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Hajduk Split vs Dinamo Zagreb – Croatia Cup Final at Poljud Stadium

Posted on June 9, 2009 at 10:54pm Madrid / 4:54pm Cincinnati by Jay Larbes

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On May 28th, Kelly and I attended our first football match (soccer game) here in Croatia. We had a blast; it was a very fun time. A month ago, the match was shaping up to be a huge deal, but Hajduk hasn’t performed as well in the past month, causing the match to lose some of its luster. But, it was still a match between the top two football clubs in Croatia, so we were still excited to go, and were not at all let down.

In addition to sharing our experience in journal and photo format, Kelly and I also captured video footage of the crowd – our favorite part of the night. Kelly then took the captured clips and merged them together to create the final video embedded below:

DISCLAIMER: I’m about to go into some Croatian football history, so if you don’t care at all, just skip over the next few paragraphs. I’ll let you know when I’ll continue about our game experience.

Hajduk and Dinamo have a very intense rivalry. Historically (going back into Yugoslavia times), Hajduk has been the premier football club in Croatia with a total of 15 league championships, but Dinamo has challenged that position in recent years. Since 1992 – when Croatia declared itself an independent nation, with Zagreb named the capital city (and also a new Croatian National League was established, previously the Hajduk club played in the Yugoslav Football League), Dinamo has won 11 league titles and Hajduk only 6. Prior to 1992, Dinamo apparently was not much of a football powerhouse. Hajduk fans will tell you that Dinamo has surged to their present state of power because they are in the capital and have much more money to spend on players (and referees?) than Hajduk. Whether there is truth to this, I don’t know.

Croatian History / Soccer History lessons aside, the game we attended wasn’t even part of the Croatian National League. It was the final round of the “Croatian Cup”, which is a national tournament that runs parallel to the Croatian National League season. The Croatian Cup is secondary in importance to winning the league, but it seems to also be a big deal. Each round of the cup involves home and away matches between two clubs – the team with the most aggregate goals scored (away goals count as two) advance to the next round. (The UEFA Champions League matches that have been on ESPN this Spring followed a very similar format.) Hajduk and Dinamo had already played the first leg of the finals, with Dinamo winning 3-0, so the Hajduk fans didn’t have much hope of coming back and winning, as they would have to outscore Dinamo by at least three goals to force overtime*.

*I didn’t find out most of this until during or after the game. Kelly informed me at the beginning of the game that this was for the Croatian Cup (her boss Tony told her), not a league game. She also told me that she thought Dinamo won the first leg 3-0, so we knew the Hajduk needed to outscore Dinamo by a lot to win. I have never attended a sporting event without knowing so much of the particulars. We had to base the significance of things by the excitement of the crowd.

END FOOTBALL HISTORY, RESUME GAME EXPERIENCE: Okay, hopefully I didn’t put anyone to sleep by that. If it didn’t make sense, it doesn’t really matter. Basically, what matters is that Hajduk/Dinamo is a big rivalry, but this particular match had lost a bit of significance because Hajduk had lost a couple of lead-up matches.

We took the bus to Poljud Stadium, and stepped off into a sea of white shirts – just about everyone was wearing Hajduk apparel. It was cool to see. We also noticed right away a major gender disparity – we’re guessing that for every thirty men, there was one woman. This didn’t really shock us, but still is a little bit of a surprise to see live and in person. There were also some families, but they were also the vast minority.

We walked from the street down some steps toward the stadium, and spotted about a dozen men relieving themselves in the nearby bushes – not by any means out of sight! This surprised us a bit, to say the least. Beer was flowing on the concourse outside the stadium. The place had almost a festival atmosphere, because the concession stands, if you could call them that, were just rectangular folding tables with tabletop grills cooking sausages and burgers. Surrounding each concession stand area were plastic-folding chairs occupied by everyone enjoying their food and beverage. We had just eaten, so we didn’t try the food, though it smelt good – maybe next time.

Entrance to Hajduk Poljud Stadium, Protected by Armed GuardsWe placed newspaper on the seats, because they were too dirty?

After walking around outside the stadium, we entered our gate and were handed free t-shirts! I was also handed a newspaper program, but didn’t really want it since it was all in Croatian, but held onto it anyway because I didn’t see a garbage can. Inside the stadium, we didn’t see any concession stands or souvenir shops or anything. This surprised us. Not sure if you could exit to buy food and re-enter, but there didn’t appear to be any available in the stadium.

