Bosnian Premier League: The story of Yaya Toure, Dzeko, Modric, history of the league and the tragedy that surrounds it
For the longest time now, ever since the Bosnian Premier League was founded back in 1993, it hasn’t stopped disappointing, year in and year out. Why you ask? Now that’s one hell of a story.
I’ll do my best not to include political talk in this article, but it’s necessary when you talk about Bosnian football, or anything related to Bosnia and Herzegovina in general.
Bosnia applied for membership in FIFA and UEFA in 1992, the year of Bosnian independence. Serbian military aggression meant that no football will be played in 1992/93 season. Only in 1993 did Bosnian Croats format their own league in Western parts of Herzegovina, and it was named First League of Herzeg-Bosnia. Herzeg-Bosnia was occupied Bosnian territory under the control of Croatian army, known for various camps of death and brutal torture of Bosniaks all around its territory.
As you can assume, only Croatian teams participated in the pre-mentioned league. Serbs organized their own league in the occupied Bosnian territory now known as “Republic of Srpska”, the territory which includes Srebrenica, the biggest European genocide since WW2.
Bosnian teams only started playing their own league in 1994/95.
As you can assume the tensions were very high even after the war ended in 1995.
Not until 2000/01 was Bosnian Premier League created. Bosnian and Croatian teams unified to play in one league, while Serbs refused to join, leaving them ineligible for European competitions, which forced them to join the league two years later, in 2002/03 season. It’s worth noting that Željezničar (Bosnian club) won first two official league titles. There’s a funny story about Željezničar which includes Yaya Toure as the legend says he was refused on trial in 2005. We all know what happened later, so it’s safe to say Bosnian Premier League > English Premier League.
The tensions were still high in early 2000s and it was next to impossible to get the points in an away match. Referees were corrupt, and if there wasn’t corruption involved, the whole stadium swearing and making life-threats certainly did the job.
Just to showcase the mess, here’s an insert from biggest Bosnian derby Sarajevo-Željezničar where Sarajevo goalkeeper Dedić kicks his opponent on the ground in 98th minute.
The league kept on going… somehow.
One of rare good things to come out of the league is Edin Džeko, world-class striker known throughout the world. Even he left the league at 19 years old, and Željezničar got 25.000 for the transfer. One of Željezničar directors later said “We felt like we won the lottery when we sold him for that much”. The fans also gave him the nickname “kloc” during his time at Željezničar, and the closest translation would be “bum”, referring to his poor footballing skills…
Remember recent Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić. YES, he played a season in Bosnian Premier League as well. Unlike Yaya or Dzeko, he endured with success, no wonder he’s the best player in the world now. Modrić himself said that the season in Bosnian PL made him tougher, as there isn’t a lot of technical football here, as you can assume.
Fall and rise of FK Velež
Probably the biggest victim of war when it comes to football clubs was “FK Velež”. Velež played in Europe before war, facing the likes of Derby, Dortmund (which they beat 2 1), and they were generally well-known for their attacking football and flair. Velež played their home matches in western Mostar, but at the emergence of war, Zrinjski (Croatian political club based in Mostar) took their stadium mainly through politics and war measures and never gave it back even to this day. Velež was able to incredibly rebuild, and are now playing in “Rođeni” stadium, which is also their nickname, on the outskirts of Mostar, but making some serious strides in their comeback to the first division.*
*If you’re looking for hipster club no-one’s ever heard of (in your area) to root for, Velež is absolutely the choice.
There was also an infamous incident at the heated Zrinjski-Velež derby in 2011. Velež scored at an away game full of Zrinjski “supporters”. The crowd then flooded the pitch, hunting for Velež players wherever they could. While running away from the rioted crowd, Tarik Cerić was purposely tripped by no else than Zrinjski’s player Mile Pehar.
If you thought the situation got better in 2010s, you’re in for a disappointment. Lots of shady refreeing, corrupt organizations, political interference, it’s still all there, although the away games aren’t as horribly organized as they used to be, so there’s that.
Now prepare, because what you’re about to see isn’t good for your eyes; this 93rd minute penalty eventually won the title for Zrinjski in 2016/17 campaign:
Ready for more?
This penalty was awarded to Zrinjski in derby versus Sarajevo last month
Things get worse in general; banners of war criminals are being shown out and their names are chanted at various Serbian and Croatian stadiums, and, as you already guessed, punishments are minor to non-existing.
Bosnian football is like a pond of negativity and mirror of our divided society, and the only ones who succeed are the ones who leave early and never come back again. This article might read like a parody, but it’s just the sad reality without perspective or hope, just running the circle of whose turn it is to win the league (three nations, remember?), how much will referee get in his pocket, and who will get beaten up.