And my whole life – well, perhaps not my whole entire life, but certainly since 1986 – I've been hearing stories about where people were when they were watching it. One guy was in the army, another broke the TV set, yet another was with friends, and the list goes on … And so I listen to people as they tell me what they were doing at the moment I was scoring the goal!
A vehicle – my dad's handiwork
But, let me start from the beginning, from my childhood. The first memory that I have is of a tricycle. I remember my dad making - how do I explain, what did you call that …? You used to make it from a single plank. You would put in ball bearings, then make a hole, and put in a piece of wood as a steering of sorts. So, you would just lie down and ride on. I could have been three, or perhaps four or five years old, and we lived in Karaburma. Dad would put a padding of green textile on that plank, and a sort of a sponge in between. It was just perfectly natural for all the children in the neighbourhood to have that sort of a plank sled. You would just lie on top of it, and steer using your legs. The going was good, let me tell ya!
The school posse
In the past couple of years, my elementary school buddies and me have started to get together socially. There is Dragan and myself, of the guys – we're still waiting for Joki – and also the girls in our posse - Maca, Sanja, Dijana, Jelena, and Branka. We first went to a small restaurant near Hotel Yugoslavia, had coffee and tea, and then headed over to our friend Dijana's wedding party, then to my place, and then to Sanja's and Maca's. We got together after so many years, and I'm really glad. I feel nice and cosy in their company, it's warm and relaxed. We know each other, we know who we are and what we are – we went to the Radoje Domanović Elementary and shared all those experiences together, maturing together as well. That was the early 1970s, in the Novi Beograd blocks 28 and 29, when there was nothing between my building and the Sava Centre. There was thick bushes, a lake, and the death trails for those of us who cycled. We would swim and fish where the Arena is located now. When I mention this to my daughters Irina and Isidora, they don't believe me. There's buildings now in the blocks, back to back. Seeing as sport is such an important part of my life, there were a couple of events that really shaped who I am today. It was wonderful – we had basketball courts and football pitches right in front of our building. I would always be wearing my sneakers out, and I remember my dad saying, 'We can't catch a break cos of your sneakers. All we do is buy new ones. ' And back then, I was a fan of Adidas. I remember Romika shoes were around as well, and Puma too.
You don't measure happiness.
Aleksandar Trifunović also played there, and went on to become a basketball player. Then there was Joksimović, a footballer at Zvezda FC. I remember a terrific game, between Class 5/4 and Class 5/1 of our elementary school – the latter was us – with the girls watching in the rain. And back in the day, we were supposed to go home if it was raining, but no one wanted to leave the school yard. So, it was a tie, followed by an overtime, then another tie, a penalty shootout, and still a tie! Our best guy, Goran, was taking penalty kicks and, whenever he missed, the other guy missed too. For ten minutes they couldn't decide who the winner was. So, then their guy missed, and I pushed Goran aside, took the kick, and scored. And I also scored a tie goal in the regulation time in that game. So now I don't know whether I was happier then or at the Madrid World Championship. You don't measure happiness in kilograms or meters, and I couldn't say that I was happier in Seoul or Madrid, when I scored the final goal in the eighth overtime, than then. Perhaps it was a lesson I had to learn to be able to score that winning goal later.
The first love
'You wanna go steady? ' was what I asked a girl the first time. She was all namby-pamby about it, saying yes and then saying no, I can't even remember what happened. It ended with 'I'll think about it. ' I was shy, I could have been in grade five or six of elementary school. Even now I'm not entirely relaxed. It was only once I started to hang out in various places in Belgrade that I became a bit freer. I met my first true love in high school, but we became an item only when I was 20. We dated for three years – we will protect her privacy, I'm not sure how comfortable she would be if I mentioned her name. Then I had a serious relationship, which lasted two and a half or three years. And then I finally met my future life partner, my late wife. She was a true partner – we met, set some goals and priorities, and loved each other. I can say that we had a good life together and two lovely daughters. So there you go …
The first training
I also remember my first training at the Partizan Water Polo Club. I had done some swimming before – my dad would take me, and I wasn't bad at breaststroke. I think I ended up second at a contest. I came to Banjica in August 1976, so I was ten and a half, because my parents had seen an ad in the Politika daily and took me. The coaches, Mlađa and the late Maksa, admitted me, and then I ended up with the famous Pera and the late Mirko Petrović Bosanac. I remember my first jump into the pool. Vividly. Back then, the first team played in the field, and the thing to the side was used by juniors. They asked me if I could swim. I said I could and then, in all the excitement, I suppose – and I was a pretty decent swimmer at that time already – I jumped into the middle and pressed on. But, I wasn't paying attention to the direction and hit the goal. My parents thought I wasn't gonna get in, but the coach said, 'You're a good swimmer, just keep your eyes open in the water. ' And then I got into the Partizan work schedule, with coaches teaching us sports as well as life lessons. Maksa was buried not long ago in Gornji Milanovac, so we went and reminisced. It was a sad event, but also a magnificent one – the way we said good-bye to our coach.