After unsuccessfully asking an usher (I think he was an usher) where to locate our seats (he didn’t speak much English – but I think he more or less told me to sit wherever), we managed to find our seats on our own. As we sat down, we noticed the seats weren’t very clean, and that many people were using the newspaper as a seat cover – so, we followed suit. They didn’t seem terribly disgusting to me, but whatever. Apparently, the stadium doesn’t get cleaned very often or something.

We arrived at our seats about 30 minutes before game time, and already you could feel a buzz in the atmosphere. The crowd would sing to the songs playing and chants would break out. It made the pre-game fly by. Before we knew it, it was time to begin – just before the game started, the big cheering section (named Torcida) threw a bunch of streamers in the air and lit off some flares and M-80-sounding firecrackers. The streamers filled in the track area behind one of the goals.

Hajduk Split vs. Dinamo Zagreb at Poljud Stadium, May 28, 2009 - Croatia Cup FinalHajduk Fans Cheering Before the Match Began

The game was very exciting. The whole crowd seemed to be into it. As I said before, it wasn’t a sellout, only about 60% full (20,000 people or so), but those who were there were definitely emotionally invested. The whole game, people cheered and chanted and sang and carried on and waved big flags. Whenever there was a call that didn’t go Hajduk’s way, the fans would let the referees hear it, whistling loudly. And of course, we had the random flares and fireworks. I’ve never witnessed a crowd this into a game before – it blows NFL away. And to think, that this wasn’t even a huge game!

No goals were scored in the first half, but just a few minutes into the second half Hajduk got on the board, sending the place into a frenzy! Lots more flares, some thrown onto the track – causing fires that had to be put out by the firefighters diligently waiting with backpack fire extinguishers (they had to be summoned three or four times – never on the field, just on the surrounding track) and lots more fireworks and chanting and singing.

Firefighters Putting Out Flare FlamesSmoke Covering Poljud Stadium

Only a few minutes after the first goal, Hajduk scored again! The place erupted this time. So many fireworks and flares this time, that the whole stadium filled with smoke. They had to stop the game for a few minutes while the smoke subsided – we couldn’t even see the field. I loved it! So now, we could tell that everyone was excited, but we weren’t sure if Hajduk needed one more goal or two more goals to matter, but everyone was on the edge of their seat the rest of the match. Especially the guy to Kelly’s right. He was quite animated, and eventually Kelly and I switched seats so he wouldn’t inadvertently drop her with a left hook.

Hajduk scored a third goal with about ten minutes left in regulation, and the funniest thing happened – no more flares or fireworks! I can only assume that they ran out! Still, the place went wild, just a bit more safely, I guess! After this third goal, the pace of the game slowed down. It didn’t seem like either team was trying to score with any urgency, and we couldn’t figure out why. So, nobody else scored in regulation, and Kelly and I still weren’t sure what happened next. Nobody seemed to be leaving, so we stayed put as well.

After a few minutes, the teams lined up for penalty kicks! As we figured out, Hajduk’s 3-0 win matched Dinamo’s 3-0 win from the first leg of the final, so the tie was to be broken in penalty kicks. I’m not a huge fan of PKs, finding them akin to deciding a game with field goals or free throws, but it’s definitely better than ending in a tie. Unfortunately, Hajduk lost in PKs, 4-3 (out of a possible 5), so they lost the Croatian Cup to Dinamo. We were a little disappointed, just because we wanted to see the place go bezerk one more time, but it was very cool to see that the crowd didn’t just file out once the game ended. They still continued to cheer and chant and applaud their team for several minutes after the game ended. Kelly and I thought it was a great display of sportsmanship.

Hajduk Split vs. Dinamo Zagreb - Penalty KicksJay and Kelly at the Hajduk Split vs. Dinamo Zagreb Match

The 2008-2009 Croatia National League season ended on Sunday, so I guess we’ll have to wait until next season to attend more games. But, we definitely plan to, because we both had a great time. We’ll just have to wait until the next season starts in August.

If you’ve managed to read this far, and are somehow still interested (bless you!), we have posted a photo gallery from the match as well. Check it out!

