Hajduk and Everton at Poljud: The Hype, Match, and Aftermath

Daniela Rogulj

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What a night.

It’s safe to say that Split is still high from last night’s incredible spectacle at Poljud Stadium. While Hajduk pulled a draw and did not end up advancing past Everton to the Europa League group stage, no one in Split seemed to mind – and we have never been prouder of our boys in white. 

It’s also safe the say that the energy in Split has been a bit off these last few days. As Hajduk supporters awaited a once in a lifetime event in their city, many of the Everton fans in town felt as though they had to watch their backs – was Torcida really after them? Could they enjoy their holiday?

As someone that has mingled with both sides of the coin in Split this week and in Liverpool last week, here is my take on the hype, the match, and the aftermath.

The Hype: And boy, was there hype. Leaving Liverpool last week after a 2-0 defeat for Hajduk, crowd incidents at Goodison Park that were recognized on an international level, and hope that Hajduk could very well pull off a miracle at Poljud, I knew that when I arrived back in Split this story was just beginning.

As Everton supporters arrived in Split earlier this week, most of them were looking forward to their much needed holiday in the sun – and I know this because, after being in Liverpool last week, there was not the slightest hint of summer in the air. Maybe a hint of spring, at best. 

Many of the Everton supporters I spoke to in Split over the last few days were also a bit nervous about taking this holiday. Hell, their club had issued an official statement warning them to keep to themselves and to hide the fact that they are, indeed, Evertonians – a difficult thing to be asked to do when you’re a proud football fan on holiday for your club. 

The Tourist Board of Split and the Ministry of Interior also sponsored pamphlets that were given to Everton fans upon their arrival at Split Airport. Helpful? Yes. But did this also add to the fear in the air? Most definitely. You can read more about that here

While the day before the match went without any severe incidents (but had many Everton fans tip-toeing around Split), Everton fans knew they had a “safe zone”, er, fan zone where they could congregate before the match. The fan zone also had charter buses available, with police escorts, that would take fans to Poljud, safe and sound. Many of the fans decided to gather here to avoid any public display in the center of town, and pairs of Everton fans who felt safe enough enjoyed pre-game pints at the bars in town. 

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The Everton fan zone, however, did have its flaws. Fans reported that they were being charged 50 HRK for beer, which is over 6 GBP! Many of them hoping to have a cheap holiday in Split found themselves paying London prices instead. I did find out that a few hours later, prices were dropped to 40 HRK. Still not cheap, and still just about what you’d pay for a pint in a London pub. Who organized the fan zone for Everton, no one knows. 

I did catch up with a few fans that spent the afternoon in the fan zone before the match to get their take on the experience. 

“It’s quiet. Everything is fine. Everyone is enjoying themselves,” I was told. Phew. 

Hajduk supporters, on the other hand, were parading the city in white hours before the match. Whether they gathered at cafe bars along the Riva or various establishments throughout the Old Town, nothing would get in the way of their celebratory day. 

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Hajduk fans buying last minute gear before the match 

Here’s a look at my walk to the match. 

After arriving at the stadium two hours before kickoff, I can honestly say that I have never seen so many people gathered at Poljud at once. The stadium was open and ready for fans from 18:00, and Hajduk fans were taking full advantage of beers, čevaps, and good company. 

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I spoke with a few Hajduk fans over beers to get their thoughts on the match ahead of us. 

“We will win. It will be 3-0,” said one fan. 

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“I don’t even care if we win, we won’t see anything like this again in our lifetime,” said another.

I remained hopeful as well.

I entered the press area of the stadium 45-minutes before the match to find it already nearly full! The excitement in the air was intoxicating, and it was true, I had never seen anything like this in my life.

The Match: As an avid Hajduk supporter and someone that is usually hyper critical and pessimistic about football, I honestly believe that Hajduk was the better team.

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In the first half, we maintained possession, had too many missed opportunities, and quite frankly, we had shut down any hope of Everton seeing the back of the net. 

The stadium was roaring, the singing never stopped, and everyone was captivated by Hajduk’s brilliant performance. 

“You know what? I think we can actually win this,” I thought.

And there it was, just three minutes before halftime. 

Hajduk’s Josip Radošević hit a screamer from the outside of the box to find the back of the net. Hajduk was up 1-0. I nearly fainted, and the stadium went into a frenzy – a feeling so powerful I cannot put it into words. You can check out the video of the goal below.

During halftime Hajduk supporters remained more than hopeful. We were dominating, we were pressing, and we were outplaying this Premier League side. We were bound to get another goal at this pace, and the feeling in the air was that we actually would.

And then the second half began.

Within the first minute of the second half, before anyone could even grasp that the game had resumed, Everton’s debutant Sigurdsson equalized. It was now 1-1. The stadium was in shock. 

The cheering calmed down a bit while Hajduk supporters gathered their thoughts and questioned if what they just saw before their eyes was indeed reality. I know I was in disbelief. We would need three goals now.

After Hajduk fans gave themselves a quick slap in the face to knock them out of disbelief and post-goal unconsciousness, the cheering resumed. To be fair, Torcida never actually stopped.

And then the chances kept coming. 

Erceg proved to be dangerous in the box, Vlašić had chances, Radošević hit another screamer and failed, and overall, things were looking good.

The golden opportunity, however, was the penalty Hajduk was given in the 64th minute. Hajduk’s Said quickly volunteered to take the shot, with a look of confidence in his eyes so convincing we knew this would change the game. But with luck not quite on Hajduk’s side, the penalty was defended by Everton’s keeper. The game remained 1-1, and our hopes of Hajduk getting through this were dwindling.

There were, even more, opportunities for Hajduk by Said and Erceg, and Hajduk keeper Dante Stipica made some incredible saves from strikes coming off the boot of Wayne Rooney. 

But time was running out, unfortunately, and we all had to swallow a 1-1 draw at Poljud and Everton advancing into the Europa League group stage.

Poljud, however, did not stop cheering after the final whistle blew. In fact, they did not stop cheering for Hajduk for 10 minutes after the match ended. While we wished for a better result, we could not have asked for a better performance by our boys. 

The Aftermath: To be honest, many of the Everton supporters were worried about what they would do after the match. While they had chartered buses taking them to Poljud before the game, they were not confident that they’d have a way back into town.

I did speak to a few Evertonians before the match that said the owner of the apartment they were staying in would pick them up after the game – Split hospitality at its finest. 

There were reports of Torcida waiting at the entrance to the away section for Everton supporters to leave, and after speaking with a few away fans, they were stuck inside the stadium for two hours after the match! All for their safety, of course.

The city, however, was vibrant. The bars were full, there was not a look of disappointment in anyone’s eyes, and the feeling was mutual that if Hajduk could play this well every match, we would win the Croatian league. 

The Hajduk and Everton experience is best summed up by a message I received from a lovely Everton supporter Steve – a fan I met in Liverpool who also attended the game in Split. 

“You have the best support I have ever seen. Hajduk will live forever in my heart. It was amazing, totally amazing, and now I am a fan of the best team in Croatia.”

Thank you, Steve, thank you, Everton, and thank you, Hajduk Split. 


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