Ever heard of a late-season crunch? It’s when you have too many shirts from a (nearly-) finished season to fit them all in your upload schedule within a reasonable timeframe. Sure, it’s fair to point out that only Club 25 really suffers from this, but those first world (website) problems, man! Today we’re showcasing our third 18/19 shirt in a row, which will probably be the last from this past season for a while. Get out your red ‘n white checkerboards, it’s a Croatian team we’re highlighting today;
Ooft, now that’s one pretty shirt, right? Predominantly white designs don’t feature very often on this site (FC Groningen and Hereford are the only two examples for this calendar year) so it’s pleasing to take the covers off this one for today’s article. Belonging to HNK Rijeka, this Joma-designed top combines the club’s hereditary white and light blue colours with a relatively modern ‘cross’ design to become instantly recognizable to anyone who knows a thing or two about Croatian football (not too many people outside of this Adriatic republic and its neighbouring countries, we reckon).
This is the first Croatian top to make it onto the site, and indeed the first shirt from this country in our collection; it’s not because of a lack of effort on our part, though! We previously visited the country in the summer of 2017 (on the same trip through which we arrived in our dear Dekani), but faced two issues; for one, local shirts seem to be exceedingly rare outside the big cities in Croatia, and for two, Rijeka’s shirt was prohibitively expensive at the time (its pricetag in the club store was a whopping 80 Euros when converted from Croatian Kuna).
We did visit the city of Rijeka during our trip, but never did get the local side’s shirt. When this particular top popped up on a well-known classic shirt site a few years later for a much less exploitative price, we knew we had to snap a copy up. So enough about us, our trips, and the fact that Club 25’s acquisitions team has to work on a shoestring budget; let’s take a closer look.
White and light blue represent a rather uncommon colour combination, especially when coupled with this cross-like design; Parma of Italy are the only team of note outside of Rijeka to use a similar setup for their home shirts, albeit in white and black. Normally done up in a less vivacious style, Joma opted for a paint stroke effect for the 2018/2019 shirt – the first they produced for the Croatian club – and did so to great effect, we might add.
Akin to a lousy painter skimping out on how much paint he uses and still charging a premium, Joma went with brush strokes that end rather dramatically on the chest, conveniently making room for the club’s main sponsor that has, thankfully, been done up in the exact same tone of light blue as the cross. ‘Osiguranje’ is the Croatian word for insurance, so no guesses what the fine folk at Sava sell for a living. Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief for how this issue of integrating the sponsor has been resolved, for the club’s previous supplier Jako took a rather lamentable approach to its solution back in 2016/2017.
The light blue cross is made up of four brush strokes, and while three of them end rather sensibly (at the armpits and collar), the lowest of this quartet ends abruptly upon hitting the bottom hem of the shirt. This is the biggest design flaw of the shirt, as the lovely cross is left hanging (literally, even!). Considering it’s not that tough to continue a design element or two way down to the bottom of a shirt (we saw this done two weeks ago), Joma’s designers need to ask themselves why they had to fit this particular cut of shirt to a club that heavily relies on a central cross for a distinctive look. It’s not a feature, it’s a flaw, lads!
Those naughty, naughty Spaniards, right? We’re not exactly their biggest fans, seeing as their designs often end up being middle of the road if not outright dreadful – with an over-reliance on templates thrown in for good measure. Cue our surprise at this shirt being bespoke then! The same can’t be said for the previous two Joma shirts covered on this site, the smart yet simple Edinburgh City shirt and the plain and pedestrian Târgu Mureș top.
Joma made use of their wordmark on those two shirts, from 2015 and 2011 respectively, but have seemingly decided that they are now famous enough to only stick their stylized ‘J’ on their products. We’re not sure the brand is that well-known, but then they went and did it anyway, with three J’s in total (one on the chest and one for each sleeve) stuck on with stiff material.
Even with our mild dislike of Joma, we have to give credit where it’s due; Rijeka’s shield-shaped crest has been masterfully made with a nice, soft rubber-like material, and is snugly fitted to the left chest in between two of the brush strokes. The colours reflect the club’s preferred white and blue shirts, whilst the semi-complicated design in the lower right-hand corner is based on the old emblem of the city of Rijeka, used up until 1998; it represents the Rječina river, which flows through the city into the Adriatic Sea and originally gave the urban centre its name, and is a stylized interpretation of the earthen pot of water being tipped over by the dual-headed Habsburger Eagle on the city’s coat of arms (with the pot itself also representing the Rječina – you learn something new every day).
HNK Rijeka, or Hrvatski Nogometni Klub (Croatian Football Club, notice the similarity in this name to that of Slovenian NK Dekani) are one-time champions of Croatia’s top tier – the league being locally known as the Prva HNL – and perennial contenders for European qualification. Since the 13/14 season, Rijeka have finished second behind Dinamo Zagreb on all but one occasion (when Rijeka’s Whites won the title in 2016/2017), which typically yields a spot in the third qualifying round of the Europa League barring changes in Croatia’s coefficiency ranking. Outside of the league, the club has five Croatian Cup wins and a single Super Cup to its name, which is a very respectable heap of silverware considering how young the country is.
