Milutin Ivkovic, known from childhood as “Milutinac”, was born in Belgrade in 1906. He was 12 years old when Belgrade became capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after the defeat and disintegration of Austria-Hungary. Milutinac was an outstanding youth footballer and joined SK Yugoslavia. He played 235 games for them in the 1920s before moving across the city to play for BASK Belgrade. Alongside his football he qualified as a doctor and did his military service.
International Football and Progressive Politics
Milutinac was one of the best defenders in his country and played 39 times for Yugoslavia. He was in the fine Yugoslav team that competed at the 1928 Olympic Games tournament, and he captained the country at the first-ever World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. His last game for the national team was in Paris in 1934, the year he graduated from medical school. By then he was already involved in left-wing politics. He took a leading part in the international campaign to boycott the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, hosted by Nazi Germany. In 1938 he became editor of the Communist Youth League newspaper Miadost. In the same year, his wife Ella died of tuberculosis and, being a single father with two daughters, he gave up football and focused on his work as a dermatologist.
In a time of war
In June 1941 Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Milutinac volunteered to join the pro-Communist Yugoslav Partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito. The partisan war was not only against the German and Italian occupiers. There were also bitter rivalries with the pro-Fascist Croatian revolutionary movement Ustasha, and the pro-royalist and Serbian nationalist movement Chetniks. This meant that patriotic Serbs like Milutinac fought against other citizens of Yugoslavia, including other Serbs. In May 1943 Milutinac was arrested and sent to Banjica concentration camp. He was executed the next day. His body was never found.
Milutin Ivkovic was a hero of Yugoslav football, and then a hero of the partisan war that led to the creation of postwar Yugoslavia. He played for his country, qualified as a doctor, and became a committed political activist who paid with his life when he was executed in a Nazi concentration camp. In 1951 Milutinac was commemorated by a plaque at the JNA Stadium, now home of Partizan Belgrade. More than 60 years later, with Belgrade now the capital of independent Serbia, a statue in his honour was unveiled near the same stadium.
What can be learned from the story of Milutin Ivkovic football, idealism and politics?
Find out more
You may read a further account of his life on Futbolgrad, or with additional insights on The Football Life (run by specialist Richard Wilson, who also launched the podcast The History of Yugoslav Football). The Serbian Football Association has a special page about Ivkovic as well. Serbian news portal Espreso offers an illustrated account of his life as well. You can dive into the 1930 World Cup thanks to the World Cup 1930 project.
Milutin Ivkovic (Photo: Antifašističkom vjesniku).
LIFE STORIES To discover now
Do you wanna know more?
HISTORY CAN BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS
Browse our collection of stories about football history and inclusion. With the history of football being made up of millions of stories, of individuals and communities, of movements and processes, we offer stories that can inspire our cultural conversations today.
Get to know untold stories where individuals are making history with football. When faced with insurmountable challenges, individuals past and present can use football as a cultural force to foster positive change in society. We honour these individuals and tell their ‘untold’ stories in short videos.
Explore our innovative educational resources that use football’s history, heritage and legacy to engage young people. The resources include ready-made lesson plans and historical source collections for school history education as well as toolkit with activities for non-formal settings.
BBC Sport’s Football Focus visits Bundesliga side FC Union Berlin, a “rebellious” football club from East Berlin with a special set of fans, playing their first season in Germany’s top flight 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We asked author David Goldblatt about the Football Makes History project. He notes how the cultural phenomenon of football offers educators highly relevant topics and themes.
LATEST POST You may also be interested in
Helping students define nationalism by looking at photos of football matches and reflecting on the main expressions of it in the stadiums.
How is the gender pay gap reflected in women’s football and what can be done to change it? How do we help students reflect on this?
Several football clubs have to play away from their home because of war and conflict. This article will look at some of those clubs.
How did football evolve over time in both the Congo and Belgium? How has football (environments) been used beyond playing a sport? This is a learning activity to help students explore these topics.
Students can explore 19th and 20th century global history through the cultural spread of the game.