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In one of the more unique European away days, Aston Villa fans are headed for Bosnia & Herzegovina in December. A friendly country with a deep passion for football who only emerged out of civil war in this century, Villa fans can expect a fascinating experience in Mostar, the capital of Herzegovina.
What should travelling Villains know before heading to the Balkans? What will the Zrinjski Mostar away section be like? Who are Zrinjski Mostar and who are their fierce rivals? All this and more key information and fascinating history in our regularly updated, fan-led guide for Aston Villa fans in Mostar…
What is Mostar like for away fans?
Where is Mostar and what's its history?
Mostar is most famous for being an unrelenting flashpoint in the Bosnian War (1992-1995), fought between the forces of the Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia (Croatian-backed) and the Republika Srpska (Serbian-backed). The Bosnian War began when Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia.
Mostar itself came under siege between April and June 1992 and again between June 1993 and April 1994.
This context is absolutely essential for fans travelling to Mostar. While much of the city has been rebuilt, you will undoubtedly come across abandoned buildings with holes from bullets or shells.
The city is absolutely safe and a fascinating place to visit, but you have to be aware of its history.
Best things to do in Mostar
It's located a two-hour train from the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and most people travelling in the region won't spend longer than a day in Mostar. It's a small place without the sights that Sarajevo offers.
However, there is one very famous sight in Mostar: its 16th-century bridge. The Stari Most (Old Bridge) was bombed in the war and photos of this were streamed across the world. It has since been reconstructed and creates an incredible vista. Mostar also has an old bazaar, another couple of great bridges, a statue of Bruce Lee (yes, really) and some fantastic food and drink to try.
If the weather's okay, you'll see people jumping off the bridge. It's 24 metres. Do not try it! You'll realise how big 24 metres is when you see it in person.
Tourists are allowed to do the jump themselves, if they receive training from the professionals. Around 750 tourists have done the jump in the last decade.
What to eat and drink in Mostar?
The most famous dishes in Bosnia & Herzegovina are cevapi (little meatballs), kebabs, and grilled peppers.
The best beer in Mostar is the local Mostarsko Pivo, though the Sarajevo beer Sarajevska is excellent, too.
Who are Zrinjski Mostar?
HSK Zrinjski Mostar are one of the two major teams in Mostar. They play in the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina and have been one of the nation's top sides for several years now.
The history of Zrinjski Mostar somewhat tells the story of the region. They were founded in 1905 by young Croats when Mostar was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War Two, it became a part of Yugoslavia.
Having participated in the wartime Croatian league, Zrinjski Mostar were banned from competing in the Yugoslav league. This ban lasted from 1945 until 1992 meaning the current Zrinjski Mostar are a fairly young side.
The club was reformed when Bosnia and Herzegovina gained independence and in 1994, a new fan club was created: Ultras Mostar.
Aston Villa fans attending the first match between these teams at Villa Park would have noticed the incredible support of these ultras, who have modelled themselves on other supporters across Europe.
Zrinjski Mostar are primarily supported by Croats. Mostar as a city is split ethnically into Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs.
Who are Zrinjski Mostar's rivals?
Unsurprisingly given how recent the wars have been in the region, football support across Bosnia & Herzegovina includes many tensions.
While Zrinjski Mostar are supported by Croats in Mostar, FK Velež Mostar are supported by the Bosniaks. This isn't always the case, but it is generally the case.
Furthermore, Zrinjski Mostar are almost a vehicle for Croatian nationalism within Bosnia. The club is well-supported by the main Croat political party in Bosnia & Herzegovina and the team has a chequered history.
Velež, on the other hand, have a strong history of anti-fascism.
Things to read before going to Mostar
If you're interested on the history of football in Yugoslavia and all these tensions across the leagues and teams, we recommend reading Emancipation For Goalposts by Chris Etchingham on football's role in the fall of Yugoslavia.
On wider Yugoslavia history, The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny is an incredible book.
What will the Zrinjski Mostar away section be like for Aston Villa fans?
The Zrinjski Mostar ultras are loud and colourful, in the team's black, white and red.
There is no roof at the small stadium, which has two tiers most of the way around and a fairly big gap between the goals and the bowl-shaped stands.
How many Aston Villa fans are going to Bosnia?
Aston Villa have an allocation of just 490 tickets for the trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Tickets first went on sale to season ticket holders who have held their ticket for 8+ seasons and have attended every European away game so far this season, and every away league game last season. A strong criteria! After this, sales were then opened to supporters who fit into one or two of those criteria, and so on.
How Aston Villa fans can get to Zrinjski Mostar
Most supporters will be flying to Sarajevo. From here, it's an easy enough journey by car, bus or train. We recommend the twice-daily train. You get extraordinary views coming into Mostar along the river. Head to The Man at Seat 61 for key information on taking the train.