Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | October 25, 2012

Torcida mobilized: Football fans and local politics in Split

MYPLACE research team at the Ivo Pilar Institute, Croatia on the recent fan mobilization centred on the fate of football club Hajduk Split.

For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE

Hajduk is a football club from the city of Split, founded in 1911. The club survived two world wars and five different states, being very successful in the socialist period (the 1950s and 1970s) as well as in the capitalist period (mid 1990s).

Although financial problems have been present in the past, (knowing that position of Split could be described as economic periphery in relation to Beograd during the time of  Yugoslavia or in relation to Zagreb in the recent times of independent Croatia) the crisis of today is deeper than ever.

Founders of HNK Hajduk Split, students in Prague 1911. (Photo: http://www.hajduk.hr)

From the mid 1990s, football in Europe became a corporate business, sums of money for players and marketing growing rapidly  each year, making new structures and new relationships (Champions League for example) where rich clubs compete as big corporations in the market.

It means that many
clubs which played important role in European football in the 1970s and 1980s

fell out from the new football order; Aberdeen, Glasgow Rangers, St. Ettiene, Torino, Mechelen, Nottingham Forest, Rapid Wien, IFK Göteborg,Malmö FF,Sparta, Slovan, Steaua, Crvena Zvezda, Ferencvaros, MTK and others, including Hajduk. In the attempt to play according to a new situation and ‘new rules’ in modern football, Hajduk was transformed  from NGO status to stake holding company in 2008. The city of Split is the major  stake-holder and it has several control mechanisms of the club management.  Since then, responsibility for the club and its business policy is primarily in  the hands of the mayor and the city council of Split.

Torcida, representing hard core passionate fans of Hajduk, was founded in 1950.

It is one of the oldest firms in Europe. The founders were young students and sailors, inspired by Brasilian football fans.

Several young sailors from the island Korcula experienced the atmosphere during the world cup in 1950 in Brasil and decided to establish Torcida as organized group of football fans, completely devoted to Hajduk. Last year, Torcida organized great celebration of the 100th birthday of Hajduk with thousands of flares that were visible from space.

The popular slogan and typical banner ‘Hajduk lives forever’ seemed like a fact, knowing the rich history of Hajduk and its passionate supporters. But, most recent developments showed a different picture, and another possibility (unimaginable for most of the fans) became realistic – possibility that the club would not survive the recent days of global economic crisis and its local political/economical reflections in the city of Split. Financial problems are numerous; players and other employees in the club did not receive their salaries for more than five months. Because of the depths, Hajduk is close to a ban from playing, in fact close to bankruptcy. Hajduk asked for loans from the bank, just to survive, of around 4 million euro, but in order to receive it, the city council of Split had to vote, to make decision to give guarantee for that loan. The city council of Split had the meeting on 12th October with only one agenda – guarantee for the loan Hajduk asked from the bank. Because of the political disputes and long tradition of local hostilities, SDP (Social-democratic party, left center) voted against the guarantee for the loan, HDZ (Croatian democratic community, right center) voted for, but the party of the mayor, HGS (populists) abstained. From 21 members of the city council, only 7 voted for (HDZ). So, the city council could not guarantee for the loan and it meant the bankruptcy of Hajduk. The meeting was broadcast on local television and soon after the closure of the meeting Torcida invited fans to come in front of the city hall and protest against the fact that 101 years of history is coming to an end.

Weather conditions were extreme because of the heavy storm, but despite that, in short period of time around 500 fans gathered, full of anger, chanting slogans against the mayor. Torcida made a leaflet, calling all citizens to join them, saying that ‘in the long history of Hajduk, we survived regimes of Austro-Hungarian empire, Kingdom of Yugoslavia, fascist Italy, socialist Yugoslavia and we will survive this regime and the government of Kerum (the mayor of Split) and others…’ The deputy of the mayor talked with some representatives of the fans and promised that a new meeting will assemble on Monday and that the party of the mayor will change the vote from abstained and vote for the guarantee.

3000 fans gathered in front of the city hall (Monday, 15th October) (Photo: TORCIDA)

Torcida invited fans to come in front of the city hall on Monday morning, but it was expected thatcity council will vote in favour; the mayor’s party did not want to risk, knowing that Hajduk is important part of the popular culture, it is great symbol and part of the identity, not only for Torcida, but for many others. On Monday (15th October), 3000 fans gathered in front of the city hall, chanting again against the mayor. As it was promised already, mayor’s party voted in favour and the city council gave guarantees for the loan that Hajduk can survive.

Fans in front of the city hall chanting against the mayor Mr. Željko Kerum (Photo: TORCIDA)

In the media, headlines were saying that Torcida saved Hajduk and that Torcida constitutes a movement. Torcida organized a great mobilization of the fans for the next match, banners on the crossroads, bridges, big buildings and other visible places and especially
on the internet were calling fans to come, pay the ticket and help the club in the time of the deepest crisis. On Sunday (22nd October), Hajduk played versus Istra from the city of Pula. That match would be considered as ‘small’ match according to Croatian standards, but due to mobilization organized by Torcida, 25000 people came to the stadium.

Torcida on Hajduk – Istra 0:1 with a banner ‘BESMRTAN’ (IMMORTAL) (Photo: TORCIDA)

In Croatia, average attendance at football stadiums is very low. After the match (which Hajduk lost despite enormous support from the terraces) journalists published that attendance in Split that Sunday was two times higher than attendance on other 5 matches in Croatian league, all together. Torcida showed its power and impact, based also on the importance of Hajduk for so many generations of fans. This case is just one example, among many others, that football fans could become social/political actors, leaving the limited sport sector and justifying the attention of researchers.


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