There lies a certain dark mystique around Eastern European Football. The atmosphere that engulfs the stadium, is deep-rooted to the certain extremes that are prevalent within the country. Marred by violence and racism, Croatia has been at the forefront of football-related violence in recent times. As a passion takes over a football fan, often frenzy can ensue. At Euro 2016 some fans of Croatia decided to turn to violence to take a stand.
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The intensity and chanting that the stadium echoes that rumbles to the beat of the rhythmic drums is an intimidating sight for any travelling team. The incident that created quite a stir in the media was the violence caused by the Croatian fans during the 2016 Euro Championship against their own FA.
After winning their opening game of the tournament against Turkey, Croatia’s match against Czech Republic was interrupted by violence. Fifteen flares were launched onto the pitch as referee Mark Clattenburg had to halt the game in Saint Etienne for several minutes. The violence interrupted the game soon after Czech substitute Milan Skoda scored in the 76th minute.
Croatia led 2-, in the Euro 2016 fixture, before a fight broke out in the stadium which further led to flares and firecrackers being launched onto the pitch. The violence caused injury to a pitch side steward as he picked up a flare that exploded in his hand. Despite the deployment of riot police fans continued the brawl in the stands, which led to captain Darijo Srna try to pacify the crowd and request them to stop.
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Srna who was playing days after the death of his father pleaded for calm but the enraged fans continued to mount their assault on one and another. This wasn’t the first time an incident of this magnitude involving the Croatia National team, broke out. In 2014 a qualifying game against Italy in Milan was temporarily suspended as the fans bombarded the pitch with flares.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN?
In the backdrop to Euro 2016, a large number of supporters had become alienated from the Croatian National team, some gave up on it completely. The reason stemmed from the corruption that involved the football federation’s vice-president Zdravko Mamic.
UEFA confirms it will open disciplinary proceedings over disturbances during Croatia's v Czech Republic. (via Sky) pic.twitter.com/A6I3kPfJHh
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He had been charged with embezzling money from Dinamo Zagreb when he was their chief executive. The chief executive director of the federation Damir Vrbanovic was also charged as an accomplice in the crime. In the year leading up to Euro 2016, they were both taken into custody amid fears of witness tampering.
Mamic was later suspended from working at Dinamo however, both men managed to kept their job at the federation and were both in the VIP lounge at the game against the Czechs.
A large proportion of the fans felt betrayed as they felt that the National team was hijacked by the pair. The Croatian Football Federation President Davor Suker was also viewed as a puppet and was involved in turning the federation into a tool for making money.
WHAT THE FANS WANTED TO ACHIEVE?
Despite the allegations, Mamic and Vrbanovic denied the charges. What followed was a long and highly unsuccessful challenge to remove them through a legal system. Some of the radical fans were so enraged by the repeated failed campaigns, that they did not mind hurting the team with their violent actions.
They actively plotted to sabotage the team as they felt the only way their voices would be heard was if the International team failed on the pitch. The protest in 2016 was a sequel to the violence that happened in the home leg of the 2014 Euro qualifier against Italy where a Swastika was painted on the pitch of the Poljud Stadium.
It remains certain that although the Croatian fans wanted to achieve a certain sense of transparency and democracy in the domestic football circuit, the means by which they tried to make a statement shouldn’t have resorted to violence. The violence that broke was mainly between those that continued to support Croatia over those that launched flares during the Euro 2016 match.
Croatia Manager Ante Cacic later claimed that the Croatian FA was aware of a possible threat of violence but there was a lack of will within the media to confront the problem. The Croatia coach said: “What has happened was terrorism. They are hooligans, not supporters. Their place is not in the stadium but even people in the Croatia media were not happy with my comments about that before the game. It’s clear these people are hooligans. The same thing happened in Milan against Italy. There was the Nazi sign on the pitch they are ruining what we are doing.
Cacic further added that the players lost concentration after the violence broke out as many of them were scared for their family members and friends that were present in the stand. He blamed the drawn result on the angry as the reason they dropped two points.
Players also condemned the violence that broke out. “Maybe it would be best if we don’t play at all,” said Ivan Perisic, who scored the opening goal for Croatia. “Maybe that would actually be better in case these things are going to happen every time we play.”
WHAT DID UEFA DO?
UEFA opened up a disciplinary case against Croatia in the aftermath of the violence. The federations apologised to UEFA but blamed the government for not taking measure to curb the hooliganism. The federation also highlighted that it had warned UEFA and the French police about the possibility of the game being interrupted by violence.
The team was fined 100,000 Euros after the violence that broke out in the 2-2 draw against Czech Republic. The fine imposed was the second biggest of the tournament after Russia was fined 150,000 Euros just a week prior on the similar ground of hooliganism and violence.