The most high-profile sporting event of 2022 was undoubtedly the recently concluded FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The most important sideshow in the world has been the central theme for more than a month, not only in sporting circles but also in general. The soccer World Cup rarely leaves anyone indifferent, and the last tournament of the world’s national team elite was particularly interesting for fans of the game from Kočevje. The reason for this is a very special soccer player from a very special club.
Who would have thought that one of the least attractive matches of the championship on paper, between two opponents who are not among the world’s top football teams, would attract the attention of soccer fans in Kočevje. During the 36 th minute of the match between the USA and Wales, when young USA forward Timothy Weah dexterously took a pass from a teammate on the edge of the penalty area and beat the Welsh goalkeeper with the outside of his foot to score the Americans a 1–0 lead. You will say nothing special. And you would be right if the son of the Liberian President, who is also considered by far the best football player in Liberian history, George Weah, was not in question. With this, 20-year-old Timothy recalled the golden days of his legendary father, who in 1995 won the most prestigious individual award in the world of soccer, the Ballon d’Or for the best soccer player on the planet.
And why is this soccer player important for Kočevska region, or how is he connected to it in any way? The answer is simple: he is the first (former) soccer player from the Blau-Weiss Gottschee Soccer Club from New York to score in the biggest football championship in the world! Timothy was a member of the New York club’s youth team from 2010 to 2013, where he learned his first soccer skills. Although he has only played for the club in the youth divisions and has never played for them at the professional level, it is a great recognition of the successful work of this USA team with Gottscheer tradition.
Gottscheer Soccer Club in New York
The Blau-Weiss Gottschee Soccer Club was founded in 1951 by a group of immigrant Gottscheers in New York. The founders set it up to “revive the spirit of their homeland”. The club was already successful in its early years in competitions of German clubs in the USA, and soon won the right to compete in US national championships. From the very beginning, they have focused on the systematic development of young players who have gone on to enviable careers at major clubs.
In the first decades, the club was dominated by players of Gottscheer descent or had at least distant Gottscheer roots. This practice has since changed, and today the majority of the team is made up of USA soccer players. Blau-Weiss Gottschee currently has 26 active teams in different age categories, 20 in men’s and six in women’s competition. As a branch, the club is closely linked to one of USA’s most famous soccer clubs, the New York Red Bulls of the elite American MLS league, where it serves as a talent incubator.
As mentioned above, Timothy Weah is the greatest jewel of the youth school of the Gottscheer club, but among its most outstanding “products” are some players who have made a strong mark in the US and internationally. In particular, Mike Windischmann, who even captained the US team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Matteo Ritaccio, who currently plays for the youth team of the English giant Liverpool, and Joey Fink, who was a teammate of the famous Pelé in the mid-1970s.
Joey Fink – a Gotscheer Who Played alongside Pelé
The greatest soccer player of all time, the legendary Pelé, has recently left us. Given that the famous Brazilian virtuoso played for only two clubs in his entire soccer career (his home club Santos and the New York Cosmos), there are few former soccer players still alive who can boast of having been his teammates. One of the lucky ones is Joseph “Joey” Fink, an American of Gottscheer descent, who shared a locker room with the King, as the Brazilian was nicknamed, at the New York club for a few months.
Born in New York in 1951, the 71-year-old Fink’s surname suggests that his ancestral roots are in Kočevska region. Fink’s parents moved to the USA from Smuka in Kočevska region in 1950, so that Joey was born just a year later in one of the world’s biggest cities. At the age of eight, as a descendant of the Gottscheer people, he started practising soccer with the Gottscheer club Blau-Weiss Gottschee, where he stayed until the age of 20. He then enrolled to New York University, where he continued to play soccer until, in 1973, he was offered his first professional contract by the New York Cosmos, worth $2,100 per season.
Fink played for the Cosmos as a forward from 1973 to 1975, and in his final season was joined by Pelé, the world’s most famous soccer player at the time. Joey scored 20 goals in the strongest American league, which also earned him six appearances for the US national team. He played 12 games with Pelé. After the New York club brought in Giorgio Chinaglia, a well- known Italian forward, Fink was traded to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Nevertheless, the honour of playing with the world’s first true superstar is something that even much more famous soccer players than him can envy the American Gottscheer.
This is how Joey Fink remembers the great Pelé: “He was sociable, relaxed and charismatic. He knew how to make us all feel comfortable in his company. He was always smiling, a real people’s man with the quality of a world star. Even though he was already in his mature soccer years when he came to us, at 35 he was still an outstanding soccer player with flashes of brilliance.”
Gottscheers Kicked around in Cleveland as well
Around the same time as in New York, descendants of Gottscheers founded their own soccer club in Cleveland. The Gottscheer Soccer Club was founded in 1953 and Arnold Mausser became its first president. At first, it had only four Gottscheer descendants playing there, but over the decades it has welcomed players from different ethnic backgrounds into its ranks.
The club was conceptualised on the model of the Austrian giant (Austria Soccer Club) from Vienna, and that is why its players initially wore purple jerseys, inspired by the famous team. The Gottscheer team from Cleveland had a good record in the early years of its existence, winning the 1956 Ohio State championship. Many other successes and prizes followed, which also secured the club the right to compete at the US national level.
In the meantime, the club changed its name to German-American Sport Club for sponsorship reasons. In 1985, they moved to Novelty, Ohio, where they have been coaching and playing home games ever since. It currently has a men’s and women’s team, a men’s reserve team and a veterans’ team.
- Blau-Weiss Gotschee Soccer Club Facebook page, accessible viahttps://www.facebook.com/BlauWeissGottschee/
- Blau-Weiss Gotschee Soccer Club website, accessible via https://bwgottschee.org/
- New York Red Bulls Soccer Club website, accessible viahttps://www.newyorkredbulls.com/
- Wikipedia site, accessible via https://www.wikipedia.org/
- Sieder, Joseph at al. 1989. 1889-1989 E.O.U.V.
- Online conversation with Joey Fink.
Read more about soccer in Gottschee before the Second World War here.
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