[TD]EU Teams: Split Sea Wolves of Croatia


Sea Wolves may be an uncommon name for a football team in Europe, however, with the fact that the city of Split is located on the beautiful Croatian seaside - it all makes perfect sense. The Sea Wolves have been around for almost a decade, and they're working hard to help put football in Croatia on the map.

We were interested to hear more about the team, and Sea Wolves Headcoach - Ante Ajduk made sure to break down everything from first steps to off field activities.


Beginnings

Split Sea Wolves were formed on March 7th 2008, by Dino Bajrić, who was a big football enthusiast from Split, and Brandon Hoyback, a member of HiS Print Ministers (Texas based non profit organization that among all helps in development of football and baseball in Balkans/Eastern Europe).

Beginnings as usual are hard, especially when you are trying to "push" a sport that is not usual in this area. Doing something new, in soccer crazed environment, especially when it's an American sport is hard and you are gonna probably end up being ridiculed. Our enthusiasm about this sport is not going to be taken seriously, as people are going to assume that we just want to be trendy or doing something ‘American’ is a cool thing. Also, people prefer rugby as a traditional European contact sport. So, there was a lot of judgment in the beginning.

Having that in mind and knowing that not a lot of people know about this sport makes it hard to even find fellow enthusiasts. Most of recruits were found by random luck. A lot of football fans didn’t even know that there was a football club in our town. Slowly but steady we kept gathering bigger and bigger fan and player’s base, at first through verbal recommendations and after with social media and later through regional TV sports channels that started to broadcast the NFL. Also it’s interesting how many youngsters we get from just playing Madden video game.

Keeping in mind previously said, sponsors were nowhere to be found. First sponsors we got was after winning Croatian Football League on 2016. It was followed by local media and so we got attention for being Champions. First sponsors were people that followed us in the process and decided to help out, so that we can afford just be able to go to away games or pay the soccer field for home games. Getting sponsorships is hard, but we are trying to find an angle that can benefit both sides. We try to thank them and promote them whenever and wherever is possible.

Now, after we defended the title by winning CroBowl VI, things haven’t changed much, so it’s a struggle from month to month. If we had proper financial support, we would be already playing CEFL. Split Sea Wolves have big plans, a lot of passion for this sport and competition, but unfortunately without proper financial support we are limited.


Gearing Up

We are thankful to have support from HiS Print Ministers, an organization from Texas that is operating in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. They give us a visit once a year in the summer time and we have an annual football camp. Also, each year, they send a full container from Texas to Croatia and supply football clubs in this region with equipment. Without them and their support we wouldn’t be able to do what we do, and come to this place where we are the first back to back champions. We use every bit of equipment that they send and, also share with other clubs what we have extra. But it’s not only about equipment, they are huge moral support and great guidance through whole process.

Having equipment is half of the job, field and place to practice is a whole another story. We don’t have our own field and we don’t get any support from the local community or local clubs to help us out with allowing us to practice. We have to pay for each practice and home games - we play 35 kilometers away, just because it’s either expensive to pay for those few hours or they just don’t want to let us use the field. Playing a sport, living healthy and teaching kids true sportsmanship shouldn’t be penalized in any possible way, it should be supported.

First practice was hard, few people with one football on a parking lot with limited knowledge. It was fun, although it didn’t look like a proper practice, but as time passed more and more, people got involved and with time we managed to learn few things about football. We were lucky to have Chad Waibel, an American who moved to Split, as our coach, because he played college football (played Rose Bowl). Mario Penić was our offensive coordinator and Ante Ajduk as defensive coordinator. After a while we were left with Ante Ajduk as HQ, coaching both offense and defense, and the end result was winning first championship in 2016.


Competing

We are competing in both flag and tackle Croatian Championship. We ended up 3rd in flag football this year and we were 1st in tackle. It was a long season full of challenges, and we really wanted to defend title from 2016. It was hard and challenging to finish this season and pull it all out.

We are blessed to have a unique set of players in our team, we are so diverse and yet everyone has the same human qualities. Before everything, we are a family, we are friends and we got each others back no matter what. Yes, we can argue and drop a few words during the game, but we take care of each other and we are all brothers in this team, and that is what makes difference when hard times come.

We lose games, we get outplayed, but we are a coherent group that always finds a way back.

One thing is for sure, we don’t give up and we do our best when it's the hardest. Pure example was this season. We entered competition as title defenders, we were full of confidence and started with 2 wins and then we were surprised with a loss against Zaprešić Saints (who we played in finals). We lost a lot in that game, a lot of player got injured and we had to play wild card game for the finals against Zagreb Patriots. We had to play without 5 starters, among them was our only ready-to-play QB and our star RB. We showed character and our desire to win, by winning in that game, and we did it for our teammates, we wanted them to have that finals.

We are friends and brothers on and off football field and we spend a lot of time together.


The People

As we said above, we are all brothers. It took some time to filter out this team, but we spent few years together now. We do get new faces, also good people, and they see friendly and supporting atmosphere in the club and they are happy to stay. We do crack jokes and do occasional surprises/pranks, but no matter what, we are here for each other.

We have an annual Christmas party and Christmas flag tournament, which is a nice way to have fun, hang out and have a short relief from a tough season.


Community

As we are limited, there is not a lot that we can do, but we are trying to be active and help community whenever we can. There are some projects regarding orphanage and shelter for homeless people and we try to participate as much as we can. We are open to help any valid cause. We just want to point out that we don’t like to mention it (like now) and that we just hope that we could do more.


Fans & Support

It is still hard, and both football and Sea Wolves are on their beginnings here in Croatia. People heard about us since we won two titles, but that’s about it. It’s hard to make a fan base in your own home town - when you are not able to even play there.

We do have few sponsors and we are beyond thankful on their support: HIS-Print Ministers, Nichi, Hell Energy Adria, Carlsberg Croatia.

We are still struggling to maintain functioning of the club and we have zero support from our City and government institutions. Slowly but steadily football is becoming recognized in Croatia as solid men’s game and that really helps us in lifting awareness of our existence.


Looking Back

As it always goes in life hard work really pays off. Eventhough we are doing a good thing, promoting and playing the sport, and getting kids involved, we still get hammered by our surroundings. No place to practice, no support, no understanding, but in the end when you lift that trophy and see happiness on players faces - you know that it was worth it, it’s even sweeter then.

We still make a lot of mistakes since you can still consider that we are at the beginning of forming a serious football club, but we fix it as we grow. A lot of issues have to be solved, such as our own football field, stable source of income, sponsors, etc. We are trying to do our best and almost every member is participating in developing our club since we all have regular jobs and life outside of football.

Our organizational scheme is consisted of seven so called board members that we elect once a year and each member has it’s own field of work, once a month we hold meetings and everyday tasks are discussed online and so far things work out.




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