Foes unite under ladybird's wings

12th July 1996 at 01:00
The Skenderija stadium in Sarajevo was the indoor arena for the Winter Olympic Games in 1984. The vast banks of seating rising up on either side and the huge scoreboard with its five-circle motif are reminders of past glories. Champions walked these boards and they might do again. For Skenderija is a breeding ground for future sporting success; it's the home of Bubamara children's football school.

Every day this cavernous arena echoes to the instructions of Predrag Pasic. Predrag, known to everyone as Paja, is a living legend in the city. Twice Yugoslav footballer of the year in the 1980s, he played for his country in the 1986 World Cup and moved from FC Sarajevo to form a formidable striking partnership with Juergen Klinsmann at FC Stuttgart. Today, Paja is passing on his skills to Sarajevan youngsters.

Bubamara (the name means ladybird) fields 10 teams in local leagues. Even the youngest must master the basics before they can represent the club.

Each training session concentrates on the skills of running with the ball, dribbling, turning, and shooting. Teamwork comes later. "We start with co-ordination and control," explains Paja. "Only when they are 10 do they go to play outside on a big pitch."

When Paja demonstrates a technique, the class stands silently to attention, watching their idol and teacher. "The best way of learning is learning with the eyes," he says. "When the kids see what I do, they imitate me."

Training is a disciplined business. But it's fun too - the session traditionally ends with Paja in goal as 30 penalty kicks rain down on him.

Bubamara is a multi-ethnic club; even its red and blue colours are designed to incorporate those of Sarajevo's rival clubs. And Paja (who is a Serb) makes sure all the boys go home having learned one important lesson - to respect one other. "Nobody asks anyone 'Are you Croat or Muslim?' We all play together. We only care about who is good and who is bad at football."

But that's not really all he cares about. The 500 boys at the school also learn English and computer skills, and produce a quarterly magazine. Paja has a team of 10 professionals, including doctors and psychiatrists, to help traumatised children.

"For a lot of the kids who lost their mother or father in the war, sport is a form of social rehabilitation. We are proud of that."

Bubamara is attracting attention from around Europe, and coaches from Portuguese champions FC Porto recently visited the school. Paja's dream is to establish a sports school with an accompanying curriculum. However, at the moment he is meeting resistance from the authorities.

"Politicians have their hands in everything. They come into sport and they don't know anything about it. In this country we are very talented in sports. But nobody wants to worry about kids - a lot of the big clubs think that way. But we must start at the beginning and work with the younger generation to build something for the future."

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