As we're inching closer to the start of the 7th SEHA - Gazprom League season, this might be a good time to refresh our memories regarding the history of our beloved SEHA League. How it all began, what particularly interesting events shaped the development of the League and the past results are just some of the exciting parts you'll be able to red in the upcoming text.
SEHA League was formed in 2011, in a time when a lot of teams from the region supported the initiative to make a high-quality handball competition with the best teams in the area. The idea to 'erase' the national borders came to life after six national federations opened its doors to welcome SEHA League. The League grows more and more each year, new strides are made every season. SEHA - Gazprom League is gaining popularity not just in countries that it's played in, but in the whole Europe and beyond. It is perhaps particularly interesting that the exclusive TV rights were sold even in Kazakhstan!
The first season consisted of 12 teams, including teams from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovakia. Many teams are still competing within the SEHA - Gazprom League; those clubs are: PPD Zagreb, Nexe, Metalurg, Skopje and Tatran Prešov. After an exciting inaugural season of handball, Vardar finished as the champions of the 1st edition of SEHA League, beating Metalurg in the final. The Final 4 tournament was played in Zagreb, but the regular season champions and Champions League quarter-finalists CO Zagreb were unable to capitalize on the home court advantage. Still, they came third after winning the third place match against the Slovakian side Tatran Prešov. Zagreb's very own Zlatko Horvat was named the MVP of the Final 4 tournament.
The League looked a bit different entering its 2nd season, Montenegrin side Sutjeska and two Serbian clubs - Crvena Zvezda and Metaloplastika left the SEHA League, but Meshkov Brest joined in from Belarus. The League then had 10 teams featuring in it; Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb, Nexe Našice, Borac Banja Luka, Sloga Doboj, Izvidjac, Tatran Presov, Lovcen, Vardar, Metalurg and Meshkov Brest. The 2nd season had a spectacular ending: Zagreb came out on top after beating Vardar in the final of the Skopje Final 4 tournament. The match went to overtime, but Vardar, just like Zagreb the season before, couldn't win the title in front of their own fans. The season came to a disappointing end for the regular season champions Meshkov Brest who finished 4th, after losing the 3rd place match against the Champions League quarter-finalists Metalurg.
As SEHA League showed its potential to the handball world, a new partner had recognized the quality of the project and joined us for the 3rd and 4th season. Nowadays, that partner is still loyal to us, of course; its name is Gazprom! As we came to expect, a new season holds new changes. This time we lost two Bosnian teams: Sloga Doboj and Izvidjac, but we welcomed back the Serbian teams: this time it was Vojvodina from Novi Sad and Partizan Belgrade who entered the League! The 3rd season brought a lot of excitement, especially during the Final 4 tournament in Novi Sad. The thrilling semifinal match featuring Meshkov Brest and Tatran Prešov went all the way to the 7m shootout after which the Belarusian team came out victorious. However, Champions League quarter-finalists Vardar led by the Final 4 MVP Timur Dibirov had the last laugh after beating Meshkov in the Final match to secure their 2nd SEHA League title. Once again, CO Zagreb came third defeating the regular season champions Tatran Prešov.
We entered the 4th season with an addition of MKB - MVM Veszprem, later proving to be a move that would improve the quality of the SEHA League even more. That same season we also welcomed Radnički from Kragujevac to the League, which meant losing the only team from Montenegro - Lovćen. 2015 Final 4 tournament in Veszprem had been played in a different format. Six teams fought hard to reach the finals match, but first we had to find out who's going to play in the semifinals. It turned out Meshkov Brest and PPD Zagreb were too good for Nexe and Tatran Prešov, so those two teams unfortunately had to pack their bags and head home. Two semifinal encounters were: MKB MVM Veszprem - PPD Zagreb and Vardar - Meshkov Brest. Afterwards, Veszprem were crowned champions in front of their own fans, comfortably winning against Meshkov. Third place was again secured for PPD Zagreb. That season, the Hungarian team also played in the Champions League finals, but failed to win the title losing to Barcelona.
The next season we were without Metalurg Skopje and Partizan, but Serbian Spartak Vojput and Macedonian Maks Strumica were there to take their spots. There was still plenty of high-quality handball, especially knowing that three SEHA teams played in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Zagreb's and Vardar's journeys ended then, but Veszprem again lost in the final match in one of the most spectacular matches in recent memory. The SEHA - Gazprom League Final 4 tournament held in Varaždin was equally as brilliant. Veszprem successfully defended the title won the previous season, after wins against Meshkov Brest in the semifinals and Vardar in the Finals match. PPD Zagreb finished third for the third consecutive season. It is important to notice that the Final 4 in Varaždin was presented an award as the best regional sports event in 2016 at the RSVP festival. The tournament was attended by more than 20,000 people and was definitely more than just a great handball experience.
Season 6 of the SEHA - Gazprom League was also a great success. Even though the League endured heavy changes after Vojvodina, Spartak, Borac and MAKS Strumica all left the SEHA - Gazprom League, there were some amazing clubs eager to join us. That's why we greeted two Slovenian teams, Gorenje Velenje and Celje Pivovarna Laško, to the League. Also, Metalurg and Izvidjac CO found their way back to the SEHA - Gazprom League. After some excellent handball action, we found out who the four teams heading to Brest for the Final 4 tournament are; Vardar, Veszprem, Meshkov Brest and PPD Zagreb all had a chance to become the champions of the SEHA - Gazprom League. Vardar proved to be far too much for PPD Zagreb in the semifinals, but Veszprem and Meshkov Brest played the most thrilling match of the season. Veszprem won after penalty shootout, much to the delight of the visiting fans. Meshkov Brest managed to pick themselves up after a tough loss, securing the 3rd place in a match against PPD Zagreb. But, Vardar absolutely stole the show in Brest, beating Veszprem 26:21 meaning they've become the SEHA - Gazprom League champions for the record-breaking 3rd time. Season 16/17 was a dream come true for the Macedonian team. Apart from winning the SEHA - Gazprom League title, they also won the Champions League in the most spectacular way possible. A goal in the last few seconds of the match by Ivan Čupić against Paris Saint-Germain brought the Champions League title to Skopje. Like that wasn't enough, they also won the Macedonian Championship and the domestic Cup!
SEHA - Gazprom League was a project carefully planned and executed in 2011. From that time, the League grew bigger and bigger, attracts more fans each year and is full of high quality handball teams. Apart from world-class handball that can be seen in every match, the League showcases terrific organizational skills, especially during Final 4 tournaments. Even though the clubs that participate change every year, SEHA - Gazprom League is successful in maintaining its stability and ability to showcase the best handball possible to its fans. TV broadcast quality is assured with a contract signed with a high-profile international media rights company based in London - MP & Silva.
Overall, we believe that hard work, commitment and dedication by everyone involved in the SEHA - Gazprom League has put the League on the map, in not just the handball world, but in the world of sport in general.