Derby Week: Head to the seaside or to the football? In Croatia, they offer both

Derby Week: Head to the seaside or to the football? In Croatia, they offer both
Rijeka is historically the more successful team
Rijeka is historically the more successful team
Do you also like to attend football matches in places where you would work or go to on family holidays? Travel and football is the perfect combination. If time permits, try to visit at least the stadium of a local team where you're staying.

And if there's a big game on offer, like the local derby, don't hesitate a second! A football match can often tell you a lot more about a place and its culture than a reputable guidebook. A bonus is a taste of authentic emotion.

Croatia is the ideal place for a football-flavoured summer holiday. The beginning of a new season offers the holiday-maker and football fan, a fantastic menu. 

Last weekend the Adriatic Derby took place, this time the so-called Derby della Ucka is on the agenda.

Both of them feature the club HNK Rijeka from the northern Croatian coast.

The Adriatic derby at the ground of Hajduk Split was better for Hajduk (1-0), so Rijeka will want to follow up the win from the first game of the season.

Rijeja defeated top divison newcomer NK Rudes 4-0 in the match against their next big rival - NK Istra 1961 from Pula.

After two rounds of the HNL (Hrvatska nogometna liga), NK Istra 1961 drew their season opener 1-1 at Lokomotiva Zagreb. In their second game, Istra 1961 faced another team from the capital, Croatia's biggest club Dinamo Zagreb and lost 3-0.

The Italian roots of the Istria derby

The derby between HNK Rijeka and NK Istra 1961 is called Derby della Uuka. Uuka is a mountain range that rises on the Croatian peninsula of Istria.

Rijeka is a large port city located on Kvarner Bay at the point where Istria turns into the mainland. Pula is today primarily a tourist destination located on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula.

The whole of Istria, and thus both towns and both clubs, have a rich, colourful but also complex history.

The map shows where the two rivals are located.

History has played with the territory of the Istrian peninsula in many significant ways. Thanks to its strategic location for ports on the Adriatic coast and its proximity to the Apennine Peninsula, Istria has been a sought-after and therefore tested territory.

Many civilizations, cultures and state formations have made their mark in the annals of Istria, from the Romans, through the Habsburgs, the Austrian Empire, Austria-Hungary and, after 1919, Italy.

Istria was part of Italy from after the First World War until the end of the Second, specifically until 1947, when the peninsula became part of socialist Yugoslavia (only Trieste remained Italian).

After 1991, most of Istria became Croatian territory, with only part of Slovenia in the north.

The foundations of the football rivalry between the clubs from Rijeka and Pula date back to the Italian part of Istrian history, to the time of the Italian Kingdom in the early 1920s.

At that time, several clubs from Fiume (Rijeka) and Poly (Pula) competed in Italian competitions of different levels.

The first official football match between football teams from these two cities was played in 1920 between Juventus Enea Fiume and US Polese.

The biggest rivalry formed over time was of course between the strongest clubs of the two cities, which were US Fiumana and GSF Giovanni Grion Pola.

Between 1930 and 1943 the two teams played 20 official matches against each other - Fiumana won 11 times, Grion five times, and four matches ended in a draw.

The formation of the current Croatian rivals

After the end of World War II, both cities became part of Yugoslavia.

Like all clubs in Yugoslavia, US Fiumana restructured and renamed itself SCF Quarnero, then NK Rijeka in 1954.

In the second half of the 20th century, NK Rijeka spent most of its seasons in the Yugoslav First League, while clubs from Pula played in the lower levels. 

Since Croatian independence, Pula club NK Istra became part of the new Croatian league. A local derby was once again formed.

Between 1992 and 2000, Rijeka (since 1995 as Hrvatski nogometni klub - HNK) and Istra clashed 17 times. Rijeka won eight matches, Istra won six, and three matches ended in draws.

In 2000, however, NK Istra was relegated from the league and began to sink deeper and deeper.

