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Gillie Sutherland Gillie Sutherland

Football has the power to motivate, liberate and unite

Written by  Gillie Sutherland May 08, 2022


It’s not even summer and already I’m excited about the winter.

More specifically, I’m excited about November 21st 2022, which marks the opening of the FIFA World Cup.

That’s football for those of you that aren’t fans, and for those from the other side of the pond, you would know it as soccer. I don’t care what you say, but to me, it will always be “football” - the beautiful game.

What’s so exciting this year is that I feel a stronger loyalty than ever before to this Croatian team.

2018 was my favourite World Cup ever. The U.K. enjoyed back to back days of sunshine throughout it, but it was not just about the weather.

It was watching Croatia play that made it for me, even though back then, I had no idea I would come to reside here.

It didn’t matter that it was Croatia that knocked England out in the semi-finals, this amazing country had already won my heart. So much so that I had even placed a bet on Croatia winning the whole tournament.

Like many others, I was in awe that this relatively small (in terms of population) nation could produce such a world-class team and give France a run for their money in the final.

I’d always thought I’d end up in France, having lived there before, but strangely I did not want to see them win this time. With every bone in my body, I wanted Croatia to win. Sadly it didn’t happen this time, but their performance in the tournament was nothing to be ashamed of.

Today, in Zadar, I feel more admiration and connection to this Croatian football team than ever before.

I’m doing yoga on the beach just near the Kolovare Hotel, and a wave of emotion washes over me.

It was here that a young Luka Modric was brought as a refugee in the war after his home was burned down. It was here that he first started to play, perhaps an escape from the grim reality of the grenades landing all around them.

There are stories of him having a ball at his feet at all times, playing in the corridors at every opportunity, even sleeping with his football in his bed.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like in those times, but I can’t help but think that it was facing this adversity that made him the exceptional player he is now.

When interviewed about those times he says:

“You can allow it to break you or you can choose to make you stronger”.

It’s the hero’s journey. When faced with adversity, we always have that choice, and from what I see today this is the choice Croatia made, as a country, not just as a football team.

I see them as one of the most resilient nations in the world, and I have total admiration for them.

I can’t wait to watch them play in the next World Cup. I will be rooting for them above any other team.

russia world cup luka modric

Still, November seems a long way away, so for now I have the Champions League final at the end of the month to look forward to when we get see Modric, the tiny wizard, in action again.

When I watch him I will imagine him dancing with the ball of the corridors of the Hotel Kolovare as a child, and I’ll be remembering what he overcame to get there.

And even as someone who grew up in the north of England, it won’t be Liverpool I’ll be cheering for, it will be six-year Luka Modric, for he will forever be in my heart.

Read more Gillie here...  

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Gillie Sutherland grew up in the north of England, before settling in Devon, but has now swapped her UK address for one on the Adriatic in the very south of Croatia, in Cavtat. A professional Wellness Consultant she now runs retreats and online courses from her Konavle base. She also writes a weekly column for the Devon newspaper, The Express and Echo.

To find out more about Gillie go to www.behappyfit.co.uk