, have always been overshadowed by local rivals.
Formed as PNISK in 1903, pioneering NK Zagreb provided HASK Zagreb with their first opposition in 1906 but thereafter barely figured in organised leagues, either before or after World War II.
With the dismantling of Concordia Zagreb in 1945, the club that would become NK Zagreb moved into the Stadion u Kranjcevicevoj, then the biggest stadium in town and occasional host of Yugoslav international fixtures.
As the second club in the capital of a newly independent Croatia after 1991, NK Zagreb assumed an unprecedented importance. Runners-up to Hajduk in the first, short season of 1992, NK repeated the feat in 1994 and later took on the likes of Sloga Jugomagnat and Vilaznia Shkodër in Europe.
The breakthrough came in 2001-02, when an unstoppable Ivica Olic revived a flagging career by bagging 21 goals in 28 games. Under later national coach Zlatko Kranjcar, Olic starred for the Whites for only this title-winning season, although Kranjcar came back for another stint in 2003-04. Despite the career swansong presence of Robert Prosinecki, NK Zagreb flopped completely and narrowly avoided relegation.
The only bright moments since have come from prolific striker Davor Vugrinec, who bagged nearly 30 goals for the Whites in only 50-plus games up to 2010. Relegation in 2013 wasn’t exactly a bright moment – but NK bounced right back up.
Pretty modest these days, the 8,850-capacity Stadion u Kranjcevicevoj was the home of Concordia Zagreb from its opening in 1921 to 1945.
The host of several international friendlies involving the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and, during World War II, the Nazi Croatian state against other Axis powers, u Kranjcevicevoj was soon overshadowed by the Dinamo’s new home of the Maksimir.
This became the home ground of NK Zagreb, undergoing several reconstructions, particularly after a major fire in 1977 and when a host of the Universiade student games ten years afterwards.
Ten years after that, as a plaque by the main entrance illustrates, this was the Croatian National Guard gave their first public display in the run-up to the war against Serbia.
The rebuilt West Stand accommodates home fans, the East Stand facing it, the small number of visiting ones. The stadium is also currently shared by Lokomotiva.
The stadium is a short walk from the junction that contains the Tehnicki muzej tram stop, served by Nos.3, 9 and 12. From the main square, take No.12; from the train station, No.9. Alighting from the tram, you’ll see the stadium ahead of you, over the crossroads.
There are two ticket offices along Kranjceviceva, one for each stand. Tickets shouldn’t be more than 50kn, tops.
Near the tram stop, Godot is a popular spot whatever the reason for visiting. A couple of bars sit on Kranjceviceva, opposite the ground: the vaguely Australian-themed Bumerang (note the door handles); and the café-bar Campari, where a framed display honours Drazan Jerkovic, former Dinamo star and NK manager, who died in 2008.
At the ground itself, there are three choices: the Pizzeria Dragas, also home of the local bowling club, with trophies to prove it; through the main entrance, the standard Croatian bar/restaurant Veselo Nepce, where a serving of cevapcici grilled meat is 33kn and grilled squid 39kn; and, at the back of the ground, the rather quaint Restauracija Zagrebacki Bijeli (‘Zagreb Whites’).
At this stand-alone house with a barbecue grill on the front terrace, all Croatian favourites are served. It’s also one of the few places in Croatia to promote the Hungarian retro fizzy drink Traubi szóda.