September 20, 2011

Croatia: 1.HNL (the Croatian First Division).

Filed under: Croatia — admin @ 9:51 pm

2011/09/croatia_1st-division_1-hnl_2011-12_post_.gif – Results, fixtures, table

Croatia is a crescent-shaped nation of around 4.29 million {2011 census figure} that has an area of 56,594 square km. (21,851 sq. mi.), which makes Croatia slightly smaller in area than the state of West Virginia, and slightly smaller in area than the nation of Latvia. Croatia is situated in Central Europe at the northern end of the Balkan Peninsula and the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. The Croatian first division is currently [Sept.2011] ranked #20 by UEFA for play in Europen competitions (up 2 places from #22) {UEFA league coefficients}. Croatia’s relatively high UEFA league coefficient is the result of decent performances in Europe these past few years by the two biggest Croatian clubs – Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. Hajduk Split qualified for last season’s [2010-11] Europa League Group Stage, and Dinamo Zagreb have qualified for this season’s [2011-12] Champions League Group Stage {my 2011-12 UEFA CL Group Stage map, here}.

Croatia became independent in 1991, leaving the Second Yugoslavia (the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which existed from 1945 to 1992). {The 6 republics of the former SFR Yugoslavia can be seen here}). A bloody and wrenching conflict with the rump-state of Yugoslavia [which was by then effectively controlled by Serbia], and conflict also with militarized ethnic Serbians within Croatia, preceded and followed Croatia’s independence, and is known as the Croatian War of Independence (1991-95).

In the Croatian language, Croatia is known as Hrvatska. The Croatian first division is called the Prva HNL (Prva Hrvatska Nogometna Liga), or 1.HNL [Nogometna means 'Football' in Croatian]. There are 16 clubs in 1.HNL (up from 12 clubs after 2008-09). However, the Croatian Football Federation has decided to reverse this, and so 5 clubs will be relegated (and 1 club promoted up from the second division) at the end of the 2011-12 season, so as to return the 1.HNL to a more realistic 12-team league. I say more realistic, because a glance at the 2010-11 average attendance figures in Croatia (which you can see on the map page) will tell you that there are some pretty tiny clubs making up the numbers in top flight Croatian football – last season 3 clubs in 1.HNL did not even draw 1,000 per game on average, and only 5 clubs drew above 2,000 per game. The best-drawing club in Croatia is Hajduk Split, who drew 6,933 per game in 2010-11. Dinamo Zagreb drew second-best in 2010-11, averaging 3,560 per game – a figure that is pretty low for a 6-time-straight champion. Dinamo Zagreb has recently drawn as high as 11,156 per game (in 2005-06). But Dinamo Zagreb has seen an attendance drop in recent seasons that is partly explained by the fact that a considerable segment of their supporters have been boycotting games because of a feud with the club’s executive vice-president. Also, because the Croatian top flight has become such a two-horse race, many fans of the 2 top clubs have been turned off to the domestic competition. Their focus is on Europe. Here are some recent examples… Hajduk Split averaged 27,333 per game in their 3 Europa League home matches in 2010. Dinamo Zagreb drew 30,065 for their Champions League Play-off round tie in August 2011 versus Malmö FF (which Dinamo won 4-1 en route to a 4-3 aggregate victory); and Dinamo drew close to a full house, with a 34,847 turnstile count, in their 14th September 2011 Champions League match versus Real Madrid (which they lost 0-1) {Report on that match, with illustrations incl. an aerial view of the Stadion Maksimir that night, here (from}.

The Prva HNL was formed in 1991 [the Yugoslav First League lasted one more season before being dissolved in 1992]. The Prva HNL began it’s first, truncated season in Feb.1992. The 1.HNL runs from August to May, with an 8-week winter hiatus from late December to early February. All teams currently play each other twice, for a 30-game season. Last place finisher in 1.HNL is automatically relegated to the Druga HNL (aka 2.HNL), while the 15th place finisher must play the 2nd place finisher in 2.HNL in a promotion/relegation play-off.

There will obviously be a different arrangement next season [2012-13], with a 12-team/33-game/3-times-versus-other-teams format the most likely arrangement.

As alluded to earlier, the Croatian first division is dominated by two clubs – Dinamo Zagreb, and Hajduk Split. These 2 clubs have won 19 of the 20 Croatian titles. The remaining title, from 2001-02, was won by the tiny west-Zagreb-based NK Zagreb (more on them further down).