The last time the two teams played each other

However, another team returned to the first league. In 2004, the club NK Pula 1856 (in 1856 the Austro-Hungarian Empire made Pula a port of call for its fleet) was promoted to the top league.

In 2005 the club was renamed NK Pula Staro Cesko (after the brand of beer), in 2006 NK Pula, and finally in the summer of 2007 NK Istra 1961.

The last change of name and club colours was forced by the club's fans - they mainly demanded a return to the traditional city colours, which are yellow and green.

This proves that - as is the case with other Croatian clubs - fans are a significant and important part of the local football scene. The camps of loyal and even fanatical fans of both clubs are well known, and thanks to them the matches in the Derby della Ucka have a tense atmosphere.

The fan base supporting HNK Rijeka is called Armada, while the Demons are on the side of Pula.

The derby has no favourite

HNK Rijeka is historically a much stronger club. They even won the Croatian title in the 2016/2017 season, impressively finishing above Zagreb and Split. Rijeka is also a six-time winner of the Croatian Cup - the last time they won it was in 2020.

NK Istra 1961 footballers don't have any big trophy in their cabinet yet, but last season they had the best season in the club's history, finishing the league in 5th place, just one place behind their rivals.

Since 2004 when NK Istra 1961 broke into the Croatian top-flight, there have been 59 Istria derbies.

HNK Rijeka has won 38 matches, NK Istra 1961 has won six times,with fifteen draw. But as they say, the derby has no favourite.

The Derby della Ucka will kick off at the Rujevica Stadium in Rijeka on Sunday, August 6 at 21:00.

Next derby of the week

Friday August 4
20:00 - Netherlands - Johan Cruijff Schaal (Super Cup)
Feyenoord v PSV Eindhoven
De Kraker

Before the Dutch Eredivisie kicks off, it's time for the Johan Cruiff Schaal (Johan Cruijff Shield) - the name of the Super Cup, which is contested between the reigning league champion and the winner of the domestic cup. 

Feyenoord won the title last season, while PSV won the cup (and finished second in the league).

These are two of the three (with Ajax) biggest and most successful clubs in the Netherlands.

Although purely from a geographical point of view it is not directly a derby, the rivalry is very strong throughout this "big three" (De Grote Drie).

17:00 - Finland - Veikkausliiga
FC Ilves v FC Haka
Pirkanmaan derby

In the derby of the Pirkanmaa region in southern Finland, FC Ilves from Tampere and FC Haka based 35 km south in Valkeakoski face each other.

Ilves has 17 points after 17 matches and are in 8th place. FC Haka is in last 12th place with 13 points. The Pirkanmaas derby between the two struggling teams will be about important points in the fight for salvation.

20:45 - Northern Ireland - NIFL Premiership
Coleraine FC v Ballymena United
A26 derby

The Northern Irish League kicks off with the first round of fixtures this weekend. Right from the start, Coleraine FC and Ballymena United face off in a derby. Their clash is named after the A26 which connects the two towns in the north of the country.

Coleraine FC finished 6th in the 2022/2023 season in the 12-team competition, while Ballymena finished 9th.

Sunday 6 August
13:00 - England - Championship (2nd League)
Leicester City v Coventry City
M69 derby / East Midlands derby

Leicester City were relegated from the Premier League in the 2022/2023 season, and Coventry City narrowly missed out on promotion (they lost on penalties to Luton Town in the play-off final for promotion to England's top competition). Therefore, the two teams from the East Midlands will meet in the Championship.

The rivalry between Leicester and Coventry is called the M69 motorway derby, which lies between Leicester and Coventry.

Leicester City's squad has seen many changes since relegation. The Foxes had to let go of James Maddison (Tottenham), Harvey Barnes (Newcastle) and Youri Tielemans (Aston Villa).

The M69 derby (which last took place in 2012) being right at the start of the new season will be an extremely interesting encounter.


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