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MY LIFE STORY - STEVAN STOJANOVIĆ: On Red Star and Bari, a suitcase full of money from Marseille, his wife, Belgium, Piksi,...
Foto: Ana Paunković

PERSONAL STORY

MY LIFE STORY - STEVAN STOJANOVIĆ: On Red Star and Bari, a suitcase full of money from Marseille, his wife, Belgium, Piksi,...

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A career for the movies. He has kept goal against the greatest. A European champion. Received a suitcase full of money to sell a match, which he could have lived comfortably on for the rest of his life. Defended that goal line too. Changed clubs, but not his wife. Red Star has given him everything. And he says he has given it something too.

I was born in Kosovska Mitrovica. We lived in the Stari Trg neighbourhood, near the Trepča mine. I lived in Kosovo until I was five. Afterwards we moved to Rudnik, near Gornji Milanovac. And this is where both my childhood and my football career began. It all started in the school yard, and continued at the Mladi Rudar (Young Coalminer) football club.

I always wanted to be a goalkeeper. Right from the start. Why a goalkeeper? Well, it was the jersey. I have always found it fascinating that it is different from the rest. That it stands out so much. And that has an effect on a child. To stand out, be apart, be something special. And that's what happened at the end of my career. Something truly special – when I won the Champions Cup. From the start all the way to the end.

foto: Privatna Arhiva

Šekularac

I finished elementary school in Rudnik. It was all about the game. Until I turned thirteen. As a boy, I joined Red Star. It's interesting how I came to Belgrade and Red Star. Very interesting! By accident, I would say. The late Dragoslav Šekularac brought me in. A year before my arrival in Red Star, there was a junior team training in Rudnik. Milovan Đorić was the coach. When their goalkeeper got injured, Đorić came over to us kids who watched every training session, and asked, "Any goalkeepers among you?" I raised my hand at once. And stayed with them for ten days. It was a great generation: Boško and Milko Đurovski, Čakalić, Uzunov, Radić, Radović … A serious team. A year later, Šekularac came to the pre-season U15 training. Đorić had already told him that there was a kid in Rudnik who was a good goalie, and that he should ask around. I was a goalkeeper for Mladi Rudar's U15 and U19 teams, and a back-up player for the first team. And so, Šekularac took me under his wing and brought me to Belgrade 15 days later. People often ask me how I got the nickname Dika. When I came to Red Star, I became known as Dika Junior. Why? Because of Aleksandar Dika Stojanović! Since Stojanović is also my last name, my team friends started to call me Dika Junior. Even today, at age 50+, they still call me that. My coffeehouse at the Rajko Mitić Stadium is also called Dika.

I was seeing off buses

Mom and Dad took a long time coming to terms with my move to Belgrade. When they asked me, I said I wanted to go without batting an eyelid. How could I not - it was Red Star inviting me, and I was a kid. I had the support of the Marjanović family, who really took care of me like I was their own son. But, it was all fine and dandy for the first few days and weeks. And that's when homesickness hits you, and you don't feel great. I mean, I was just a kid! I had a really hard time. A training session would end, and I would come to the Rajko Mitić Stadium bus stop. And I would see off buses going to Rudnik for hours, hoping that someone I knew would come along, who I could ask to send my love to my folks. Ah man … When I think about it now, I get goosebumps.

foto: Privatna Arhiva

I had to go to school

But, it all goes away with time. You get used to it. You get stronger. They took care of me in Red Star. Us kids from the sticks lived in a boarding school, which was located where the Sports Association building is now. Our sleeping quarters and the canteen were there. The club offices as well, so you had to be attentive and listen. Then again, us kids were never given too much free time. Milovan Đorić, Vladica Popović, Dragoslav Šekularac, Toma Milićević … Just imagine, such luminaries all, and yet they worked at a youth school and took care of us. They had a no-nonsense approach. You had to go to school, and you had training. Non-stop duties. I started the 11th Gymnasium, spent two years there, and eventually finished the vocational School of Transport and Technology. Then I graduated from the Coaching College and the Technical School of Railway Engineering. I enrolled at the School of Railway Engineering completely by accident. I had to enrol in order to be on the university national team in 1987. How was I gonna go to the Zagreb Universiade without a student ID, hahaha? So, seeing as I was now enrolled, I dug my heels in and started to take exams. One by one. And so I started doing well – I passed all my exams at first go. It's only later that you realize how important these two degrees are in your life, although I have never had a job in my area of professional expertise.

