The Dark History of Croatian Goalkeeping Legend Franjo Glaser

Asked by a judge to clarify his motivation for killing an Algerian stranger, Albert Camus’s anti-hero Meursault, from his finest work „The Stranger“, blurts out on trial that he did it “because of the sun”. Already considered to be a strange character and showing no sense of regret whatsoever for his actions, Meursault became one of the more intriguing characters in the history of modern literature.

Camus, once a talented goalkeeper for Racing FC from Algeria, never bothered to explain where he used to find inspiration for his stories and it’s very possible that some of the characters, including Meursault, were derived from some real-life pieces in newspapers. We can thus only speculate whether the French writer ever read about the unusual life of Franjo Glaser, a famous Yugoslav goalkeeper of Croatian descent. Six years before Meursault first appeared on bookshelves, Glaser was on trial for a murder that had eery parallels with that of Camus’s fictional hero.

It was one of those swelteringly hot days in Belgrade during the summer of 1936 that encourage the city’s residents to head down to the river en masse to find some respite from the heat. Among them were the players of BSK, the most successful Yugoslav team in the years leading up to WWII, and their much-admired international goalkeeper Franjo Glaser who had made such an impact since arriving from his native Croatia several years earlier.

Relaxing on a floating platform over the river Sava, a young member of the club’s technical staff named Radomir Stokić attempted to joke around with the keeper. Instead of playing along or telling him politely to step away, without hesitating for a moment Glaser pushed Stokić into the water despite being well aware that the 17-year-old couldn’t swim. Radomir screamed for help but within a matter of seconds disappeared down into the muddy water, never to resurface.

Not only did Glaser show not one iota of concern for the death of a friend whom he had bought lunch just an hour or so earlier, the following day he travelled to Novi Sad to watch a friendly between BSK and Vojvodina as if nothing had happened. Even when police investigators started asking questions the following day, Glaser merely stated with little emotion that it was sad the boy had died, but he was completely innocent in the affair. However just a few days later in a courtroom packed with reporters and BSK fans, Glaser’s defence started to disintegrate into incoherency. Once teammates changed their initial statements and admitted seeing him pushing Stokić, the keeper realised he would not be able to evade a murder charge.

“Franjo told me he pushed him. ‘Don’t worry’, he said, ‘Stokić will emerge eventually,’” recalled one eyewitness during the trial.

Glaser finally owned up to the crime and greeted the guilty verdict and two-year prison sentence handed down to him with a cold and barely discernible smile. The reporter for the daily newspaper Politika wrote: ‘Glaser surely would have escaped with a suspended sentence if only he had stood in front of the jury like a sportsman and a gentleman from, for example England, who admitted he was involved in the death of his friend.’

Newspaper reports of the 1936 trial

But despite the unanimous guilty verdict, Glaser somehow arranged to serve his sentence in his native Croatia where he was released almost immediately. He serenely continued his career keeping goal for Zagreb-based HAŠK Građanski up to the start of WWII. Along with the rest of his teammates, between 1941 and 1944 Glaser earned 11 caps playing for the Independent State of Croatia: a puppet national team assembled by the occupying German forces. His brilliant goalkeeping skills were as evident as the Nazi salutes he used to pay his respect to fans and Ante Pavelić, the leader of the brutal ISC regime.

But if you think Glaser faced a severe punishment for his Nazi associations when Tito’s partizans liberated the country, well think again. All of his transgressions – and we’ve named but a few – were conveniently forgiven as he was given a chance to become player-manager of a newly established Yugoslav National Army club – FK Partizan Belgrade. Whether he was born under a lucky star or simply had the canny knack of knowing when to switch sides, Glaser survived once more, walking the streets of Belgrade as if he was a sporting hero and not a cold-blooded murderer with a Nazi-tainted past. He would be joined at Partizan by several other former players of the ISC national team such as Stjepan Bobek, Franjo Šoštarić and Florijan Matekalo.

Croatia v Switzerland, 1940

From that period on he lived a more sedate life and the only newsworthy aspect of him was his goalkeeping feats. Specifically, between 1933 and 1949 Glaser amassed an amazing total of 1,225 appearances and developed a fearsome reputation as a stopper of penalty kicks. Unlike another fictional anti-hero Josef Bloh, the main character in Peter Handke’s ‘The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick,’ Glaser was full of confidence when facing spot kicks and conceded just 21 of the 94 he faced during his career – a ratio unrivalled in the history of the Yugoslav football.

After a brilliant and thrilling career offset by a troubled and controversial personal life, Franjo Glaser spent the rest of his life living peacefully in Zagreb until his death in 2003, at the age of 90.

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