LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Hajduk Split

Revered across Dalmatia, revived in recent seasons

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

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 Matošić 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 Ivić. Also coach of the Yugoslav side that included Hajduk stars Branko Oblak, Ivan Buljan and Ivica Šurjak, Ivić 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 Vujović 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 Bokšić, Robert Jarni, Slaven Bilić, Aljoša Asanović and Igor Štimac. 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 Kranjčar – 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 trailed far behind Dinamo in the domestic game.

Things only began to pick up after the fans who had taken over the club in 2011 held protests outside Split City Hall to persuade local leaders to guarantee a long-term loan for the club. While Hajduk had long lost runners-up status to Adriatic rivals Rijeka at home, the Dalmatians made the play-off round of the Europa League three seasons running, giving Everton a difficult trip to Croatia in 2017.

In 2021, Hajduk academy graduate Marko Livaja returned after spells at Atalanta, Las Palmas and AEK Athens to hit hatfuls of goals for his home-town club. Pushing Hajduk to second place in the league and into the Croatian Cup final, Livaja also earned himself a place in Croatia’s squad in the run-up to the World Cup 2022.

Fellow international, left-back Dario Melnjak, shared the goal-scoring duties in Hajduk’s run to face Rijeka at the Poljud, the 2022 Croatian Cup Final providing Split with the perfect platform to transform the seafront Riva into a fan zone for the day. Melnjak then hit a brace either side of half-time to send the near-30,000 crowd home happy.

The momentum stayed with Hajduk into Europe as the Split side beat Vitória Guimarães in the Conference League, only to fall to Villarreal in a high-scoring tie. A coach at the club since 2019, Mislav Karoglan can still rely on Livaja for goals as Hajduk continue to chase Dinamo’s shadow in the league. His first-half strike in the Eternal Derby at the Poljud had fans hoping for a rare win over their Zagreb rivals in October 2022 but another second place will be the likely conclusion come May 2023.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

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 Magaš, 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 fills for the derby with Dinamo Zagreb and for major European fixtures such against Everton and Villarreal in recent seasons. Croatia also play internationals here, few more emotional than the late win over Russia in November 2021 that sent the Vatreni to the World Cup 2022. 

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 south end (Tribina jug), which has a central section allocated to families.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Infrequent Bus 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.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Games rarely sell out, but do get in early for the derby with Dinamo Zagreb. For advance sales in person, 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.

Little ticket huts dot the concourse around the stadium near the 17 bus stop. 

Online sales require membership registration. For most league fixtures, you pay 60kn/€8 for  seat behind the home, north goal (sjever), 80kn/€10.50 in the East (Istok) Stand and 100kn/€13 in the West (Zapad) Stand.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Hajduk Fan Shop (Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat 9am-2pm, match days) is on the sea-facing, west side of the stadium. Similar red-and-blue checkered paraphernalia is available at souvenir shops across Split. 

Moj Hajduk (Mon-Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 10am-4pm) is a convenient outlet on Trogirska, near the fish market off Marmontova, the Torcida shop (Mon-Sat 2pm-8pm) is another at ulica Ivana Gundulića 26.

The club also has an outlet on the second floor of the Joker shopping mall (put Brodarica 6, daily 9am-9pm) near the Park Mladeži.

The best place for 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.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The classic Torcida bar by the old Stari Plac ground is where fans still gather. A short walk from the National Theatre, Hajduk’s old ground of the Stari Plac (Zrinsko-Frankopanska 17) is now used for rugby games, but the bars here still fill with football fans on match days. 

Between the standard Downtown Grill Split and the music-oriented Treće Poluvrijeme (‘Third Half’, also called ‘Kuka’), 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 opens at 10am Mon-Sat.

Nearer the stadium, on the corner of Zrinsko-Frankopanska and Hrvatske Mornarice, the Marina Garden Bar is now run by a dynamic young management, which has taken a standard but pleasant café and turned into a popular hangout with acoustic nights and other events. Its location on a prominent corner across from the stadium means it cannot fail to fill on match days. The terrace and pictures of historic Split still feature. 

Further up Zrinsko-Frankopanska, past match-day kiosks such as Kontra and Bumba, you find the smart restaurant Dolis, set up by a team with long experience in hospitality and knowledge of local cuisine, and the equally designer-led Caffe Bar Corner, all football talk on the terrace and dangling bare lightbulbs inside.

Two restaurants sit on the sea-facing side of the stadium: the Stari Mornar 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. 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 (18kn/€2.40) can be taken back to your seat.

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