Soccer is by far the most popular and widespread sport worldwide. In fact, one might even say it is the only sport that is played professionally or on amateur level on a massive scale on every continent on our planet. There is practically no city that does not have at least one soccer club, and Kočevje is of course no exception. The history and tradition of playing soccer in Kočevska region is extremely rich, since the beginnings of organised participation in the sport date back to after the end of the World War I. Although Kočevje senior soccer team, with the exception of some short periods of performance excellence, has never achieved major success at national or even international level. However, the love and passion for soccer in the area has never been questioned. Soccer is also of great historical importance in Kočevska region, as it formed a strong link between the Slovene and German inhabitants in the pre-war period.
Soccer was played recreationally in Kočevska region as early as the end of the 19 th century. The pioneers in the area were German Turners, followed by Kočevje grammar school students. Nevertheless, the beginning of organised soccer in Kočevska region is considered to be the period after the end of the World War I. In 1920, the Kulturno-prosvetno društvo Svoboda Kočevje (Svoboda Kočevje Cultural and Enlightenment Society), which was mainly made up of mine and other workers from Kočevje, became active. Under the umbrella of this society, sportspersons from three sports disciplines – athletes, track and field athletes and soccer players – participated. Today’s Kočevje Soccer Club therefore considers the year of its foundation (despite many subsequent name changes) to be the name mentioned above.
Strong German Influence
The design of the Svoboda coat of arms testifies to the fact that the first soccer club in Kočevje had a strong German influence. It was a circle divided into quarters with four mirrored letters F. These symbolised the German adjectives frisch, fromm, fröhlich and frei (fresh, pious, joyful and free). The first “real” organised soccer match took place in Kočevje on 6 August 1922, when the local Svoboda team hosted the team of the same name (Svoboda) from Most pri Ljubljani.
During this period, soccer was also actively played in the neighbouring villages of Kočevje. The most famous and successful club at that time was the German Sportklub Rapid Mitterdorf from Stara Cerkev. The village had a full soccer team and defeated Svoboda 8:1 in their first match against each other. Alfred Erker, a healthcare worker who had studied in Graz, brought football knowledge to Stara Cerkev, while local merchant Greisch bought the team black and white striped jerseys, modelled on those of the Austrian football giant Rapid from Vienna.
Slovenian-German Derby in Kočevje
In 1926, the Kočevje soccer club was renamed from Svoboda to Sportski klub Jadran. It hosted its matches on the pitch where Gaj Stadium stands today. Kočevje grammar school students played for it mainly, but was also joined by soccer players from Stara Cerkev, who handed it the aforementioned black and white jerseys. Practically at the same time, another Kočevje club of the time, Sportklub Herold, was formed, mainly by German trade apprentices. It was chaired by the glassmaker Walter Engele and played its home matches on the same pitch as the Jadran club. The third football club in Kočevje in the post-war period was the Sportski klub Dijaški dom, which, as its name suggests, was made up of students from the local boarding school.
In 1935, a new soccer club of Gottscheers, Sportklub Rapid Gottschee, was founded in Kočevje. It was part of the so-called Kulturbund (Swabian-German Cultural Association). This was the beginning of the national conflicts and tensions between Slovenes and Germans in Kočevska region, which were also reflected in soccer. In June of the same year, the Slovenian soccer players from Kočevje united for the first time in one single, unified club, which was called Sportski klub Kočevje.
It was the first independent soccer association in Kočevje, which was not just a subsection of a sports association offering with a wide range of disciplines. The most interesting, intense and well attended were the matches between the two city rivals , which were watched live by up to 2,000 spectators. Despite the fact that the pre-war atmosphere in Kočevje was highly- charged, according to testimonies from that time, no major riot, neither by fan groups nor political, took place at any of the matches.
During the World War II, practically all sporting activities in Kočevje ceased. Most of the football players of SK Kočevje joined the national liberation struggle partisan resistsance (NOB), many of them were also internees in German concentration camps. After the war, the majority of the German population was expelled from Kočevska region, which meant the end of German football in the area. This, of course, also marked the end of the matches between the Slovenian and German teams from Kočevje.
- Gorše, Jože. 2020. Kočevski nogomet: Že stoletje. Kočevje: Pokrajinski muzej.
- Kordiš, Ivan, Jerbič Perko, Vesna in Pavlin, Tomaž. 2019. Telovadba in šport na Kočevskem. Kočevje: Pokrajinski muzej.
- FC Kočevje website, available at http://www.nkkocevje.si/.
Have you ever heard of the Pollichmandle – the guardian of dormiece? You can find more information about this typical Gottscheer narrative hero here.