Rajko Mitić ( November 19, 1922 – March 29, 2008) was a Serbian football player and coach. Mitić was born in Dolac, Bela Palanka in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. He died in Belgrade, Serbia.
Before becoming Red Star’s the first successful player of the club, Mitić started his career in 1937 on the football fields of Košutnjak. In May 1938, he was transferred to BSK Belgrade where he played from 1938-1944. For BSK, he became a member of the junior team of the then-champion.
Two years later, in 1940, he had his debut as a striker for the first team, where he scored two goals.
The Second World War halted his football development, but he continued playing in 1944 for the engineer squadron under he which he fought for, along with fellow Yugoslav players Predrag Đajić and Jovan Jezerkić.
On March 4, 1945, when Red Star was founded, Rajko Mitić shortly became the captain of the team, and wore the red and white uniform for 14 seasons. In Red Star’s uniform, he scored 262 goals in 572 matches (31 of which were domestic league goals, while the other 11 came in National Cup matches.
He was a decent goal-scorer at Red Star, and became known by people in the local towns. His popularity in the early fifties was only by those in local towns, and surpassed that of other players. He was known as the memorable Red Star captain.
As captain and leader of the team, he won five championships (1951, 1953, 1956, 1957 and 1959) and four National Cups (1948, 1949, 1950 and 1958). One of his fondest memories was the first championship title, won in a dramatic finish, when the first place Dinamo lost their lead by slipping in the last three rounds. This allowed Red Star to win with a better goal ratio of 0.018 goals.
A great achievement in the career of Rajko Mitić, according to him, was winning the National Cup three times in a row. He almost never missed a game, except in 1947, when he had to go to rehabilitation after a knee meniscus operation.
On November 29, 1958, he officially retired from football at the age of 36, after Red Star’s convincing Cup win of 4-0. Rajko was seen out with sitting ovations at Topčider Hill.
As a captain, he most frequently remembered two of his decisions that had separated the football public. First, when he sent his best friend Branko Stanković to the dressing room because of inappropriate conduct. The second came on April 7, 1957, against Hajduk in Split, when he pulled the entire team off the pitch after a stone thrown from a disgruntled Red Star fan in the stands hit Bora Kostić in the head.
In the 71st minute of the aforementioned match, the result was 1-1. The disciplinary committee of the FSJ suspended all the players of Red Star (except Vladimir Beara and Kostić) for a month. The club did not appeal against the decision, and Rajko Mitić made the most positive impression possible on the shocked football public.
As a big opponent of unfair play, he never pulled his opponent by the shirt, or tripped his opponents on purpose. The football pitch for Rajko Mitić never represented a contest in strength as he was too small, but a place for a game and to play. He loved football, spreading his love to his other players and was happy to spread his love to his national team and club team-mates, and onto the opponents and supporters of all colours.
There were plenty of better players in his time when it came to attractiveness and skill, but Rajko Mitić was unique because of his extraordinary people skills and sportsmanship.
Mitić is considered one of the most important players in the history of Red Star Belgrade, he is one of only five players to have been awarded the Zvezdine zvezde.
Red Star Stadium, the principal stadium in Belgrade, is now officially called Stadion Rajko Mitić.
For Yugoslavia, Mitić won 59 caps (in which he was captain 34 times), and scored 32 goals. He scored his first goal for the national team in his debut on 9 May 1946 in Prague, when Yugoslavia outplayed Czechoslovakia 2-0. Until the end of his national team career, he scored 3 hat-tricks.
The first against Denmark in 1950 (the final score being 5-1), the second against India in 1952 (10-1), and finally in Belgrade against Wales (5-2) in 1953.
He often said that he never missed a chance to remind himself of his favourite goal in the national team uniform, against England in Belgrade, in 1954. Yugoslavia won 1-0 as Rajko Mitić scored the decisive goal in the dying minutes of the match.
He took part in two Olympic Games tournaments in London 1948, and in Helsinki 1952, where he captained the unforgettable Olympic team that included players such as Beara, Branko Stanković, both Zlatko and Željko Čajkovski, Boškov, Ognjanov, Vukas, Bobek and Zebec. He earned the silver medal both times.
There were two dramatic matches against the USSR (in the second of which Rajko Mitić scored the first goal, and paved the way for an important 3-1 win). He also took part in two World Cups (in Brazil 1950 and Switzerland 1954), but none of these were pleasant.
Before the match against Brazil at the Maracanã in Rio, while he was entering the pitch from the underground tunnel, he lifted his head suddenly and hit a medal lid. Due to the large cut and bleeding, he was forced to ask for medical attention and couldn’t play the first 20 minutes of the match, so he didn’t see Ademir’s goal in the 3rd minute and wasn’t aware of the Brazil’s lead until he was informed of it by his teammates in the halftime.
Since, in those days, there were no substitutions, the team was handicapped and finally lost the match 2-0.
He celebrated his 50th match with the national team during World Cup 1954 (in Switzerland), against Germany (who went on to become World Champion), but lost 2-0. He played his last match for the national team on 29 November, in Bucharest against Romania, as a 35-year-old striker. The final score of the match was 1-1.
He was one of the leaders and best scorers on the national team, where he made a special mark for a full decade.
Later on, he was a successful manager at Red Star from 1960 until 1966, when he became a member of the national team selection committee. His biggest achievement as a coach was in Italy 1968, when the national team (led by star player Dragan Džajić) won the silver medal.
When he retired in 1983, he applied himself actively as a volunteer in Red Star. He was a member of the team’s leadership for a long time (including two mandates as vice president of the club). Until his death on March 29, 2008, he was active in the Council of Veterans together with the stars from his and later generations.
Even as an active player in the early fifties, he was a commentator for Sport daily, and later on (for a long series of years until his retirement), a renowned chronicler of the weekly sports magazine Tempo.
In a 2006 interview with Prvoslav Vujčić, fellow Red Star legend Dragoslav Šekularac was critical of Red Star’s forgetting of Mitić in his later years. Šekularac stated:
“Rajko Mitić is the biggest Red Star legend because everything in his time was honest. He was the first, with his generation, to bring the public to the stands with good play. He didn’t get anything, the same way I didn’t get anything.”
Šekularac then continued:
“Rajko Mitić and other legends of Red Star are struggling even though Red Star is a big club and institution. Džajić could have as much money as he wanted for himself but he had to think that one Rajko Mitić doesn’t die in his 83rd year without getting the respect he deserves. The best example is the Englishman, George Best, who was an amazing footballer in his day but at the same time he was a bum and a drunk – a bohemian. Because of his soccer art though, he had a royal funeral.
One Rajko Mitić deserves that. He was the first to bring Red Star up to the skies. Red Star didn’t become big because Walter Zenga was there. Injustice hurts. Red Star is such a big club that it must act accordingly towards today’s players and towards former players.
So it doesn’t stay that one Srboljub Krivokuća dies while not having anything to eat. Krca Tomić dies in Los Angeles and no one remembers. There are countless examples. There needs to be more respect and love in Red Star for the ones that lived for the club.”