Bad Blue Boys – the name speaks for itself. For years this notorious group of ultras have been under scrutiny as a result of the trouble they’ve caused while supporting their sacred club, Dinamo Zagreb.
Flares, smoke, fire, broken cars, broken windows, broken bones are all associated with the Bad Blue Boys.
Manchester United fans will still remember the ordeal they experienced in the autumn of 1999 when 400 members of the Red Army were guarded against Dinamo ultras by hundreds of police officers during the Champions League clash in Zagreb.
For that and similar scenes from the past, the Bad Blue Boys carry a bad reputation from Croatia all the way to England.
However, the feeling of disgrace towards them often gets replaced with a sense of pride when Croatia gets hit by a disaster. Whether it is war, fire or flooding, the Bad Blue Boys are on the front line saving the people of Croatia and the morning of the 22nd March was no exception.
That day, the people of Zagreb were woken by the most destructive earthquake the city had witnessed for over 140 years, hitting highs of 5.5 on the Richter scale.
The city itself was fairly damaged, but the biggest drama arose at the Petrova hospital, where the maternity ward was in ruins, leaving nowhere for mothers and new-borns to safely stay.
In addition to the panic in the maternity ward, doctors from the neonatology department were having to work without incubators for the premature babies.
When all hope had seemed to be lost, the ‘Bad Blue Boys’ turned up.
The so called ‘hooligans’ fought against the difficult conditions during the early hours of the morning to provide blankets and safety to mothers and babies on the ward.
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of stored energy in the Earth’s crust that creates seismic waves. This time, however, the blue energy that runs through the bodies of the Dinamo ultras was released as well.
Mothers and nurses wrapped in the blankets were holding new-borns in front of the hospital as the temperature approached zero degrees. Heroically, the Bad Blue Boys rounded up local military trucks and drove the incredibly expensive incubators to safety, thus saving the lives of new-borns for years to come.
A few days earlier, the lockdown had been imposed as a result of COVID-19, but the Bad Blue Boys put their health aside one more time.
The earthquake left Zagreb in chaos. The initial advice to stay at home due to the pandemic was lost somewhere under the debris of plaster from damaged houses. People of Zagreb were forced to leave their homes and to save what they could. The city’s spirit had taken a real hit but the photos of the Bad Blue Boys helping mothers and babies in front of the Petrova hospital became the symbol of unity and a reason to keep strong. The premature babies from the Petrova hospital needed to come back to the neonatology department for much needed support from the doctors. Luckily, the Bad Blue Boys had a plan.
“We are the Bad Blue Boys, guardians of Zagreb’s honour.”
The famous song had never been more true. The Petrova hospital is a place where many of the fans were born, and it holds a special place in the heart of many Zagreb supporters. An organisation ‘We are Dinamo’ with support of ‘The club of Palcici parents’ started a fundraising initiative ‘Let’s bring Palcici back to the Petrova hospital’, the goal of which was to raise around 570 thousand euros for the neonatology department. They created a Facebook group which served as a virtual auction house, where the Bad Blue Boys and other fans started putting valuable sports souvenirs for sale.
The photos of the Bad Blue Boys saving the incubators in front of the Petrova hospital served as a reminder that goodwill can beat misfortune, but it also served as an appeal saying: “We can’t make it alone. We need your help.”
Suddenly, it became a matter of prestige to buy or sell an item on the auction. The whole country was participating in the initiative. Famous football stars such as Domagoj Vida, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Zlatko Dalic had contributed by selling their kits, match balls, and other souvenirs. It was the promise land for sports fanatics and collectors who had an opportunity to buy signed kits of Ronaldinho, Luka Modric, Robert Prosinecki or the unwashed Robert Jarni jersey that he wore when he scored the first goal for Croatia against Germany in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final. That famous item raised around 7000 euro alone.
In the autumn of 1999, 400 hundred Manchester United fans witnessed their club beat Dinamo by two-goals-to-one in Zagreb. If you asked the United fans in attendance that night, they may struggle to remember the first goal of the evening as their sights were most probably fixated on the military personal guarding them from the Bad Blue Boys.
Ryan Giggs broke Zagreb hearts that evening by allowing a certain David Beckham to take the free kick which broke the deadlock on the night.
The Welshman made amends for his decision 21 years prior by participating in the initiative set up by the Bad Blue Boys.
Giggs offered a signed ball to a selfless boy with Down’s syndrome, named Ante.
Ante planned to sell the ball to help the premature babies but the bidding process did not go as he expected.
The first bidder offered 25 euros, but insisted Ante kept the ball.
A few days later, the bid stood at a remarkable 30,000 euros.
Ante’s selfless act to raise such a staggering amount of money did not go unnoticed, both at home and abroad. When Giggs was told how much money Ante had raised, he sent him a video message which said, “Hi to everyone in Zagreb and Croatia. Ante, congratulations on auctioning the ball that I signed for you when I met you in Zagreb. A special thank you to everyone who paid to make sure Ante kept the ball. You all have big hearts.”
Reaching the final goal of 570 thousand euros for renewal of the neonatology department of the Petrova hospital wasn’t a matter of doubt anymore. After more than 4000 auctions, there was enough money to buy all the necessary equipment, including: incubators, monitors, resuscitation tables, respirators, and a transport shuttle.
At the end of the initiative, the total amount of donations was 730,000 euros. The extra 160,000 euros raised was used to buy similar equipment for other hospitals in the country.
Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that follow the largest shock of an earthquake sequence. To this day, people of Zagreb still occasionally feel the aftershock as a result of the earthquake.
However, the greatest ‘aftershock’ of all took place on the 27th of May. Luckily, this aftershock didn’t involve the release of stored energy in the Earth’s crust.
Two months after the earthquake, the Bad Blue Boys stood at the exact same spot they had during the disaster, but this time, they proudly held the new incubators for the world to see. The premature babies (Palcici) were ready to come back to the Petrova hospital. The cracks in the hearts of mothers, who were forced to leave the hospital on the cold day in March, were healed. The public was shocked by the kindness of the Bad Blue Boys.
During the whole initiative, the Bad Blue Boys didn’t give a single statement to the media. When we asked a member of the group for an interview, the answer was: “I can’t, and I don’t want to work against the group. From the beginning of the action we haven’t talked to the media because what we have done, we see as our obligation and duty.”