Water Polo – “Football-in-the-Water”

Emblem of water polo club Cavtat

U našem portu bije se boj, igra Cavtat – tim moj i tvoj!

(In our port, a battle is raging; our team, Cavtat, is playing!)

Along with the growing popularity of sea swimming, the latter half of the 19th century saw the rise of various aquatic recreational activities and games. One of them would subsequently evolve into the game currently known as water polo. Invented in England, it was initially one of the attractions performed at organised swimming meets – public events held for entertainment purposes and arranged with the promotion of swimming activities in mind. The name itself was borrowed from a game that served as a parody of polo. Namely, polo is an equestrian sport played between two teams using long mallets, with each team attempting to drive a wooden ball between the opponent’s goal posts. Likewise, the water polo players rode on floating barrels made of wood and used wooden oars (which doubled as means of waterborne propulsion) in order to send the ball through the opponent’s goal posts, much to the amusement of the spectators.

Water polo club Epidaurus, around 1935

The early rules of the game, then known as football-in-the-water, were published by William Wilson, a journalist and swimming coach, in Glasgow in 1876, while the first match played at a marked field was held the following year. By the end of the 19th century, water polo had experienced a consistent increase in popularity in the United States of America as well, with the Americans playing a fierce, almost wrestling-like game in the water.

Much like football, water polo in Croatia was initially promoted by the students undergoing education in the countries in which the game was already developed. Those among them who studied in Prague presented the game at the Bačvice beach in Split in 1908. The rest is, as they say, history.

Following the end of World War I, the gatherings involving various swimming and diving activities were slowly gaining prominence, which ultimately led to the establishment of the so-called divlja društva (‘informal associations’), ceremoniously named as either republike (‘republics’) or kraljevine (‘kingdoms’). The most famous among them, Republika Danče (‘Republic of Danče’), has remained active to this day and is the birthplace of the water polo team Jug.

Jelica Radosavljević, Bukovac’s niece, Cavtat, 1939
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Around that time, the Cavtat youth have also most likely embraced the swimming sports at the then-popular Banja beach (currently spanning the area from the Hotel Croatia northern beach to the Banac Villa), where the competitions have been held since 1922. Moreover, the first water polo team from Cavtat, Epidaurus, was formed; it has been operating as an official sporting club since 1932. The original team consisted of: the Kušelj brothers, the Kalačić brothers, the Vragolov brothers, Antun Markoni, Ivo Kvarantoto and, interestingly enough, Vane Ivanović, stepson and heir to Božo Banac, a wealthy maritime entrepreneur.

Considering the fact that the club wasn’t registered, all the expenses were covered by the players themselves, while Tino Pattiera would bring a new water polo ball from Germany as an annual gift to the club.

After the World War II, the water polo field was marked somewhere along the middle of the Cavtat seafront, in front of the house belonging to Vinko Faggioni (the nephew of Vlaho Bukovac). The woodworkers from Cavtat had become practiced in the art of manufacturing the goals (bare in the regional dialect), as well as other necessary requisites. The players’ enthusiasm, as well as their willingness to improve, resulted in the foundation of the Cavtat Swimming Club and the official registration of the club’s water polo unit, named Vaterpolo jedinica PK Cavtat. Numerous generations of boys have made the first steps into the world of water polo under the tutelage of the legendary Ivica Moretti.

Water polo club Epidaurus, 1955

Taking its area and population into consideration, Cavtat must surely hold the record for the number of its players who have won Olympic and World Cup medals in water polo. The most obvious mentions would be Goran Sukno and Luko Vezilić, the veritable champions of water polo in Croatia, while other worthy mentions are Pavo Miljanović, Elvis Fatović, Maro Balić, Miško Bobić, Miho Bošković, Ivo Ivaniš, Pero Jovica, Nikša Drobac, Josip Vezjak, Paulo Obradović, Sandro Sukno and many others thanks to whom the sportsmanship in Cavtat has remained vital and attractive to the new generations. The newcomers, under the guidance of the coach, Pavo Pulić, strive to follow the well-trodden path to fame.

A permanent fixture in the town’s summer landscape, the joy and laughter of the local children at the water polo field capture the attention of the visitors, who often fill up the grandstands.

In 2012, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the presence of water polo in Cavtat, as well as the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the club, the rich history of the sport in question was celebrated by the publication of a monograph titled ‘Pozlaćen zrakom sunca’, written by Vinko Rožić.