The league that produced the European champions in its final season. By Jonathan Wilson
The long-term significance
Given the political situation, 1990-91 is remarkable for having passed off so smoothly. The previous season had been overshadowed by the riot at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb between Dinamo’s Bad Blue Boys and Red Star Belgrade’s Delije, hooligan firms that would end up serving at the front and who later saw that clash as the first battle of the Yugoslavian Civil War. However, although political violence flared across the region, crowd trouble remained relatively low-key.
It was, though, the last season of a truly pan-Yugoslav league. The Croatian clubs – Dinamo Zagreb, Hajduk Split, Osijek and Rijeka, as well as NK Zagreb, who would have been promoted – withdrew to join the league of the newly independent Croatia, while Olimpija Ljubljana, Slovenia’s only top-flight representatives, also withdrew. No sides were relegated, with OFK Belgrade (third), Sutjeska Niksic (fourth) and Pelister Bitola (sixth) joining second-placed Vardar Skopje in being promoted from the second division. The season also saw the continuation of the experiment whereby drawn games went to a penalty shootout, with only the winners taking a point, something that was widely seen as having helped Crvena Zvezda – Red Star – in Europe.
Story of the season
At its final hour, Yugoslav football enjoyed its greatest triumph. Red Star were league champions, winning 17 of 18 home games, but everything else paled beside their triumph in the European Cup. With a team featuring players from every Yugoslav republic apart from Slovenia – a parting triumph for the Titoist ideal – Red Star beat Grasshoppers and Rangers and were awarded their quarter-final against Dinamo Dresden after it was curtailed by rioting in East Germany to reach the semi‑final, where they met Bayern Munich.
The two legs, both epics, straddled the first firefight of the war, as Croat extremists fired three Ambrust missiles into Borovo Selo, the village outside Vukovar where Red Star midfielder Sinisa Mihajlovic grew up. A last-gasp Klaus Augenthaler own goal at the Marakana eventually gave Red Star a 4-3 aggregate win, and they went on to beat Marseille on penalties after a thoroughly forgettable final.
Only Hajduk Split denied Ljubomir Petrovic’s side a treble, Alen Boksic getting the only goal of the game as they beat Red Star in the cup final. Borac, from Banja Luka in what became the ethnic Serb entity within Bosnia, had their best-ever season in finishing fifth but duly lost their coach, Vladica Popovic, to Red Star.
For the record books
Darko Pancev’s 34 league goals made him Europe’s leading scorer, although he was only presented with the golden boot last season because France Football briefly discontinued the award following suspect scoring sprees in Cyprus. Second top scorer in Yugoslavia with 22 goals was Davor Suker of Dinamo Zagreb, later with Real Madrid, Arsenal and West Ham.
Same place today
Red Star and Partizan continue to dominate the Serbian league, with Vojvodina playing second fiddle, and Rad Belgrade floating around mid-table. Hajduk and Dinamo rule the roost in Croatia, but that aside, the story has been one of radical change.
Moved furthest away
Olimpija Ljubljana went on to dominate the early years of the Slovenian league, but fell foul of licensing rules requiring them to present a balanced budget. The club dissolved and, reformed as FK Bezigrad, started out again in the second division of the Ljubljana regional league – the Slovenian fifth tier. They went up in their first season and look likely to secure a second successive promotion this season.
Went on to greater things
Dejan Savicevic ~ The Red Star striker became the darling of the AC Milan fans and was man of the match in the 1994 European Cup final against Barcelona.
Predrag Mijatovic ~ A midfielder with Partizan, he was to score the goal that in 1998 won Real Madrid their first European Cup in 32 years.
FK Obilic ~ Then a mid-table third-division club who, thanks to the patronage of the warlord Arkan, won
the title in 1997-98 before sinking back into obscurity.
Disappearing from view
Zeljeznicar ~ This was the final full season in the Yugoslav league for the Sarajevo club, now in the Bosnian championship. The war ended their participation halfway through 1991-92.
The Yugoslav national team ~ The 1990 World Cup quarter-finalists fielded players from Croatian clubs for the last time in May 1991, against the Faroe Islands. Due to United Nations sanctions, Yugoslavia were banned from international football for two‑and‑a‑half years from April 1992.
From WSC 245 July 2007