Football feels stuck at the moment. With the majority of the globe on lockdown, so many heads are turning to fixtures and moments of the past, but fan culture never stops. Fans from Bosnia to Buenos Aires are looking to the future for their next big event, and so are we here at TCD. Here are some of the biggest and best fan moments that we’ve picked out as ones to watch out for, when - finally - football returns.
The oldest of the old guard
Although Italy was arguably the start of the ultras scene, the record of the oldest fangroup in football goes to Torcida Split. Croatian club Hadjuk Split are a mainstay in the top half of the nation’s top division and their ultras, who base themselves in the North stand at the wonderfully 70s, space-age-looking Stadion Poljd, are known for their impressive pyroshows during the nation’s Eternal Derby, in which Hadjuk play Dinamo Zargreb.
Back in 1950, a group of students in the city set up the group, influenced by the stories of local sailors who witnessed that year’s World Cup in Brazil. 70 years later, the group were expected to celebrate their anniversary on October 28th. If they are able to commemorate the anniversary this year, the scenes will be like something very few people have seen before.
The 60th anniversary of the group was marked with a series of events, including a march through the city and a hugely impressive tifo, all of which was filmed and could be bought on DVD by fans.
If Torcida aren’t able to celebrate their own anniversary, Hadjuk will celebrate their 100th birthday on February 13th 2021, so there is still an opportunity for wild celebrations in Croatia’s second city.
New kids on the block
MLS has really been smashing it in recent years hasn’t it? Atlanta United rode the crest of the wave started by FC Dallas in signing young exciting players onto designated player contracts, rather than the ageing big name players. This brand of young, exciting footballers brings in young, excited fans and the scene in the US is growing every season. 2020 was meant to see the first campaign of David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC, but the teams only played two matches each before the league was postponed, leaving the spotlight for the newest sides set to join the league in 2021.
Austin FC, the league’s third Texan side following the aforementioned FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo, and a so-far-unnamed side from Charlotte will be Major League Soccer’s newest expansion teams next year, bringing with them exciting fan opportunities and a set of fresh challenges.
As much as the southern US’ excitement surrounding soccer is growing, some within the league are suggesting that three teams in one state will be too many for a still emerging market. A third club does open the opportunity for a fan-lead tournament in a similar format to the Cascadia Cup, which is contested by the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. These rivalries can offer some fantastic tifos as the clubs’ fanbases look to outwit and out-design each other.
Charlotte, on the other hand, have no such issues when it comes to top level competition. The nearest MLS club, DC United, lies a full 400 miles from the North Carolinian city, but issues lie closer to home for the unnamed franchise in the form of the Charlotte Independence. The six year old club play in the second tier USL Championship and have a strong fanbase of their own. With the Independance already having pulled in the city’s active support, it will be interesting to see how the newest Eastern Conference side are able to build up their fan profile.
The match 20 years in the making
The 2019-2020 Bundesliga campaign was set up to be special for a number of reasons, with the prominent one being it would be the season of the first top flight Berlin derby in 40 years - and what an event it was. A packed Stadion An der Alten Fösterei saw Union Berlin beat Hertha for the first time since 2011, but the real excitement came off the pitch, with both sets of fans really showing what they are capable of in terms of active support.
Union fans presented an incredible Greco-style tifo before kick off, whilst the Hertha fans in the away end did what they could, in a wonderful choreographed change of boiler jackets in between pyro shows. As the resulting smoke from pyrotechnics shrouded the away end, fans would have blue and white boiler suits and change them to create different patterns as the mist cleared.
After that incredible show of active support, the broad openness of the Olympiastadion allows for Hertha fans to truly express their creativity with few restrictions the Ostkurve provides.
The return fixture should have been played on March 21st, but obviously fell to the pandemic and, as much as the Bundesliga has now resumed, this is much to the anger of such fangroups, who highly value their role in the matchday experience.
A century of a Balkan icon
It goes without saying, that Eastern European football can be bonkers. With some of the most explosive derbies, passionate fans and intriguing histories in the game, a trip to the Balkans should be on the bucket list of any football fan and FK Željezničar Sarejevo are one of the must-know clubs.
Formed by a group of rail workers as a protest to the richer clubs already existing in the Bosnian capital of Sarejevo, Željezničar often organised fundraising nights and, as a result of the club’s multiethnic build, the club remained suppressed in their early years until WWII stopped Bosnian football. A match fixing scandal, Yugoslav league title and a couple of impressive UEFA Cup runs saw the club through until Bosnia’s independance saw war break out in the new nation, with the club’s Grbavica Stadium on the frontlines.
The stadium suffered greatly. Stands were burnt down and the ground remained unused for four years when, in 1996, Željezničar returned and won the Bosnian top tier two years later.
The club, affectionately known as Plavi, or the Blues, could easily have been lost to the past, which makes it even more incredible that they are set to celebrate their 100th birthday in September 2021.
The fan scene in Sarejevo is a hidden gem of the football world, with matches between Željezničar and FK Sarejevo offering incredible scenes of pyrotechnics with the backdrop of the famously picturesque hills and valleys, which surround the city. There is no doubt that Plaviâ’s main fangroup, Manijaci, or the Manics, will look to give their club the celebration it deserves.
Another chapter in the derby of all derbies
The 2018 Copa Libertadores Finals reopened the eyes of the footballing world to just how mad Argentinian football - and specifically the Superclasico - can be. The River Plate vs Boca Juniors derby is one of the fiercest in the world and very little in the game will ever compare to those fixtures, two years ago.
However, each match between the two Buenos Aires giants brings its own stories to be told, to generations of families across Argentina and it won’t be long before the match hits another milestone.
2021 is set to be the year of the 250th Superclasico and, with meeting 249 being set to come over a year after the two clubs last played, the next two fixtures will be as explosive as ever. The last match between the powerhouses came back in October 2019, when Boca beat their crosstown rivals 1-0 in a Copa Libertadores night at La Bombanera and with the all-time record between the two clubs at 89-83 in favour of Boca, with 78 draws, River Plate will hope to tighten the gap when football begins once again.
The last numerical milestone between the sides came in 2017, when Boca won 2-1 at River Plate in a match which saw two red cards and scenes of red and white banners adorning El Monumental, in a way only South American fans can, as they streamed down from the top of the stadium and down the the running track which surrounds the pitch.
This fixture never fails to disappoint and, with the teams having played 248 Superclasicos, the big 250 will be something very special indeed.