For the last 16 summers, the small town of Bilice, Croatia, with a local population of 2,500, has swelled to over 4,000 — not just with summer tourists, but with footballers and fans alike flocking to the Ivica Mikulandra Civak Memorial Tournament. The tournament honors Ivica, the father of Mate and Luka Mikulandra, who in 2007 was tragically killed in a car crash.
After Croatian Independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Ivica and his family opened the first modern bar in Bilice. Though (according to his sons) not an unusually gifted football player himself, Ivica did have a remarkable talent for bringing people together and was deeply involved in the life and community of the town. With his family’s bar, Ivica became the sponsor of Bilice’s football club and the center of many of its long-remembered celebrations. This year, the 20-day memorial tournament featured 55 teams of adults and 20 teams of kids (14 and under). All competing for cash prizes, trophies, medals, bragging rights, and glory.
After another unforgettable tournament summer, we reached out to Mate and Luka to hear more about the tribute event and their lives outside of Wonderful Machine.
Q. How did this tournament first come about?
Mate: After the death of our father, his friends (many of whom were members of the Bilice Football Club) got together and decided to host a tournament in his honor. Our town did not have an annual football tournament at that time, so this was the first one in the area. His friends knew a lot of people from the surrounding towns who agreed to join the first tournament, while the county and some local companies agreed to sponsor it. That’s how the story started and it has been going now for 16 years.
Q. What did the tournament look like in its early years? How has it changed since then?
Mate: In the early days, the tournament was played in games of 6-on-6. While now, it is played as a 4-on-4, with no goalkeeper and using only small goals. Before, the games lasted longer, but there were fewer teams since it took more work to find six teammates. With 4-on-4, you are much more flexible. For example, in the early days of the tournament, we had around 20 or 30 teams. Now, we have over 50 each year.
Also, about ten years ago, we started running a tournament for kids as well. It was open to all kids up to a certain age. It proved to be a very popular event, attracting more and more people. We started with about four teams of kids under the age of 14. This year, we had over 20 teams of kids.
Q. Have either of you ever competed in the tournament as players?
Luka: When I was younger, I competed in the tournament three years in a row. The team, made up of my friends, won the tournament twice.
Mate: I have never competed in the tournament, since I was too old for the kids tournament and not good enough for the main tournament. The level of competition was quite high. There were many pro and semi-pro players, and even some Croatian national team members participated.
Q. What does the tournament represent for the Bilice community?
Luka: For Bilice, the tournament is the event that fills the whole month of July with a sure place to find people in good spirits enjoying football. Because of that, it attracts people from surrounding cities and communities. It has become the go-to place for people to meet and socialize during those July nights.
Q. When your father’s bar sponsored the Bilice football club, was his generosity rooted in a love of football or the Bilice community?
Mate: We were both little kids at that time, but from what I hear, they were all good friends and often spent time in his bar after the games. Since he wasn’t a great player but still part of the team, he helped in any way he could, often through donations, sponsorships, etc.
Q. What is it like to share through the tournament the memory of your father with so many in your community and beyond?
Luka: It feels great to see people who were close to our father and our family still remembering him after all these years. They are still giving their time and support so that the tournament continues to grow.
Q. What is the future of the tournament?
Luka: I am happy to say that the tournament keeps improving and evolving each year. Over the last few years, we have included online brackets and fun games for the audience. This year, we became the first tournament to feature a projector screen that showed scores, brackets, sponsors, players, etc. We have more plans for the future — the field will be renovated, including new concrete and new stands.
Q. Outside of the tournament, what do you do for fun?
Mate: In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with friends. We often play board games or go hiking. Some of my friends live in different parts of the country, but we still meet online to play games or chat. I also like creating my own board games and hope to publish one someday. My friends are the best playtesters and they help me refine my ideas. During my alone time I read books, watch TV shows, or some educational content on YouTube. Also, I often go to pub quizzes and trivia nights.
Luka: The thing I enjoy most is jamming out to some of my favorite songs on guitar. I also like going out with my friends to bars and karaoke nights. I like being active, going to the gym, hiking, and swimming. But sometimes I like to stay home and watch a good TV show or play board games — especially playtesting the games Mate’s developing!
Q. What are your roles and responsibilities at Wonderful Machine?
Mate: I am an SEO and Social Media specialist at Wonderful Machine. I consult photographers on their SEO efforts and help with their web design and social media accounts. Also, I do the same for Wonderful Machine itself.
Luka: When I started in January this year, I was doing photographer outreach, then moved to the tech team and then specialized as the joining/leaving person. Currently, I am working in the membership team in a membership inquiries role.
Stay tuned to learn more about the team and their lives outside of Wonderful Machine!