If you are interested in playing for Winnipeg Croatia SC in 2013 season

contact Zlatko Omerzo at 204.951.3675 or zomerzo@hotmail.com

Winnipeg Croatia SC

Schedule & Results (MMSL link)
History by decade
Note: The team history was initially written in 1997 by Frank Jankac as found in the 16th Annual Western Croatian Canadian Tournament souvenir booklet. This text was updated in 2004 by Slavko Seremet to incorporate the years 1997-2004 with input from Miro Gospic and Mike Kovac. 

The sport of soccer has always been an important part of the Croatian immigrant experience. Its popularity in virtually every Croatian community in diaspora resulted from historical factors in the Old Country, the emigration process itself, and the struggles of the immigrants to adjust to life in a new land. These were the forces that led to the establishment of the Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club, which since 1970 has proudly represented the identity of the city’s Croatian community as well as their beloved Croatian homeland on the soccer pitch.

The significance of soccer to Croatian emigres can be explained by the role played by sports in general in Croatian society following the turn of the century. Athletics arose in Eastern Europe as a means to assert and mobilize national identity and sports organizations such as Sokols or other athletic clubs often unofficially served this purpose. The growing popularity of soccer in the 1920s and 1930s fostered its political use as an ethnic emblem for the many peoples of the former Austro-Hungarian emprie and its successor states, among which were the Croats. Following the Second World War, manifestations of Croatian nationalism were banned by communist Yugoslav government and as a result, many Croatian soccer teams and sports clubs were forced to change their traditional names in favour of ideologically acceptable ones – for example, HASK and Gradjanski became known as Dinamo Zagreb.

Founding Movement
The very nature of emigration from Croatia was vital in defining the importance of soccer to Croats abroad. As refugees from communism in the late 1940s, Croats already established athletic clubs (which focused upon soccer) while in the displaced persons camps in southern Austria. The first Croatian Emigrant Sports Club ‘Velebit’ was formed in 1945 and successfully toured throughout Austria playing friendlies against many local and professional teams. However, the Yugoslav government protested to Austrian authorities about the use of the word "Croatian’ and it was then changed to ‘Young Boys’ of Klagenfurt. The link between ethnicity and athletic skill took on strong political connotations for soccer teams operated by nationalist Croatian refugees in the 1950s and 1960s.

This was the impetus for the founding of Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club in the late 1960s. Among the hundreds of Croats that had settled in the city were a number of soccer players, most of which had been playing with other local teams. At that time, Winnipeg’s soccer scene included numerous ethnically-based clubs and the idea of beginning an exclusively Croatian team took hold. It was believed that the club would help maintain and defend group identity and keep the idea of a Croatian nation alive in the community. Following an initial meeting organized by club founder Mr. Mile Jurcevic in the spring of 1969, support was mobilized and the Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club finally began training in January of 1970. The aid of the local branch of the United Croats of Canada (UKH) – this organization was invaluable in the first year as the team practised in the UKH’s National Home on Watt Street.

THE 70s - "True Red, White & Blue"
This golden era of the teams’s history did much to create a heightened sense of community. Attending games became an important recreational activity for the hundreds of fans in the 1970s. Following their club throughout the city was reminiscent of the Old Country experience and became a routine for many. On many a night in Alexander Park, Winnipeg’s "Home of Soccer", the fans shared in the camaraderie of the game and joined Tomo ‘Ciken’ Grivicic in the famous cheer "Croatia! Croatia! Croatia!" as the team worked its magic on the field. One of the most anxiously awaited social evenings each year was the soccer club’s annual banquet which allowed supporters to dance to the sounds of Croatian bands brought in from Toronto. As well, the club was toasted by awards provided by various organizations within the community.

Eastern Tournaments
This ethnic solidarity extended to Croatian communities in other cities as well. In 1971, Winnipeg Croatia hosted Thunder Bay Croatia in a friendly match which resulted in a 4-0 victory for the home side. In 1973, Winnipeg Croatia travelled to Thunder Bay only to lose the match by a score of 2-1, but memories remain of the Winnipeggers’ seventeen car convoy headed by a vehicle draped with the Croatian flag! During the 1970s, the team also entered tournaments in Windsor, Cleveland, Chicago and Hamilton to decide the best Croatian team on the Continent. In 1975, the club enjoyed probably its best showing as it finished fifth out of twenty-six teams. One of the greatest accomplishments in the teams’s history occurred in a 1-1 result with three time Canadian champions Toronto Croatia, who one year later became champions of the professional North American Soccer League!

In the 1970s, ethnicity was a primary criterium for membership in the team and this was not unusual given the seemingly unending supply of talent that arrived in Winnipeg and provided continuous thrills for the fans. Few will forget the goalscoring heroes Vlado Andricevic, Drago Koprivic and his 56 goal season in 1972 (including six goals in a 10-1 rout of Sokol!), Josip Bacinger, Josip Kasunic, Stipe Ukalovic; the skill fo Slavko Kekec, Zeljko Brnjas, Laci Tisaj, and Josip Soric; the defensive ability of Zdenko Cepus, Kreso Tkalec, and Nikola Dosan; and the goalkeeping superiority of Vlado Gomercic, Velimir Dvorski, and Tomislav Boric who went on to join the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL. However, by the end of the decade, it became obvious that the club would have to reassess the emphasis on ethnicity as injuries crises in the late 1970s and a lack of young Croatian players threatened to decimate the team.

