On this occasion I had the pleasure of speaking with Daniela Zdravkovska. She is a handball expert and a fan of FK Vardar, the most prestigious Macedonian handball team.
We not only talk about issues concerning FK Vardar and the social impact of this club in Macedonia, but also about the national volleyball team of Macedonia as well and the sport's infrastructure of this country.
#1 What can you tell about your childhood?
I started to follow handball matches because my father was always watching them. I never liked physical activities, but I always loved watching handball.
Something interesting about my country is that everyone believes that we have no luck in sports. We are used to losing. That's why when we win, we celebrate it with madness and it's like a kind of national holiday in the whole country.
#2 When and why did your interest in handball begin?
Since my childhood I have watched handball. My father liked volleyball, but I always preferred handball, tennis and ski jumping. There is no specific reason why I like these sports. I'm a fan of Roger Federer and RK Vardar because it's our national handball team and we're proud to have them.
#3 How would you explain the hegemony of RK Vardar in the SEHA league, by winning four of the seven editions so far?
It's because the president of RK Vardar invested a lot in having good international players, mainly from Spain and Russia. The coach was also from Spain and he liked my country so much that he learned Macedonian. The team was well organized and well prepared. All the players came already with experience from different international leagues.
#4 What repercussions did the victory of RK Vardar against PSG have in Macedonia after the final of the 2016-17 EHF Champions League?
I'm sorry to say this about my country, but we've seen many situations in which really talented young people were sent to international competitions without government support. They paid all their expenses for themselves or raised money to get something internationally. Probably that's the reason why we appreciate each victory so much. It's a pity because handball is considered as the national sport of Macedonia. It's almost a religion like football in Brazil.
#5 What does RK Vardar mean for the whole of Macedonian society?
RK Vardar means a lot to us. In each city you can see banners and songs dedicated to RK Vardar. Here we encourage them when they are at the top and they're the best at what they are doing, but we blame them if they don’t meet our expectations.
Why were the Macedonians proud of their basketball team in 2011? Because we defeated our rivals Greece and we finished that year's Eurobasket in fourth place. Why are Macedonians ashamed of RK Vardar now?
Fortunately, not everyone is ashamed.This team has filled us with pride and made Europe and the world know more about this country.
Personally, I will always be proud of this team not only for the title obtained, but because the foreign players learned Macedonian and addressed the entire Macedonian people in our language in the main square of Skopje, where almost 100,000 people had gathered.
I believe that sport is about connecting people and all the emotions that we felt in each match that year were very real.
#6 Who is your favorite handball player?
I don't have a favorite player. From the age of 8, I have been following the matches of Denmark in the European Handball Championship and in the World Handball Championship. I have always liked the Denmark matches. From that team my favorite player is Mikkel Hansen. From my team, my favorite player is Kiril Lazarov. I like when a player has initiative and plays with style and patience.
#7 Macedonia reached the Men's European Volleyball League final three times in a row in 2015, 2016 and 2017 but was unable to win the title. What did Macedonia lack to get the title at least once?
We didn't win the title last year because many players left the national team and there was a change of coach. We know we have some very good players, but in a sport like volleyball you need to play as a team. What the Macedonians are able to do as a team is simply not enough.
#8 Do you think Macedonia should improve its sports infrastructure?
The previous government invested a lot in sports infrastructure, but I don't think it's enough. I don't consider my country to be a sporting nation such as England, Spain, Serbia or Germany, which are considered the best in sports in Europe.
#9 What do you expect from RK Vardar in the current EHF Champions League season?
We believe that if we have very high expectations, we won't achieve anything. So we ignore expectations for the moment. We'll see. Europe has a good tradition of handball so you can expect anything from any team.