Jožef Velker (1913 – 29 November 1995) was a Serbian footballer. He was one of the most important players in the history of FK Vojvodina.
He was born in 1913 in a town mostly populated by German minority named Šove (currently known as Ravno Selo) in Vojvodina, then still part of Austro-Hungary in a wealthy latifundial family. He made his college studies in Novi Sad and has soon begin to show his passion towards football. While visiting an agricultural fair in Budapest in 1929 he had the chance to attend to his first football match played between Hungary and his country, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
In 1931 he met an American named Cathy who was visiting her family in Šove and married her. In the same year his football skills were spotted by scouts of NAK Novi Sad and he began playing for them. FK Vojvodina, the city rivals, immediately started following the new star of NAK in what will become one of the longest chases ever, and will last for long six years. Curiously, Velker always had great performances against Vojvodina and in consequence, instead of hating him, and specially because of his fairness and gentleman character, Vojvodina fans started appreciating him more and more. In Autumn 1937 the growing forces of nazism and fascism were bringing fear and anxiety to people in Europe, but Novi Sad was in a state of agitation not because of the economical speculation, or the international politics, but because of the long-expected sensational transfer of Velker to FK Vojvodina.
The club was by then bringing many good players into the team in what would be known as the “Millioners team”. Since then, Vojvodina began having serious pretensions to win the Yugoslav First League. That goal was in the view of the club direction unreachable without Velker, so an enormous effort was made to bring him into the club, and after long and difficult negotiations, to enormous disappointment of NAK, Velker finally signed. From 1937, all the way until 1951, he would become a crucial player of the club. This is how a newspaper “Sportska revija” from 15 May 1940 described him:
“Velker, the attacking player of Vojvodina, is always one of the best players. All other players, even the best ones, can disappoint, even be unnoticed, but that rarely happens to him. He is the engine of the team. Technician “per excellence”. In the matches of Vojvodina he stands out by his devoted, skillful and fair style of play. That is Velker. He represents what a footballer should be, the way a true footballer is, a real sportsman. He doesn´t protest referees’ decisions, he doesn´t reply opponents hard play and he doesn´t quarrel with other players. During the match, you won´t even hear him, but you will see him a lot. Despite his skills allowing him to play in any club in the league, he stays unpretentious. And that is what you rarely find in a star. Velker is the best, more disciplined and more humble player in Novi Sad. And he has definitely deserved to play for long time now in the national team squad.”
The national team was a wound for the players of Vojvodina because there was no place for them in it. All places were reserved for players from Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo so all nationalities in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia would be satisfied. Velker had offers from clubs from Zagreb and Belgrade that would eventually open a way for him into the national team, but he stayed loyal to Novi Sad and FK Vojvodina.
Vojvodina squad in 1940
The “Millioners team” failed to immediately make an impact, but in the season 1940/41 was fighting for the top. The final stage of the championship was interrupted by the beginning of the World War II, and the Axis bombing, mobilization and country’s capitulation made the competition to continue to be impossible. During German occupation, the new authorities closed the club and confiscated its property. Velker returned to Ravno Selo. German Wehrmacht began recruiting Germans from Vojvodina into the SS units, and Velker was recruited into Vrbas. He soon escaped and was for some time on the run. Because of that, his family’s house was vandalised by local German youth. But the information about his desertion also came to Novi Sad, to his former club NAK, and the club president; simultaneously the local police chief, agreed to give him an amnesty in exchange of him becoming a NAK player. In order to avoid going into concentration camps, other former Vojvodina players such as Marjanović, Plac, Avramović, Jovanović, Medarić and Živković also joined the club. He played with NAK, now known as Ujvideki AC, in the Hungarian Championship four seasons, scoring 38 goals in the 76 appearances he made in those seasons between 1941 and 1944.
Jozef Velker at the monument of Draža Mihailović in USA
After the liberation by Allies began, in Autumn 1944, the renewal of FK Vojvodina began too. In 1945 the Championship was not played by clubs but by country’s regions, and Velker played in the team of Vojvodina, made of players of FK Vojvodina and FK Spartak Subotica, finishing fourth. The club for a short period was named Sloga and initially played in the Second Yugoslav League. Many critics in Novi Sad believe that the club was dropped out from the top league because of the national representation and some animosity that the new communist authorities had towards the former burgeoise club. Velker was known in this period for his heroic performances even in a fixed-match games. The club suffered some difficulties in this period, and it is known that Velker financially supported, on several occasions, the travels that the club needed to make to play against opponents. However Vojvodina soon recovered, and in 1948 it returned to the First League.
Jozef Velker at the grave of Yugoslav king Petar II Karađorđević
Velker played his last season in 1951, having played 30 league matches and scoring 15 goals. His fairway match was a friendly match against FK Sarajevo.
After retiring, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, US, where his wife’s family lived. It was there that he died on 29 November 1995. He was sometimes known as Josip Velker, and his surname was also spelled occasionally as Welker.
He is still today considered by FK Vojvodina fans as the best player of the club in period before World War II.