Remembering Hajduk Legend Bernard Vukas 35 Years After his Death

Daniela Rogulj

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Hajduk kroz povijest

“If I were born again, I’d still play for Hajduk.” Today we remember the greatest Hajduk and Croatian footballer of all time, Bernard Vukas. 

On this day 35 years ago, Bernard Vukas, the best Hajduk and Croatian football player of all time, left us, reports Dalmatinski Portal on April 4, 2018. 

Bernard “Bajdo” Vukas was born on May 1, 1927, in Zagreb, where his father moved from Vugrovec Gornji. Though he spent his childhood in Trešnjevka, he did not land his football anchor at Dinamo. He did, however, embark on one Bulgarian tour with the Zagreb club where he even scored a goal. While Bajdo began his senior career at Amateur and Zagreb, it was the match between Split and Zagreb (1:2) that would be crucial for his transfer to Hajduk. 

After the game, Franjo Matošić went crazy for the Zagreb player and immediately said: ‘I want this left wing’. Hajduk club secretary Šime Poduje then actively sought to bring Vukas to Stari Plac. An important role in the transfer of Vukas was played by the great Hajduk footballer and friend of the Vukas family, Luka Šarić (director of TEŽ). As soon as Šarić informed the Split club that everything was agreed for the Vukas transfer, Matošić and Broketa were sent to Zagreb to pick up Bajdo. That summer, in 1947, perhaps the biggest Croatian football story began.

Without knowing it at the time, Bernard would become a legendary Croatian footballer and Hajduk Split’s pride and joy for not just the rest of his career, but for all time. The archives say that Vukas played 615 games for Hajduk and scored 300 goals. Just in the First League, he found the back of the net 89 times in 202 appearances. 

It was Vukas who was responsible for the historic turnaround in the derby against Zvezda which brought the championship title in 1950. With Belgrade in the lead 0:1 and just 16 minutes to go, Vukas dribbled through the entire Zvezda defense and hit an incredible shot past goalkeeper Mrkušić for 1-1. It was the spark that started the explosion, because, in the 86th minute, Broketa would score for a Hajduk victory.

“Yes, that was the most beautiful moment of my career at Hajduk at Stari Plac,“ Vukas said 30 years later when Hajduk had already moved to Poljud.

If Frane Matošić was an inviolable leader on the pitch and in the dressing room, if Vladimir Beara was “a man of steel”, Vukas was the first star of the team to win three championship titles (1950, 1952 and 1955). He was also the top goalscorer in the league in his last performance for the trophy, and in 1955, he was declared the best athlete of Yugoslavia!

Vukas also took on the England national team twice. The first time was at Wembley in 1953 when Vukas played in the ‘Rest of the World’ match against England for the 90th birthday of the English Football Federation. The game ended 4:4, and Vukas alone scored two goals and won a penalty. Two years later, on the UEFA continental team, Vukas scored a hat trick in Belfast against Great Britain. The final result was 4:1, and even the most arrogant British journalists made it clear that Vukas had conquered British football.

For the national team, Vukas performed 59 times and was a participant in the conquest of two silver medals at the Olympics (1948 and 1952). He played in the world championships twice where he scored 22 goals.

Vukas, in a tactical sense, was what we now call an ‘all-round’ player, a universal player who can perform equally well on the right and left wing, but is also a classic center. With so much talent and knowledge, it wasn’t difficult for Vukas to adapt to any position in the team.

While today it may sound strange that the Zagreb player was knocking on Hajduk’s heart, it was true.

“After just two months Bajdo was a Splićani! He immediately loved Hajduk, the Dalmatian songs. Everyone remembers hanging out with Bajdo, because when he was in the klapa, no fun was missed,” Frane Matošić said on Vukas’ passing in 1983. He was only 56 years old.

Bajdo, as a genuine Split person was a fierce fan of the water polo team Jadran, and moreover, he always defeated his teammates in cards. 

Davor Grčić remembers:

“Even though he was not born in Split, he was a bigger Hajduk fan than all of us. Only someone who knows Split well can understand that.”

Frane Matošić was also quoted as saying one of the most genuine testimony to Vukas as a footballer. 

“I have never played with a better player than Bajdo, and I have never seen someone better than him on the opposing team!”

Interestingly, Vukas also brought the first big TV antenna to Split that could “catch” signals for the RAI program to watch the Italian soccer league. This makes following Serie A now even sweeter, as few people know who actually made this first pioneering step.

Furthermore, Vukas was the first domestic footballer who went abroad as a professional. In 1957, he went to FC Bologna for two seasons. The second time he went abroad was in 1962 to play for GAK from Graz, then to Austria’s Klagenfurt and KSV Kapfenberg.

Bajdo’s career, however, remains most memorable for what he did at Hajduk. The Bajdo Vukas Memorial is located in front of the stadium at Poljud, and Vukas even has a street named after him in Split and Zagreb. The unbeatable dribbler is the winner of Hajduk’s highest acknowledgements, including the golden badge and the golden captain band. In 2004, he was declared the Croatian footballer of the century by the Croatian Football Federation, and in 2005, FIFA awarded him the ‘Order of Merit’. Two years later, Vukas became honored in the Hall of Fame of Split sports.

Bernard Vukas died on April 4, 1983, in Zagreb, but the memory of this master is unforgettable. Still today, no single generation has repeated the success of 1950, when the championship was won without defeat, with the unparalleled unity of players and the dedicated crowd at Stari Place. 

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“I played a full 14 seasons for Hajduk, and if I were born again, I would play for Hajduk again! Because of all the camaraderie, honesty, because of our fans!” Vukas said remembering the glory days. 

Translated from Dalmatinski Portal


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