18 Reader Comments to “Hajduk Split vs Dinamo Zagreb – Croatia Cup Final at Poljud Stadium”

  1. Betty Bone on June 9, 2009 at 11:22pm Split / 5:22pm Cincinnati

    Wow, this looks like a blast! I’m so glad you guys are embracing it.

  2. Donna Eby on June 10, 2009 at 1:10am Split / 7:10pm Cincinnati

    James Larbes you know darn well this is not football. No stripes on the helments hell there are no helments or points for that matter. I am glad you had fun and what is this about next season??

  3. bsf on June 10, 2009 at 9:12am Split / 3:12am Cincinnati

    I’m glad you liked your Hajduk Split experience! This club has got very rich history, and supporters (Torcida) are the oldest supporters group in Europe (they started in 1950).
    Too bad Hajduk lost to richer and more privileged club once again.
    I hope that you can join us again! All the best.

  4. Josip on June 16, 2009 at 4:07am Split / 10:07pm Cincinnati

    Nice report indeed. As a Dinamo fan I have to admit that Torcida knows how to make a nice atmosphere. Here’s a good example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnD4D3xA6rw . But still, nothing can beat this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv0iq73i834 or this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMublSl2zzo (Dinamo’s Anthem). However, matches like those are quite rare since the average attendance in domestic league is rather low.

  5. Aunt Fran on June 17, 2009 at 3:32pm Split / 9:32am Cincinnati

    Hi kids,

    At first I thought I was looking at a war zone. I agree with you, Jay, this puts the NFL to shame. I’m glad you guys are having some fun time and really getting into everyday living and not just a spectator. I’m going to your photo page now because I really enjoy looking at your pictures. Keep them coming, it’s not like you have to work or anything.

    By the way, Kelly, how do you like your job? I know that Jay is basically doing the same thing and so are you for that matter, except you’re going to a workplace.

    I’ll talk with you later.

    Love,

    Aunt Fran

  6. 5arman on June 23, 2009 at 12:29am Split / 6:29pm Cincinnati

    Niiice! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay at Split and you were sure privileged to witness this match…
    It was probably the most exciting match in Croatian League (or Cup) in the past few years…
    It’s interesting to see how it all happened from your point of view, cause now I realize how unique all this is…
    I really hope you enjoyed all of this, and I wanted to ask: Do you now live in Split, or is it some sort of vacation thing?

    All the best

    Citizen of Split

  7. Jay Larbes on June 28, 2009 at 1:19pm Split / 7:19am Cincinnati

    Betty, Donna, Fran: Thanks for your comments! We really enjoy hearing from everyone back home!!

    bsf – there’s always next year — that’s a philosophy I have to live by since my hometown teams in US are annually not the best…

    Josip – thanks for sharing the youtube video links, they were fun to watch!

    5arman – I’m extra glad we were able to see it if it was most exciting match in a few years. I hope to get to attend a sold-out match, I can’t imagine how fired up the crowd is then! We are presently living in Split, but we just moved here in April, so we’re still learning everything on the fly.

  8. zvrz on June 30, 2010 at 12:31am Split / 6:31pm Cincinnati

    “Inside the stadium, we didn’t see any concession stands or souvenir shops or anything. This surprised us.”
    you were on the east and shops are on the west.

    “I think he more or less told me to sit wherever”
    that is true – everybody is seated where they want

  9. dalmatinac on June 30, 2010 at 11:34am Split / 5:34am Cincinnati

    this article is so amazing… great story…. i’m from split and i would say one thing… this is the best game in last 10 years, but atmosfere… i don’t think so…

    this is the best atmosfere ever —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjQuogyFXcU&feature=related

    p.s. video title is maybe dirt becouse it was from some man from zagreb (biggest rival ofc) but it doesn’t matter at all, video rocks!!!

  10. dalmatinac on June 30, 2010 at 11:36am Split / 5:36am Cincinnati

    40 000 spactators!!!

  11. Jay Larbes on July 5, 2010 at 10:47pm Split / 4:47pm Cincinnati

    zvrz – I will have to check out the West stands next time. Can you walk over to the West from the east, or do you have to buy the West tickets? I have always just purchased the cheaper East tickets!

    dalmatinac – thanks for your comments! I watched the youtube video, very awesome. I have had friends tell me about that match :) Hopefully this is the year Split returns to the top of the league!

