Match day experience in Croatia, footballs loudest crowd
(Pictured my view at Hajduk Split as the flares start) In looking to share a feature on my wildest experience as a football fan, it would have to the match I attended when backpacking in Croatia. I don’t really remember the score or much of the on field play, my overwhelming memory is the loudest and most passionate crowd I have ever witnessed. And this was just a random Europa league qualifier game.
The team I was watching was Hajduk Split. I don’t recall the visiting team, but I believe they where from Romania. It was the summer of 2009 and I was staying in the city of Split and saw that Hajduk had a game on. I was well aware of Hajduk Split’s football fans reputation. Known as ultras, these football fanatics call themselves the Torcidas. They are famous for their loud support, lighting of flares and intimidating opposing teams. A visit to Hajduk Split’s stadium is like a visit to a noisy hell. They fill the 35,000 seater stadium full and are some of the most passionate football fans in the world. They make the likes of Liverpool or Real Madrid’s fans seem like quiet mice.
Two days before the match, me and my buddy headed to the Split stadium to buy some tickets. My friend was quite anxious, the reputation of the Split fans intimidated him, and arriving at the box office we had to wait in a line of Split fans. My friend suddenly wanted to leave, everyone around us had the look of a killer, faces were scarred and you could tell this lot enjoyed a good fight as much as the football. I reassured my friend, after all we were buying tickets to be with the Split fans and were going to be one of them. At the box office the assistant was friendly, we had some banter about the English league and we bought tickets, which were far cheaper than British games.
When the night of the match arrived, the city came alive with a clamour of noise and thousands of people. Arriving at the stadium we decided to keep out voices to whispers, we didn’t want people to know we were English. It wasn’t worth risking it, the atmosphere was hostile and it felt like anything could kick off at any minute. I enjoyed a few beers outside the ground and then we headed in. We discovered that the box office had put us right in the Torcida end. To be honest I relished this, we would be right amongst the flares and noise. On entering the turnstiles, a Torcida gave us a banner to hold up during kickoff and upon finding our seats we were instantly caught up in the cauldron of aggressive noise and passion. It was amazing. Regardless of what was happening on the pitch, the fans would jump up and down, screaming chants at the top of their lungs. This never let up for the whole 90 minutes. The loudness was indescribable. From the other end of the stadium there was special police who watched with binoculars. The atmosphere of violence ready to boil over was never far away. It kind of made it exciting although I do take the view that all violence connected to football is deplorable. The stadium was sold out and everyone was chanting and jumping, all except a small section of the stadium which was a chunk of empty seats with only Nine people sat in it. This was the travelling away fans, only Nine had bothered to travel to Split given the reputation of the Torcida.
Midway through the first half the flares started, huge red sparks and flames with big billows of smoke. It quickly covered us and the heat added to the amazing atmosphere. This boiled over mid way in the second half, when a flare was thrown on to the pitch at an opposition player. The game stopped for a minute while an official removed the flare, and a Torcida ring leader urged calm in the crowd. Never the less the loud chants and jumping continued, the stadium shaking under our feet. I am sure it wasn’t safe but no one cared. It should be noted as well that this was just a random match, god knows what it is like when Hajduk play a big game or their big rivals Dinamo Zagreb. The whole experience was a collective cauldron of heat, colour, noise, jumping and passionate support which is unmatched in any other place I have watched football. I left the stadium shaking, barely able to remember much of the pitch action, the real spectacle had been in the stands. Me and my friend remained in silence until we had safely walked into the city centre, and then both talked about how amazing the experience had been. The next day I bought a Hajduk Split shirt and will forever remember being one of the Torcida.
This was an extreme version of the enjoyment and passion of watching football live. But I urge all sports fans to get out there and buy a ticket to their local clubs matches. People become too reliant on watching television, the real passion is still to be found in the stands of football grounds all across the world.
G.J Herbert is a British features writer who has worked in content writing for business and been published in regional titles and nationally in The Sun newspaper. For his sports coverage follow him at https://twitter.com/gjhsports