March 19, 2012 by Jenni Hutchinson
This is the story of NK Varteks, a supporter-owned Croatian football club based in the city of Varaždin, founded by supporters dissatisfied with the situation at NK Varaždin (ex NK Varteks) during the past 10 years. The name change was the final straw after a period of irregularity, lack of organization, dishonesty and criminal activity.
It is necessary to talk about the “old” NK Varteks: It was founded by Czech textile company owner Ernst Stiassny on 3 June 1931. The club was named NK Slavija, and existed until 1941. During World War II, the club was dismantled and became NK Tekstilac. The club again underwent changes in 1958 and became known as NK Varteks, named after its sponsor, textile company “Varteks”. Until the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, they played in the lower Yugoslav leagues and their biggest success came when they reached the final of the Yugoslav Cup in 1961, which they subsequently lost. Since 1991, the club have been playing in the Croatian first division, regularly finishing near the top of the table and reaching the Croatian Cup final five times. During the 1990‘s they defeated elite clubs such as Heerenveen, Lokomotiv Moscow and Aston Villa. In the spring of 1999, they tasted international success for the first time when they managed to advance to the quarterfinals of the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
The official supporters club of NK Varteks is named White Stones and was founded on 3 March 1990. The group was mainly ultra-oriented and became known for its pyrotechnics, choreographies, chants and fights during games. It had its ups and downs, but always supported the club, home or away, and were well-respected in Croatia.
On 21 July 2010, NK Varteks changed its name to Varaždin due to a lack of income from its principal sponsor. However, over time, and with the increasing success of the football club, the name “Varteks” had become more synonymous with the club than with the textile company. It was a symbol for the city of Varaždin. Fans believed that the old name should be retained, but the club chairman and executive committee refused to listen to them. White Stones then decided to boycott all matches, something that lasted about a year. Finally, fans (mainly members of White Stones) decided they had had enough: on 29 May 2011 they held an inaugural meeting and NK Varteks Varaždin was born. The club is established as a non-profit organization with the principle of “one member-one vote” (the model that most Croatian fans want for their clubs). Shortly after its foundation, club representatives went to visit officials from SV Austria Salzburg. The Austrian institution had similar problems when new sponsor Red Bull changed everything from the name of the club and stadium, to the team colours and club crest. Salzburg supporters followed in the footsteps of White Stones: they founded their own club in 2005, with the old name and colors. It seems they were definitely given some good advice from the guys from Varteks, since they rose from the 7th to the 3rd tier of Austrian football in just four years!
NK Varteks has senior, junior and pioneer teams, in the lowest rank of Croatian football; second Varaždin county division, group East. The teams play at an old football ground that has no seats, but despite that, the attendance of all county divisions rose by about 40% compared to the year before – of course, mostly thanks to Varteks fans!
Supporter-owned NK Varteks is a good blueprint for other Croatian fans that are dissatisfied with club owners and chairmen who are above the law in this poor country and do whatever they want with people’s beloved teams. Indeed, Varteks fans and the people of Varaždin have shown that they will not allow greed, corruption and dishonesty to plague their club. Perhaps the time has come for others to follow suit!