When Sparks Fly at a Soccer Game: Experiencing Professional Football in Croatia by Sheri B Doyle
Catching a little pre-World Cup fever, I wanted to see a professional football (soccer) game while we were in Europe. Split, Croatia, turned out to be the perfect venue. I wanted the experience of the game, but even more of the culture and the vibe. Split was perfect because we could walk through the ancient town of Split, up a hill to the stadium, which dramatically stands high enough above the sea to offer a beautiful view before dark.
Somehow, we managed to communicate that we wanted two tickets in the middle of the field, or we thought we did. Feeling proud of ourselves, tickets in hand, we made our way to our gate, not without a lot of help from locals. Before we entered our bags were checked and we were scanned to make sure we had no weapons or devices on us. This seemed odd, as Croatia is one of the safest countries in the world.
We sat down and watched the game between the two top teams in Croatia. The locals drank beer, smoked cigarettes and watched with reservation; almost afraid to get excited. It was so low-key compared to an American football game. For a while, anyway.
While the game started slowly, by the middle it had picked up pace and the fans had become more involved. Then suddenly the firemen, who had been lined up on the sidelines, started to move toward a section of the stadium in the end field. I noticed a flash of light and smoke begin to rise. Quickly my level of concern also started to rise, contained only by the fact that we had all passed through security to get in.
Photo: Hajduk Split Poljud Stadium, Croatia
Then, more smoke, more flashes of light, until the entire section was engulfed, and the smoke had begun to fill the field making it almost impossible to see the players. No one around us seemed concerned. I watched carefully until my husband realized the flashes of light were flares set off by the fans. The firemen had made no movements even while the section glowed in the light of the flares being lit.
Somehow in the dense smoke, the players continued the game, scoring another point and rallying the crowd. I had begun to embrace the smoke after a local informed us this was a tradition of the opposing team. The smoke that had created a sense of heightened competition eventually cleared and the Split team went on to score an incredible last-minute goal, winning the game and igniting cheers and celebration throughout the city.
Walking home through the streets of Split, surrounded by the cheers, the beers and the excitement, I felt like a true local. For a few hours I had been a Croat.
This is why I travel.
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