Denis achieved his dream of becoming a football coach
The war in Bosnia came as a result of the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. In April 1992, warning sirens thundered in Denis Velić's hometown.
– I was walking home from school with a friend when the warning signals went off. It fell grenades on different places around the city. I can still be thrown back to that memory when the warning system Hesa Fredrik is tested here in Sweden.
Nine-year-old Denis hurried home and together with his mother and father, he went to a shelter and then out into a forest to hide.
– We were found and placed in a concentration camp for a while. I have those pictures in my head. I remember that quite well.
At that time, there were a number of concentration camps in, for example, Bosnia. Thousands of people were imprisoned and some were murdered. Others were subjected to torture and other forms of abuse.
– Mom and I ended up in one camp and dad in another. For two years we did not know if he was dead or alive. Occasionally, as we sat locked in a crowded old school, I didn't understand what was going on. But now that I'm an adult, I understand more. Things went terribly awful. Fortunately, my mom and I were in a pretty mild concentration camp. There were places that were much worse, such as execution places.
Eventually, the family managed to converge in Croatia and were then able to move on to Sweden.
– I remember that we took the bus for a very long time. It felt like the trip lasted for several weeks, but that is probably not true. At that age it is hard to sit still in a bus.
When the Velić family arrived in Sweden, they ended up at a refugee camp in Vänersborg. The house they lived in was an old military facility, where the family shared one room.
– I don't remember how big the room was but there was one single bed and a double bed in there. I also remember that it was quite crowded and a lot of people at the military facility but I have very bright memories from there. Children are so adaptable, and we who lived there had fun. We played football and so on. It may sound strange, but we actually had a lot of fun as children. The older ones may not have as good memories.
The family later moved to Sandviken and finally landed in Finspång outside Norrköping.
– In Finspång I started in a preparation class. It went pretty quick for me to grasp the language, so I got to start in a real class pretty quickly. The students in that class were a year younger than me. I had missed so many years at school that I couldn't go with those who were as old as I was.
What do you remember from that time?
– It was great to start in a regular Swedish school so quickly. I was quite alone with my background and nobody could speak my language, so I learned Swedish quickly and was well taken cared of by my classmates and teachers. Also, it made it easier for me because I was good at sports. Sport is fantastic in that you don't have to know the language completely to pass a ball.
It was sports, or more specifically football, that led the family to later move to Ingelstad outside Växjö. In his teens, Denis was taken to an elite football camp in Halmstad. Once there he met people from Växjöklubben Östers IF who had seen him play and offered him a place in the team.
– At first, I was quite sad to move from Finspång. I had made friends and a first girlfriend there so it was hard to leave. But I never regret that the choice was Växjö. It was a bit difficult the first few weeks but then it felt okay.
Since moving to Växjö, Denis has played many seasons in Öster. He was part of the club's promotion from Superettan to Allsvenskan in 2002 and later made a similar trip with the Södertalje team Syrianska. During his active career, Syrianska went from Division 1 to Allsvenskan before he returned to Öster.
– I stopped playing in 2015 and then I was asked if I wanted to become assistant coach. By then I had already started some different training programs so it was a perfect timing.
The past season was tough for Östers IF. Earlier this year, head coach Christian Järdler was fired off and Denis had to jump in and take his place. With barely any chance, Öster managed to secure the contract in the Superettan and a couple of weeks ago it was clear that Denis will be the team's new head coach.
– I practiced here in the fall and now you could say that I am new at work.
Was it obvious to say yes to the offer?
– Yes, it was. But it took a lot of time to think. It is a great responsibility to take on. There are an incredible number of people in the association and who are following the team. And then I have my family to consider and take into account. I am never really free and the job takes a lot of time from my regular life.
Denis has signed a contract for at least two years. But the football industry is hard and if he does not perform at the top, he can leave the club sooner than that. A large part of the profession is to endure criticism directed at him and the team's players.
– We are also humans. We have feelings and the criticism can be tough at first. But the older you get and the more experienced you become, you learn to value opinions. Everyone has opinions. But if you listen to everyone, you probably wouldn't have been able to work with this.
Have you ever been affected by the criticism?
– There are times when I get affected. I have a hard time when someone questions my loyalty. What I do and have done for the club. That person probably has no idea how much I do. They only see 90 minutes every other weekend. Other times I do things for the club almost 24 hours a day. Although the matches are obviously important, I take the criticism personally and it is hard to hear when it is not right. But it is obviously free to have opinions.
Despite the criticism and heavy responsibility, Denis has achieved his dream. Being a football coach is something he had been dreaming of for a long time.
– Getting this job has been a big dream and now I have it. I want to start a journey that makes Öster a stable team in Allsvenskan. I don't know how many years it will take.
It has now been over 20 years since Denis came to Öster and about 26 years since he and his family came to Sweden.
– Now society looks different compared to how it was when we came to Sweden but I hope there is a humility towards people who come here. There is probably no human in the world who wants to be moved from their home, their school or their life. They leave because they fear for their own life. But it is a responsibility to come to a new country. You have to make an effort to get into the community and learn the language.
That Denis was able to learn the language so quickly and join various sports associations, he believes was a key to entering society.
– Sports and school have helped me tremendously and have taken me far in life. I don't think there is any better way than sports to get into society. To let their sons and daughters go that way. When we got here we had nothing and were dependent on contributions. Now we are part of society and have decent careers, says Denis and continues:
– You should not think that everything will settle once you get to Sweden. Then you can certainly feel safe and secure, but you have to contribute and adapt as soon as possible. That's what you grow from.