BEFORE I came to Partizan, I was in Belgrade only twice. The first time with mom, dad and brother, when we visited my uncle.
Then we went to see the Palace “Albania”, at that time the tallest building in the Balkans. We stood in front of it and, looking at the sky, counted the floors. It was a great experience. The second time, we played with Zeleznicar from Belgrade, the then branch of Partizan.
Unlike this modern time, where players have several coaches in one season, I had four in my entire career: Zvonimir Minčić, Branislav Rajačić, Ranko Žeravica and Bogdan Tanjević. Luka Stančić trained me briefly, while Tanjević was in the army.
My father Sreten, a football lover, was a member of Radnički. He played football at that club for a short time. I grew up in a sports environment. Such was Novi Sad Street, such was my company. The Paunović family is also from our street, from which one of the most famous athletes from that area is – Uncle Peacock. My orientation towards sports has no roots in the family, although my parents supported me in that. Dad and Grandpa Svetislav were sports guys to the extent that they regularly went to Radnicki’s football matches, and then to my matches.
LIKE most families after the Second World War, ours also lived modestly. My parents always managed to be, so to speak – above average modest. My brother and I grew up surrounded by love in a patriarchal atmosphere, in a family full of loyalty and solidarity. My uncle didn’t have children, so we were his too. During the summer we went to Kraljevo to visit my mother, uncle and aunt. They were, in fact, from the village of Vrba near Kraljevo.
Father Sreten was a shoemaker and cooper, and mother Dušanka was a tailor and housewife. For Easter, my brother and I put on a new uniform. Thanks to my mother, who made it herself, we were among the best trained in the area. She sewed clothes for our entire street and everything she needed. My brother and I, among other things, beautiful velvet pants that were in fashion.
Mine were often muddy because I defended in them, so I had to wash them at the tap.
Or to apply an old trick: when I pull the velvet up, the pants are clean, when I lower it, then mud appears …
ŽARKO ZEČEVIĆ ON CARY
At one Partizan training session in 1968, a mischievous player, my peer, suddenly appeared. From the first moment, we found a common language both in the game and in private life. And, here, our friendship has lasted for more than 50 years. Curry was a player of a representative format. As a coach, he achieved at the highest level, with exceptional basketball intelligence. But he is also unique off the field, he knows how to create an atmosphere that leads to success.
His vision of how to approach important matches came to the fore at the World Cup in Indianapolis, in the decisive matches, against America and in the final against Argentina, which led us to the title of world champion.
Going to sea was a luxury. I saw the sea live for the first time only in 1968, when I played against Partizan.
MOM took care of our education. She tried to open new vistas for us in various ways. Zorica Paunović, Uncle Peacock’s wife, gave us additional classes.
Since the residents of Novi Sad Street were like one big family, mothers often discussed their children and how they see their future. In those years, parents enrolled their children in languages, mostly English and French, and my mother gave me Esperanto! One day, in front of me, her neighbors asked her, who came for coffee:
“Why, Dusanka, Esperanto, and not some other language !?”
“Because Esperanto is an international language, and my Saint will be a man of the world,” she replied casually, as if talking about something that goes without saying.
That, by the way, was my first knowledge outside the “Pirot language”.
As champions of Serbia, we played in October 1967 in Pirot at the qualifying tournament for the First League, then the highest rank in Yugoslavia, whose national team became the world vice-champion in Montevideo a few months earlier, led by coach Ranko Žeravic. In addition to having an important role in the first team, I also played for the juniors of Pirot that year, with whom I participated in the extremely strong Junior Championship of Serbia in Kraljevo. Home Sloga with Duci Simonović, Partizan with Đakul and Latifić, Crvena zvezda with Slavnić and Kapičić … Players born in 1948 and 1949. Then, at the age of 18, I saw that I belonged to the group of the most talented players in Serbia in my position.
There was strong competition, which additionally motivated me: Pazman, Tanjević, Manović, Slavnić, Bizjak, as well as the slightly younger Goran Rakočević and Srećko Jarić.
The whole of Pirot lived for those qualifications. Everyone was expecting first place. Besides us, the champions of the other six republics also participated: Slovan from Ljubljana, Mladost from Zagreb with Damir Šolman, Mlada Bosna with Davorin Popović Pimpek and Bruno Soče, my later great friend, then Mavrovo as the champion of Macedonia and Ivangrad from Montenegro. At that time, in addition to the First Federal League of Yugoslavia with 12 clubs, there were also republican leagues, and the following season, two other leagues were introduced, East and West.
ON THE LAST day, we lost the decisive match against Mlada Bosna, which qualified for the First League with Slovan. It seemed like the end of the world to me … Mirko Novosel was one of the judges at that tournament, and the so-called scouts are appearing for the first time (not in today’s sense, but they were coaches of first league clubs). Bruno Soče was the best scorer of the tournament, and I was declared the best player, which was crucial for Branislav Rajačić Rajče to invite me to the youth national team of Yugoslavia.
Many years later, fate will reunite Young Bosnia, Bruno and me. In another unforgettable clash …
When the dream of the First League failed, the management decided the following year that Zoran Lazarević and I, who were considered the most promising, could continue our careers in bigger clubs.
That is how Zoran ended up in Crvena zvezda, and I ended up in Partizan, where Bruno Soče also arrived, who will become my great friend. I supported Zvezda, but Rajče convinced me that I would get a better chance at Partizan.
The first days in Belgrade were very difficult for me. It was summer. I had just turned nineteen, the city was empty, new teammates, a new coach … And no one understands my Pirot language. As soon as I start saying something, everyone faints. I was not comfortable.
Only Žarko Zečević Zeka defended me, with whom I started a friendship that continues to this day. In those difficult moments, he was also my “driver”, since he was the only one in that Partizan team – an elegant “three hundred”.
I immediately felt all the sharpness of training with coach Rajačić. Strictness, extremely professional attitude. No relaxation, no delays, no excuses. Once I’m late for training, and Rajče asks me in front of everyone:
“Why are you late?”
“The tram was late,” I tell him.
“Do you know the tram starts running at four in the morning!”
TOMORROW: THE WHOLE CHAMPIONSHIP ON “ŽERAVICA”
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