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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

"When are we playing Beograd?" - Maks Jurkovic and Adelaide Croatia Raiders anticipate derby return

Maks Jurkovic's involvement with the Adelaide Croatia Raiders spans his entire life in multiple capacities. Currently a committee member at his childhood club, Jurkovic recently spoke to Front Page Football about the upcoming NPL SA derby against FK Beograd.

Front Page Football: Adelaide Croatia Raiders Maks Jurkovic Ivica "Ivi" Jurkovic FK Beograd

Adelaide Croatia Raiders legend Ivica Jurkovic (right) wearing a Geelong Croatia shirt after swapping with an opposing player, with son Maks Jurkovic (left). (Image supplied by Maks Jurkovic)


Few can say they are as connected to their football club like Maks Jurkovic is to the Adelaide Croatia Raiders. Maks' dad Ivica, affectionately known as Ivi, is one of the most storied names in Adelaide Croatia history.


As someone who has lived and breathed Adelaide Croatia during his life, it is no surprise that Ivi Jurkovic's son was raised to do likewise.


"Since I could walk, I’ve been involved (with Adelaide Croatia Raiders). When my dad was captaining and playing for Adelaide Croatia, he used to take me to the games, and when he got injured in the final years of his career, he used to change my diapers at half-time!" Maks Jurkovic told FPF.

"It was just built into me. My grandfather these days still goes. He moved over to Australia in 1958 and then in 1963 he started watching Adelaide Croatia games, and he hasn’t missed a beat since."

Front Page Football: Adelaide Croatia Raiders Maks Jurkovic Croatian Sports Center NPL SA

The Croatian Sports Centre is the home of the Adelaide Croatia Raiders and will host 2024's first derby. (Image: Joe Janko)


Maks Jurkovic played for Adelaide Croatia Raiders up to the Reserves level but believes he has found his role at the club off the field. Last year, he joined the Raiders committee in an operations role, and is also working hard to keep the club's history alive.


Hearing about the club's storied past as a child made Jurkovic extremely proud to be born into an institution like Adelaide Croatia. Still, he found it hard not to be able to watch the vivid memories the older community members shared on any kind of media, as they were often not recorded or lost to history.


"Growing up, I always heard stories from all these supporters, my dad’s age, about the glory days of Adelaide Croatia. Unfortunately, I did not have access to the photos or the footage, so I was always passionate about taking in what these supporters said about our glory days in the 80s and the 90s, or even as far back as the 60s and 70s," Jurkovic said.

"With social media, after my father passed away, I dug deeper to find more stuff about the club and the history, and I am pretty lucky that we’ve got a few people in this community, notably Steven Skornjak, Rob Soda, and Domagoj Todoric, who have provided me with old VHS tapes of some Croatia games from the late 80s and early 90s. My dad kept a few of the finals, and I just wanted to make sure that they get digitised because, at the end of the day, if no one is doing it, it is lost to history and no one is going to understand the importance of those moments."


Jurkovic often shares historical Adelaide Croatia games on social media, which he believes is important for many reasons.


"I’ve had people that barely know me come up to me and say, ‘I’ve watched the video you posted on YouTube, and this brought back such fantastic memories.’ If you’ve seen those videos, a lot of the people from our community have unfortunately passed away, so as you go down the generations, people get to see their grandparents, fathers, their mothers, and it just brings back good memories," he said.


"It brings back the club's glory days to life. Especially now, under Vlado's (Blazeka) coaching and the leadership of Ian (Krivic), we are trying to achieve those glory days again, and it is good to remember what a force we were."

Front Page Football: Adelaide Croatia Raiders Maks Jurkovic FK Beograd Hanson Reserve NPL SA

Adelaide Croatia fans at Hanson Reserve in 1987 during a game against FK Beograd. (Image supplied by Maks Jurkovic)


For Jurkovic, the Croatian Sports Centre is admittedly like a second home, and its atmosphere went up a notch in 2023.


After being relegated to State League One in 2021, the club could not find their way to promotion in 2022. Incoming coach Vlado Blazeka galvanised the group and promoted the side dramatically during one of the most competitive State League One seasons in recent memory. Jurkovic described his feelings through that rollercoaster journey.


"It’s too good of a club to be in State League One. Croatia should be a top four team competing for titles every year. You can probably ask most other clubs, too, because that is where Adelaide Croatia should be. For too long we’ve been battling, battling to stay afloat some years, but getting promoted against (Adelaide) Cobras was amazing.

