It has been said many times that soccer people are the most loyal of all sports.
That’s because soccer people relate to each other even if they don’t speak the same language.
A soccer legend came to town recently to attend a soccer press conference and it was like a reunion of sorts.
You didn’t have to be from Serbia, or even the former Yugoslavia, let alone Belgrade, but in conversation it was like you have known each other for years.
Many spoke to Dragoslav Sekularac who was the centre of attraction at a media gathering in west end Toronto on February 23 to announce that Serbian White Eagles were back in the soccer business as a member of the Canadian Professional Soccer League following an absence of 30 years. Sekularac arrived earlier from Europe with former Red Star Belgrade head coach Stevan Mojsilovic.
You can put Sekularac with Eusebio, Maradona, Cruyff and others – one of the top 10 in the world when Yugoslavia was one country and one of the best, internationally.
The game has changed in three decades – it’s become very much a Canadian game in Canada, so the thought of Toronto area ethnic teams in an International Division of the CPSL is seen as a new dimension on the local soccer scene.
While the gathering marked the beginning of a new era for Serbian White Eagles, there was so much of soccer’s past in attendance at the well-attended gathering that even Seki, as the former Yugoslavia great is affectionately known, had to keep things on track. “We will look to the future,” he said, referring to the upcoming season and the CPSL kickoff in May.
But before doing so, former pro and upcoming 2006 World Cup TV analyst, FIFA man Dick Howard took the gathering back to 1962 and Sekularac’s role in the World Cup semifinals in Chile. Yugoslavia made it to the semi-finals and Howard spoke with such detail, it could have been yesterday.
Mike Stojanovic, one of the NASL all-time leading goalscorers, recalled how one defensive lapse while playing for Canada cost this country a place in the World Cup finals and how today’s Serbian White Eagles’ president Mike Bakic is a good leader today and was a leader on the field in the 70s. He played for NASL teams Rochester, Washington and Houston.
Mira Rodic and his wife Miki have the Bread & Butter restaurant specializing in continental foods in Toronto now, but at one time he was a defender at a high level in Serbia.
There were others.
CPSL commissioner, Cary Kaplan, brought the gathering up to the present and into the future, explaining that the CPSL’s International Division will be an important part of Canadian professional soccer and Serbian White Eagles are an important part of the CPSL. “We have been impressed by the organization and its very good management and we know how the team will perform,” he said.
Vincent Ursini, representing the Canadian Soccer Association, spoke of the importance of the professional game in Canada, quoting the comments of FIFA president Sepp Blatter during his visit to Toronto and Montreal in 2001, that ‘Canada needs to do more with professional soccer.’
But the presence of retired Toronto Star photographer Boris Spremo with his larger than life action pictures of Sekularac high on one wall of the elegant surroundings, the kind of pictures that earned Spremo the Order of Canada, took everyone back in time again.
The CPSL’s International Division will kickoff late May and Serbian White Eagles' home ground will be Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke in Toronto’s west end.