Few people know that 30 and more years ago, Skopje had one of the strongest hockey clubs in the former country Yugoslavia. Thanks to a group of enthusiasts, led by the first hockey coach in our country, Trajko Trpčevski, the Skopje hockey club was established in 1959. The first training sessions and exhibition matches were played on the frozen pond in the City Park in Skopje, and after the necessary installation was installed, hockey began to be played in SC “Kale”. It is interesting that Trpčevski led the hockey players, especially in the winter period, to Mavrovo lake, so even there the hockey puck often “slipped” on the frozen lake.
In the mid-1960s, when many families from the Aegean region of Macedonia that were displaced throughout Europe during the civil war in Greece returned to their homeland, including professional players, the level of hockey rose and began to be played with more qualitatively. In that group of hockey players who came from Czechoslovakia were the brothers Vasko, Blaže and Gjorgji Grčev. The first two came a little earlier, and the third and youngest brother in the Grčev family, Gjorgji, came a little later. But what is interesting is that he stayed the longest in the Vardar team, in which he was practically the alpha and the omega and everything revolved around him.
FROM THREE AND A HALF YEARS ON SKATES
The Grčev brothers lived with their parents in Hradec Kralove, a city of close to 100 thousand inhabitants, but a city known for its quality hockey team that competed in the First Extra-League of Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. In such an environment, in which hockey had a leading place in sports life, it was normal for children, which was also the case with the Grčev brothers, to warm up to this sport the most.
I was on skates since I was three and a half years old, and two years later I was performing for the youngest category of Hradec Kralove hockey players in the league-competitions. Then, naturally, I went to the older categories, in order to reach the youth team and apply for entry into the first team – says Gjorgji.
In the second half of the 60s of the last century, the older brothers Vasko and Blaže, on the initiative of the Agency for expatriates, had already come to Skopje and performed for Vardar. It was a period when hockey was very popular, and it gained that popularity mainly because of the organization of the World Cup, Group C, which was held at the Kale rink in Skopje. The national teams of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Japan, Hungary and Bulgaria participated in this championship. It was a real spectacle, and the foreign journalists then did not fail to point out in their reports that the world championship, group C, is being played on the southernmost hockey field in Europe.
The organization of the championship seemed to increase the appetites of the hockey workers, among whom Malkić, Čupevski, Atanasoski, Plačkov and Trpčevski had a leading place, to form a strong team. Then a match was played between the team of Hradec Kralove and the team made up of Macedonian hockey players. It was a chance for coach Trpčevski to see all the players in action and make a selection. Among those selected, my name was found in the first place, so in January 1972, when I was less than 16 years old, I came to Macedonia and played for HK Vardar – remembers Gjorgi Grčev.
DEBUT AGAINST RED STAR BELGRADE
Vardar then competed in the Inter-Republic League, in which the Belgrade teams Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) and Partizan, then HK Vojvodina from Novi Sad and HK Spartak from Subotica also played.
In the league, there were no Slovenian and Croatian teams, which were of better quality and made up the First Yugoslav League. Only then did we start to compete with the strongest, so ten years later we reached the First League. As for me, after I came to Skopje, my debut was against Crvena Zvezda. I was the youngest in the team, in which my brothers also performed, then Trpčevski, Golovski, Ainovski, Staniševski. We lost 4-5 in an exciting game. The result said that we have quality, so the opponents started to respect and fear us. At the same time, a resistance towards us appeared among them. This was best seen in the next visit to Belgrade, in the match with Partizan. The citizens of Belgrade could not reconcile themselves to the fact that we successfully countered them and did not choose any means to defeat us. They were very rude, and the referees tolerated all that – Grčev remembers that match.
Interest in hockey in Skopje grew, so the team was later upgraded with new, quality players, such as Atanasovski, Stradal, Danev, Daskalov, Nikodinovski, Kovačevski, Čupevski and Lekovski. It was a team that could stand up to even the first leaguers. In the late 1970s, for example, Vojvodina was beaten 21-0. It was a very interesting period for hockey, in which Vardar and Skopje merged, which joined together and performed under the name of the famous and financially powerful trade organization Makotex. The first chance to enter the highest quality league was missed in 1978, when Spartak from Subotica was more successful in Skopje and won 2-1. This match will be remembered for the fact that it was played in front of more than four and a half thousand spectators at the Kale rink in Skopje.
Otherwise, it is interesting to mention that four years earlier the youth team of Vardar, even before the merger with Skopje, in 1974, showed its strength and quality by winning the second place in Yugoslavia. In the two final meetings with Kranjska Gora, which practically came from an area where hockey was at a high level, the people of Skopje were defeated 2-4 away and 4-6 in Skopje, in an extremely dramatic game. The second place in the country was also the greatest success for the generation, in which the main bearer of the game was Gjorgi Grčev.
This result was a great incentive for us, so from those moments we started thinking about entering the First League. After we failed in the first qualification, in the next one, in 1980, we had to try our luck with Vojvodina in Skopje. We were very motivated, burning with desire to succeed and make our fans happy. In a game to remember we beat the Novi Sad 3-2 but unfortunately due to some incorrect player registrations we were disqualified and did not enter the elite company. Finally, in 1984, after we defeated Spartak 4-1 and 5-2 in the qualifiers in Belgrade in both matches, we qualified for the First League.
We competed here for three years, and the three reinforcements from Czechoslovakia helped us a lot to succeed.