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* Resistance in cities Sports

Football as protest and resistance

Following the capitulation of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Dalmatia was annexed by Fascist Italy. To emphasise the region’s Italian identity, the new authorities decided, among other things, that Hajduk Split, one of Yugoslavia’s best football clubs, should change its name and play in the Italian league. But the management and players were against such a scenario. They decided to dissolve the club and the majority of them became members of the illegal anti-fascist movement in the city.


After the capitulation of Italy in 1943 Split became a part of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). The Ustasha authorities intended to reaffirm the Croatian identity in the city by reviving the Hajduk. However, the players refused to play for the fascist and collaborationist regime, left the city and joined partisan units. In the same year a joint command of the British army and the Yugoslav partisan movement was established on the island of Vis where mutual football matches became one of the favourite pastimes for soldiers. The idea emerged to invite all former Hajduk players, at that time fighters in various partisan units, to the island. Evading German and Ustasha controls, the Hajduk players managed to cross to Vis using fishing boats and partisan vessels. On 7 May 1944 Hajduk, as a club, was reestablished, and a few days later, they played their first match against a British army team winning with a score of 7:1.


After several matches on the island of Vis Hajduk embarked on a tour of southern Italy then Malta, Egypt and finally the Middle East. By the end of the war, representing the Yugoslav partisan movement and serving as a kind of national team of the new Yugoslavia, they played a total of 65 matches in seven countries with only seven defeats. During their visit to Lebanon in May 1945 French General Humblot on behalf of Charles de Gaulle presented Hajduk with a diploma declaring them the “Honorary Sports Team of Free France”. For their achievements and contributions to the People’s Liberation Struggle Marshal Tito awarded the Hajduk team in September 1945 with the “Order of Merit for the People with a Silver Wreath“.


A similar example was recorded in the town of Bihać, in the central part of the NDH. The Ustasha authorities decided to enhance friendly and alliance relations with the Italians through a football match between the Italian army team and the Bihać football club Jedinstvo. However, on the day of the match the Italians took the field but the players of Jedinstvo did not show up. Additionally, Jedinstvo players Rudi Baumgertl and Vinko Markotić took all the cleats and jerseys belonging to Jedinstvo and distributed them to other players to hide. Consequently, the match had to be postponed. Later, the majority of Jedinstvo players confirmed their anti-fascist orientation by joining the partisans or getting involved in the illegal People’s Liberation Movement in occupied Bihać and other cities. Some of them fell victim to Ustasha terror in the city.


Hrvoje Klasić & Dino Dupanović

  • Richard Mills, Nogomet i politika u Jugoslaviji, Zagreb, Profil, 2019.
  • Bihać u novijoj istoriji I, Institut za istoriju u Banja Luci, Banja Luka, 1987.

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