WINNIPEG — Josip Golubar has embraced his latest adventure, understanding fully that as much as soccer is a universal language, he would be a stranger in a strange land the moment he touched down in Winnipeg.
Imagine, then, both the surprise and the emotion the 34-year-old Valour FC midfielder felt when he and head coach Rob Gale attended mass last Sunday at the St. Nicholas Tavelich parish on Main Street in Winnipeg.
Golubar and Gale were welcomed with open arms by the large Croatian contingent at the parish hall after mass, as a documentary on the road the Croatian national team took to last year’s World Cup Final was shared, as well as a short film on how Valour FC was named.
A huge thankyou to the Croatian church for inviting @ValourFootball and welcoming Josip Golubar at Sunday mass and the soccer documenty, loved the Winnipeg survival kit for Josip pic.twitter.com/UFwfEjPRdL
“It was very nice to see people from Croatia,” said Golubar. “Everybody was so good to me and it was nice to meet people.
“There are many people from Croatia, Bosnia and I’m happy to meet them. It was good for me. I’m so happy.”
Golubar’s signing in January caught some in the Canadian Premier League by surprise. It’s not that he isn’t immensely skilled, it’s that he seemed to be very comfortable playing in Croatia, with over 200 appearances in the top division and over 400 as a pro.
He had spent the last two seasons with NK Varaždin in the Croatian second division, his second stint with the club having first joined in 2009. Aside from his move to Canada, Golubar’s career had only taken him as far away as Austria.
And now he’s here in Winnipeg, excited at the chance to be a part of a new team in a new league.
“I met someone in Croatia and he asked me about the new league and if I wanted to go play. I said, ‘Yes,’” Golubar explained. “Why not? I was looking for a change and for me this is a new experience. I wanted to be here at the start, on the first day, to meet the guys and the coach.”
Golubar will take on a different role here in Winnipeg. Gale loves the veteran’s experience and his approach to the game and hopes that will rub off on a team with so many fresh faces.
“It’s just vital to have him. It’s all the day-to-day things, the little intangibles that you can’t read in a book and you have to go through and learn,” said Gale. “I was in here on Saturday morning and Josip was first on the treatment table and then he was out there rolling himself out and making sure he was going to be ready for Sunday, whereas others might have been sleeping in or taking it easy. He’s doing all the things that have made him a professional at this level for many, many years and you can’t help but be a sponge as a young player around that level of experience.”
“Every team has younger and older guys,” added Golubar. “The best teams I played with had that mix. For me, this is the first time that I am the oldest, but that’s OK.”
Interestingly, it was during his visit to church on Sunday that Golubar met someone from his hometown, Varaždin, a city of about 50,000 in northern Croatia.
“Yes, it is true,” said Golubar with a grin. “The priest, he is from Varaždin. Small world.”
Gale is impressed by how Winnipeg’s Croatian community has already embraced Golubar. A welcoming committee had planned to meet him at the airport when he first arrived, but his flight had been delayed for several hours.
“Full credit to the beautiful people of Manitoba and the Croatian community because they’d reached out months ago when they knew of the signing. It was great, just for him to be able to speak in his usual dialect and speak to other people. It’s all part of getting them involved in our community and feeling as a new home.”
Asked if he had also attended mass, Gale joked:
“I need all the help I can get. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a confession or else I might have been there a bit longer.”