All beginnings are tough, especially when you want to introduce a whole country to a new sport. Bosnia and Herzegovina currently has only 1 club competing - the Sarajevo Spartans. There were attempts in forming a team before, however all failed. Now, Spartans are working on growing their program, marketing the sport in Bosnia and are "forced" to play in leagues outside of their country.
We talked to Rahman El Sayed about the team and growing the sport in Bosnia.
BEGINNINGSSeveral tries were made on establishing an American Football Club in Bosnia and Herzegovina... Unfortunately, they all collapsed due to the economic situation, the fear of contact, youth that was not interested in searching for new sports, and sports that already have a large popularity such as soccer and basketball. All these factors played a role in disrupting the founding a club of American Football in Sarajevo before 2011.
In January 2011, a group of high-school guys and a few college students came together and paid for time slot in a sport hall to pass the ball. The only knowledge they had regarding American Football was gained from YouTube and watching games on ESPN. This group was led by Zlatan Cilic, Mirza Slatina, and the biggest figure of American Football in Bosnia Eldar Hamzagic – a student of Architecture then. No one was there to support them or to teach them rules of the game.
Later on, two special force soldiers from American Embassy started to work with them, teach them the basics. They trained in parks, and a few people gathered to watch them play with sympathy. Eldar managed to get old equipment for training, and later some other friendly clubs from the region helped in gathering equipment needed, and the Royal Crowns from Kraljevo held some joint practices.
GEARING UPIn July 2011, the first American Football Club in Bosnia and Herzegovina was formed - the Sarajevo Spartans. With only 10 sets of equipment available and only 10 members that were willing to train that liked the sport enough to try. Eldar was set as the main coach of the team due to his knowledge related to this sport. Later on, Eldar was contaced by Jarred Mcafee, non-profit worker from America. He was a very steady and stable man and he managed to spread interest for American Football among youth and gather bigger numbers of trainees. The team was working hard on the field, but also hung out off the field, as they were becoming closer by time through watching NFL games at Eldar's place.
In March 2012, Sarajevo played their first game against the Klek Knights and in June 2012 they played the first game in the history of the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although we lost, the game highlighted the start of a new era of this sport in Bosnia. Mathew Carver, who played in college and worked as a coach in high schools in America, arrived and was appointed as the new coach of Sarajevo Spartans. The club was registered officially, and the needed equipment was bought. The club had 40 members at the time.
COMPETINGThe Spartans played arena style football in 2013, and then played in the AAFL, where they claimed the fourth place after losing to Zagreb Patriots in the 3rd place game. This year, Spartans competed in CEFL and have achieved many of the set goals, as we finished 3rd in the Central Division, with a 3-3 ratio of wins and losse. Only lack of luck held them from qualifying to the final of the Division. The most difficult loss when they lost at home to Zagreb in the fifth match.
Tears and sadness are the only expression seen after such match and fight. However, they managed to recover and record an away win in the final match against Domzale Tigers.
THE PEOPLEIf you are looking for a Spartans player, it is easy to do so on a Friday night, as they are all together hanging out and enjoying. They are training in Gym together, or smoking Shisha in bars together, having fun regardless the big difference in age (16-36), religions, and races. They always find time for brothers hanging. We try to watch games and play fantasy football in the offseason.
FANS & SUPPORTSpartans players as individuals and team are always willing to help the community, as in the period of flood catastrophe in Bosnia, they were organized, donated blood and food, and helped in community works, and by that they promoted this sport in Bosnia.
In Brčko, a new club was established and in Mostar where Spartans organized a camp for players to learn and play American Football.
Today, some players for these camps are among us here as Spartans. We have had players volunteer their time in community development in Sarajevo and also at the children’s hospital here.
LOOKING BACKThe city of Sarajevo and politicians are not recognizing this sport, and all sports in general. A lot of clubs were shut down due to the lack of support. However, we are very thankful for our families and supporters for their love and support. Also, We always thank our sponsors for their help, but still, there is a need for more as they are not covering all costs that we are taking for the season.
One season costs about 6000 euros, so all players are playing monthly fees to cover these costs, and also to travel for games and to buy equipment. All in all, the financial state is not that good, but hope that after the success we brought this season, it will improve. We were fortunate to be sponsored by Ugly Mugs Cafe from Nashville, TN and by BiH Telecom this year. It is still very difficult to find sponsorship for our club.
One of the things that we have to continuously remind ourselves is that new players have no knowledge or experience. We have to both train brand new guys with no experience along with preparing for games. Far too often we threw new guys into games too early. This leads to people leaving because they are getting killed.
We are trying to find ways for people to gain experience without getting hit too early and often. The other thing that we have learned is that the off field experience is as important, if not more important than the on field experience. The driving force behind people staying is the camaraderie that goes with being in the club. We are trying to develop ways to increase the enjoyment of the entire club experience for members.