A post from my old Canadian rugby mate Robin Dyke.
In sports as in football, anything is possible. This we have learned quickly as we talk to Croatians along our cycle route – their national team prepares for the June 12 opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, against who other than the host and football legend. Already Croatian flags stream from vehicles and banners of red and white checkered squares festoon streets and bars. Collectively Croatians will gather in front of large and small screens in the towns and villages throughout their country for this opening match. Passion runs high with anticipation…the unthinkable is more than possible!
This is not an every four year phenomena in this small country. Football pervades, as does sense of place, love for the land, the sea, family, freedom and the old songs that keep longing and tradition alive. In any town or village a pitch be it grass or dirt and pair of goals is as ubiquitous as a stone church. Boys and girls learn to dribble, pass and shoot the round ball as early as they do their catechisms. How football, as well as God explains the world is all part of their ritual of life.
While footballs are kicked about throughout Croatia there are but a few big clubs, representative of the few big cities, Zagreb, Rijeka, Split. The most storied Club is from Split, “Hajduk”, formed in the early 1900s, named to symbolize bravery, humanity and love of freedom – all lived up to over the past century and more as states and leagues have failed yet “Hajduk lives forever”.
This spirit of Hajduk runs deep in the towns and villages of the Dalmatian region, displayed in prominent signage – the distinctive Hajduk crest or logo accompanied with philosophic one–liners that convey more of the pursuit of life and love than homage to a round ball. Entering into a village we come across a Hajduk logo painted on the rock accompanied by ‘ti si pjesma moje duše’ – “you are the song of my soul”. These signs of crest and variations on messages appear outside of most of the towns and villages we have cycled by or through. We have come to look for them as refreshment for our peddling, reminders of a commitment to life.
The favourite we have come across this trip for the sentiments it echoes of those who have come before and to a torch being passed, appears on a sea wall in the small hamlet of Drvenik. ‘I onda kad ne bude nas bilo pivat će se pisme naše.’ – “when we are no more, our songs will still be sung”. As we relax seaside with cold pivos (beers), the rewards for a long day’s ride, this sentiment is within our view along with the turquoise Adriatic – reflection and inspiration doesn’t get better than this. Živjeli!