Sixth-choice goalie and the military service

Being away from my parents, staying in a big city, alone, was what helped make me who I am today. Especially the military service. As soon as I signed a contract with Red Star aged 18, I enlisted. Why? I was the sixth-choice goalkeeper! Preceded by Aleksandar Dika Stojanović, Živan Ljukovčan, Tomislav Ivković, the late Slobodan Karalić, and Goran Živanović. So I said to myself – Dika, either keep goal or enlist in the military. The football clubs Rijeka, Zemun, and Željezničar from Sarajevo wanted me, but Red Star wouldn't have it. And so I made up my mind – I was enlisting. To do what I had to do, and not have my career cut in half at 23. The club said to hold on and that they would look into whether I could be placed in a transportation unit, so I could get all the licence categories. It was popular being a driver. Nah, what was I gonna do with that? What I got, I got. And so I got infantry. I was a mud cruncher! Hahaha! I remember that they asked me at the enlistment to choose between Ljubljana, Mostar, and Sarajevo. Sarajevo it was! I answered without too much thinking. And so I went, the October cohort of 1983. I was psychologically and physically ready, nothing was too difficult for me. I even got an exemplary soldier badge – it was a great experience.

Bring snow in, take snow out!

Interestingly, I was in the army at the time of the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. I'll tell you an interesting story about the Olympics. My unit was involved in bringing snow for the ski runs and jumping hills on Mount Igman. Man, there was no snow in Sarajevo! Which caused problems for the organizers. And so, all they could do was get the army to help. They sent us to Mount Igman and Bjelašnica to get snow. We worked all day. We brought in the snow, put it on the jumping hill, trod it down, and got the job done. But that very evening it started to snow. We had only just gotten back to the barracks, and they sound the alarm. So, we went back – and they said there was too much snow now. We picked up the shovels again and started removing the snow. Hahahaha! Madhouse!

foto: Ana Paunković

First love

First love! Well! It happened then and never went away. My wife Marija. I'm not one for sharing the details … I ain't your guy, man! I like to keep certain things private. My first and only love, my Maja. We're lucky to have two children – a daughter and a son – and a granddaughter. It's all good. We met when she was 15 and I was 17. We've been together ever since. That's the long and the short of it, leaving the details out!

And then there was that lob …

At Red Star I kept goal for all the selections, from U13 to U19, sometimes all at once. With a signed professional contract, I also had duties on the first team. What can I say, at 17 and a half, I was on the bench in the match against Barcelona in 1982. And Barcelona was terrifying – with Maradona, Schuster, Alesanco … It was a great experience for me. I remember – one day before the match, I went to the pitch after the training session, to see Maradona training. Things were different then; you could pass through the tunnel and see the master at work. And then the match came, with 90,000 people at the stadium. And I was a kid. I was looking at Dika [author's note: Aleksandar Stojanović] and thought to myself, "I really don't want to get in, don't you get injured! Please just don't get injured!" Hahaha! I don't know, I had never before seen what Maradona was doing with the ball – it wasn't touching the ground, it was as if he had tied it to his foot. And then there was that lob at the match. No one had seen that before, nor will they see it afterwards. Maradona is amazing!

foto: Ana Paunković

The first derby

I debuted on Red Star's first team in a match against Dinamo from Vinkovci, at the Rajko Mitić Stadium. I had returned from the army and was the second-choice goalkeeper - Branko Davidović was the first choice. Velibor Vasović was the coach, and he decided in 1987 to put me in charge of the goal. This was before the derby with Partizan FC. We had Vinkovci on Sunday, the cup on Wednesday, with Osijek, and Partizan on Sunday, at the Partizan FC Stadium. We won over Dinamo from Vinkovci 3-0, and I didn't have anything to do. There were 20,000 people, but at that time that was a modest turnout. It was the same against Osijek, I didn't have much to do there either. And then came the derby, with the stadium packed. I remember that before Vasović put me in charge of the goal, some people had suggested that he should wait until after the derby and not put me on the goal. And he just said straight up, as he did, right in front of me: "And why is that? Now's the right time! The guy should figure out whether he wants to be in football or not!" And he was right, because I was 20 at the time. He was an amazing coach. Educated, eloquent, a lawyer, a psychologist. His words would change your mind in a flash. He had lived abroad and was team captain at Ajax. He knew how to approach you. We got out onto the pitch, and I looked at the crowd around us and thought to myself, "Do I need this?" We lost the match 2-0, but I was really good, I saved Vokkri's penalty kick. He had a few other excellent interventions. I remember that as soon as I caught a tough ball, I instantly felt free of the burden, and it all seemed easy. Afterwards, at one match after another, I only had the positive jitters, it was all becoming routine. GM Vladimir Cvetković said at the time, "We lost a game, but gained a goalie." That became a famous line, which all the media quoted.

