The first championship title for Bosnia and Herzegovina came as a form of universal justice after an incredibly difficult period for the club. In just a few years, the blues from Grbavica went from being a club on the brink of collapse to becoming the top football team in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result of this success, Željezničar participated in European competition for the first time as a representative of independent BiH. It took a little international experience to make it to the second round of the UEFA Cup qualification, with a double match against Scottish team Kilmarnock (1:1, 0:1).

The first season after winning the title was a disappointment for fans as the club only managed to secure seventh place. The only bright moment was winning the BiH Super Cup when they defeated Sarajevo 4-0 in Grbavica in snowy weather. However, the poor placement in the championship called for changes, and the team was strengthened before the 1999/2000 season. The results of the changes were seen very quickly, and they did quite well. In the end, due to a defeat in the last round, they took second place in the table. However, an agreement was reached to play a joint final in this season as well, giving Željezničar the opportunity to win a new championship title. Nonetheless, they also managed to reach the joint final of the cup competition, which was played at the same time. Considering that “Željo” was the only club that participated in both finals, the matches were played every other day. In such a fierce rhythm, the cup was won for the first time in history, but there was no strength left for the second front. It is ironic that the good results of the club were one of the reasons why they did not win the new title of champion of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Super kup BiH 1998.
Supercup BiH 1998.
FK Željezničar – FK Sarajevo 4:0

However, that will change in the next season. Once again, Željezničar entered the new season even stronger. Finally, the unification of BiH football competitions took place (although still without clubs from the RS), so it was clear that the first place in the table would mean the title, without any playoffs at the end. The season started quite well, but there were several unexpected defeats that seriously threatened the championship ambitions. The key moment probably happened in the spring of 2001, when Amar Osim, the former junior coach and son of our legend, Ivica Osim, was appointed to the position of head of the coaching staff. With his arrival, an unstoppable series of victories began. In the end, the first place was won, with a seven-point lead over the second-placed team. Previously, in a double match with Brotnja, the BiH Super Cup was also won, while the dominance of Željezničar in that season was completed by winning the second consecutive cup for the winner of the BiH Cup. The success was even sweeter because Sarajevo was defeated 3:2 in an excellent final match.

Photo: Feđa Krvavac

The double crown could have easily been repeated in the 2001/2002 season. The players in blue jerseys, led by Amar Osim, defended their championship title in an extremely impressive manner, having as many as eleven points more than the second-placed Široki Brijeg. However, on the way to a new double crown, Sarajevo, which was more successful in the final of the BiH Cup (1:2) thanks to a goal in the last moments of the game, prevented the double crown.

Željezničar – Newcastle

Excellent results in domestic competitions guaranteed appearances in UEFA-organized competitions. After winning the title in the 2000/2001 season, Željezničar earned the right to play in the strongest European club competition for the first time since 1972, which now exists under a new name – the Champions League. Unfortunately, we fell at the first hurdle, and the Bulgarian champion Levski was better after a 4-0 defeat in Sofia and a 0-0 draw in Koševo. However, the team made a much better impression in the next season, defeating Akranes from Iceland and the Norwegian vice-champion Lillestrøm. Placement in the third preliminary round meant that they were one step away from reaching the group stage of the competition. That’s where they came across Newcastle United. A crowded Koševo and the great desire of the players could not bridge the difference in quality, but the 1-0 defeat was honorable and showed the strength of the team from Grbavica. In the second leg, Željezničar played with one player less, and ended up being defeated 4-0. The strength of the team was also confirmed in the matches against Málaga. After being eliminated from the qualification for the Champions League, the team was sent to the first round of the UEFA Cup. The representative of Spain was a clear favorite, but with a lot of luck, they managed to progress with a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 win.

To a certain extent, performance in European competitions affected domestic performances, so the start of the 2002/2003 championship season was not ideal. The defeat on home soil against Rudar from Ugljevik just a few days before the match in Koševo with Newcastle would later be mentioned by many as decisive in that season. It is worth pointing out that football has finally been unified on the territory of the entire country since that season, and Leotar emerged as the main competitor for the title. It was a great battle between these two clubs from start to finish. We had a great series of results in the spring, but Leotar also played great. The other teams were far behind in the standings. Interestingly, we were better in the duels between us, and after the draw in Trebinje (2:2), it seemed that it could bring an advantage to our side. We entered the last round tied on points, which practically meant that we had to achieve the same result as Leotar to retain the title. Unfortunately, we were defeated in Široki Brijeg by 1:0, and even a draw would not have helped us because Leotar was celebrating against Rudar at the same time in Ugljevik. Despite the failure, that season will probably be remembered as one of the best and most interesting since the BiH championship was played, and we can be honored to have directly contributed to it. As some consolation in terms of results, we won the BiH Cup again for the third time, against Leotar (0:0, 2:0).