Brian Casey: Import Life - Serbia

Brian Casey, photo: Predrag Martinovic

There are rare opportunities in life that come along once in a great while. 

 Ok, so as of yet you haven’t made it to the NFL or the CFL, and your combines and workouts have not gone as planned. Where do you turn to next? 

There are always the multiple levels of Arena football, or semi professional football in the States, but you are craving something more. Something that is going to get you out of your rut, and put you somewhere new and exciting. Well that rare opportunity is playing football professionally in another country. 

Having the chance to see new things and meet new people. I bet there are some countries you would never dream of going to, or believe there would be professional football in those countries as well. This is a series of articles covering the life of an import. Let’s start by looking into living and playing football in Serbia.

Going somewhere new and seeing a country for the first time can bring many expectations. You are about to embark on a new journey that is going to take you away from the comforts of home. To some it is the start of a new career that brings high hopes.

Newcomer to Serbian American football, and new to European American football, Sean Frezell commented, “My expectations were to simply see things I had never seen, learn about a new culture and part of the world, and to see how an American sport was affecting people in another part of the world. I don't think my expectations have changed much, at this point I feel like I have become part Serbian, so at this point I want to expand my knowledge of the region as much as possible.”

For others it will be getting back into the same routine, returning for another season that brings new expectations. Returning for his third season with the highly ranked Belgrade Vukovi, Tony Washington stated, “This season has been a lot more challenging than the last because we lost a lot of valuable domestic players to other clubs in Europe. And other teams have recruited a lot more talent in efforts to get to the championship.

My expectation as always, is to win the championship. As returning champs, we can't go backwards we need to keep that reputation and not let that accomplishment be taken from us.”

Will Powell
When many Serbian teams are scouting new talents, they will look for imports that have played in Europe in the past and are use to the European American football way. These imports are acclimated to the lifestyle and organization of many clubs. Coming from Germany his previous season, Will Powell compared the two countries, “In comparison, the level of football is significantly higher in Germany than in Serbia. It is a much more professional league because American football has been established there for so many years. Players seem to be much more dedicated and treat football as a profession more than just a hobby. In Serbia there are only a few solid teams whereas in Germany there are many talented teams throughout the league.

I assumed the level of play in Serbia would be similar to that of France, where I also played at the beginning of 2014. Those expectations were fairly accurate in terms of the talent of teams and numbers at practice, which were also low. When I signed I knew I would miss the professionalism of the German League, but was willing to sacrifice that for helping to grow the sport in Serbia and experience a new culture.”

Before committing to a team, it is good to get an understanding of the country’s lifestyle. In Serbia there are many differences compared to other countries in Europe, so there are many questions to be asked. How are the people, what does the food taste like, weather, living, etc.? Richard Samuel elaborated, “One cultural aspect I really appreciate about Serbia is the fact that the people here find so much joy in the little things in life. A lot of people here aren't afforded the luxury that most people are accustomed to in America. For instance, simple human interaction without technology is so valued here.

The food is great, there are tons of natural meat and fruits that are right up my alley! You also have to love how gorgeous the women are here, lol.”

Besides expectations and experiences with American football in Serbia, it is good to understand the team you will be playing for. How is the organization run, and how does the club treat their imports? 

Many of the imports commented on their organizations:

The club is treating me great I was just voted Team Captain a couple of games ago. Any need or injury I have had, they were handled immediately.” – Samuel (Nis Imperatori).

The club has treated me great we clicked from day one and its only gotten better I've loved watching these guys grow and they've been helping me grow at the same time so it's been a wonderful experience.” – Frezell (Pancevo Panthers).

The club has treated me very well as they treat all their imports. They take care of us and the players are very welcoming to every new import that comes to the team.” – Washington (Belgrade Vukovi).

The club for the most part has honored their side of the contract. As I mentioned, it's frustrating when players don't come to practice but that seems to be typical for Serbia. And I have wanted to implement a new marketing campaign but the team has not shown much support for expansion in Novi Sad.” – Powell (GAT Novi Sad Dukes).

Every import will have a different experience with their country and organization. Each one of the imports interviewed views Serbia in a different way and has contrasting experiences with their club. It is great to come prepared for your new experience as an import, but come with an open mind. 

 I have had the fortunate opportunity of playing for the Sremska Mitrovica Legionaries these past two seasons. Serbia has been an up and down roller coaster for myself, filled with many highs and lows. In all of my experiences, the good always out ways the bad! Do your research and get ready for a different world.

Brian Casey