“The pitch itself was no man’s land:” Siege, Željezničar Sarajevo Football Club and the Grbavica Stadium

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Inspired by microhistory, this essay explores the wartime plight of a football stadium and the multi-ethnic club that called it home as a means of understanding Bosnia and Herzegovina’s descent into conflict, the siege of Sarajevo, and the impact upon civilians. Like the suburb of the same name, Grbavica became part of the frontline during the siege. Deprived of its home, FK Željezničar continued to function, while players, staff, and supporters longed for a return to the shattered ground. At a local level, the organization offers a means of visualizing the development of the Grbavica suburb, from its socialist foundations to its post-Dayton reintegration. In this way, the life of the stadium and those who frequent it map onto the history of Yugoslavia, its dissolution, and the independent republic that emerged in its wake. Moreover, the wartime partition of the stadium, the club, and its supporters’ group – all of which were claimed by actors on both sides of the frontline – were representative of political developments in a state where the ethnic balance was forcibly reengineered. This reconstruction of Grbavica’s war harnesses original photographic evidence, oral history, maps, contemporary journalism, and the transcripts of the Hague Tribunal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-903
Number of pages27
JournalNationalities Papers
Issue number6
Early online date2 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Football
  • War
  • Bosnia and Hercegovina
  • Yugoslavia
  • Sarajevo

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