After decades in the shadows, the former giant of European club handball has returned to a European Cup final with a legend of the club as director
Šabac back on the map
The Serbian city of Šabac is once again in the headlines of handball news after an absence of almost three decades.
RK Metaloplastika was one of the best handball teams of the 20th Century with two Champions Cup trophies (1985 and 1986) and one final before these golden years (1984). The 80’s was a fantastic decade for the city with only 60,000 inhabitants and one of the biggest handball centres of Europe, which produced an outstanding generation of the players, including Veselin Vuković, Veselin Vujović, Mirko Bašić and Mile Isaković.
The handball “aliens”, the golden generation’s nickname, was the biggest force of Yugoslav handball, in a period where Olympic and World gold in 1984 and 1986 belonged to Yugoslavia.
After six consecutive semi-finals of the Champions Cup from 1983 to 1988, the era came to an end, but some memories of that time are being restored somewhat, by qualifying for the club’s first European Cup, the Men’s Challenge Cup.
The club’s top scorer of all time, legendary left wing Mile Isakovic has been director of the club for the last six years. After a successful coaching career in France, he decided to return to the club he enjoyed his greatest successes with.
“It is really difficult to work in Serbian handball today. We have a lot of financial and organisational troubles, but regardless of that fact, this season gave us a lot of joy and happiness.
“Results on both domestic and international level make us very satisfied. I don’t want to say that we can’t do even better, but we have already surpassed our season’s goals,” said Isaković, who knows the value of a European Cup final, even if it is not the VELUX EHF Champions League:
“Our plan wasn’t to play in the final this season. This is a huge success for us if you are aware of the whole situation in which we are working all these years. I am happy that we didn’t break our budget with the unexpected number of European games.
“We found a solution to stay financially healthy and we are thankful to the local government, who is the biggest partner of the team. The final is also huge success Serbian handball. The fact that the last Serbian team to play in a final was 13 years ago, explains a lot.”
Isaković knows well that beating Sävehof is no simple task: “Our chances are about 50:50. They have a small advantage because the second match will be played in Sweden, but I strongly believe that two very interesting clashes are ahead of us.
The legendary sports hall “Zorka”, a place where handball history was written during the 80’s, was sold-out throughout the European campaign this season, but also in the domestic play-offs, where Šabac has a chance to win the championship for the first time in 26 years.
“People in Šabac respect the team and have great handball knowledge. We have a long tradition here and fans are always in handball mood and have special emotion for Metaloplastika. They respect all the efforts of the team on and off the court. Šabac is a handball city and when you have good results, a full hall is expected, like it was during the 80’s.”
Handball fans in Serbia speak about the golden generation from 80’s, but Isaković will not be drawn into make comparisons.
“I won’t compare generations on the court, but the hall is sold out as it was in my time. That is a huge success, because there are few sports teams in whole country can repeat that.
Exactly 29 years ago, hundreds of cars and buses waited for the “Aliens” in front of the airport in Belgrade, after they won the Champions Cup. Days of celebrations are something which Isaković will always remember, just as well as the moments of sadness from 1984, when the whole city cried after Metaloplastika lost the final.
“I hope that we will have another celebration here in Šabac. After that we will set some new goals for the future,” concluded Isaković.
TEXT: Žika Bogdanović / cor
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