Today we had the honour of being Hajduk’s guests for their game against Slaven Belupo at their home ground at Poljud Stadium. What made it even more special for us was that it coincided with Hajduk’s 105 birthday. We haven’t been to a European Football game before so we were interested to compare them to our own games in Australia. We’re both big sports fans so we were excited when we heard they had a home game to coincide with their birthday.
During our last visit to Split we did a tour of Poljud Stadium which was absolutely awesome. On the tour we learnt about the clubs history, players, and their fans “the Torcida”. Visiting Poljud Stadium is a must for all sports fans when visiting Split. It’s one of two things we suggest when visiting Split. The other of course is to see a game. We’ve been lucky enough, to do both.
A friend suggested we leave the bike at the apartment and simply walk from the Riva to the ground. It seemed easy enough as she told us just follow the crowds. Along the way we passed a few unofficial stalls selling Hajduk T-shirts, scarfs and other paraphernalia. All the bars, cafe’s and takeaways were packed with fans chatting and waiting for the game. Throughout the streets fans sang their songs and there was a nice happy atmosphere.
Arriving at the ground we picked up our passes and headed for the gate. There were a number of police at the ground, some of whom were conducting body searches which seemed a bit strange to us. At the gate we showed our tickets and they gave us chocolates, a block each of Hajduk chocolate. It was a first for us getting chocolates at the footy. Woohoo!
The security showed us to our seats and we were really surprised. Security guards were welcoming people and shaking their hands. It sure was a complete change from some of the “goons” we’ve encountered at the footy in Australia before.
As we were guests we were allowed to sit in the “Press” box and it was interesting watching the real “Press” members at work. Many had their laptops opened and were tapping at keys, some even were working and not just updating their Facebook status. However, we were the only ones using pen and paper. lol
As we had arrived early we watched the stands slowly fill up. There were lots of families, and dads with their kids which seemed surprising after what we’d heard about European football. The “Torcida” (Hajduk’s official fans) filled up the stand behind the goals and when we say filled there was not a spare seat. The other stands on the wings were at about 3/4 capacity but there were still heaps of empty seats. Whilst the players made their way onto the ground for their warm ups the referees arrived to a “Bronx cheer”. It was the only booing we heard all night. Just like at home the referees are reminded not to rise above their station.
Unlike at home the stadium wasn’t selling hotdogs, pies and all the other crap fast food for three times the price of outside the stadium. There were just blokes selling popcorn. The bar was a fairly simple affair with no great lines. Outside the ground lots of people had been having pre game drinks but inside not many people were drinking at all.
Prior to the game marching girls dressed in dark blue and red uniforms with red boots twirled their batons on the side lines. It was fairly simple and quite nice.
Just before the game was due to start the sprinklers started and we were reminded of the AFL night match at Waverley when the automatic sprinklers came on during a Hawthorn game. We were laughing our heads off as one sprinkler would disappear before another one would start. However, I think this was planned. A few people on the sidelines were caught unawares including one of the photographers and the marching girls. It was hilarious.
As we were waiting music played through the speakers and it became apparent that they were all Hajduk songs. It was a bit like a singer singing to a crowd and waiting for their response. Every time the DJ would turn the sound down, the Torcida would sing back the next line. The stadium sure had a great vibe.
A large banner unfurled and stretched across the whole stand. It was a picture of a player with a number 12 on his back walking through the tunnel. We wondered which player it was. It turns out that number 12 represents the Hajduk supporters. As soon as the whistle blew the Torcida started waving their red, white and blue banners and chanting in rhythm to their drummers. They also draped banners over the advertising banners with different messages about pride, honour, and commitment.
The game started pretty steadily and it appeared that Hajduk had the edge on their opponents with a little more possession of the ball. Meanwhile,the Torcida were putting on a grand performance of synchronised clapping, chanting and jumping. It was hard to concentrate on the game with so much going on in the stands. A few flares and a thunder cracker were set off which seemed to spur Hajduk into action. About twelve minutes in a fairly stupid tackle from behind brought about the first penalty from outside the box, however the strike saw the ball flying harmlessly past the goal.
