The Herald on Sunday

Why our Euro rivals have plenty to Cro-at

- Ron McKay

IT IS not just a football match – it’s a psychodram­a which will have repercussi­ons throughout the country. Strong men will weep whatever the result, emotions will overflow, supermarke­ts and pubs will be stripped and stuffed like the pandemic never happened, productivi­ty will suffer, politician­s will opine, and market researcher­s will measure whether what plays out over 90 minutes at Hampden Park has any effect on independen­ce support. Nicola Sturgeon will be pictured in a Scotland top, if not a Jimmy wig, while Murdo Fraser will grizzle and Willie Rennie is bound to get up to another stunt, although he certainly won’t be tangled up in a net.

The opposition on Tuesday is Croatia, a country with even a smaller population than Scotland’s if a markedly better recent record on paper. But then the game isn’t played there. The betting is heavily in favour of the visitors with Scotland, at the time of writing, at a distant 3/1. Beating the odds may mean that we will go into the play-off stages of a major tournament for the first time ever and the Earth will tremble.

Croats, unlike Scots, demanded independen­ce for centuries through the Habsburg Empire, the establishm­ent of Yugoslavia, and they were the first to declare and seize it in this month in 1991, although that occasioned a fouryear war with larger neighbour Serbia, out of which they triumphed. They are certainly no pushovers.

Here, then, are 13 factoids (unlucky for them, hopefully) you probably don’t know about the beautiful country which we are hoping to conquer.

1) Croatia play in red and white

chessboard-like shirts, which isn’t to dazzle the eyesight of opponents, although it helps, but because it represents the coat of arms of the country. That has 13 red squares and 12 white ones although on the shirt the number varies according to the whim of Nike, the present supplier. Why the 25 squares? Good question. No-one knows for sure. It may be to do with the arms of 10th-century king Stephen Drzislav. No-one can say definitive­ly. Anyway, from 1868 it became the country’s official seal. Stephen ruled for 30 years and most of that time was at war with the Doge of Venice. He inherited the war and passed it on to his sons, which was thoughtful.

2) The Dalmatian coastal town

of Zadar is said to have the best sunsets in the world. Well, Alfred Hitchcock reckoned so. Various other filmmakers have also used Croatia as a backdrop, including in Game Of Thrones and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Zadar is also the home of the Croatian captain and most famous living Croat, Luka Modric, who is said to be modest chap sitting on the £300k a week he earns with Real Madrid. His grandfathe­r, after whom he is named, was murdered by Chetniks, and young Luka spent part of his childhood as a refugee.

3) Zadar is also the home of the

world’s first musical pipe organ played by the sea. There are 35 of these musical pipes under steps at the shore which emit different sounds depending on the size of the waves going into them, which must be a pretty disconcert­ing if you are weaving your way back from the pub and the ground doesn’t just shudder but plays an anthem.

4) Agatha Christie set her

murder in her book Murder On The Orient Express in Vinkovci. The train gets stuck in a snowdrift and the victim, Mr Ratchett, is found in the morning in his bed in a compartmen­t locked from the inside. The victim has been stabbed 12 times. But thankfully Hercule Poirot is on the train and he solves it as he always does. The incident, is based on a real-life experience by the author who was stuck in a flood outside the town. Historical fact: Vinkovci is the oldest inhabited European town – people have lived there for more than 8,000 years.

5) Croatia has the smallest

village in the world called Hum (and it doesn’t, it is pristine and spotless). At the last count it had just 27 inhabitant­s. It surely also has the most elections anywhere, with a new mayor elected each July. This is, of course, much to be deplored because only the men can vote, probably about 10 of them. Are there no feminists in Hum? There is also a local brandy called Humska Biska made from mistletoe. At last a solution for an unwanted Christmas adornment.

6) The Dalmatian dog comes

Croatia has 1,246 islands and Hvar is the sunniest in Europe with stunning white beaches. It’s a bit like Morar with rays rather than rain

from Croatia, of course. It was the favourite of Cruella de Vil and featured not just in Disney’s 1001 Dalmatians, but Cruella, a prequel, starring Emma Stone, which is out now. Cruella, then called Estrella, sees her mother pushed over a cliff by ferocious Dalmatians. You would think that would put her off the breed but no, she delivers two puppies, Pongo and Perdita, to Roger and Anita who also provide a sort of David Marshall prequel by getting tangled up in a leash and falling into a pond.

7) The Tesla car is named after

Nikola Tesla, a serial Croatian engineer who invented the AC current. I don’t know what that is but it powers Niagara Falls and numerous cities. His character featured in the movie Current Wars (Benedict Cumberbatc­h stars). Elon Musk, Tesla’s owner, became the richest man in the world in January this year, 78 years to the day after Tesla died. Tesla, of course, perished poor.

8) The writing implement you

use to tick boxes or scratch through this article was invented by Slavoljub

Penkala in 1906. He called it a mechanical pencil – we now call it a pen.

9) Croatia has 1,246 islands, of

which only around 50 are inhabited. It has the sunniest coast on the Adriatic. The island of Hvar is the sunniest in Europe and has stunning white beaches, so it’s a bit like Morar with rays rather than rain.

10) The town of Rab (possibly

founded by a Scotsman?) is home to the infamous Kandarola Beach. It’s here that Edward V11 and Wallis Simpson canoodled in the dunes and stripped off – or perhaps just got up – to plunge into the sea. Kanderola remains a nudist and show-offs’ paradise. But Rab has an even more inglorious past. It housed the Italian concentrat­ion camp of Kampor, where Slovenian, Croatian and Jewish prisoners were held during the Second World War. The annual mortality rate was higher than in Buchenwald, most of the prisoners dying from hunger, cold and disease. At its peak it held 15,000 innocents. In 2003, Silvio Berlusconi said that it was where Mussolini “used to send people on vacation”.

11) Il Duce’s hand is also in the

town of Rasa, which was originally a mining community where miners protested and struck against their

Italian masters. The new town, built in a year between 1936 and 1937, was designed on nationalis­t principles, ie grandiose, with the sole church constructe­d in the shape of an overturned coal wagon while the bell tower resembles a miner’s lamp.

12) Ten per cent of Croatia’s

landmass is national park – the 14 islands of Brijuni are part of it. Josip Broz Tito, president of what was then Yugoslavia, and a Croatian from Kumrovec, set up a safari park there with exotic animals gifted by foreign leaders. What he didn’t then know was that it was a real-life Jurassic Park. Four sites around the main island of Veliki Brijuni have more than 200 Dinosaur footprints.

13) The Irish novelist James

Joyce’s first job was in Pula, teaching English to naval officers of the AustroHung­arian empire. There’s a coffee bar now called Uliks (Ulysses) there and a bronze statue of the artist as an old man.

Joyce hated Pula and was pretty racist about it and Croatia, writing that he wanted to move to Italy as soon as possible “as I hate this Catholic country with its hundred races and thousand languages ... peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear little red caps and colossal breeches.”

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