As hostess of the poplar authentic Bosnian restaurant Grbic’s, Erna Grbic said she rarely uses her native language and might seat 150 guests on an average Sunday. But Sunday was anything but usual, as a crowd of about 800 filed in throughout the day for a taste of home and the hype building around perhaps the biggest soccer match in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s 21-year history.
Grbic found herself slightly embarrassed by her self-admitted lack of grammar when it came to speaking Bosnian to the guests, many of whom had come from Europe and throughout the country to see tonight’s friendly match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Busch Stadium.
It seemed every Bosnian-themed restaurant in the Bevo Mill area — one of the largest settlements of Bosnian immigrants in the country — had lines waiting outside their doors along Gravois Avenue. Even when Grbic began telling parties they would have a more than one-hour wait by 1 p.m., they would opt to stay just to be surrounded by those donning royal blue, yellow and white team regalia.
“Do you have a heart inside? Have you ever fallen in love? You know the feeling you have for your boyfriend or girlfriend? This is much more than that,” said Semso Becirovic, who along with his son and three of his young friends, made a 20-hour drive from Connecticut to see the match.
Many waited outside despite high winds and severe weather earlier in the day. Bosnian flags draped across and hung from many passing cars, blaring Bosnian music and honking at crowds and other similarly outfitted cars. Bosnian team regalia hung from cars with license plates bearing origins such as Massachusetts, Texas and Ontario, Canada.
Aldina Jahic, 25, of the Affton area and Sandra Kurtovic, 23, of the Mehlville area chose to grab coffee at another Bosnian shop while waiting for a table at Grbic’s.
“This is the first positive thing for our country since all of the negative things our country has been through,” Kurtovic said.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is rebuilding from a war that killed nearly 100,000 and laid waste to the capital of Sarajevo. But the nation experienced a shining moment of its 21-year existence on Oct. 16, when its soccer team qualified for the World Cup for the first time.
And it was Vedad Ibisevic, a Roosevelt High School grad and former St. Louis University player, who got them there with the sole goal in a game against Lithuania that Bosnia-Herzegovina had to win to avoid going into an extra set of games to qualify.
Ibisevic has returned to St. Louis for tonight’s game.
While Ibisevic might be the center of attention for the area’s large immigrant population, Argentina’s Lionel Messi is a main attraction for others. Messi has been voted the top player in the world every year since 2009, but will miss tonight’s game due to a leg injury.
The match itself is thrusting St. Louis into the international soccer spotlight for the third time this year. First, the city hosted Manchester City and Chelsea at Busch Stadium. Then Spanish giant Real Madrid and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo played Inter Milan at the Edward Jones Dome.
The reputation the city is earning as a soccer destination has given Anes Mehmeti, 14, reason to brag about his American hometown.
“In the United States, you don’t experience soccer as much and it’s not everyday that you get to see a soccer team at the professional level,” Mehmeti said. “St. Louis is the perfect destination to play a game like this. Organizers can see that they are selling out really quickly. People are thirsty for soccer.”
Mehmeti spent Sunday selling authentic Bosnian team regalia from the bar inside Grbic’s restaurant. The Grbic family asked Mehmeti’s father, who owns a company that sells the merchandise, to offer select pieces to its customers after being inundated with requests for the gear the wait staff has been sporting since Friday.
Scarves proved to be the most popular at $10 each.
“I’ve barely been open for an hour and already made like $300,” Mehmeti said.
Late Sunday afternoon, hundreds of fans cheered the players as they left their hotel for the bus ride to Busch Stadium for practice. The fans followed. At the stadium, they chanted and cheered and pushed against the gates, wanting inside to watch what was supposed to be a closed practice. Busch officials opened the gates about 5:40 p.m., and more than 1,000 fans swarmed inside.
Mehmeti said the excitement of the event blows away the enthusiasm he saw during the lead-up to Cardinal’s World Series games.
“If you are a true Bosnian fan, you will come from anywhere to see this,” he said. “There are people here from Los Angeles. I didn’t see anyone drive from Los Angeles during the World Series.”
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
PDF: [prettyfilelist type=”pdf” filestoshow=”2418,” hidefilter=”true” hidesort=”true” hidesearch=”true” filesPerPage=”3″]