It was always destined to be in St. Etienne this Friday. After all, Nick Ames was there, and as we all know, he is a magnet for stadium troubles. We were in Belgrade for that drone match between Serbia and Albania, you had a chance to read about it in Josimar. After that he was in Malabo, for 2015 AFCON semifinal, when Equatoguinean fans stormed the pitch just to be escorted back by a helicopter. He was one to be blamed for the troubles between Hungarians and Romanians in the qualifers, simply because he was there.
Jokes aside, there was much more in to this than Nick being in St. Etienne and reporting from this match. Anyone who has at least basic knowledge on Croatian football and all the problems that it has knew that something could happen at this tournament. We all knew.
But, let’s go back to start and answer some basic questions. What happened?
It was 86th minute and Croatia was just losing the plot against Czechs; they conceded a goal in 75th minute and the Czechs were all over them when a small group of Croatian fans started to throw flares in to the pitch. If I counted good; there was 12 flares on the pitch. Mark Clattenburg suspended the match briefly, while Croatian fans were fighting each other on the stands. When the match was restarted Czech Republic got a penalty and captured unexpected point.
But, how did we know that this is going to happen? Well, you know that a very old guy called Cicero? Historia magistra vitae est, he wrote in De Oratore, which suggests that “history is life’s teacher”. And it kind of is. It happened so many times so far – couple of weeks before the EURO UEFA fined them for racist chants in the Israel friendly; they have to play two more home matches in the World Cup qualifiers behind the closed doors, as well as pay 150.000 CHF. Earlier in the qualifiers – you have to remember that – they were deducted one point, had to play a match behind the closed doors and pay €100.000 for a drawing of swastika on the pitch of Poljud stadium. In last five years Croatia paid more than €700.000 of UEFA fines! Also, Croatian police warned their French colleagues that something like this could happen, but it seems they just did not believe them.
Wait, but why this happens? Why do they interrupt the match that Croatia was actually winning at the time? It’s very complicated to explain in a blog; get Josimar 09/2015 from the shelf and read my Zdravko Mamić piece. But, let’s try to summarise this. You’ve probably heard about Mamić? he is the FA vice-president and former Dinamo Zagreb president who turned to be “an advisor” for this club now. In last ten years Mamić has become the most influental person in Croatian football. It is believed that he makes all the big decisions regarding the club or international football in Croatia. His Dinamo won 11 titles in a row. In the meantime, he has been arrested and charged for money laundering; the prosecution believes he appropriated more than 15 million euros from Dinamo’s to his and his family’s personal accounts. He is on trial now, but refused to withdrawn from the FA position.
Dinamo fans exploited all legal options, asked the club for the elections, but it has been seven years now and nothing happened. Fans of the other clubs – Dinamo’s biggest rival Hajduk Split in particular – believe he uses his influence not just to gain private profits, but also to control the league and get any possible help for Dinamo. It is also believed that in the last couple of years he got in to control in the national team and the introduction of Ante Čačić as the national team manager was another sign of that. 62-year old coach spent barely a year in Dinamo, while his other jobs included many lower league teams, as well as Libya U21s. Basically, the guy is a semi-amateur, but also – at least this is what fans think – Mamić’s puppet. The same opinion is about most of the officials, including the FA president Davor Šuker. To illustrate all this, I am attaching the photo that made viral yesterday, of Mamic giving instructions to Čačić.
So, the question why they did it may be complex, but if you want a simple answer, it was to harm the Federation. They believe that the football in Croatia is on that point where results are not important anymore; they just want to make themselves loud to the world and force people to react. Let’s be clear here – what happened in St. Etienne was a terrible thing and it is impossible to justify it. There are no buts in this; Croatian team was on the verge of the second win and securing the last 16 place and this was and will be a huge blow for them. This is the wrong way, a way that maybe stopped superb Croatian generation marching to the title, the way that may see exclusion of Croatia from the World Cup qualifiers, but they also believe this is also their last way, the last chance to force goverment, UEFA and everyone to changes.
The last question is what happens next? Croatia will not be expelled from the EURO, that is not a possibility. But, as much as Croatian public, media and authorities, as well as UEFA, act like ostriches and hide their head in the sand, things like this will happen. A simple battle against hooligans or more repression will not solve anything; these guys are radical and want changes by all meanings. They obviously will not give in, same as the Federation officials, or better said, Mamić and people loyal to him.
This is a long war that everyone ignores and many battles are yet to come. The only thing that we know for sure is that the victim is and will be Croatian football.