The daily 46-kilometre march
I served in the military in Trebinje. The service lasted the 13 months, although I was absent for about four months, due to the Kobe Universiade and the European Championship in Sofia. We won the silver medal at both competitions, and the Russians won gold. That's how things were then - the USSR would win in odd years, and we would win in even ones. I was in naval artillery. Trebinje, the daily 46-kilometre marches, 17 or 18 days out in the field, and sentry duty … I went through all that, right after the Los Angeles Olympics. Trebinje and Bileća were the toughest military bases, with the officers never going there out of their own accord. The discipline was strict, but we held our own. I'm in touch with a guy from the army, Miki is his name. There was another guy, Narandžić, and so we have stayed up all night a couple of times in Belgrade, just hanging out.
The first joy of new birth
The birth of my niece Ana Antić in 1996 was the first joy of that sort that I felt in my life. I remember that we went all out celebrating – my parents, the relatives, all of us. It was their first grandchild, and a great bundle of joy for me as an uncle, because I'm close to my sister, Aleksandra Antić. She is three years older than me and used to give me a sense of direction in life with her wonderful, noble wisdom. Alex has an MA in literature studies, and she is a writer and a sketch artist. She has a great influence, both culturally and socially. She has influenced my taste in music – I remember that she listened to The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Leonard Cohen. I remember it like it was yesterday – I was heading back home from training, dead tired; when I got back, I had a good meal, and went to bed. The walls were thin, but she was playing records on that Tosca 20 or 10 turntable, whatever its name was. She loved to study to the sound of music, and I would fall asleep to those records. And then, incredibly, some 15 years later, I'd be at a party or a coffeehouse, and they'd play some of those records. I knew which song came next, as well as the words. Quality never goes away.
The death of my father, and then my wife.
There were some tough things too. First the death of my father, because it was so sudden. He never saw a doctor, it was like he died the death of a renegade. And then my wife died. That was a tragedy I took a long time to recover from. Pro Recco was my recovery, and Vlada Vujasinović, who helped me go there. I was fighting, I was afraid, with two daughters … We slept in the same bed. In 2011, I left Partizan when we won the Champions League. My wife became ill in October, and I devoted myself to her and the children - I took the children to kindergarten and school; I took my older daughter to synchronized swimming, and then back home for supper. My grandma Ana helped me a lot, as did my current wife Ivana. I have to give it to her – she was altruistic towards the world and the society. That was when I got to know her better. I fell in love with her a while later, and that's when our relationship started.
I'm on good terms with Branka.
I'm still in touch with Branka Katić, since we have common friends. We are cordial with each other. We were once in a relationship, had an amicable breakup, and have stayed on good terms. Branka has a great marriage now – I met her husband Julian too. They have two boys, and I have two girls, so our children played together at a friend's family saint's day celebrations. It's a great story, now as ever. I saw her recently at an exhibition, at our common friend Sale's.
I spent my energy on the wrong people.
I can say that at the time of my greatest successes in sport and the domination in swimming pools around the world, I spent my time with people who I perhaps did not need, so I ended up spending too much energy on them. Then again, this drive to be out and about enjoying the night life really was too powerful, so today I'm perhaps a little more exhausted because of that time in my life. That's why now I spend a lot of time focused on myself. I got into preventive medicine, so I do breathing exercises and work out. As a professional coach, I'm obsessed with the work 'efficiency' – getting the greatest effect possible with the smallest amount of effort and energy. I have devised a program, and some people have even expressed an interest. I think I will do that for as long as I live. I even feel a need, because I finished a year of the Educational Polytechnic School and work as a coach, to disseminate the knowledge that I have. Regarding how to maintain one's health and the immune system. I think I have gone in pretty deep, so I've started to share my knowledge, and perhaps I could do this professionally.