Late 70's - Changing of the Guard
Toward the end of the 1970s, Winnipeg Croatia began to recruit players from outside of the community in an effort to keep the club competitive. It was feared that the supporters would not identify with the non-Croatian players but the club was able to maintain its popularity nonetheless. One of the most lethal goalscoring partnerships of the late 1970s in the Manitoba Central Soccer League was that of Ian MacAskill and Stipe Ukalovic who led Croatia’s charge to the top of the First Division in 1978. Others such as Dave Klowak, Danny McGarry, Tony Mazza and the acrobatic goalkeeper George Romanovych quickly became fan favourites. It appeared that change in the composition of the team was irrelevant in light of the success on the field.

The 80's - Youth Movement
The 1980s heralded the beginning of an experiment as the club’s executive committee undertook the wholesale recruitment of the successful Rebel United Juveniles team after their final year of eligibility at the youth level as well as their coach George Watson, a former professional player in Scotland. Laci Tisaj remained the solitary Croat on the roster and at the age of 25 was the senior member of the club. This reflected the growing trend in the MSCL to aggresively pursue young players in the search for soccer supremacy. In the early 1980s, the "foreign experiment" resulted in Winnipeg Croatia’s phenomenal success in league and especially provincial competition as they were twice runners-up (1981,1982) and semi-finalists (1984,1985) for the Manitoba Soccer Association Carling Cup. In 1981, the club was honored to have six players selected for the provincial team, among which was an amazing sixteen year old goalkeeping sensation – Robert Tymchyshyn. Any doubts about the rapport between the fans and non-Croatian players were put to rest during the 1983 John Stornel Invitational Tournament. Upon winning the final, many emotional fans stormed the pitch to join their players who proudly waved a large Croatian flag as those remaining in the stands were reduced to tears.

Feeder System Developed
In order to groom Croatian players for the future, the Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club established in 1983 a "second team" known as Croatia United. This team consisted of a mix of old and young players as well as a few non-Croatians. From 1983 to 1988, Croatia United quickly advanced from the MCSL’s Fourth Division to the First Division and the team was able to draw substantial fan support from the community, often recreating the atmosphere of the 1970s. Gradually, players from Croatia United advanced to the top club, but "United" gained entry into the MCSL Premier Division where it remained during the 1990s.

A friendly rivalry inevitably developed with the "first team" but both realized that they represented Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club. Few moments matched the passion that both teams had for the club than when a combined squad entered the Thunder Bay Invitational Tournament in 1986. Injuries reduced the team to only eleven players and a grueling schedule left them exhausted. The creative coaching of Zeljko Brnjas and raw determination of the players led to consecutive upsets over the heavily favored Minneapolis Thunder and Lucania from Winnipeg and set up a showdown with Manitoba champions Ital-Inter. Winnipeg Croatia took their opponents to task as Miro Gospic’s early craker from thirty yards out rocked the crossbar but the team could muster no more and eventually lost the final by a score of 2-0.

Western Tournaments
Since the mid 1980s, the club regularly attended the Western Canadian Croatian Soccer Tournaments in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge and was privileged to be the host in 1990 and 1997. The team were Western Canadian Croatian champions on a couple of occasions; in 1994 in Edmonton beating Lethbridge Croatia 5-1 in the final led by Alex Bustos and Chico Andrade, and as host in 1997 beating Vancouver Croatia 3-2 in the final at Hrvatski Travnik located just north of the city. Goal scorers in the final were Mike Kovac and Slavko Seremet-2, and Ivan Magdic was name best goalkeeper in the tournament. In 1996 when the tournament was held in Calgary, the team lost 3-0 in the final playing a man short (following a red card) most of the game to Vancouver Croatia who exacted revenge for a group stage 2-1 defeat. In 1992, the team comprised of a combination of players from Croatia United and the first team were semi-finalist in Calgary.

Late 80's - Formation of the MSSA
In 1988, Winnipeg Croatia was among the teams that left the Manitoba Central Soccer League to form the Molson Super Soccer Alliance (MSSA). During the mid 1980s and early 1990s Winnipeg Croatia looked forward to numerous up and coming Canadian-Born Croatian players to supply the core for this new league. These players grew up watching the Croatian teams of the 1970s and early 1980s. Among these many players were selected to various Manitoba Provincial Select teams for U-15, U-16, U-17, U-18 and Canada Games squads. These players included Joey Brnjas, Igor Lulic, Mladen Cvar, Damir Kukec, Steve Seremet, Rob Gomercic, Slavko Seremet, Mike Kovac, David Soric, Marko Malbasa and Daniel Rasic. The following were also selected to attend Canadian National Team training camps: Joey Brnjas, Steve Seremet and Mike Kovac.

