Kantrida – the rocky stadium

Built in 1912 in the Rijeka neighbourhood bearing the same name, it has the capacity of 10.600 seats. This is how a description of Kantrida appears in many lexicons and encyclopaedias, just like thousands of other European stadiums. However, Kantrida is everything but a regular stadium. Situated between the rocks and the sea, Kantrida is also unique because even though countries and languages have been changing, everyone always understood each other – the greatest importance was always placed on sports. The stadium has an entire century of rich history behind it, and the story of the stadium under the rocks is not only a story about sports in Rijeka but also about the city itself.

Football in Rijeka dates back to the long gone 1873 when in celebration of the opening of the Rijeka-Karlovac railway route, the employees of the Hungarian state railways and the Rijeka Technical Institute, later known as the Torpedo Factory, played against each other. After this, the foundation of the first clubs began, playing on improvised courts. One of the numerous players of the time was Fiorello la Guardia who lived in Rijeka and later became the Mayor of New York over three mandates, who played football for the Club Atletico Fiumano. The era of playing on inappropriate football fields ended in 1912 when the construction of the first real football field began.

Secondary school pupils from Sušak, members of the Croatian Viktoria Sporting Association, during one of their numerous running training sessions along the Kantrida – Volosko section, have stopped to rest near the wall above the old quarry, and realized that it might be a good place for the construction of a football field. More and more often they stopped above the quarry whilst their idea strengthened and after a while they began to carry out their dream. The first step was to persuade the quarry owners, a Hungarian company who hadn’t used the quarry, to give them permission to build a playing field on the site. And they did it! Persistent students also managed to persuade the Kastav Municipality Council on whose area the quarry was located, to grant a permission to modify the area for sporting purposes. Their attempt even included the then councillor of Kastav, the famous writer and poet, Vladimir Nazor. So work began, but in great secrecy. All the members of the Viktoria club took part in the construction of the playing field, with the help of a large number of Croats from the city. After less than a year, the drab quarry near the sea became a real sporting oasis.

The first match
The opening ceremony took place on 1 June 1912 and Viktoria, and Prvi Hrvatski građanski športski klub (the First Croatian civilian sport club) from Zagreb, which at the time played in the Championship of Croatia and Slavonia, had the privilege of playing the first match at the new stadium. This match was promoted and announced with posters and flyers which could be found all around the city. Both teams came from Sušak in fishing boats in order to avoid any accidents when passing through Rijeka, in which there were some incidents involving the Italian inhabitants.

This was the first and only playground of the proscribed dimensions in the whole of Hrvatsko primorje, Istria and Gorski kotar, for the needs of Croatian sportsmen. The first match at Kantrida could not have finished better. The hosts won 2:0. Viktoria played matches at the Kantrida stadium until the beginning of World War I, which discontinued all sporting activities in the city. Viktoria never came back to Kantrida in the full sense of the term. After the war and the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the playground was put at the disposal of the Italian clubs from the city.

This is how everything started and the rocks under which these matches have been played for almost 100 years, have also seen three national football Championships. Besides the Yugoslavian and Croatian League, Kantrida also hosted the Italian Serie A. Numerous national teams played at Kantrida, states and guest teams changed, as did the host teams. So, this field near the sea was claimed as their own by Tarsia, Viktorija, Fiumana, Olimpija, Glorija, Kvarner and finally, Rijeka, which has stayed here the longest, from 1954 until today. Times have changed as have the states and the clubs; the name of the stadium has also changed, and the rocks above the field have become silent witnesses of Rijeka’s history.

However, not only football was played under the rocks. Kantrida is also home to the Kvarner Athletic Club which boasts numerous records and medals. These successes in the battle against metres and seconds were achieved by training at Kantrida. Between the two world wars, the stadium was used for cycling races, as a dirt-track for motorcycle races, a forerunner of today’s speedway. The “Kvarnerska rivijera” tournament, one of the most famous junior football tournaments in Europe, played since 1953, began at Kantrida. It is here that Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker, Dino Zoff, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner and other great players once played in the junior team.

Kantrida developed along with the development of football and sports. The playing field between the rocks and the sea has come a long way from its initial appearance. Many times throughout its history, the stadium was renewed and expanded and in 2005 it finally took on its current shape. Kantrida was particularly festive in 1957, when the first grass was laid down. 18 years later, reflectors were mounted, and there haven’t been any standing places on the stands since 1999. All stands have been equipped with seats, lending the stadium its current appearance.

Kantrida has brought up generations and generations of football players and athletes as well as spectators. Members of the Victoria club, who came to the idea of building a playing field at the location of the quarry, could never have imagined the emotions that will be born here and the many songs sung about Kantrida. For many citizens of Rijeka, Kantrida represents a magical place. Sometimes full of sorrow and tears like in 1999 when Rijeka, in the last championship match against Osijek, due to the refereeing error that cancelled a goal, didn’t manage to win the title at the national championships in front of 26.000 spectators. But sometimes also full of happiness as when Rijeka in 1984, in the 2nd round of the UEFA Cup, overcame the giant, Real Madrid with 3:1. Great clubs like Juventus, Roma or Inter have also played at the Kantrida stadium. These are only tiny fragments of the history of this stadium unique for so many things. The sporting arena at Kantrida is surely neither the biggest nor the most luxurious, but it is a unique place that has become a monument to sports and a trademark of the city itself.

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