foto: Ana Paunković

The greatest joy of my life

Your children being born is always the greatest joy. For everyone. I have a son, Marko, and a daughter, Tea. They were born in Antwerp, Belgium, and are the most precious to me. In sports terms, winning the Champions Cup is the pinnacle for any professional footballer. Winning what is topped by nothing out there. I have managed to accomplish this, regardless of the fact that I've had many important matches in my career, against Real Madrid, Milan, Bayern … A dream come true. I guess I was lucky. The Munich game is among the most important for me. We were a non-nonsense team and we showed that on the pitch. The rematch against Bayern in Belgrade started well. Mihajlović scored a goal from a free kick. We created many opportunities and should have pushed to decide the match. We went into the locker room smiling and feeling relaxed, at which point Ljupko said to us, "You guys just keep messin' around and you'll see what'll happen. Those are Germans out there!" And sure enough, I made a mistake, and the ball got into the goal. I wasn't down psychologically, I was thinking, "It's 1-1, we won over there, so we're moving forward. I don't care, let them talk about that goal." Now we're cracking jokes about that goal, but back then I don't know what people would have said if we had been eliminated. Robi [author's note: Robert Prosinečki] was the first to approach me and said, "It's alright, Dika, don't sweat it. Get up, let's move on!" Many thoughts run through your mind. The stadium had gone quiet, and it was packed. Luckily for me, it all ended well.

foto: Www.crvenazvezdafk.com

Bari

And then came the final in Bari. Before our trip to Italy, coach Ljupko Petrović came up to me and said, "You had that mistake against Bayern, but you're a good guy, so what went around will come around." That meant a lot to me. I remember that Ljupko worked out a tack for the finals and said that he thought we should play to win the trophy. When he explained it to us, we were all taken by surprise. We just looked at each other – Dejo, Robi, Miha, Pančev, Juga, Bina, Mile, Ilija. We didn't understand. How were we supposed to score? He said, "No problem, we don't need to score in the first place. Extra time, and then a penalty shootout. Dika saves one, and the trophy is ours! We are European champions!" And you know what? That's exactly what happened! As Ljupko had predicted. Incredible. Oh, and Amoros's penalty kick that I saved … Look, there are no coincidences. I kept a record of how each player did penalty kicks. Every weekend I would watch overviews of domestic and foreign games. If there was a penalty kick, I would write it down, and it stayed there. For the French, I had a record for Amoros and Papin, and it said that they had a powerful downwards kick. I decided to go right for both, and that I was gonna wait until the last second. That was perhaps what decided it with Amoros, throwing him off balance. He went for a semi-high ball - just right, but for the goalie. Balls going up and down cannot be saved. His kick was ideal, and I confused him by waiting. I had a good run throughout the game, kept goal well, and said to myself, "Dika, you can, and you must!"

When Pančev scored

When Pančev scored … Interestingly, I watched all the penalty kicks on live video. When people watch the recording now, they see me facing away, and tell me that I didn't watch the penalty shootout. And when I saw Darko scoring … An explosion inside me. You can only experience it once. Raising the cup! I'll share something with you now. Not a lot of people know this. One guy gave me a piece of advice. He said, "When they give you the cup, hold on to it for as long as you can, keep it in your hands. That stays with you forever." And he was right. There were hundreds of photo-reporters, cameramen, cameras flashing all around me. And I got carried away, hahaha! Wouldn't let go of the cup! My team started to ask for it and I screamed back, "I ain't givin' it!" Hahaha! I gave them the cup afterwards, to take photos with. Hahaha…

