It’s an unassuming storefront in Eastlake with a bright blue awning and the grammatically confusing B&H EVENTS PARTY CENTER which beckons us from Lakeshore Drive. It's here we will happily watch more soccer. This evening’s contest (Sunday, 6 p.m.) will feature a team making its inaugural appearance in the World Cup (Bosnia & Herzegovina) and a team with the best player in the world which has never lost its opening match (Argentina).
“We haven’t either,” says an optimistic Anes Sljivo, speaking in the first person plural, as is customary with national teams.
Sljivo is the 22-year-old who greets us when we enter and identifies himself as the owner. He and his father Haso run the joint, which doubles as a catering service and cultural center almost by default. There aren’t many establishments which cater to Bosnians in town. There’s the Croatian American Lodge down the street; there’s any number of Muslim and Serb organizations across the region; but there’s nothing for Bosnians in the national, ecumenical sense.
Sljivo’s wearing a black BiH-Fanatics
T-shirt — “Hardcore Bosnians on Tour” — along with black shorts, black socks, and black Chuck Taylors. He’s pleased to welcome us and insists on providing a round of beers gratis before play even starts. This is typical at the B&H Events Party Center. Beers are passed around and Cevapi platters are hustled from the kitchen with only remote acknowledgement of eventual payment.
The light in here is both natural and not, coming from the open door up front and then sporadically from neon bulbs and assorted blinking things hanging on the ceiling. The B&H Events Party Center is home to a modest dance floor, a disco ball, streamers in the national colors of blue and yellow, and white columns around the perimeter which gives it a sort of aspirant-Mediterranean vibe.
Much like Bosnians in general, the Cleveland-area fans are difficult to categorize. They have no unified physical “look,” although their fashion sensibilities do certainly resolve into something like Thrift Store Chic. The ethnic clashing in the capital city of Sarajevo is here embodied in the clashing of shirts and pants, which are literally cut from different cloths. Stripes and plaids are worn together with indifference or panache. Shorts are far and away more popular than slacks. Edin Dzeko’s #11 is everywhere.
Unlike the Dutch, who by and large emigrated to Northeast Ohio for work or for marriage, the Bosnian contingent relocated here by necessity. Many of them were one step shy of refugee status. Sljivo describes it as being "shipped out."
Bosnia loses the game 2-1, but if you discount the own goal in the opening minutes, it feels like a draw. Most fans here are convinced that if they play the way they've played tonight, they’ll do fine against Iran and Nigeria, the other two squads in their World Cup group.
Two Bosnian teens from Euclid High School — most of their countrymen attend Eastlake North, they say — are vocally opposed to so many Bosnian-born players taking up another national uniform in the World Cup. Given the choice, they say, many players prefer to play for another country because they think their chances are better. They hope this World Cup proves them wrong, that it brings people back home.
"People don't understand how important this is to us," says one.
Even after stoppage time, the mood is only momentarily dampened. Bosnians, as a rule, are fond of the club scene. And at halftime and afterwards, Haso hops to a laptop at a mini DJ station and cranks up the Turbo folk.