The new MSSA league was to provide a pool of players that would serve as a reserve team for the Winnipeg Fury of the new Canadian Soccer League (CSL). Overall, Croatia placed Troy Westwood (who later became the CFL Wpg Blue Bomber’s kicker), Chris Harris, Mladen Cvar and later Micheal Kovac on the Fury’s protected list and many Croatia supporters regularly attended the Fury games. Croatia’s Manager at the time, Miro Gospic was selected manager for the MSSA All-Star Team who lost 2-1 to the Winnipeg Fury in 1989. However, the optimism that ushered in the CSL waned, as professional soccer simply could not take hold in Winnipeg. The void left by the Fury’s departure had a negative effect on the local soccer scene. Most of the talent drawn to the city by the Fury’s presence disappeared and many of the teams in the MSSA once again set forth to recruit players from the youth system.

Early 90's
Overall, Croatia had a solid record in the MSSA and reached the league final in 1992 under the direction of coach Luis Canadas, only to lose a classic match to Germania on penalty shots after the game ended 2-2 after 90 mins and 3-3 after extra time with Germania equalizing with seconds remaining. During this period, Winnipeg Croatia also began to experience a decline in fan support which required a new approach in order to revitalize the club. In 1995, Winnipeg Croatia made the bold decision to sell Croatia United’s place in the MCSL Premier Division and absorbed the players into Croatia’s MSSA team.

Mid 90's - Back to Basics
For the first time in almost twenty years, the club once again fielded and all-Croatian team and attained respectable mid-table finishes in 1995 and 1996. The team was also MSA Cup semi-finalists in 1995 losing out to Lucania 3-2 on a late goal in the second game of the two game series after battling back to tie the match after trailing 2-0 early on. This team was also Western Canadian Croatia finalists in 1996 and attended the 1995 tournament in Lethbridge. Players included Rob Bacinger, Mike Bacinger, Peter Magdic, Mike Kovac, Rob Gomercic, Derek Kasunic, Steve Seremet, Mujo Jaksic, Steve Zokvic, Igor Lulic, Goran Lulic, Ivan Magdic, Mladen Cvar, Slavko Seremet, Trpimir Renic, Joey Brnjas and David Soric. Joe Zizic was Manager, Zeljko Brnjas was coach and Miro Gospic the club treasurer.

Late 90's
The next few years brought three consecutive coaching changes. In 1997 the club appointed former players Irek Iskat and Alex Esteves as player co-coaches and the club enjoyed capturing the Western Canadian Croatian championship. The team also reached the MSA Cup semi-finals losing out to Sons Of Italy 3-1. The MSSA began to decline during this period as only six teams remained in the league from the early years when there were eleven teams. In 1999 Winnipeg Croatia, now coached by John Almeida, reached the league championship final only to lose 3-0 to Lucania. In the MSSA’s final season 2001, there were only 5 teams remaining in the league, with only Winnipeg Croatia and Lucania remaining from the original founders of the league that lasted for 14 years. The team finished the final MSSA season by winning the 3rd place playoff match on a David Soric overtime golden goal.

New League Merger
The year 2002 brought a new era to soccer in Winnipeg as the Manitoba Major Soccer League (MMSL) was formed by the "merger" of the MSSA and MCSL Premier divisions. Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club went through a very difficult period as a new executive committee took on the task of forming the MMSL team. Once again the club turned to Zeljko Brnjas to coach a group of mostly Croatian players including a number of team veterans from the past who dedicated the season to the memory of Constable Peter Magdic. The new executive included: Ivan Magdic as president, Slavko Seremet as treasurer and Mike Kovac and Joey Brnjas as committee members. The team had a successful season and playoff run defeating Polonia 2-0 and then losing in the quarter-finals to Maples Juventus 2-1 on a very cold and raining day at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex after dominating the match. The team also returned to the Western Canadian Croatian Tournament in Calgary and were eliminated in the first round but were unbeaten following three consecutive draws. In 2002 fan support for the club was rejuvenated as the new executive worked to bring the team closer to the Croatian community once again by publishing a calendar format schedule and organizing a mini-soccer tournament at the club’s yearly picnic.

In 2003 Zeljko Brnjas stepped aside due to time commitments and first time coach Stipe Jokic and his assistants Miro Gospic and David Soric were selected to form the team. Their first year was very successful taking the team all the way to the MMSL playoff final where they lost 2-1 to Sokol. The lone goal coming from Andi Bogdanovic after a wonderful breakaway pass from his twin brother Bogdan as Croatia took a 1-0 lead. It was a disappointing end to a magical playoff run where Croatia defeated Hellas 3-2 in the first round on David Soric’s last second laser into the corner of the net, and Mateo Coric’s fantastic three goals in the 3-2 semi-final victory over Sons of Italy. The MMSL has brought new life to Winnipeg Croatia Soccer Club, as it looks to the future with much optimism and it continues to compete at the top level of amateur soccer in the province of Manitoba.

Last Updated ( 2008-01-16 10:20:48 )