The current players of Red Star Belgrade and Partisan 1953 saluted the heroes of 1961 before their Serbian Championship clash yesterday, the fixture falling the day after the 60th anniversary of Yugoslavia’s sole international match, against a France XIII on 21 May, 1961.
That historic encounter was played in Banja Luka, now the capital city of the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the French triumphing 13-0 on a rainy afternoon in front of over 5,000 spectators.
Serbian Rugby League Federation director, Dragan Pavlovic, said: “If we forget our past we will have no future. The board of the Serbian Rugby League has decided to declare this date as the start of the national rugby league team of Serbia, as the legal successor of ex-Yugoslavia and to keep a legacy and memory of the people who played and built the sport here from 1953 to 1964.”
Pavlovic added: “Those players left a big mark which helped our sport to be recognized by the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Ministry of Youth and Sports after we restarted here in 2001. We can just imagine how strong a rugby league nation we could be if we’d had continuity from 1953 until now.”
Of the 17 Yugoslav national team players that day, more than half were from Serbian-based clubs: Vukelic, Arsenijevic, Kuzovic, Pavkovic (RLC Partisan Belgrade), Josimov, Novakov, Stepanov (RLC Jedinstvo Pancevo), Stankovic, Jankovic (RLC Zmaj Zemun) and Piper (RLC Radnicki Belgrade). The other seven players in the squad came from Croatian sides: Korencic, Gartner, Franceski, Kriskovic, Marjanovic, Stimac (ARC Mladost Zagreb), and Dvornik (RC Nada Split).
Currently, of the six independent states that emerged from the former Yugoslavia, rugby league is played in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Pavlovic noted: “We hope that in the future Slovenia, Croatia and North Macedonia will join the rugby league family in the Balkans, and we would like to take this opportunity to invite all those interested in staring rugby league there to contact the European Rugby League (ERL).”
In Banja Luka there are currently two rugby league clubs, RLC Borac Banja Luka and RLC White Rabbits.
Prior to yesterday’s match – won by Partisan 30-26 with a dramatic, late comeback – the players of both sides held a minute’s silence in memory of those who played and in tribute to Dusan Duda Novakov from Pancevo, who is now 83 years old.
Yugoslav national team v France XIII – 21st May 1961:
Korencic, Gartner, Franceski, Kriskovic, Marjanovic, Stimac (ARC Mladost Zagreb), Vukelic, Arsenijevic, Kuzovic, Pavkovic (RLC Partisan Belgrade), Josimov, Novakov, Stepanov (RLC Jedinstvo Pancevo), Stankovic, Jankovic (RLC Zmaj Zemun), Piper (RLC Radnicki Belgrade), Dvornik (RC Nada Split)
Vlada Markovic (Belgrade), touch judges: Mihovil Radja (Split), Zivko Skroza (Zagreb)