foto: Ana Paunković

I did not sell that match

I had an interesting prelude to the Champions Cup final in Bari. They wanted to buy the match and chose me. They knew that the goalie was the last hurdle. And their thinking was spot-on. It never occurred to me that there would be someone ready to offer something like that to me. When I got the call, they told me they had something for me. I thought that they wanted to talk to me about the new club, because Red Star gave me their permission to go abroad after the season was over. It all took place at the hotel Interkontinental. I was there with Robi, having a cup of coffee. When I went into the room with them and when they showed me the suitcase, I felt sick. There was a lot of money there, but I didn't buckle. They were all from our neck of the woods, but the French had hired them. They were completely calm when I said no. You know what they told me? "You don't have to take the money, but we'll say you took it. And it will be all over the news. Whatever the outcome of the match is, it's gonna be your fault." Get out of here, I said. Interestingly, I never saw these people again. I got out of the hotel in a state, I didn't know what I was doing. What on Earth was happening? I called Duja [author's note: Ratomir Dujković, who was then the goalkeeper coach at Red Star] and told him what had happened to me. He said, "Take it easy, I believe you." And the information reached the locker room that the goalie had been bought off. Then I had a word with the players, with Duja, and the club management. I found myself in a situation where I was guilty without being guilty. And what would I have done with the money. I felt bad, especially before the match in Bari. I kept thinking about what that criminal had told me – that they had bought me off. I couldn't wait for the 120 minutes to pass; an enormous burden was lifted from my shoulders. My conscience was clear! Finally. The penalty shootout was a way for me to relax. That's why I was so sure of myself and confident that I would save the penalty kick. Do you think that I could sit here in peace or take walks around Belgrade if something had happened? If there had been any suspicions? See how life is? There is a god! God's reward for me in the final was being the Player of the Match, saving the penalty kick, and raising the Champions Cup! It all fell into place then – that evening I was rewarded for everything in my career, for all the sacrifices and injustices. This is a good story for the younger generations, who would like to get everything overnight. No can do! That's now how things work! Many people have asked, especially now, how I managed to resist, because there really was a lot of money in that suitcase. It's how I was raised at home, stuff I got from my mother and father, and from my ancestors. You know, my father taught me this: if I was ever hungry, that I should ask, and not be ashamed. But if I stole anything, that I should stay away from him, because he would cut off both my hands. So there you go. That's what my home was like.

foto: Privatna Arhiva

Belgium

I went to Antwerp after Bari. It was hard to go abroad because only three foreigners could play for a club. Just imagine how difficult it was for a goalie when a German, French, or Italian guy was a foreigner in Belgium. I had a good offer from Oviedo a year before, prior to Antwerp. I had worked out an agreement. Before the season preceding the Bari final. But, Red Star wouldn't allow it, or rather, Džaja and Cvele [author's note: Dragan Džajić and Vladimir Cvetković] believed in me. They said to me in no uncertain terms, "Even if we amount to nothing in the Champions Cup, you're free to go." Thank god they didn't let me. As far as I'm concerned, Belgium is like Serbia. And Antwerp is like Belgrade, that's just how I feel. My children were born there, I received Belgian citizenship, and learnt the language. I made good at that club – reached the Cup Winners' Cup final in 1993, with Parma at Wembley. Unfortunately, I didn't win the trophy, but I played the second European final. That was a huge success for Antwerp. They still talk about it and keep photos of our generation at coffeehouses. We had good players: Lehnhoff, Jakovljević, Czerniatynski, Claesen, Svilar, who was an icon. As far as I know, Mechelen was the only Belgian club that won a European trophy, the Cup Winners' Cup. Anderlecht, Bruge, and Standard haven't, and they're big clubs. I was in Belgium when Yugoslavia fell apart. I wasn't affected by the war, the sanctions, the misery… I was in touch with my family in Serbia, and kept sending help.

