Greg's Diary: Serbian National Team Training Camp 2012

Author: Greg Miletic 
Photo: Jean-François Nicollet
       What do young, strapping, energetic football players have in common with feeble, shaky, frail, old people? Well, nothing really, except that a group of each was recently forced to spend an interesting week with one another at the same hotel resort, Banja Vrujci. You see, this is where training camp was held for the 2012 Serbian National American Football team, and I was lucky enough to be there as a coach and witness everything that went down.

Hotel Vrujci is a small, two-star resort located a little over an hour outside of Belgrade, and it made sense to hold training camp there because of its location, its decent athletic field, and the available rooms it had to house 60 plus players and coaches. With that being said, it is actually mainly known for being a regeneration resort/spa for old people. Like really, really old people. Banja Vrujci translates literally to “warm bath,” and elderly citizens travel here to spend some time relaxing and “regenerating” their health with these baths, massages, pools, and comfortable couches in the lounge. That is, until 50 football players show up, causing this once peaceful refuge, in the middle of hills and trees and away from anything busy, to be overrun with testosterone.

Banja Vrujci
Now, I’m not suggesting in any way that these football players are rude or indecent human beings – they’re not – but these old people came to Hotel Vrujci to relax, only to find their haven invaded by young men with crazy looking equipment that they had never seen before. Throw in the lively team meetings, the horsing-around mentality of a football training camp, the visible butt cracks hanging out of the shorts of big linemen, and the frequent English speaking among the players and coaches, and these poor geriatrics probably thought they were either losing their minds or they had already bitten the dust and entered some kind of scary hell.

You had to feel for the non-football guests when they got caught walking the halls of the resort when practice was either about to start or had just finished, when it was time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, before and after meetings – pretty much any time a large group of players had to be somewhere or was leaving somewhere. Old people don’t move around too well, and a small stairway that takes a 22 year old athlete .7 seconds to clear takes an old person a good deal longer. You can bet that when a group of hungry football players heading to dinner made their way around an old lady clinging to a stairway railing, there were some angry looks and scowls given. Even when I was walking by myself and I decided to pass a hunched over old couple walking slowly through a hallway, I could feel the glares beaming into the back of my skull.

National Team Meeting
Speaking of angry stare-downs, one thing I probably took too much enjoyment in was watching the mud people before and after practice. What are mud people, you ask? To summarize, every day on the way to and from practice we would walk past a group of five to ten old people milling around by a small canal. This group would cover themselves in mud from head to toe, even though there was a large sign located right next to where they huddled that stated this exact activity was prohibited (I guess after people pass a certain age, they just don’t give a shit about petty rules or laws. This also goes for crosswalks and traffic lights – old people tend to ignore those as well. This, of course, does not apply to my grandmother, not only because she’ll be reading this, but because she really does have more energy and whereabouts than most of my friends and I have. Love you Grandma!). When the players would pass the canal, the mud people would stand up and stare at everyone walking by, which was kind of creepy and also kind of gross because the old men wore speedos and the old women wore bikinis…and they were covered in mud. I guess that since we were carrying football equipment, we were the ones that looked ridiculous…(Scroll to the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, I was only able to snap a pre-mud and pre-speedo picture. Don’t be too upset.)

The muddy canal wasn’t the only place where these old people congregated; they enjoyed the courtyard that was unfortunately visible from the wing of the resort where my room was located. I say “unfortunately” because observing these people from the second floor window, which I did from time to time (out of curiosity? boredom? I’m not really sure…), left me with goose bumps. A few of them would literally stand in the middle of the courtyard, not moving and not conversing with one another, even though they were close enough to do so. The first time I passed by the window, I took a quick glance out at them and figured I didn’t watch long enough for them to show signs of life, but the next few times after that I decided to stay a little longer just to make sure. Nope. No movement, talking, or walking. Just standing there, staring at whatever was in front of them (which was nothing). After I witnessed that, I figured my odds of leaving that resort alive were about 50/50.

Muddy canal under, this is just another photo of the national team meeting.
One last thing that happened during training camp that is worth noting, and it doesn’t have anything to do with old people (at least not directly), is that I learned vampires originated in Serbia. I forget the exact details of the story, but I was told very adamantly that “vampire” is a Serbian word, vampires started in Serbia, and vampires still exist in Serbia. The night after I was told this, about ten minutes into our defensive team meeting, a damn bat flew in the window. I freaked out and all I could think about were vampires, but luckily one of our d-linemen, Malina, stood up right away, put himself in harm’s way, and violently waved a blanket at the bat until it flew outside. The next day at practice I asked Malina why he wasn’t scared of the bat and if he would have turned into a vampire had he gotten bit by it, and he nonchalantly told me that those kinds of bats don’t bite and his mother used to catch them with her bare hands. I didn’t believe him about the bat not biting because I’m still convinced it was a vampire, but needless to say if I’m ever about to brawl in a dark alley, my top two picks to help me fight are Malina and his mom.

So all in all, training camp was a fun and interesting time. There was also some football that was played, but those stories can be saved for another day. As for now, team Serbia just arrived in Oberstdorf, Germany, and we will play tomorrow in St. Gallen, Switzerland, against the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the Group C European Championships. Based on my preliminary scouting of our hostel, there are no signs of old people, mud people, or vampires, so things are looking good so far. Wish us luck.

"... I was only able to snap a pre-mud and pre-speedo picture."

Greg Miletic - Blue Dragons Belgrade (Serbia) Import, Serbia National Team Coordinator. Visit his blog - Miletic World, for more fun posts.