Fascism’s mortal enemy: The fascinating history of Hajduk Split

With fascism once again threatening the world, there will be one football club keeping a close eye on events. If fascism was to be given a mortal enemy in the shape of a football club, Hajduk Split would be it.

To understand why first you must head back in time to a world in which the horrors of world war had not ruined countless lives.

The tale of the Dalmatinski ponos started 106 years ago in a bar. That bar was U Fleku, a famous locale in the city. Inside of that bar sat a group of students who would add to Split’s already rich tapestry by introducing its famous football club.

Their names were Fabjan Kaliterna, Vjekoslav Ivanišević, Lucijan Stella and Ivan Šakić.

Earlier that evening they had been watching Prague’s two big teams, Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague. It was here that they talked over the idea of forming a new football club.

First, they would need a name and it would be one of their professors, a Mr Josip Barač, who would provide it. He knew his history and specifically the tales of the Hajduks.

Essentially the Croatian folklore version of Robin Hood, these ragtag bands of rebels had been the heroes of the people, fighting against the unjust actions of the Ottoman Empire that had continuously occupied the Balkans.

According to Barač, the word Hajduk symbolised more than that though:

“[It represents] that which is best in our people: bravery, humanity, friendship, love of freedom, defiance to powers, and protection of the weak.”

Josip Barač

Name chosen, the next step was to get approval. That they did, with the Imperial Governor in Zadar issuing a permit on February 13 1911. Soon the club, just like their bandit namesakes, were in conflict with the authorities.

This time it was to do with their badge, specifically the inclusion of the famous Croatian checkerboard. Its use was a symbol of their resistance, an open demonstration of their dreams for an independent Croatia.

This did not impress the monarchy. Only the argument that the club was used for training soldiers saved them from being disbanded. 

By 1927, they would have their first national championship. A second would follow two years later. The 1930s would be less successful, with a series of disappointing second placed finishes.

Fast forward to 1941 and the world finds itself in the middle of World War II. Fascism is threatening the world and Yugoslavia finds itself in its grip. Germany and Italy have split it between themselves, the latter controlling the city of Split.

True to their roots, Hajduk rebels, this time against fascism itself. Openly against the treatment of their city, the club wound down and ceased to compete.

The Italians had proposed a different idea before this drastic move. They had wanted the club to play in the Italian First Division and rename themselves as AC Spalato. Of course, Hajduk Split rejected it outright.

Split would fall in 1943 but would soon be reoccupied by the Germans. Like their Italian counterparts, the Germans proposed Hajduk reform as a new club in a German league. No prizes for guessing how they reacted to that idea.

This continued fight did not go unnoticed by the Allies. The anti-fascist movement needed an official club and Hajduk were the perfect fit.

This newfound status would later find them travelling to the Island of Vis, an Allied stronghold, to take on a team from the British Army. It was a game that drew a crowd of 40,000, believed to be the highest attendance at any sporting event during WW2.

Around this time came another significant moment in the history of the club as the decision was made to change the club’s badge.

For some, this was a strange decision but in truth, it was another sign of resistance. The Red Star was a symbol of antifascism and the move only further strengthened the club’s standing as the official club of the anti-fascism movement.

Despite the war finishing, Hajduk would continue to resist as they always had. A new Communist government ruled in Yugoslavia and they had been watching Hajduk’s anti-fascist resistance with great interest.

They wanted to claim the club as their own, with the idea being to move it to Belgrade and turn them into an army club. Of course, Hajduk refused outright, a dangerous decision at that time.

Fast forward to the modern day and Hajduk haven’t needed to show their resistant tendencies in the intervening years. Instead, football has been their sole focus.

They remain one of the most successful teams in Croatia, with six titles, six Croatian football cups and five Super Cups to their name.

Before the formation of the Croatian league in 1992, they won nine Yugoslav first league titles and nine Yugoslav cups. Only Dinamo Zagreb have been more successful.

Footballing success has always been the second most interesting thing about this football club, though. It is their place in history that is most fascinating.

As fascism grows again under a new name, there is no doubt about which side of the line they stand on. It is almost fitting they will travel to Liverpool this week to take on Everton in the Europa League.

In Liverpool, they will find a city that is as opposed to anti-fascism as they are. Recent history is a testament to that. In Hajduk Split, the city of Liverpool will find a ready-made ally.

No football club in the world can say they oppose its existence quite like the Pride of Dalmatia.