Piksi and Robi

I had known Piksi from when we were younger, back when we were in U15. We were in Serbia's selection, and spent time together at tournaments. Piksi and me played for the Yugoslavian junior national team when we won third place in Italy. I have three UEFA medals that I'm very proud of. Gold with Red Star, silver with Antwerp, and bronze with the junior national team. Piksi and me have been friends from a young age to the present day. I remember when he came to Red Star, when he signed the contract in Deligradska Street at midnight. Partizan and Dinamo were chasing him. But I never had any doubts about what he was going to choose. He was a Red Star man! A world-class player! Robi I met in the most extraordinary way. Vasović was the coach, and he called us - the Red Star players who went to the Universiade with the national team - to ask about Robi. He said that there was this blonde kid and that he was a really good player, so what should he do with him? Piksi said straight up, "Take him on if he's any good, what else!" Vaske then said that the kid had been in Dinamo and that they drove him away. To which Piksi says, "What do you care? Take him on if he's good!". That's what happened, and that's how Robi started. Somehow Robi and me saw eye to eye right from the start. I was older, a team captain, and he was a kid. And we understood each other from the get-go. He was pleasant to be around, and I tried to help him. We were roommates, and used to get up early, like vampires – we had our cup of coffee as early as 7AM.

Director of Football

In addition to my career in football, I'm also proud of what I have achieved as Director of Football at Red Star. Between June 2005 and March 2008. For Red Star 2004 was a bad year – Džaja [author's note: Dragan Džajić] wasn't with the club, and the results were bad. Simply put, the atmosphere at the club wasn't good. Then there were changes, with Piksi becoming GM and myself Director of Football. The team that we had was great, selected well. Žigić, Pantelić, Janković, Basta, Luković, Milovanović, Perović. A great crew. Walter Zenga joining the club as coach was a proper bull's eye. He got it all humming along smoothly, so after a whole lot of time Red Star won a double crown when we played the Europa League group stage. And we did it again in the following year. Piksi left the club due to some circumstances, and I stayed on for six more months. But it was a different crew now, and I left of my own accord. A series of strange decisions resulted in playing against Milan in the Champions League qualifications. They were supposed to penalized, but they were so powerful in the UEFA that they lobbied their way back into the competition. This went to show once again that we were from the Balkans while they were from the mighty West. We gave it a shot, played two rough games, but we failed. What can you do …

Fog at the Red Star Stadium

There was one more time when Milan was my personal doom, but this time when I was a player. I was a goalie for Red Star at that famous match in foggy weather in 1988. A historic match! We played 1-1, with Piksi putting us in the lead playing a game of his life. It was a rematch, and we mopped the floor with them. Dejo scored, playing as if he was in a trance, and one of their players got ejected. So that was it, we were going forward. And then, all of a sudden, fog! Not the sort of fog that lets you see – you couldn't see anything a meter away. Nothing but white! The referee stopped the match, there was a deliberation, and then he said that we were playing the next day. Our batteries went dead, but we still played well, and the match result was 1-1 – they won in a penalty shootout. Lucky!

foto: Printsrkin

Maksimir

The Maksimir Stadium match, which had no start or end. We went out to have a warm-up, but we could see that the situation was electric and that they didn't care about football, that they wanted something else, and that everything seemed orchestrated. They started to pelt us with stones and even broke through a section of the barriers. It had all been prepared, you could tell. We then moved to the middle of the pitch and continued to warm up. But, when their supporters started to run out into the pitch, we went back into the locker room. Dinamo's players stayed; they had the scenario of attacking the police. We felt uneasy down in the locker room, thinking about our supporters who remained in the stands. Dinamo's players were with us, and we talked, commented. There was no tension between us. When the show was over, we waited until the police arrived, and then they took us to the airport.

foto: Ana Paunković

Red Star means everything to me

My career didn't always go smoothly. There was always something to jump over. Just like in life. I guess that's how things have to be. You have to try hard to get the reward later. I wouldn't change anything in my life. I feel fulfilled both in terms of my football career and my life. Now I work as much as it suits me. When you reach that stage, that means you've arrived. I don't depend on anyone – I run a coffeehouse to be able to hang out with my Red Star friends. We have Pižon and the gang every day, as well as Perun and his crew. They're all Red Star people. And my heart is full. I'm in management, but I'm not in overdrive. When someone gives me a call, I help out, do what I'm supposed to do. Nice and easy. I don't grab, chase, or cheat. It's so strange now in this line of work, everyone's a manager. Things ought to be arranged properly. Everyone has their own players and their own interests. So I try to stay away. I'm at the Red Star stadium every day, with friends, watching games. I'm also on the Management Board. We all change, only the Red Star remains. How much does Red Star mean to me? I'll tell you. It has given me everything! The popularity, the success … Everything! This is where I started and I became who I am now. I have also given something to Red Star, however little.

Kurir sport/Aleksandar Radonić

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