Nothing human is alien to me.
Nothing human is alien to me. The doping controls were rigorous in our time, and sport meant the world to me. I followed through on what I was curious about at the time, but didn't dwell on anything too much. I did like to have a drink or two, so there. I liked it. I was never around opiates for too long. I did try all sorts of things, but I walked away from it, and I wouldn't recommend it to young people.
I don't swim in improvisations.
The coronavirus has resulted in a contraction of the coaching market, and in this country there is improvisation that I can't find my way around. I think that I wasn't able to give it my very best either in Valjevo or in Zvezda for that precise reason. The title of the European champion that Partizan won was certainly my best. You couldn't expect that with Pro Recco as it was … I think I introduced some innovations and changed some of the approaches to the game. I often say that there are people who have given themselves to a sport and improved it through their own actions; however, there is also the 99 percent of those who take away from sports, clawing at it, presenting themselves as major-league coaches, but their contribution to improving the sport is zero. I think that as a player too I was sort of avant-garde; and as a coach, I know exactly where the innovation was introduced in defence play. I can't see a single team in the world championship not including that. It's become part and parcel of the players' tactical training. And when I started doing that in Partizan, it was out of this world.
Dragan Andrić, shorter legs and insoles.
Dragan Andrić has been a great friend of mine. A great man! He is a bit older than me, but I used to play in his age group in a selection. Both of us went into swimming because of our legs – I broke my right leg when I was four or five, so it remained a bit shorter. Incidentally, Šoštar went in because of his spine. Sometimes we joke about having pretty decent careers for a couple of invalids. I remember that Andrić and myself were partners in Partizan and the national team, sharing rooms. We bought insoles, because his left leg and my right leg are shorter. We would buy five pairs of insoles in the U.S., and he would take the left ones and I would take the right ones. It's gallows humour, but it's great. So we would put them into shoes and sneakers, and we'd be set for two or three years.
My heart and soul is with Partizan, but I like Red Star too.
I'm a Partizan guy, that's for sure, but I also like Zvezda, there's no denying that either. I have to say here that my father was a supporter of Red Star. As a kid, I went to the Red Star Stadium, and started to train at Partizan at age ten. At 15, I joined the first team, and went on to become Vice-President of the Partizan Sports Society and a member of the Partizan FC. My heart and soul is with Partizan, but if I work for Red Star, I give it my best. I played, and was on the team that became the champion of Yugoslavia for the first time in history. I scored 13 goals in two matches against Partizan, for example. I like sports. When Barcelona and Real are playing, or Manchester City and Manchester United, I don't root for anyone, I watch it like a theatre play. When Red Star and Partizan play, I don't know how to root for someone. My children – both of them great Partizan supporters – ask me who I'm rooting for, and I don't know what to tell them. I watch the sports show, observe the approach to the game, the way individual players treat the referee, the audience, the opponent, the way they comply with things that need complying. I have bumped into Partizan supporters who held it against me that I had worked as a coach at Red Star. But what am I supposed to do? I do my job. When Partizan invited me afterwards, I went there again. And once again got removed by other Partizan supporters. I'll always be ready to give my best to a team.
Nikos, where's ABBA?
Budva. The summer league. Now that was a show! I played there from May until September. We were under the embargo, the national team players had nowhere to play, so we played the whole summer. So there I was, playing for Budva, and at one point Nikos Karpas arrived on his motorbike an hour and a half before the match, with some of his music, and started playing an ABBA tape. And that went on for the whole summer. So I knew, as I was limbering up by the pool, that I should jump in as soon as 'Take a Chance on Me' started. I played in May, June, July, and August, there were also play-offs, and I would play a whole match at a time. The late Jimmy Gopčević kept me in the pool. I scored 40 goals in eight games. And then we had the last match in Budva. If we won, we were gonna be the champions for the first time in history. Five thousand people, there's boats all around, you couldn't go near the pool. I arrived in a bathrobe, and the guy plays the tape, except it's a completely different thing! He had been playing ABBA the whole summer, and now, all of a sudden … I asked him, 'Nikos, where's ABBA?' and he said, 'I forgot it.' Then I said, 'Now you're gonna have to explain to everyone why I'm not playing in this match!' I sat down and said, 'I'm not moving an inch until ABBA is in the field.' He sat on his motorbike – his place was five minutes away – and brought the tape. I jumped into the pool, and we won. We had a good laugh afterwards.
