Some people will gravitate towards the samba football of Brazil, others will put their support behind an underdog, such as Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup, Greece at Euro 2004 or Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup.
There are some, however, who look at their heritage and give their support to a country they have links to or have family in, which is the case for myself and my second team at this year’s World Cup,
I was born in Edgware, in North London, in December 1981, and after nearly four years there, have lived in Wolverhampton since, so I am considered English born and bred, but as you may have guessed from my surname, I have close links to another country in Serbia.
The origins of Vukmirovic come from the former Yugoslavia and, in particular, from Serbia, where my grandfather, Milan, was born in 1926, and I have always been very keen to support my heritage as a third-generation Serb.
I was a supporter of the Yugoslavia football team when it returned to action in the mid-1990s, which featured some great players such as Predrag Mijatović, Dragan Stojković and Siniša Mihajlović, a man deadlier from a free kick than any other player in history.
This side followed on from one of the greatest “what if” sides, full of talent from the 1987 World Youth Championship-winning side and which only lost out to eventual finalists Argentina on penalties at the 1990 World Cup.
As I followed the exploits of that Yugoslavian side at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, I was also starting to play Rugby League and discovered that Serbia had started to play the game and had an international side.
In what may be one of the best things I have ever done, I got in contact with Serbian Rugby League and, after years of emailing back and forth, was given the opportunity to join the team in France in 2005 to play France Federale in a friendly match in Cavaillon.
Many people cannot understand how you can be from one country, but represent another and I always answer by referring to “heritage” and taking the opportunity to embrace that for why I played Rugby League for Serbia.
Let me tell you, there is no greater experience than standing on the pitch, hearing the national anthem playing and knowing you are set to represent your nation in battle, which I got to do in Cavaillon and, a year later, in front of family in Belgrade in Serbia.
I have visited Serbia 14 times since my first trip there in 2006 and have found it to be a fascinating place, still coming to terms with the after effects of the civil war in the 1990s, but becoming a modern and vibrant European country.
The capital Belgrade can be hot and chaotic, but has a welcoming and friendly side once you get it, something which is typical of Serbia and of Serbs, and I will always be a loyal Serb, even spending 15 years waving the flag as wrestler ‘The Iron Serb’
It hasn’t always been easy being a Serbia fan over the years, from losing 6-0 to Argentina in 2006 to being beaten 2-1 in Kazakhstan in a Euros qualifier, but the Under 20s won the World Cup in 2015 and players from that side now populate the national team.
2018 was perhaps too early for this side, losing late on to Switzerland and Brazil, and the side missed out on Euro 2020 after a penalty shootout loss to Scotland, but the side has had a chance to mature and develop and this could be a big year.
The team qualified ahead of Portugal to make it to Qatar and enter Group G with the challenge of Brazil, Cameroon and Switzerland in front of them.
I will always be English-born and bred and will always call this country my home, but I love my Serbian heritage and I’m looking forward to their first game on Thursday against Brazil.
If all goes to plan, the only times England and Serbia can meet in the tournament are either the semi-finals, the third-place playoff or in the final, so there may be divided loyalty.
However, Само слога Србина спасава!
(That’s ‘Only Unity Saves the Serbs’)
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