Fulham fans visiting Croatia can be assured of a warm welcome - in more ways than one. Hajduk Split have one of the most devoted followings of any European club. Known as the Torcida, the genuine Hajduk fans will follow them everywhere.
The club was formed in 1911, and in the past 90 years has seen the country's regime change 4 times - from the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the Kingdom and then Republic of Yugoslavia to the current Republic of Croatia. Hajduk have won 15 national championships and 11 major cups.
They also have an impressive European record. They reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup twice and were in the last 8 of the Champions' League in 1994-95, when they were knocked out by the eventual champions, Ajax. They lost to Leeds in the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final in 1973 and in 1984 went out in the Uefa Cup quarters to Spurs. Fulham will be hoping to make it 3 out of 3 for English clubs.
Hajduk's best-known players in recent years include Alen Boksic (now with Middlesbrough), Slaven Bilic and Igor Stimac. Both the others played in the Premiership, but of the three only Stimac is currently at Split.
Hajduk's superb stadium was built in 1979 to a design by Prof Boris Magas. It is said to resemble an open sea shell and at night, to look like a giant spaceship. It currently has 28,000 seats and two open ends, which are scheduled for seating in the future. The stadium hosts many sporting events including athletics as well as football.
The fans' organisation, the Torcida, was founded in October 1950 on the eve of a big match against Crvana Zvezda. The atmosphere at the game was incredible and Hajduk won in the last minute, promtping a city-wide party in celebration. Torcina have groups all over Croatia and in many cities abroad. There is a big group in Rotterdam, for example.
This season, Hajduk have enjoyed mixed success. In their first 4 league games they won 2 and lost 2, scoring 7 and conceding 8. Results varied from a 4-1 win to a 5-1 defeat - both at home! Hajduk also play in white so we shall be wearing our away strip when we visit them.
Fans travelling to Croatia should leave time to look around Split, a city with over 1500 years of history in a superb location on the Adriatic coast. It is the home town of the 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.
Much of the above was gleaned from Hajduk's excellent website at www.hnkhajduk.hr Go to the home page, click on the Union Jack and you will find plenty of information in English. Croatia is a beautiful country trying hard to develop tourism and put the strife of the recent past behind it.
Fulham fans going to the match should find plenty of cosmopolitan atmosphere and no doubt in two weeks' time we can look forward to welcoming the Torcida to Loftus Road. Let us make sure their visit is also an unforgettable, and wholly friendly, experience.