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Red Star Boss celebrates history and downloads the future

08 Feb 21, 12:56PM 0 Comments

Written by Stuart McLennnan

The year 2021 will be momentous for the Red Star rugby league club and Owner/Director Colin Kleyweg is understandably excited.

“This is a really special anniversary because the club was actually founded in 1956, which means it’s the 65th anniversary of the club as a rugby league entity within the Red Star Sporting Society,” Kleyweg explained to Everything Rugby League.

“The 15 years is our continued involvement in the Serbian Rugby League which only started a few years earlier. The club is very lucky in that it has had a number of people who have worked hard over many years. Zeljko Delic and Mark Pullen are two people I know who bled for this club literally and figuratively, but others like Slobodan Manak deserve special mention too.

“There are many people who were involved before my time in the club, and I understand that Milos Kucancanin deserves mention as he is viewed as one of the fathers of the club.”

Kleyweg arrived at the Belgrade based organisation in 2017 and immediately brought in players from Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA while adding experienced coaches Phil Economidis, Brett Davidson and Trev Smith in the last few years to assist with the development of domestic talent.

“During my management, we have sought to professionalise the club so that the players have opportunities to learn the game, but for them to understand that it is they who are the real custodians of the club. Over the four years of my involvement all of my plans have been focused on getting more players to train, so it started with bringing in some overseas players to “mix it up” a bit and give the players an understanding of foreign skill bases and their willingness to train at intensity.”

Colin Kleyweg from Red Star Belgrade

As a coach this writer was on the wrong end of the scoreline when the Aris Eagles hosted Red Star for a Balkan Super League match in Athens in 2019.

On that afternoon Australian Darcy Etrich treated the crowd to a polished and classy performance with silky skills and almost perfect game management.

“Darcy Etrich in particular is a player that left an enormous impression on our players,” Kleyweg offers

“Our second rowers and centres still talk today about the first time they were put through holes at top pace, at great angles, because Darcy was calling the shots and helping them position.

“From 2019 we stopped our foreign guest player program for two reasons. We were becoming too dominant on the score line and I wanted to see what our players had learnt.

“The proudest moment of my involvement would be the 2020 Serbian Grand Final win against Partizan. Partizan were the better of the two teams throughout much of 2020, but this team found a way to win a game, playing at close to their optimum performance. That is not something that could be said about many of the prior victories.

“While we pay players, nobody was ever going to become rich getting a contract with Red Star, so this is a real labour of love for every person who signed an overseas contract and I know people have had moments where they have done it hard, earning what is really a standard wage, with accommodation.”

Kleyweg and the club understand the future is in developing players and building the women’s squad.

“In the 2020’s the soul of a rugby league club is not just your first team, but it is in the ladies team and the junior boys and girls who you want to represent your club in the future. Winning junior trophies is nice, but it is not our main goal. We are presently working with our best junior players and playing them “up age groups” on purpose to teach them resilience.

“This is why some of our junior results look poor in comparison to what has become expected in our senior men’s and women’s teams, but the purpose of this is to develop players who can move from 19’s straight into first grade and they are already conditioned to playing against bigger bodies so they take the step up quicker. Our 2020 grand final winning team had 5 players under the age of 19. This is our future.

“Our next goals are to develop halves and key positional players, playing a Red Star way.”

Recently Red Star produced an anniversary jersey, a new application for fans and will continue their partnership with Melbourne indie band the Underground Lovers.

“The anniversary jersey is really special because our company KCTT as the major sponsor is also having its 10th birthday so we came up with the idea to do a full anniversary jersey. We have focused on getting this jersey out and marketing it at a cheaper price than all major jerseys (at A$90.00 it is about $70 cheaper than a Super League or NRL jersey).

“Our goal is that people support our club as a second or third favourite club worldwide seeing that we are simply trying to grow the game rapidly in Serbia.

“We now have more junior teams than at any time in our history. Every jersey sale helps fund our expansion and we want 100’s of children playing rugby league in Serbia.

“The application is a great moment for us because we want to control our message far more effectively than what we can do on social media where we are competing with everything from influencers and conspiracy theorists to pictures of cats and trying to get our 3 seconds of attention amidst the mayhem and carnage of every day life in 2020 / 2021.

“We have been working with Blocksport and Antourage in the development of our social media and they have been excellent partners. Antourage did a review of our social media performance in November 2020 and found that Red Star has the second highest engagement per follower of all rugby league clubs behind only the Melbourne Storm. We are the biggest of all clubs on Facebook. Our social media strategy is now that sending our media to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube is our “away game” strategy. Our “home ground” is our app and our website.

“With our app we will start developing some interactive games for our fans with Blocksport so that they enjoy the experience. With Antourage we will develop our live video experiences with some influencers in and around the game and our players. With Sporstflick we will develop OTT experiences for our fans and professionalise our broadcasts.

“Our partnership with Underground Lovers will continue in 2021 as we seek to bring our fans more depth to what we do.”

While Red Star has had everything to celebrate in terms of on field success in the last few years, it is the culture at the club that has the Western Australian business leader brimming with pride.

“The biggest thing I am proud of is we want to be seen as a leader in equality. We don’t market it, we want to be seen as actually doing it. Every player, coach or assistant who ever represented this club is our brother or sister, regardless of race, colour, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We will never discriminate and this is one thing I love about our playing group.”

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