When it comes to summer in Croatia, most of the residents in Vukovar – Srijem County think about how can they “escape” the unbearable Slavonian heat and relax on the beautiful Adriatic coast with no obligation to anything. Unfortunately, people who are unable to afford the trip to the coast stay in and brainstorm what to do to “kill” time. Summer sports events became one of them and stayed relevant even today. The main question is, when did this all start? How have these tournaments become so integral for residents of small Slavonian communities?
My father preparing for the football tournament in the early 70s, Private album/Dora Naletilić
According to Bijelić (2008) and his article The Beginning of Playing Football in Đakovo, “it was started by students who, over summer school holidays, stayed in the cities that did not abound that much entertainment for young people. Sports, or in this case, football, was supposed to enrich the social life of the place, expand the possibilities of creative expression and in socially acceptable way articulate the accumulated youthful energy.” There weren’t dressing rooms where participants could get changed in sports gear or leave their personal stuff. It was an open meadow with no shade, exposed from all angles. However, that did not stop anyone, they just wanted to play football.
Growing up in a Slavonian village during the 90s and 00s had its pros and cons but the biggest advantage was definitely sports tournaments that took place during summer school holidays. The anticipation could always be felt near the end of the school semester. Teams participating would be revealed and speculation would begin: Who is playing for which team? Who is leading them? Our neighbour? Someone’s brother? Sister? Cousin? Some guy from another village who was a professional athlete? It seems silly to the outsiders but for us, it was a highlight of the year. It started with Municipality Day, a village fair celebrating a local saint (in this case St. John the Baptist), an amusement park that entertained kids during the day and it continued until the evening when the summer tournament was about to start. It didn’t have a particularly fancy venue; a playing field made out of concrete suited for handball and bleachers which were made out of the same material. Nothing special. Until it was.
An old concrete field that was used for handball and football in the late 80s, “Rukometni klub u Ivankovu 1966 – 2016” book by Handball club “Cestorad” Ivankovo
The organization consisted of three main segments: the staff that kept the score and records of participants, sponsors of the venue, and of course snack bars, which were filled with local cuisine. When that was settled, the tournament could begin. The whole village of Ivankovo would participate in the event and support their own favorite teams. The supporting crowd would take out their own sirens that firefighters would use in their interventions and the atmosphere would seem like there was a huge national football cup game going on. Parents would drink their beers and nibble the seeds with their children, while the older folks would loudly comment on everything happening on the field. It was a picture-perfect small-town atmosphere that we (now young adults) think fondly of.
“Lutajuća srca” after winning the summer tournament, the early 2000s, Private photo album/Dora Naletilić
Looking through the old photos reminded me why I started loving sport in the first place. My father was constantly participating in villages sports tournaments, mostly football ones, where he would have his own team competing for the title of the best in the village. His team was called “Lutajuća srca” (Wandering hearts) and has won multiple tournaments over the years. One of the best feelings in my life was carrying that trophy across the field after excruciating penalties and the sound of the fellow villagers clapping and cheering.
Old handball tournaments in 1986, “Rukometni klub u Ivankovu 1966 – 2016” book by Handball club “Cestorad” Ivankovo
Football wasn’t the only sport Ivankovo had to offer, handball always had and still has a big impact on sports fauna in this part of Slavonia. When the sports arena in Ivankovo was built, children and senior players finally had a venue where they could play their league games. After the mass, every Sunday morning people would go to the games and root for their team. Generations of families were always part of sports teams (including my brothers) and it stayed like that even today.
Sports arena opened in 2008, “Rukometni klub u Ivankovu 1966 – 2016” book by Handball club “Cestorad” Ivankovo
The annual summer tournament in Ivankovo maybe doesn’t have that charm it had 20-30 years ago but it’s still happening to this day. Sports games as a part of the “Summer in Ivankovo” are still going strong with other surrounding villages having their own traditional events. This only just shows that nothing in this country is taken for granted; if we love it, then we truly love it with all our hearts and souls. Sport is not just entertainment here, it’s the way of life.
The crowd at a sports event during “Summer in Ivankovo”, photo credit: Ivankovo.info
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