Whyalla has had its share of sportsmen that have had success on the national and international stage – Vern Schuppan, Barry Robran and Graeme Jose just to name a few.
The story of Yakka Banovic though is remarkable as it is inspirational.
Born in Bihac, Croatia in 1956, Yakka immigrated to Australia as a nine-year-old with his family and soon settled in Whyalla with his parents finding work immediately.
I asked Yakka if the transition from his home country to Whyalla at such a young age was hard.
“We loved Whyalla,” he said. “You have to remember we came from a communist country at the time so to us Whyalla was paradise.”
Yakka soon found himself playing many sports including Aussie rules which he excelled at but soccer was his passion and after having to fill in as a goalkeeper in a junior game he caught the eye of legendary goalkeeper coach Bill Bateman who took him under his wing and young Yakka had found his position.
Such was Yakka’s rise he made his A grade debut for Whyalla Croatia as a 15-year-old which was unheard of back then, a year later Adelaide Croatia came calling and Yakka was now playing in Adelaide’s first division.
“They flew me every weekend from Whyalla to play in my first year because I was still a schoolboy, I still had to attend school during the week,” he laughed.
Yakka spent three seasons in Adelaide while attending teachers; college with an eye on the future in case he didn’t make it as a professional.
In 1976 major league soccer side Toronto F.C were touring Australia and were impressed by Yakka in an exhibition match and asked the young goalkeeper to join them to play in the glamour American soccer league.
Yakka didn’t hesitate and off he went to pursue his dream.
“My time there was fantastic. I played in some huge stadiums against some of the greats of the game like Pele, Beckenbaur, George Best and Eusebio just to name a few,” says Yakka.
Unfortunately Toronto folded 18 months later and he found himself back in Australia, this time with Melbourne outfit Essendon Lions.
It wasn’t long though until national soccer league side Heidelberg came knocking and Yakka was transferred for a fee of $20,000 and it was there where Yakka won the first of his nine Socceroo’s caps.
In 1980 Yakka’s old goalkeeper coach from his junior days in Whyalla, Bill Bateman, was able to set Yakka up with a trial with top English division club Derby County with contacts he had over there through family.
Yakka impressed and was soon signed by the club with Heidelberg receiving a $120,000 transfer fee which was an Australian record at the time.
It wasn’t long before Yakka made the first team and the accolades started to flow.
In the 81-82 season Yakka won the BBC save of the season against a young Gary Lineker who went on to be one of the worlds most lethal strikers.
Yakka accepted the award from legendary England goalkeeper Gordon Banks in a gala event.
Yakka played five seasons with Derby County between the sticks playing in iconic stadiums such as Anfield, Old Trafford and Highbury against some of the greats including Dalglish, Keegan, Charlie George and Archie Gemmel.
In 1985 Yakka once again found himself back in Australia, this time with NSL side Brunswick Juventus and helped the club win the title that year.
Yakka then spent the twilight of his career back with Heidelberg in the state league before retiring in 1989.
Yakka then moved to Geelong where he ran an indoor sports centre for 20 years before returning to Whyalla in 2011 to be closer to his parents and sister.