Dinamo Zagreb are from the largest and capital-city of Croatia. Zagreb’s metro-area population is around 1.28 million {2011 figure}. [Dinamo Zagreb are one of 4 clubs from the capital that are currently in the Croatian top flight, the other 3 being: Lokomotiva, the newly-promoted NK Lučko, and the aforementioned NK Zagreb.] Dinamo Zagreb play in the city-owned Stadion Maksimir, which was opened in 1912, and renovated and expanded to a 38,923-capacity in 1997. The stadium, which takes it’s name from the Maksimir neighborhood on the east-side of Zagreb, is often home to the Croatian national football team. Dinamo Zagreb were formed in 1945, but it’s roots are in a club called Gradanski Zagreb.
Image credits –

Gradanski Zagreb were formed in 1911, when Croatia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gradanski became the football club for working-class fans in Zagreb (as opposed to their major city-rivals HASK, which were the club of the upper-class and were affiliated with the University of Zagreb and it’s students). Gradanski won 5 Kingdom of Yugoslavia First League titles, with their last national title in 1939-40, which was the last season of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia phase (1923-40) of the Yugoslav First League. Gradanski Zagreb, along with 2 other Zagreb-based clubs – Concordia and HASK – were disbanded by the Yugoslav Communist Party immediately after the end of World War II, primarily for playing in the pro league of the short-lived Nazi-puppet-state called the Independent State of Croatia (1941-45).

Dinamo Zagreb became a charter member of the second-phase of the Yugoslav First League (which ran from 1946-47 to 1991-92). They won 4 Yugoslav titles during this phase. However, they had not won a title for 10 years when the Croatian clubs in the Yugoslav league system departed for the new Croatian league system in 1991. Of course, once the Croatian top flight was established, Dinamo Zagreb became, along with Hajduk Split, the dominant powers in Croatian football. Counting their entire existence in both Yugoslav and Croatian football, Dinamo Zagreb have never been relegated (1945-46 to 2011-12). Currently, Dinamo Zagreb are on a 6-season title-streak, having won every 1.HNL title since 2005-06, and again, Dinamo Zagreb sit atop the 1.HNL table [with a 5-point lead over Hajduk Split as of 20 Sept.2011].

Hajduk Split were, like Gradanski Zagreb, also formed in 1911 (so 2011 is Hajduk Split’s Centenary Year). Split is a very old city, around 1,700 years old. Split has a city population of around 178,000 {2011 census figure}. ‘Hajduk’ is a term that refers to outlaws, freedom-fighters or guerrillas – sort of like a Balkan Robin Hood-figure. In Balkan folklore, the Hajduci (plural) were romanticized heroes who stole from, and battled against, the Ottoman authorities. This concept was especially resonant in Split circa 1911. That is because Split, as part of the Dalmatia region on the Adriatic coast, was prevented by their Austo-Hungarian rulers back then from being unified with the inland sections of land on the Balkan Peninsula historically populated by Croats.
Photo from via, here.

Hajduk Split won 2 Yugoslav First League titles pre-WWII (in 1927 and 1929), and, impressively for a club representing such a medium-sized city, Hajduk Split won 7 Yugoslav First League titles during the Communist era – their first title from this era was in 1949-50, and their last Yugoslav title was in 1978-79. So, just like Dinamo Zagreb, Hajduk Spit had not won a title in over decade when the Croatian league was started in 1992. Hajduk Split have won 6 Prva HNL titles, with their last in 2004-05 (Split finished second in 2006-07, 08/09, 09/10, and 10/11; while eastern Croatian side Slaven [Koprivnica] were runners-up in 2007-08, and north-western Croatian side Rijeka were runners-up in 2005-06). Like Dinamo Zagreb, Hajduk Split have never been relegated, which puts Hajduk Split as having played in the first division since 1923.

Finally, the only other Croatian champion besides Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split needs mentioning. NK Zagreb is a club that plays in another municipally-owned stadium in Zagreb, Stadion Kranjčevićeva, which has a 8,850 capacity, and is located in Trešnjevka, Zagreb. Trešnjevka is a large neighborhood in the western part of the city [note: just-promoted side NK Lučko are also playing there this season]. NK Zagreb have played in all 20 seasons of the Croatian top flight, as well as 19 seasons in the old Yugoslav First League. NK Zagreb uses the city of Zagreb’s coat of arms as it’s crest, and the fact that one of the design elements in that coat of arms is a Muslin crescent-moon is appropriate, because NK Zagreb is a club that is opposed to all forms of discrimination (be it ethnic, religious, or otherwise). The club also has a strong anti-hooliganism policy. As to the question of how NK Zagreb, a club that is hard-pressed to draw 1,000 per game these days, could have won the 2001-02 Croatian title, well, take a look at the numbers that Ivica Olić had that season. Ivica Olić is a Croatia international striker who currently plays for Bayern Munich. Olić famously scored the winning goal at Wembley that saw England eliminated from qualifying for Euro 2008. In 2001-02, as part of the NK Zagreb squad, Olić scored 21 goals in 28 matches (in a 30-game season). Also, NK Zagreb benefited that season from the experienced leadership of the much-travelled manager Zlatko Kranjčar (who is a former coach of the Croatia national team; a title-winning manager with Dinamo Zagreb in 1996 and 1998; and is the father of Tottenham midfielder Niko Kranjčar). NK Zagreb drew 3,387 per game in their championship-winning season of 2001-02, but last season [2010-11], they drew only 980 per game.
Thanks to the contributors to the pages at, ‘Prva HNL’.
Thanks to, for attendance data.
Thanks to, for the base map – Demis Web Map Server.

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