ZAGREB, Thursday: Greetings from Zagreb where I have the pleasure of writing this week’s column. Apart from this city of one million being the capital of the northern Republic of Croatia, it is rich in history – boasting one of Europe’s oldest cathedrals and a university which is more than 300 years old.

It is also steeped in soccer tradition. No matter what circles you move in, soccer is a steady subject of conversation and everyone has at least a working knowledge of what is happening in the game and in particular the fortunes of the leading local club, Dinamo Zagreb.

For someone from Australia it is also interesting how strong the connection is between the game here and at home. Eleven per cent of the players registered in the National Soccer League come from Yugoslavia and of those a fair proportion are of Croatian descent.

It is almost like an old boys’ network seeing the number of people here who have had experience of a game in Australia.

For instance, last weekend, I went to see the match between Dinamo Zagreb and Vardar Skopje at the Maksimir Stadion and the opposing teams were both coached by men who have also been involved in NSL clubs.

Dinamo, top of the first division, are led by Josef Kuze who spent three years with Sydney Croatia in the NSW State League while the visitors were coached by Andon Doncevski who only last season was with Preston. These connections mean you can almost pick up as much news here as at home and over the past few days I have learnt the following:

* Kuze remains interested in young Blacktown City striker Zlatko Arambasic who may come to Zagreb at the end of the NSL season.

Dinamo fans have fond memories of another young Australian beginning his career here – Socceroo Eddie Krncevic – and Arambasic comes from the same mould. Kuze, who coached Arambasic as an Under-14, has seen videos of him playing for the Demons this season and with only $30,000 on his head, the coach is convinced he would be an excellent buy for his club.

* Sydney Croatia have almost finalised the details of their tour here next July with four matches now confirmed and a fifth, possibly against Velez Mostar, in the pipeline.

At this stage, the Australian club, who would like to include Arambasic and possibly Melbourne Croatia pair Zjelko Adzic and John Markovski as guest players, will open the tour against Dinamo Zagreb and play Hadjuk Split, Zagreb (a third division club) and Gosk (a second division club from Dubrovnik).

* Hadjuk Split are almost certain to tour Australia next May, with games planned against NSL selections from Sydney, Melbourneand Adelaide as well as matches against Sydney Croatia and Melbourne Croatia.

The cost of the tour, estimated at $350,000, has been underwritten by a group of businessmen headed by Tony Topic and Rade Cikes. At this stage it is hoped the match against NSW will be played at Concord Oval.

* The sweeping political reforms which will see the Republic of Croatia installed as a democracy, following the free elections next April, may also have an effect on Australian soccer.

The president of the Australian branch of the Croatian Democratic Union -one of the major parties which will contest the elections – is Dr Constantin Bosnic and he has revealed in Zagreb that the election may prompt name changes for both Sydney Croatia andMelbourne Croatia.

“Once we get a democracy in Croatia our people in Australia will be more inclined to assimilate,” he said. “One of the things which will not be so important will be calling our soccer clubs by the Croatian name and I would not be surprised if you will see them take a name which represents their local area.”

THE irrepressible Tony Boskovic wants it known that he is alive and well, contrary to reports which have swept the Croatiancommunity in Sydney saying he died sometime last year.

Boskovic, who spent 33 years in Australia, is now living 20km outside Zagreb and makes his living from a block of units he owns in Graz, Austria. Now 58, Boskovic admits he was seriously ill last year, but he has fully recovered and looks a picture of perfect health.

One of only two Australian referees to have officiated in the World Cup finals, Boskovic has only happy memories of his time in Australia and has not ruled out the possibility of returning to see his many friends in the near future.

Sydney Morning Herald
Michael Cockerill

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