"There were about 1000 people at the Croatian Sports Centre, and the way we overturned it, being 1-0 down at halftime, and I think on the live ladder we had even dropped to third, to overturn it the way we did was just amazing. The celebrations are back at the club. I think I left the Croatian Sports Centre around two or three in the morning!"

 

READ MORE SA FOOTBALL COVERAGE ON FPF

 

After securing promotion, Croatia won the Grand Final, coming from behind in what became the club's signature trait in 2023. Still, Jurkovic admitted that from the halfway point of the year, the community's collective minds were set further ahead.


"Even in the middle of last year, we were thinking, ‘If we get promoted, we are going to play Beograd again’, because I think we haven’t played them since maybe 2017. Those are the sort of games you live for as a supporter. They are massive; they lift the whole community because everyone gets involved.

"It is the exact same from their perspective; they’ve been around since 1949, and we have been around since 1952, so we’ve had a lot of tough battles over the years. They are our arch-rivals. We respect them for their history, but this is one game we want to win. Even our president says that if we win two games in the season, I want to beat Beograd, and I think many of the supporters share the same sentiment."

Front Page Football: Adelaide Croatia Raiders Maks Jurkovic Ivica "Ivi" Jurkovic FK Beograd Stan Dacic

 Tempers flare in 1992 between Ivica Jurkovic (centre right) and Stan Dacic (centre left), engaged in a heated argument during the derby. (Image supplied by Maks Jurkovic)


Being involved with the club since birth, Jurkovic has seen many of these derbies throughout the year, and his fondest memories have come as a fan.


"I remember more (derbies) as a spectator because, obviously, growing up, I was all about the first team. My dad was President, and I remember the one game he wanted to win was against Beograd; he didn’t accept anything else. I remember we played them in a Cup quarter-final and there were about 1200 people at the Croatian Sports Centre.

"I remember we beat them 2-0, and even more recently, when Robbie Matosevic was coaching us, we were both in the second division at that stage. I think we played them maybe on the first or second round of the season on a Saturday night at the Croatian Sports Centre. It was absolutely jam-packed and we beat them 3-0. I just remember the celebrations at the club were like the equivalent of winning the league title!


"These are the games you live for, the games you pencil into your calendar and even for the neutrals; this is one game you want to go to."


The two clubs will meet in an NPL match for the first time since 2015 on Saturday, and according to Jurkovic, the excitement is palpable and not limited to local fans.


"People were talking about this (the derby) at the end of last year. As soon as we got promoted, the question was, ‘When are we playing Beograd?’ As soon as the fixtures came out, the question was, ‘Which round is Beograd? Is it Round 1?" Jurkovic said.


"I even have people from Melbourne and Sydney asking, ‘When are you playing Beograd? I want to come down and watch.’ There is so much passion on the line; it is such a good game. This year, both sides are up and about and fighting for the top six, so it will be a great game of soccer."
Front Page Football: Adelaide Croatia Raiders Maks Jurkovic NPL SA 2024 FK Beograd

The fun has returned to the Croatian Sports Centre this past year. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


Heading into the derby, Jurkovic is confident, and praised manager Vlado Blazeka for transforming how Adelaide Croatia plays their football at the moment.


"Vlado wasn’t wrong when he said we are here to entertain; we have certainly done that. We are exciting to watch, brave, and don’t take a step back, and that is the mantra that Vlado wants," he said.


"Perhaps in the past, we’ve had a more traditional approach to grinding out games, but Vlado is not about that. He wants to entertain the people and play his way, and it is great to see."


Despite the fiery history between the two clubs, Jurkovic believes there is also a grudging respect towards one another.


"It is good for South Australian soccer. Those two games in the year will get the most crowds for the season, which will probably be more than some of the Finals Series. There is a big buzz around the competition for two historic clubs, which probably should be fighting for the top six every year, if not the league title."

For the neutral, Jurkovic predicts a free-flowing game of football between two sides whose players and fans are passionate, loud, and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Combining that with the hype, expected attendance, and, of course, the food, the South Australian football community can expect an encounter remembered for years to come.


For interstate interest, live coverage of the FK Beograd-Adelaide Croatia Raiders derby will be free via Football South Australia's FSA Leagues YouTube channel from Saturday at 5pm local time. Locals are encouraged to head down to the Croatian Sports Centre and witness this special rivalry from the stands!


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