In this post we tell the story of the Lost Champions from the years of the Yugoslavian First League’s existence between 1923 and 1992. Four clubs meet our criteria, all victims of a post-WW2 political purge by the communists upon seizing power.
In the years leading up to the start of war the national championship was dominated by clubs based in what is now the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Yugoslavia’s first national champion was Gradanski Zagreb and that debut success was the first of five titles won by the club between 1923 and 1940. Established in 1911, Gradanski became the foremost club in the region during the 1920s and toured throughout Europe playing friendly games against teams including Barcelona and Liverpool. Gradanski even entertained (and defeated) a touring Brazilian national team.
Formed five years earlier than rivals Gradanski was Concordia Zagreb, a multi-sports organisation that won national football titles in 1930 and 1932. HASK Zagreb was inaugurated earlier still, in 1903, by a group of nine students from the city’s university. More popular among the Zagreb footballing public than successful on the field, HASK did at least manage one title success in 1938.
The war was hugely divisive in Yugoslavia and widened the fissures in what was already a fractured republic. With Croatia allied to the Axis powers, a standalone Croatian League operated between 1940 and 1945 and when the war ended and a new communist government took control, exacting revenge on the clubs who had competed in the fascist-sponsored League was high on their agenda.
The last games played by Gradanski and HASK was a 2-2 draw between the pair in April 1945 and shortly after both clubs, as well as Concordia, were disbanded by official decree. As a final act of humiliation the extensive Gradanski club archive was burned. A new club was immediately formed with a considerable advantage in inheriting Gradanski and HASK’s players, assets and stadiums. That new club is the one we know today as Dinamo Zagreb and in a nod to its lineage renamed itself as HASK Gradanski for a couple of years in the early 1990s following Croatian independence. Concordia’s assets were transferred to a club named Zelebi 1906.
A similar fate befell another major pre-war club from Belgrade. Breaking away from BSK (Belgrade Sportsk Klub) to form a new footballing club, SK Jugoslavija started life as SK Velika Srbija before adopting their more recognised name in 1919. During the 1920s SKJ was one of Belgrade’s big two institutions alongside OFK with back-to-back titles won in 1924 and 1925. That was the extent of their championship success, but SKJ did remain in contention for honours throughout the next decade.
In the aftermath of the Axis invasion of Serbia, SKJ changed its name to SK1913 and competed in a German-occupied Serbian League. Upon cessation of hostilities the club was forced to disband by the authorities who labelled them as enemy collaborators. Their assets were handed over to the newly formed Red Star Belgrade club.