Hrvatski Grb, no my cat hasn’t just walked across my keyboard, is the coat of arms that forms part of the Croatian national flag.

You may not be able to picture what this coat of arms looks like, but if you have ever watched Croatian sport, or met some Croatians, you would have seen the red and white part of it.

The red and white check of the Hrvatski Grb first came to my attention during Euro 96 football tournament. My hobby is collecting football shirts. Although the tribal nature that comes with football shirts has caused me one or two problems. On the day before our wedding my bride gave me a Manchester United shirt as it was my favourite colour, black. She then sent me into a pub where locals hate Man U with a passion. Subtlety is not my wife’s strongest virtue.

The Croatian coat of arms is one of the oldest national symbols in Europe. As this design is so old there are many myths to its origin.

The obvious one involves a game of chess. Croatian King Stjepan Drzislav defeated a Venetian prince at chess and in doing so ensured his country’s freedom. I wonder if Ingmar Bergman came across this story…

The design might even have come from an ancient Persian system linking colours with direction. This system may have given us the names Red (south) Sea and Black (north) Sea.

To add weight to the directional colours system up until the eleventh century southern Croatia was known as Red Croatia and the western region was White Croatia. Not only is there no definitive answer to the origins of the colours, for hundreds of years even the colour of the first square couldn’t be agreed on. This was until the Yugoslavian communist party insisted that the first square should be red. Even after this proclamation a white square took pride of place in 1974. I wonder what happened to the person that did this.

All I can say for certain is that I’m never going to challenge a Croatian king to a game of chess.

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