Ethnic Tensions Explode in the Balkans
Teams: Red Star Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb
Damage done: "To the fans of this club, who started the war with Serbia at this ground on 13 May 1990,” reads a plaque outside Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, Croatia. The trouble started after the triumph of pro-Independence Croatian politicians in April 1990 national elections exacerbated ethnic tensions in then-Yugoslavia. The following month, a delegation of violent Red Star fans known as the Delije (“tough guys,” shown left in their later incarnation as a Serbian paramilitary unit), headed by future Serbian war criminal “Arkan” (Zeljko Raznjatovic), traveled to Zagreb for a match between the top Serbian and Croatian sides.
Brutal street fights ensued, and inside the stadium, the Serbian police officers who were assigned to provide security allowed the Delije free rein to attack Dinamo supporters. A counterassault by thousands of Croatians overwhelmed the police and the Delije in the largest pitch invasion in football history. Police reinforcements were called in, but not before Dinamo midfielder Zvonimir Boban famously kicked a policeman to the ground. (Boban later spent eight years at A.C. Milan and captained Croatia to a third-place finish in the 1998 World Cup.) The game was never played, but many of the fan-gangs involved that day later went on to join their respective sides’ paramilitary forces in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.