Građanski Nogometni Klub Dinamo Zagreb were formed in June 1945 and have won the Croatian Prva Liga championship for the last nine consecutive seasons. Interestingly the club are a “corporate personhood” which means there are no shareholders and they are a not-for- profit organisation. The club have played at the legendary Maksimir Stadium since 1949 after the old stadium had been rebuilt. Dinamo’s first game at the Maksimir took place on November 19th 1949 against FK Partizan Beograd.
Originally opened in May 1912 the stadium is opposite the urban park of the same name. The Maksimir’s original tenants were a club called HAŠK. This club and their cross town rivals, HŠK Građanski Zagreb, were both disbanded by a decree issued by the communist authorities. The new Dinamo club initially took over Građanski’s Stadion Koturaška for three seasons before moving into the rebuilt Maksimir.
The Maksimir’s original orientation had a horseshoe shaped stand around three sides of the pitch and small grandstand on the north side. In May 1941 a fascist government representative from the Independent State of Croatia addressed a large gathering of students from Zagreb. He ordered that the Croats, Serbs and Jews should be segregated from each other. The students refused his orders and with in days enraged youths burnt the Maksimir to the ground. The incident was turned into a motion picture called “Operation Stadium”.
Croat architects Vladimir Turina and Franjo Neidhard were engaged to rebuild the whole venue again and provide a capacity of 60,000. Improvements continued periodically, the new north stand was opened in 1955 and six years later the east stand was built. In July 1973 a match against NK Osijek attracted an all time record gate to the Maksimir of 64,138.
In May 1990 Dinamo Zagreb hosted Red Star Belgrade in a Yugoslavian League match. The build up to the game was shrouded in ethnic tensions and some 3,000 Delije (Red Star’s ultras group), led by Željko Ražnatović (later known as the warlord “Arkan”), made the trip north from Belgrade. Dinamo’s ultra group the Bad Blue Boys were also out in force and began stoning the Delije. The Serbs retaliated with nationalist chants like “Zagreb is Serbian” and “We’ll kill Tuđman”. The pitch was engulfed with fighting supporters. Red Star’s players returned to the dressing rooms but Dinamo’s remained on the pitch. Dinamo’s star player and captain Zvonimir Boban kicked a police officer who was seen attacking an innocent Dinamo fan. The game is generally cited as one of the major flashpoints in the build up to the horrendous Balkan War and the break up of the old Yugoslavia.
The current stadium dates from 1997 and the old north stand was replaced by the present one a year later. In 2008 there was a competition held to find a design for a new national stadium in the Kajzerica area of the city. The plan was to demolish the old Maksimir Stadium and replace it with a state of the art home for the Croatian national team as well as Croatia’s biggest club. The contest was won by architect Hrvoje Njirić whose stunning “Blue Volcano” design was widely lauded. The problem for the new project was funding and in 2011 the municipality spent a fortune, which proved to be a considerable strain on public resources, on upgrading the Maksimir. Undersoil heating and irrigation systems were installed and all surfaces were painted blue. Every seat in the stadium was also replaced. The Blue Volcano project was officially shelved in October 2012 when even a referendum to decide on staying at the Maksimir or moving to Kajzerica could not be organised effectively.
While Dinamo continue to dominate the domestic scene they have struggled for success in Europe. In this season’s qualification for the Champions League Dinamo easily beat Žalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania but surprisingly lost 2-1 on aggregate to Denmark’s AaB Aalborg. This saw the Croatians shunted into the Europa League and a group consisting of Celtic, the Romanian club Astra Giurgiu and tonight’s opponents FC Red Bull Salzburg. Having lost their last group game 4-2 in Salzburg, Dinamo were keen to celebrate their 100th European match with a win in the Maksimir.
Despite their best laid plans Salzburg took the lead through the impressive Jonathan Soriano and when Kevin Kampl doubled the lead the hosts lack of adventure seemed to hold them back. Even though Henriquez immediately reduced Dinamo’s arrears it was not to be and the Austrian’s cruised to an easy win. Soriano would score a hat-trick of real quality although Salzburg’s fourth and fifth goals were borne out of some shambolic defending by Dinamo. Even though it was a historic occasion the ground was less than a third full and the ultras group Bad Blue Boys were few in number. There has been a dispute between the club’s hierarchy and the ultras since 2010 which has seen periodic boycotting of matches. Interestingly the BBB have their own megastore in a unit at the stadium.
An iconic name in European football the Maksimir deserves full houses and great European nights, something the current team is failing to provide.
Thursday November 6th 2014 – Europa League Group D
GNK Dinamo Zagreb (0) 1 (Henriquez 60)
FC Red Bull Salzburg (1) 5 (Soriano 40,64,85, Kampl 59, Bruno 72)
Attendance: 10,769 (at Stadion Maksimir)
34. Eduardo Carvalho, 6. Ivo Pinto, 5. Jozo Šimunović, 87. Jérémy Taravel, 3. Luis Ibáñez, 16. Arijan Ademi, 77. Marcelo Brozović, 8. Domagoj Antolić ©, 2. El Arbi Soudani, 90. Duje Čop, 9. Ángelo Henriquez.
Subs: 1. Antonijo Ježina, 7. Franko Andrijašević (for 8, 69 mins), 11. Junior Fernandes (for 90, 61 mins), 19. Josip Pivarić, 22. Leonardo Sigali, 28. Wilson Eduardo, 55. Ognjen Vukojević.
1. Péter Gulacsi, 4. Peter Ankersen, 5. André Ramalho, 36. Martin Hinteregger, 17. Andreas Ulmer, 44. Kevin Kampl, 13. Stefan Ilsanker, 8. Naby Keita, 24. Christoph Leitgeb, 26. Jonathan Soriano ©, 7. Marcel Sabitzer.
Subs: 33. Alexander Walke, 2. Benno Schmitz, 15. Franz Schiemer (for 36, 88 mins), 41. Konrad Laimer (for 8, 77 mins), 45. Duje Ćaleta-Car, 77. Massimo Bruno (for 7, 31 mins).
Yellow Cards: Pinto, Brozović, Ademi, Šimunović (all Dinamo); Ilsanker, Ulmer, Laimer (all Salzburg)