The Croatian city of Split was swept up in fervent celebrations this weekend as local heavyweights HNK Hajduk Split enjoyed a memorable 100th anniversary.
The club was founded after four Prague-based students Fabijan Kaliterna, Vjekoslav Ivanišević, Lucijan Stella and Ivan Šakić decided it was time their home town had a club of its own after attending a match between AC Sparta Praha and SK Slavia Praha. And so on 13 February, 1911 a new team was born as the quartet turned their dream into reality.
Fittingly, Slavia were invited to help mark Hajduk's centenary by taking part in a friendly at the Stadion Poljud on Sunday. The Czech club's delegation came full of congratulations for their hosts, but on the pitch their players were in less generous mood. Karol Kisel and Zoran Milutinović claimed excellent goals in a 2-0 success for the visitors, but there was little chance of that spoiling the festivities.
"This is a great jubilee and I congratulate everyone who has Hajduk in their hearts," said Croatian Football Federation (HNS) president Vlatko Marković, who was present. "This atmosphere is fantastic and we must enjoy this great moment."
The celebrations were in full flow away from the stadium too, with the whole Dalmatia region expressing its support. Club flags and banners have been visible everywhere, while wearing a Hajduk scarf has been de rigueur – with the likes of Marković and Croatia coach Slaven Bilić, who started and finished his playing career at the Split outfit, joining in. In addition, famous Croatian pop stars have been praising the club in song, but the most breathtaking moment of the weekend came at midnight on Saturday, when more than 3,000 flames were lit around the city.
"Hajduk are everything to me; they're in my mind all the time," said former goalkeeper and club stalwart Vladimir Beara, who represented the Split outfit 308 times and helped them to Yugoslav titles in 1950, 1952 and 1955. "Although I am 82, I still go to almost every Hajduk match and, as long as I can walk, I'll keep going."
Currently in second spot and five points behind NK Dinamo Zagreb in the Croatian First League, which returns from its winter break on 25 February, the club contested their first ever game against local side Il Calcio, winning 9-0. They have since amassed 18 league titles and 14 national cups.
Highlights from those triumphs include their 1950 Yugoslav crown, when they went through the entire season unbeaten, and the 1971 league title, which ended a 16-year drought and ushered in a decade of dominance. They have also never once been relegated and have never deviated from their famous white shirts.
In Europe, they reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 1983/84 and have advanced to the last eight in the European Champion Clubs' Cup on three occasions, most recently in 1994/95 with a lineup boasting Igor Štimac, Aljoša Asanović and current coach Goran Vučević – a proud man during the festivities. "This was a really great moment for me because I got to be the coach on the club's 100th birthday, which is an honour," he said.
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