KARLO TASLER / AIPS* in ZAGREB: In a year when the European Championships are being subjected by the highest level of security yet Croat hooligans managed to provide a distraction which earned universal condemnation.
It was in the 86th minute against the Czech Republic, with Croatia 2-1 ahead, that their hooligans supporters heeded the pre-arranged call to action stations and threw flares and fireworks down onto the pitch.
One firecracker exploded next to a steward who was trying to clear the flares away. Fortunately he was not hurt, though shocked. The entire scene was ugly, without excuse and prompted referee Mark Clattenburg to halt the game until peace had been restored.
Yet this was not the assault planned by the Russian hooligans or the mindless violence perpetrated in the past by England supporters.
These hooligans from Croatia were members of an organization that had come to France with the deliberate mission of declaring ‘war’ on Zdravko Mamić, the most influential figure in the Croatia Football Association of which old star Davor Suker is president.
Everything started in the autumn of 2006, when Mamić was the executive vice president but the de facto top man of champions Dinamo Zagreb. That was the first time that Dinamo fans, the Bad Blue Boys, launched insulting chants against Mamić. The chants became a symbol of a protest.
That was also the first time the Bad Blue Boys publicly accused Mamić of turning Dinamo into his private business. The main argument was simple: Dinamo is not a private club. It is owned by the city: Zagreb.
For the last 10 years Mamić has systematically been giving Dinamo’s ultras reasons to continue with their revolt and with every new move from Mamić – currently an adviser and first vice-president of the FA, the anger of the Bad Blue Boys had risen.
Numerous attempts have been made to overthrow Mamić: riots at stadia, protests in cities, boycotts of Dinamo matches, threats and even physical attacks.
But, while the Bad Blue Boys were doing everything they could to deal with Mamić their own way, his influence was rapidly rising, despite having been linked to so many controversies.
However he was never accused officially and, in 2009 – unofficially- became the most powerful man at the Croatian FA. Since then, Zdravko Mamić has had the last word. He became the most influential person not only in Croatia’s football but in the country’s sport.
Suddenly, not only were the Bad Blue Boys against him, he also became enemy No1 of all of Croatia’s ultras. Revolt spread all over the country.
The main argument against Mamić was the same as the Bad Blue Boys’ argument of years ago. Mamić was accused of turned all of Croatia’s football into his private business, and especially the national team which, for many, had become the ‘Mamić national team’.
In the last two years, the battles against Mamić have been taken to a national level. For the first time, Croatia’s hooligans united and came up with a plan that would give UEFA no choice but to disqualify Croatia from their competitions.
The purpose was to damage Mamić’s reputation and the reputation of ‘his’ association. Therefore, the last two acts took place at the Euro 2016 Qualifiers.
First against Italy, in November, 2014, in Milan, Croatia’s hooligans caused complete chaos in the stands and by throwing flares onto the pitch they forced the referee to stop the match for 10 minutes.
The second act took place also against Italy, in Split in June, 2015. A large swastika symbol had been etched on the pitch. A scene that had never before been seen at a football match.
In both cases, UEFA showed mercy for the Croatia FA and the ‘only’ punishment given was a fine, deducted points, and matches to be played behind closed doors. Nevertheless, UEFA’s message was clear – one more incident and Croatia would be sanctioned like never before.
So to the game against the Czech Republic, where the hooligans did exactly what they had been planning for months in seeking to eliminate the national team from the biggest stage they could hope for – the European Championship finals.
Now it is UEFA’s turn to act. On Monday the consequences will be known and the Croatian hooligans will know if their plan has indeed succeeded.
Once again, there is no excuse for what the hooligans did at the match on Friday. But it is important to explain the background of this unjustified act, and to make it clear that the hooligans were not there accidentally.
This was just one more battle in a war which that has been raging for 10 years. Maybe it will be the last battle.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is staging its annual congress. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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