The 39th Croatian Soccer Tournament may have come to a close over the weekend but the memories of those who attended and participated will last for many years to come.
The annual event was hosted by Melbourne Knights FC during their 60th anniversary year, capping off a stellar year for the club both on and off the field.
Kicking off on Thursday October 3rd with a spectacular fireworks display during the opening ceremony as a record number of 54 teams made their way onto the hallowed turf of Knights Stadium. Players and punters were greeted by the host club and members of the Croatian Soccer Federation of Australia and New Zealand (SAVEZ) followed by a prayer from Father Vranješ and Hrvatska Zora’s rendition of both the Croatian and Australian national anthems.
The opening night included 3 group matches with a large crowd staying to watch Gold Coast Knights take on Melbourne Croatia – featuring past club legends and former Socceroos – in the Masters division. After the game it was time for catch-up drinks in the main marquee where new friends were made and past friendships rekindled with visitors from all parts of Australia and New Zealand.
Day two continued with a number of group matches held at Knights Stadium and Dobson Reserve. Chartered buses transported players and visitors between the two grounds, giving everyone easy access to the facilities.
The Melbourne Croatia Social Club hosted a Ladies Afternoon Tea while the SAVEZ AGM was held later in the day in the all new Knights Sports Gym. The AGM brought about a few key changes in the SAVEZ board with five members standing down including President Stela Špoljar, Alan Pecoti?, Mirjana Butorac, Ivan Vuleti? and Michael Viro, who were replaced by five new members – Jure Dragovi?, Marko Vrki?, Katarina Jusup, Aleksandra Milusi? and Marijana Banovac.
A surprise inclusion in this year’s Tournament schedule was the VPL Minor Semi Final match between fierce and traditional rivals Melbourne Knights and South Melbourne. A season-high 4,750 people witnessed the match which had sparks of its own. Unfortunately South Melbourne walked away as victors, ending the Knights’ season and any further finals aspirations. The boys finished the 2013 VPL season with a very respectable 2nd place and were semi finalists in a year that looked like they could go all the way.
Following the match, the Friday night disco lived up to its Tourney reputation by attracting over 1300 punters who were all primed for a big night. The marquee was bursting at the seams while Major Minor provided the live entertainment for the young and young at heart who were in full voice with DJ Matt spinning tunes in-between sets and keeping the dance floor bustling.
The Tournament food and beverage staff worked tirelessly throughout the day and night, accommodating the larger than anticipated crowd, with several items running dry and it was only day two!
Saturday saw many bleary-eyed revellers attend the remaining group matches and qualifying finals before scrubbing up for the Gala & Miss Croatia evening held at the Victory Room at Etihad Stadium in the heart of the sporting capital of Melbourne.
The Gala was another chance to let your hair down once the formalities were taken care of with band Magla entertaining the guests, turning the night into a party! Hosts Mariana Rudan and Anthony Smoli? did a superb job, keeping the event fluid and entertaining as the Miss Croatia contestants were put through their paces.
Several speeches were held throughout the night with Melbourne Knights President Ange Cimera and SAVEZ President Stela Špoljar doing the honours before the winner of next year’s Tournament host was announced which went to Wollongong!
The last of the formalities was the crowning of the 2013 Miss Croatia which was won by Melbourne Croatia representative Marija Jelini? with the runners-up title going to Miss Dandenong City Hajduk Ivana Br?i?. Miss Personality was won by Anita Michelle ?uki? from the Brisbane Knights.
After the Gala, the crowd was split between going to bed and being fresh for the fourth and final day of the Tournament or to keep partying at the official after party held at LaDiDa!
Sunday was billed as family day, with the car park and ground two transformed into an amusement park for the kids to enjoy. There were a number of exciting kids rides including dodgem cars, swings and jumping castles.
The Social Club and main Marquee continued to be the central food and beverage hubs, serving an estimated 6,000 patrons on the final day alone…
Over the 4 day event, patrons went through more than 10,000 bottles of Cedavita, 9 pallets of Ožujsko Pivo, a tonne of ?evape, over 20 roasted lambs along with 10 roasted pigs, not to mention all the other menu items, and it still wasn’t enough!
The division 1 finals were fought out and won by Melbourne Croatia, beating Canberra Croatia 2:1 to record a 4th consecutive title. HNK Bunker got over Wollongong in a nail biting penalty shootout 7:6 to take division 2 while Melbourne Croatia was too good for Strathmore Split with a convincing 3:0 win in the Masters division. The Women’s division was won by Canberra Deakin who beat North Geelong 1:0.
Following the final game the major raffle was drawn with celebrations continuing in the main marquee where players and punters once again caught up for drinks and were entertained well into the night by local band “More” and DJ Matt.
As with all events of this magnitude, the Melbourne Knights FC and organising committee would like to send out a heartfelt thank you to all the volunteers who helped make it all happen, to those who came in early and stayed later than their assigned shifts to do whatever was needed to be done to make the event run smoothly and the great success that it was. A shout out to the peeps from Geelong who helped to work the bar on Sunday night. Also, a big thanks to sponsors and supporters;
– AHD Melbourne
– AHD Geelong
– Cimera Butchers
– World for Kids
– Sky Air Services
– NDH Electrical
– The Pumphouse Hotel
– Baron Forge
– Croatian Golf Club
– Katarina Zrinski
– Alan Mance Holden
– Casella Wines
– Cedevita Go!
– Meikon Group
– Hrvatski Vjesnik
Finally, thanks to all the clubs who made the trip to Knights Stadium to help celebrate our 60th in style…
See you all next year in the Gong!