Football is not just a game (#1)
The Dinamo Zagreb vs Red Star Belgrade was an infamous football riot that took place on May 13, 1990 at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb (Croatia) between the Bad Blue Boys (fans of Dinamo Zagreb) and the Delije (fans of Red Star Belgrade). The incident is famous for taking place just weeks after Croatia’s first multi-party elections in almost 50 years in which the parties favouring Croatian independence had won the majority of votes. The riots resulted in over 60 people wounded, including some stabbed, shot and poisoned by tear gas.
Tension between the two teams was always high as they consistently placed at the top of the Yugoslav football league and often won the national championships. In 1990, this took an even worse character due to rising ethnic tensions in Yugoslavia. The first multi-party elections were held in most of Yugoslavia and communism was ousted in favour of more national-oriented parties. The second round of voting in Croatia was held on May 6, when the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won under Franjo Tuđman. Slovenia and Croatia, under new leadership, were the leading forces behind a drive to reorganize Yugoslavia into a confederation, but were opposed by Serbia under Slobodan Milošević and the still powerful Communist system at state-level.
Approximately 3,000 Delije made the trip to Zagreb. They were led by Željko Ražnatović (also known as “Arkan“), a Serbian nationalist and war-criminal wanted by Interpol. Between 15,000 to 20,000 spectators were estimated to have attended the game.
Up to several hours before the game even began, there were already a number of fights in the streets between Dinamo (Bad Blue Boys) and Red Star (Delije) fans. However, the real trouble took place within the Maksimir stadium itself. Provoked by stones being thrown at them by the Bad Blue Boys , Delije , placed in the stadium’s segregated area reserved for visiting fans, began to tear the advertising hoardings and eventually made their way towards the Dinamo fans, attacking them with torn-off seats and knives, and singing Serbian nationalist chants like “Zagreb is Serbia” and “We’ll kill Tuđman”.
The Bad Blue Boys – incensed by the actions of their rivals – attempted to storm the field half an hour later, but were quickly pushed back by the police; restraint methods used by the police included baton striking and tear gas. Within minutes, the situation spiraled beyond control as the BBB could no longer be held back by the police, and soon took to the field to reach their Serbian counterparts. All the while, the police were quickly overwhelmed by the large numbers, but came back with reinforcements, armoured vans and water cannons to disperse the violence. More than an hour later, with hundreds injured, the running battles were all over.
Amidst all the chaos, several Dinamo players still remained on the field, the Red Star players having already left for the locker rooms. Zvonimir Boban, the Dinamo’s captain, kicked a police officer Refik Ahmetović who was attacking a Dinamo supporter. The Bad Blue Boys soon came to Boban’s defence, acting as bodyguards. For this act alone, Boban was proclaimed a national hero of Croatia, but also attained a Croatian nationalist reputation in Serbia. He was suspended by the Yugoslav Football Association for six months and had criminal charges filed against him, although the officer he attacked (who turned out to be a Bosnian Muslim) publicly forgave him for his actions several years later.
The riot marked the beginning of the end for the Yugoslav First League. After the playing the entire following 1990-91 season clubs from Slovenia and Croatia withdrew. The league lasted for one more season after that as by the end of 1991-92 season the country disintegrated.
Though it occurred full year-and-a-half before the start of hostilities, in Croatia, the riot is also symbolically seen (and in some sections of Croatian society even celebrated) as the start of the Croatian War of Independence.