Relaxing to B.B. King's guitar
Music is an essential part of my life in sports. I like to unwind to the sound of music. This is Gibson Lucille, a guitar of the kind played by the famous B.B. King. I got it from a friend. I would often draw motivation for life, or training, from certain songs, whether it was blues, rock, or folk music. I used to stay up all night at a riverboat club, and then go to training in the morning. It made me wonder where I got the strength, but then it would occur to me what we had been doing. We'd had spritzers, we ate, we sang. Sang! And in order to sing, you have to breathe a certain way, and be in a special sort of state if you want to sing well. That's just pure joy, and I think that singing was key to getting the energy to go through with the training.
'It Is Not Her Fault'
I went to my neighbours' for a family saint's day celebration. We arrived around 10pm, because I'd had a coaching session at Red Star. As we arrived at Mirko and Jelena's, with a bottle of wine and flowers in our hands, before I could even sit down at that long table – with about 15 guests already there – the accordion player came over and started to play 'It Is Not Her Fault' by Meho Puzić. I hadn't heard it in 25 years. It touched me, especially because it used to be our song, a personal favourite of a dear friend of mine, the late Neša Zemunac. So I asked the accordion player, 'Hey buddy, how'dya come up with that song?' and he said that he'd been at the Hua Hua riverboat club with us one night, when we were singing, and so now he wanted to surprise me. I teared up. That song was a staple at a time when we would go to riverboat clubs, and the blonde Jelena, the lovely blonde Jelena would strum that song on the guitar as we sang. These days, I like the blues, and a bit of jazz. Stevie Ray Vaughn is top-notch.
You have not because you ask not.
When I'm no longer around, everything is gonna be the same. I'll try to make sure my daughters get plenty of education. I bring them up to be modest and happy to have few things. I don't think about death, I believe in life after life, and try to act accordingly – repent of all the sins that I have committed so far - and all of us are sinners … I work on myself, and want to repent of the errors that I have made, and thank my creator for the life that he has given me. I also wish to ask for a bit more grace for, as the books say, 'You have not because you ask not.' In the past 20-odd years, I have had some success in trying to be a Christian, and yet … I face almost every day my own failures and un-Christian behaviour.
Deep thinking and working on oneself
Dr Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko says that you cannot change the world or stress, but you can change the way in which the world and the stress affect you. So I work on myself, and practice contemplative prayer – in Goran Mitić's words, I work on my own identity by taking recreational walks, doing breathing exercises, meditating … There is a movement of people, burgeoning in a search of identity. I'm currently studying the lectures of Mr Milan Nikolić, and also like very much Mr Tomislav Terzin, who uses the scientific method to explain the existence of god the creator. To the effect that a more intelligent being must be behind what is happening. Every morning, I wake up and do exercises on the back stretcher where you saw me when you arrived. This is followed by breathing exercises, praying, and then I move on to the activities which raise the working temperature. I take walks around Ada. And then I do a bit more relaxing and breathing. It happened naturally that I changed my diet – sometimes I eat fresh vegetables for 20 days straight, and I feel great. I weigh the same as when I was active in sports. I have felt a greater efficiency and more potential when I adhere to this sport sort of lifestyle. Dr Buteyko said, 'If people breathed properly more, there would be no wars.' Life should be lived away from any rottenness, away from hospitals; it should be lived well.
What we teach our children sits heavy on my heart.
I believe in god the creator. Of course I do. And that sits heavy on my heart from a social standpoint – the nonsense that our children learn. In the past twenty years, many holes have been poked in the theory of evolution. The theory has been laid waste to. Scientists have used scientific methods to destroy it, and I think it's incredible that we are still taught that. And then, the fact that our children learn that we came from the Carpathians in the seventh or eighth century, and yet we have the Vinča culture all the way to Lepenski Vir. Are we supposed to treat as coincidental the fact that a nuclear waste disposal site is being made on top of the Vinča culture – the oldest in Europe? The monument to the unknown hero at a site researched by everyone, while Meštrović made the same thing on Lovćen, using very old artefacts … A coincidence? There are these dogmas that move me. The Slovenians and the Croats are taught that they are indigenous nations, and us Serbs teach our children that we arrived in the seventh or eighth century …
Kurir sport/ Gojko Filipović