In November this year the world said goodbye to footballer Mirsad Bubalović. That it has taken almost two months for the news to reach these shores would suggest that Bubalović’s impact on football in this country was minimal. This is a suggestion which has its basis firmly in truth. However, in a corner of South Yorkshire Mirsad Bubalović’s passing will be noted, because in Doncaster at least this journeyman Croatian will always be known as “the finest player to ever grace Belle Vue”.
Born in Split of then Yugoslavia in 1972 Bubalović initially escaped his homeland for the US in 1990 to play College soccer with Indiana. As a Freshman with ‘The Hoosiers’ he would impress too, contributing effectively in a team which included future USA internationals Chad Deering and Jurgen Sommer. Following the break up of the former Yugoslavia the midfielder returned to The Balkans, beginning his career with NK Travnik before going on to play for both Croatia Zagreb and his hometown club Hadjuk Split.
Bubalović moved on from Split in his mid-twenties to play for Sochaux, plying his trade in the French second division until his contract came to an end in the summer of 1999. At the culmination of his time with Les Lionceaux there was only one obvious move Bubalović could make and so in August that year he moved on a Bosman deal to Doncaster Rovers, then of the Nationwide Conference. At half-time of a Tuesday night match against Southport Bubalović was ushered onto the pitch and introduced to his new public with Dave Parker grabbing the microphone to proclaim the new arrival “the finest player to ever grace Belle Vue”.
As false dawns go this announcement was to prove as emphatic as a mid-winter morning in the Arctic Circle. Many players, particularly in the Conference years, failed to live up to the hype at Doncaster Rovers, but few have been hyped as greatly and subsequently failed as spectacularly as Bubalović. The Croat made just one substitute appearance for Rovers before making a decidedly less emphatic exit than he had entrance and leaving to join Altrincham amid suggestions that he had shown more attacking prowess around female members of club staff than he had on the training field.
After an equally unproductive spell in Cheshire Bubalović moved on to play in Belgium and then back to the US where he forged a reasonable playing career on the Indoor Soccer scene. After retiring from the game he had returned to Europe and had reportedly been working as the captain of a French yacht prior to his death. Bubalović lost his life in a car crash near Nice on the 4th November and his funeral was held in Travnik, Bosnia on 17th November.