The Torcida cranked up to full volume, hoping that this combined with a few flares and thunder crackers would spur on their team. Both teams stepped up the pace and although Hajduk seemed to have more of the ball, Slaven Belupo held them out and even had some handy turnovers. Meanwhile the Torcida banged their drums, chanted and challenged the other Hajduk supporters with some of their chants. At one stage they all had their scarfs held out in front of themselves which looked quite amazing.
About the 45th minute a lovely pass saw Hajduk’s Tino Sušić beat three defenders to put the ball in the back of the net which had us on our feet cheering. The noise in the stadium was deafening and our Press box went up as one. (they could’ve been a bit biased). The Hajduk players immediately ran to the Torcida section to celebrate with their fans.
At half time the Marching girls returned twirling their batons in their red and blue uniforms. The firies looked resplendent in their gold uniforms and there was a bucket behind the goal which the occasional flare was put into. A lot of people at home would’ve been outraged at the flares and crackers but it seemed that they were handled responsibly. Here was no agro just a heap of people having fun.
At the half time break we checked the toilets out where we realised unlike Australia there are no too many ladies at the football so there are are no lines. However, this encourages men to skip the lines at the men’s toilet and use the ladies. A bit of a reversal for the Northern Hemisphere perhaps. On our way back we noticed that the line at the bar wasn’t very long and there weren’t any blokes carrying trays of drinks. Very unlike home indeed.
The game restarted with a few half attempts on goal but nothing too serious. Meanwhile the Torcida were starting to get into top gear singing, chanting, waving flags, banging their drums, letting off flares and crackers. Pretty soon the pitch was covered in white smoke and it had us wondering whether the players had trouble seeing.
Not long into the second half Slaven Belupo made a few substitutions to counteract Hajduk’s dominance and we wondered whether they could come back. The game slowed a bit but until midway into the second half when Hajduk stepped it up a gear. Unlike at home when calls went against the home team there was no booing just whistling.
However the refereeing seemed fairly open. It seemed that the players on both teams were more concerned with playing the game than staging for free kicks with academy award performances.
Suddenly in the 66th minute were all on the edge of our seats when a shot on goal resulted in a SB defender trying to clear a ball and in turn almost score an own goal . The ball struck the near side post causing a huge collective intake of breath throughout the stadium before it went out. If it was possible the level of noise went up a notch as the Torcida bayed for another goal. It also brought about a few changes for both sides.
Then in the 75th minute a magnificent cross saw Hajduk’s, Zoran Nižić head the ball into the back of the net. The whole stadium was on its feet, cheering, flares erupted, crackers exploded and white smoke settled over the ground.
The rest of the game continued with both teams not giving up and play flowing from end to end. Just on full time parachute flares started drifting down over the stadium signifying the end was near.
When the final whistle blew a massive fireworks show began at the southern end of the stadium. Both teams congratulated each other before the Hajduk players headed over to the Torcida. It was a fitting tribute to the Torcida who were unlike any supporters we’ve ever seen.
After the fireworks ended we headed back to the city. Crowds of people lined the small takeaway shops and bars around the streets leading from the stadium. It seems on game day all the bars and takeaway shops are the real winners in Split and not the big corporations at the grounds. The fans have a drink or eat before and after the game at the local places.
It was a nice walk back to the city and it appeared that people were just enjoying themselves with no agro or boorish behaviour which sometimes is associated with sport.
We’d like to thank Hajduk for the chance to visit on their 105th birthday. It really was an exciting spectacle. I think Hajduk now has a special place in both our hearts and we’ll be following their season with great interest. We’d also like to wish the Torcida good luck as we love fans with passion just like them.
Once again if you’re heading to Split, a tour of Poljud Stadium is a must see and if you can catch a Hajduk game you’ll definitely have not only a great time but a memorable experience.