A group of more or less cute citizens who appear in cities, towns and villages under the name of the national football team of the Republic of Serbia invested supernatural efforts in the qualifications for the World Cup, which is taking place in Russia, and secured a heroic place in the competition. In the qualification phase, this noteworthy team was the vanquisher of some of the greatest football superpowers, such as Georgia, Moldova or Austria, and in Russia they played Brazil, Costa Rica and Switzerland. And no one else. I’m telling you.

The national football team of the Republic of Serbia has been known to surprise their supporters, most often unpleasantly, as was the case with all national teams from the time of Yugoslavia, in which players from my homeland appeared. There were all kinds of things there: A referee awarded a comical penalty to what was called SFR Yugoslavia against the Netherlands (France, 1998), and Predrag Mijatović, one of the best players in the world at the time and the man who NEVER missed a penalty, hit the crossbar. Or in Spain in 1982 (SFR Yugoslavia), when a horrifically ambitious team expressly arrived home after a draw with Northern Ireland and a victory over the forever difficult Honduras. Then, taking a penalty kick by Dragoljub Brnović against the Argentine Republic (SFR Yugoslavia again), in a match for the World Cup semi-finals in Italy (for those who didn’t see this, here’s a link). Then a defeat by that same Argentina at the World Cup in Germany in 2006, 6:0 (Serbia and Montenegro). Then defeats by the superpowers Ghana and Australia at the World Cup in South Africa (only Serbia this time; the then-manager, Radomir Antić, later explained how the statistics of the Serbian players were impressive). And so on.

My soul aches for our youth that will, on this occasion as well, throng to betting shops and places with video-streams, all in the hope that we’ll easily deal with Costa Rica and Switzerland, and with Brazil, what will happen will happen. The youth isn’t aware of the fact that in the miraculous world of the national football team even victory over Brazil is possible, as are catastrophic defeats at the hands of the remaining two opponents. Those who don’t believe need only take a look at the press conference by manager Radomir Antić from 2010. My soul aches for their soul ache, which is inevitable, as this has happened to me as well. It took me thirty years to come to my senses. You grow up in sorrow and come to realize: You have world-famous basketball, volleyball, water polo, you have the tennis great, Djokovic. But you don’t have football. And you’ll never have it. Poetic justice, or whatever.

Real matches, and those played by the Serbian national football team, need real commentators. I can see none of the kind, but we had here a brilliant man for such painful tasks. Vladanko Stojaković (1927-1997) was a brilliant solution. Vladanko was famous for his specific style in live broadcasts, that is, after a decade-long television career, he didn’t give up coughing into the microphone. It was a heavy cough of a man who chain-smokes strong cigarettes along with even stronger drinks, typical of an inn-frequenter. All this contributed to the improbable tone of his voice, which was simply unforgettable, as if it had amassed all the horrible anguish and sorrow caused by complicity in a series of tragicomic shipwrecks of Yugoslav, and later Serbian, footballers. It was the voice of a horror witness.

In his indescribable appearances, Stojaković was even known to say the following: ‘And 30,000 dinars have gathered at the stadium’. Or: ‘And now a player with number 15 minutes comes onto the field’ (obviously, the screen showed that the fifteenth minute of the match was in progress). And what about this one: ‘The ball from Shearer, who passed it on to Shearer, and Shearer didn’t find it hard to hit the undefended part of the goal’. And, on top of it all, I will shamelessly copy this from Wikipedia: ‘The most famous gaffe by Stojaković occurred in a qualifying match for the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, when the popular Vladanko got stuck in an inn at the Partizan stadium and was late for the beginning of the match against East Germany. The Germans scored a goal in the first minute, and it took Stojaković a good twenty minutes or so to realise what the score was. Later in the match he applauded Ljukovčan’s good defence at the moment when the Germans scored another, match-winning goal’. Here’s the link.

My friend’s late father couldn’t stand Stojaković. He aroused biblical wrath in him. As soon as Stojaković’s drunken cough was heard on the screen, he would switch the channel. And we watched broadcasts on a Vojvodina TV channel. In Hungarian, which no one among us spoke. Not a single word. My friend’s father would keep on swearing.

If he could hear me now, he would get mad, biblically, but Yugoslav and Serbian football never had a better interpreter than Vladanko Stojaković, the man who loved football, aware that it would never make him happy. When the broadcast of the match between Brazil and Serbia commences, I will, still masochistic, at least begin to watch it, and I will miss Vladanko’s wheezing and the background opening of bottles. Extreme situations demand extreme responses. And genuine misfortune, tragicomedy and insanity demand their own genuine poets.