A further win in the old Balkans Cup (the whatnow?), two Yugoslav Cup wins, and six titles in the Yugoslav Second League complete the Trophy cabinet at Stadion Rujevica (the club’s home whilst the new Stadion Kantrida is being constructed). This treasure trove makes the Riječki bijeli, or Rijeka’s Whites the third-most succesful club in Croatia, behind Dinamo Zagreb and Rijeka’s nefarious rivals of Hajduk Split. The cities of Rijeka and Split are the biggest settlements on Croatia’s coast, and HNK and Split contest the Jadranski Derbi, or Adriatic Derby, between the two of them.
A fanciful placket, smartly rendered in light blue so as not to stand out from the cross, with actual factual old-fashioned buttons runs up to the collar, which is delightfully retro but not so flappy as to rival the clothing of Rijeka’s sailors. Inside, we find the Croatian expression ‘Krepat Ma Ne Molat’ alongside the club’s name and the usual sizing info. We asked a few Croatians about the meaning of this phrase, but they all note that it is an old and archaic expression that means as much as ‘Die before giving up’. Cheery stuff indeed.
Before we flip the shirt onto its tummy for an inspection of the back, a closer look at the jock tag found in the bottom left hand corner; neither ‘original product’ nor ‘producto original’ sound like Croatian to us, but then this is presumably the standard tag Joma affixes to all its shirts.
The back of the shirt inspires both despair and joy, the latter more so than the former. Yes, the same issue exists with the bottom part of the cross not extending all the way down, but at least the design on the front is replicated here, unlike so many striped shirts in Western Europe nowadays. Really pleasing stuff, this.
Of note is that the cross design that is now synonymous with the club was only introduced in 2013 following decades of plain white shirts being used. A cross never previously showed up in any of the club’s imagery, but we believe it to be a simple slapping together of the vertical stripe used in the 70’s and the horizontal chest band from the 80’s. Whatever the inspiration was, this modern design works and we are grateful for it elevating what would otherwise have been a plain white shirt. The original 2013 shirt by Lotto, the first to bear the cross, was rather simple and workmanlike, but Rijeka seem to have no issues letting suppliers take the reigns and go wild with it, as seen on our 2018/2019 shirt and the 2017 shirt by Jako.
A very touching final detail is found just below the collar on the back of the neck; a small embroidered Croatian flag. Fitting for a club that has Hrvatski (Croatian for, well, Croatian/Croatia) in its name. This naming convention is rather popular in Croatian football, as it is also used by HNK Hajduk Split (although they oft leave the HNK out of their official communications), HNK Cibalia, HNK Šibenik, HNK Gorica, HNK Đakovo, HNK Vukovar ’91, HNK Orijent 1919, and HNK Primorac Biograd na Moru, but then Rijeka is the most famous team to actually truly carry their full name outwards with pride.
Proud they should be, as Croatia is a beautiful country with lovely people; definitely worth visiting if you ever find yourself bestowed with an opportunity to do so!
One final look at the back then, just because a design actually being carried onto the reverse of a shirt being such a rare phenomenon. We can even forgive the top part of the cross being terminated early, for it allows the Croatian flag to pop out more easily.
The shirts sold to the general public (authentic ones, seeing as Joma did not supply the actual team with special versions) lacked a bit of sponsorship on either sleeve (the right features a gaudy hot pink T-Mobile logo), but this is easily glanced over considering it leaves the kit relatively fresh.
There we go, we told you that T-Mobile patch was gaudy. This match pic was taken on the 26th of August 2018, when NK Istra 1961 (another Adriatic Coast team) came to town to pick up a 3-3 draw in Rijeka. Evident is the fact that the home team coupled their home shirt with a set of white shorts and socks, both with blue accents, to go for a rather smart overall look.
That Autumn night draw contributed to a League season wherein Rijeka finished a whopping 25 points behind runaway champions Dinamo Zagreb but 5 ahead of Osijek and Hajduk Split in 3rd and 4th respectively (who were ranked on head-to-head basis). Rijeka did win the Croatian Cup once more, besting Zagreb in Pula for a fresh new trophy, but a bitter taste of disappointment remained throughout the season as the side crashed out of Europe at the first hurdle – losing to Norwegian minnows Sarpsborg.
A more succesful season would certainly have contributed to this shirt’s legacy – much like how a Hong Kong Premier League win lifted Tai Po’s 2018/2019 shirt to iconic status – but Rijeka’s fans, the Rijeka Armada, will already be looking ahead to a better season in 2019/2020 season with renewed hope at reaching far into the Europa League and bringing the fight to the domestic champions in a bid to bring the Croatian league title back to that beautiful port city on the shore of the Adriatic Sea.
We hope you enjoyed our look at this shirt and its club, and we hope to greet you once more for a new article next week. So long!
That’s just about all you need from us for now, but as always, we would like to remind you that Club 25 is a weekly publication – expect a brand new article from us next week, so keep checking back for when we have a new shirt going live. Additionally, keep up to date with us on our Twitter page and flick through the site’s Shirt Archive to see what shirts we’ve covered in the past.