  12. pat on July 15, 2010 at 5:09am Split / 11:09pm Cincinnati

    hello,
    really enjoyed the read . I have a question for any to answer.my wife and i are going to be in split in sept. 2010. we are wanting to attend the game vs zagreg on sept 10(saturday), can you tell me if you think tix will be difficult to purchase the day of game? would ya recommend the west stands? how much are tix? we are looking forward to our trip and the game. thanks in advance for any input. pat

  13. Jay Larbes on July 15, 2010 at 9:04am Split / 3:04am Cincinnati

    Hi Pat,

    Happy to answer. First of all, it looks like Hajduk Split plays NK Zagreb on Friday night, September 10th at 19:00. See here: http://prva-hnl.hr/blog/prva-hnl-2010-11/raspored-i-rezultati-natjecanja-prve-hnl/. Also, just wanted to note that this match is not against the powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb but against the smaller club NK Zagreb, who traditionally finishes near the bottom of the standings.

    I think you will be fine purchasing tickets the night of the game – I almost always purchased tickets on game day. I have only sat in the East stands, which is the middle price range. The North is the cheapest (this is in the end zone, and where the Torcida crazy fans sit), and the West is most expensive. I would expect tickets to cost between 50 and 100 kuna ($10-$20 USD).

    Hope you enjoy your trip to Split and the game!

  14. zvrz on July 21, 2010 at 1:10am Split / 7:10pm Cincinnati

    “zvrz – I will have to check out the West stands next time. Can you walk over to the West from the east, or do you have to buy the West tickets? I have always just purchased the cheaper East tickets!”

    no, you don’t need to buy tickets for go in fan shop.
    i agree with you, east tickets are cheapre and atmosfre is better than on the west 😉

    @pat..usually price: north – 30-40 kuna (against dinamo can be 50)
    east – 50-60 kuna (against dinamo 80)
    west – 70-80 kuna (against dinamo 100)

  15. Brian on July 30, 2010 at 6:57am Split / 12:57am Cincinnati

    Pat, thanks for asking, my girlfriend and I are going to be in Split in the beginning of September and we definitely want to go see a game.
    Jay and Zvrz, thanks for the information, I’ve searched the web in vain for information [in English] on purchasing tickets and ticket prices, etc.
    Jay, I have to admit that your blog was quite a find [I found it searching for ‘Hajduk Split purchase tickets’], I’m super jealous that you and Kelly have been able to have a go at living abroad, but thanks to your blog, I can participate vicariously and get tips on awesome things to do while I visit where you’ve lived.
    One thing though, I was under the impression that Hajduk was playing at home v. Dinamo on the 11th and Split was playing away v. NK Zagreb on the 10th. To be fair, I’m going off of the UEFA site [http://www.uefa.com/teamsandplayers/teams/club=52359/profile/index.html] since I cannot read the site Jay linked to above…

  16. Jay Larbes on July 31, 2010 at 6:16pm Split / 12:16pm Cincinnati

    Hi Brian – enjoy your time in Split and the surrounding areas and islands. Dalmatia is a wonderful area to visit! And awesome that you’re going to a Hajduk match! Lastly, yes, you’re correct about the Hajduk-Dinamo match on the 11th. I was reading the schedule incorrectly (I had forgotten that this season there are two teams from Split in the first division league, and I got them mixed up when I reviewed the schedule…) So yes, Hajduk does have a home match vs. Dinamo on the 11th. Expect tickets to be between 50-100 kune ($10-$20 USD).

  17. Laura on August 10, 2010 at 10:27pm Split / 4:27pm Cincinnati

    Hi Jay!
    Like others, I just came across your blog searching for ticket info, etc. for the Hajduk/Dinamo match on 9/11/10. My husband and I are spending part of our honeymoon in Dalmatia and are planning on going. We were worried it might be a hard ticket to get since they’re Croatia’s top teams – we were thinking it’d be like trying to see a Yankees/Red Sox game! Needless to say, I’m really excited to hear they should be easy and affordable to purchase. Thanks for the recap from last year and all the great photos. I’m definitely going to enjoy digging through your archives while we get geared up for the trip!

  18. Jay Larbes on August 15, 2010 at 2:15pm Split / 8:15am Cincinnati

    Laura,

    Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! And what a wonderful place to spend your Honeymoon – Dalmatia is so beautiful! If you have a chance, try to make it out to the island of Vis — a hidden paradise.

    And enjoy the Hajduk/Dinamo match — I’d love to hear your experience!