End of Advent, Handball, and a Swedish Fan’s Perspective of Split

Daniela Rogulj

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A look at Split, alive and well, in the middle of January. 

This weekend in Split is perhaps the busiest January weekend the city has seen. With the start of the European Handball Championship last night at Spaladium Arena, the city is full of handball supporters from Iceland and Sweden, and Croatia fans are taking every opportunity to dress in their Croatia best for the exciting sporting event over the next few days. 

In addition to the handball madness, Advent in Split is still in full swing thanks to a decision by the City of Split and the Split Tourist Board who felt keeping the festive feeling in the city a bit longer, or until the end of the handball competition in Split would be useful. And just like that, the longest-ever Advent in Split will kiss the holiday season goodbye on January 16th. It seems the people of Split are continuing to enjoy their final taste of the Advent season until we welcome the next one this December. 

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By Thursday evening, many handball supporters had already arrived to Split to ensure they had a solid 24-hours to prepare for the big spectacle awaiting them on Friday. The energy inside of the palace walls and along the Christmas-themed Riva was not reminiscent of any January day I could remember in the past – but there was life in the city, and it was 13 degrees Celsius. 

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Though I wasn’t planning on attending the handball championship because of too many family obligations and the comfort of my couch sounding like the better idea, my brother, father, and I chanced upon a group of Swedish supporters at a Split pub on Thursday evening who quickly changed my mind. As it turned out, three of their friends canceled their handball-driven trip to Split last minute – leaving the Swedish fans we met with three extra tickets for all games in Croatia’s group. In other words, these Swedes were holding onto three golden tickets for Croatia’s opening (and sold out) match against Serbia – and they weren’t looking to sell them. My father wasn’t hesitant to tell them just how much those tickets were going for, and if you recall, 2,000 kuna for a single ticket was becoming the norm for a spot at this game. But these Swedes, as genuine and kind as they are, didn’t seem to mind, and more than the money, they merely wanted companions to attend the games with – so long as those companions agreed to participate in the opening match of the tournament between Sweden and Iceland. With a clink of our pint glasses, we had a deal. 

We met with our new Swedish friends around 17:00 on Friday to ensure we had enough time for the walk to Spaladium, and the intense security measures that were said to take place. My brother and I, who were both in Croatia gear upon our arrival, were immediately given two Sweden shirts to wear by our friends. “You can change out of them for the Croatia game, but right now and during the Sweden game, you are one of us.” Fair enough. 

On the walk to Spaladium, I got to talking to one of our friends about his initial perceptions of Split. “The streets are immaculate. I can’t get over how clean the city is. It’s amazing!” Okay, wait a minute – you mean Split? Coming from Sweden, I was sure he would have a different opinion. I had been to Sweden once in my life when my football (soccer) team participated in the ‘Youth World Cup – Gothia Cup’ in Gothenburg back in 2004. One thing I remember vividly, apart from how green the country was, was its cleanliness. I was curious to find out more. “When you’re walking through the palace, there is not a single piece of trash. And even this street we are walking on to the Arena right now – I can’t imagine dropping my cigarette butt on the ground,” he continued. Surprised, enlightened, and coming to realize Split is pretty clean, I told him we’d wait to find a bin. 

I then asked how they felt about Split’s restaurants and accommodation. “We had a wonderful meal at Mazzgoon the night we arrived, and we’re staying at the Hotel Marmont which we couldn’t be happier with.” Hotel Marmont is one of my favorite hotels in the city, but booking it for a single night in the peak season can easily cost you upwards of 250 euro. “We only paid 270 euro for our entire six-night stay!” And there you have it, yet another reason why Croatia in the offseason has its perks. 

We arrived at the Arena with a half hour to kill, and the security measures upon entry were just as intense as they warned. “No cigarettes, no lighters, no lip balm.” You should have seen how full those collection boxes were. The staff at Spaladium Arena was readily prepared and available at all corners to help you with any questions you might have – and our questions, naturally, were focused on where we could find the beer. Fortunately, it was everywhere. 

Surprising for a sporting event, the prices, I thought, were more than reasonable. Pints were cold and cheap, and a hot sandwich or sausage, with whatever fixings you desired, only cost 20 kuna. A small popcorn went for 20 kuna, while a large for 30. There were even smoothies if you fancied one. It’s safe to say that there was a lot of drinking and eating amongst the spectators at this competition. And smoking, even though thousands of packs of cigarettes must have been confiscated, was done down by the Arena toilets. I don’t know what is more classicly Croatian than that. 

Sweden v. Iceland was up first, and unfortunately, to the dismay of our new friends, Sweden was upset by Iceland 24-26.

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But in the ‘match of the year’, which hopefully made up for the Swedes’ loss, saw Croatia upset Serbia 33-32! And this was done in front of 12,000 screaming fans. Bravo. 

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Being that this was my first live handball experience ever, who knew that the fans, the atmosphere, and the sport were so exciting in the flesh?

Croatia will play Iceland next on Sunday, January 14, 2018, at 20:30. You can find their full schedule here


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