Very Heated But Almost Unknown Football Rivalries

HSK Zrinjski – FK Velez

The city of Mostar in Bosnia has become the sad symbol of the ethnic and religious divisions around which the terrible war of Yugoslavia was fought between 1991 and 2001. The city is in fact inhabited partly by Catholic Croats and partly by Bosnian Muslim Muslims (two of the three ethnic groups that make up Bosnia, the third are the Serbian Orthodox) and the two communities are clearly divided by the Narenta River with the former on the western side and the latter on the eastern side.

 The two side were joined by a small arched bridge known as the Stari Most (the old bridge) which was promptly demolished at the beginning of the hostilities. As often happens in such cases, sport has followed politics and the two teams of the city reflect its two souls well: on the one hand the HSK Zrinjski representing the Croatian side (HSK means in fact Hrvatski športski klub or Croatian sports club), and bears the name of the Zrinjski princes, a noble Croatian family, on the other hand the FK Velez, a symbol of the Communist Party representing workers and Muslims.

Much more than anywhere else in the Balkans in Mostar, the two city groups symbolize the religious, political and cultural faith of their “fans”. In short, the sporting dimension is completely secondary when it comes to this derby. The history of the rivalry between the two clubs is very long and closely connected with the historical events of the twentieth and twenty-first century, although it is very interesting we prefer to fly over it because it is really too full of episodes of great violence that have nothing to do with sport.

 What we can tell you is that despite the end of the conflict in Yugoslavia the rivalry is still very heated today (the last delirious episode of violence was in 2011) but in the last ten years it has weakened a lot since the Velez has slipped into the second division and now struggles not to go back further while the Zrinjski grinds victories on victories and is one of the two strongest teams in the country. The fact of being in two different divisions has led the teams to meet much less often and as a result, the violence has decreased dramatically.

 

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