The 21-year-old from Serbia was setting out hopefully on a career as a goalkeeper with Slovenian club NK Maribor when he was involved in a road accident in 2016 that cost two teammates their lives, and left him facing the future with part of his left arm amputated.
His spirit could have been shattered – far from it; courage, pride, a positive outlook and, importantly, his enduring love for football have all been crucial elements on Ljubo’s road to recovery. Football’s welcoming arms have given him particular hope, comfort and solace – and the strength to rebuild and move on. Now, he is training to be a referee, and has found a new place in the game that he loves.
Ljubo, originally from Niš, began playing with a ball at the age of five. He is part of a football family; his father and uncle were keen players, while his elder brother Ranko, a midfielder, was capped at Serbian youth level. “Football was always present in my life,” he says.
“When I had finished high school, I decided only to focus on football. I dedicated all my time to football, and to try and make a living out of it. This was my greatest wish.”
But then, on 2 August 2016, his young life was turned upside down. “I woke up ready for training and had breakfast,” he recalls. “I went to training, we were all laughing in the dressing room, everything was positive and normal. Just a usual day….”
After training, Ljubo and three of his teammates – striker Zoran Baljak, full-back Damjan Marjanović and defender Žiga Lipušček – set out in a car from the club training centre. Shortly afterwards, the car collided with a set of traffic lights.
Zoran and Damjan died at the scene of the accident, and Žiga suffered minor injuries. Ljubo was thrown out of the car. He was taken unconscious to hospital and spent several days in a coma. His left arm was so badly injured that doctors decided that amputation of part of the arm was necessary.
Ljubo’s world had been changed dramatically, but it was now that a naturally positive nature shone through. “I needed to adjust to this new life,” he says. “It’s not as hard as some people think. You simply need to be strong enough.”
Refused to feel Self Pity
Surrounded by his loving family, he refused to feel self-pity. “I thought to myself that I still had my life in front of me, and the possibility to create something out of my life.”
Football played a primordial role in Ljubo’s journey through recuperation. “It gave me a specific mind set. I was a sportsman who always wanted to prove himself.” He likens his fierce will to recover after the accident to a match that he had to win.
He always remembers the care he received from NK Maribor through the tough moments. “The club is like my second family,” he stresses. “They were always at my side, trying to find a way to help me. All my friends were by my side, too, and that was invaluable.”
After the initial spell of doubt, Ljubo decided that he wanted to stay in football somehow. “If you live for football, football will then help you at any moment,” he explains. Maribor suggested he take up training to be a referee, and a new football pathway opened.
Mayor Welcomes New Stand at Greenisland Football Club
Mayor, Cllr Peter Johnston along with Deputy Mayor, Cllr Andrew Wilson and Cllr Bobby Hadden visited Greenisland Football Club to see the commencement of the works to provide a new 128-seater spectator stand and turnstiles, which will bring the grounds up to meet Intermediate League status requirements.
Mid and East Antrim Council in partnership with Greenisland Football Club have been working together to deliver this new stand. Through working in partnership, the club have been able to secure £45,000 of external funding and along with a contribution from the club Council are contributing £35,000 to deliver the £90,000 spectator stand.
Mayor, Cllr Peter Johnston said: Once again, I would like to pay tribute to Greenisland Football Club and in particular the time and commitment that the club members put into progressing this project.
“As a Council, we have been delighted to help fund a portion of this work and to enable the vision and objectives of the club to be met.
“Greenisland Football Club are a fantastic club and it is no surprise that they have recently been recognised from UEFA as one of the top grass roots football clubs in Europe.”
Mervyn Montgomery, Greenisland Football Club said: “We are indebted to the on-going support of our External Funders and Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, to enable us to build upon the existing facilities at Greenisland and to develop further our Community Sports Programs and Longer Terms Plans for the Club.”
This new stand will further enhance the major investment Mid and East Antrim Council made in 2018 through the delivery of a new 3G facility on the back of £100,000 of funding the club secured from SportNI.
The Club and Council had also secured external funding to upgrade the grass pitches, which are owned by the Council, in 2018 at a cost of £50,000.
Mid and East Antrim Council are committed to working with all groups within the borough to ensure that our ratepayers and residents have top class facilities which will improve their quality of life and their health and well-being.
Irish Football Association Skills Programmes Helping the Community
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has praised the work of the Irish Football Association in helping build the skills base of the local community.
The Minister met with community outreach staff from the IFA and heard about the work of the IFA Foundation, which has helped thousands of young people acquire a range of accredited qualifications since it was established in 2017.
The Minister said: “The IFA Foundation does excellent work in the local community building the skills base of young people. The Foundation helps young people attain vocational qualifications that not only make them more employable, but also boost their confidence and desire to potentially go on and study for more qualifications in future.
“This in turn embeds a culture of lifelong learning in young people. I know the IFA Foundation is keen to further build on their work by introducing apprenticeships and they have begun engaging with my Department to explore how this might be achieved.”
Keith Gibson, Acting Director of the Irish FA Foundation, said: “We were delighted to be able to welcome Minister Dodds to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park to discuss our employability programmes.
“We also talked about our vision for engaging young people, including the possibility of introducing apprenticeships at the Irish Football Association.”