The remarkable Mr Vokrri: Kosovo’s football rise

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By Patrick Jennings
BBC Sport in Pristina
All day that the word”wonder” kept coming up. Perhaps these tens of thousands of people spilling out into the roads of Pristina have seen another.
This was September 2016 if Kosovo played their first competitive football match.
They extended an unbeaten run with their most significant result – a 2-1 home victory over the Czech Republic. It’s the longest run in Europe.
Kosovo have a very good prospect of reaching Euro 2020. As well as their second qualifier is against England on Tuesday (19:45 BST). They are relishing the possibility.
This nation of about 1.8 million individuals campaigned for 2 years prior to being acknowledged as Fifa and Uefa associates at 2016. The process started immediately following its declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008. Some nations – including Serbia – still do not recognise its right to exist.
That a troubled and young country from the core of the Balkans should shine on the biggest stages of football wasn’t the dream of only one man. However, there is 1 figure who is revered here over all other people – and his story will help explain the roots of this special team.
He was crucial to the campaign for recognition of Kosovo and is a hero in his nation. Following his death this past year at age 57, the team’s home ground was renamed in his honor: The Fadil Vokrri Stadium.
Like many individuals here, the war which raged in this region only just more than 20 decades ago marked the life of Vokrri. By the tensions between Serbs and Albanians, as well as the cycle of vengeance and counter-vengeance that exist now.
And Vokrri was among very few – perhaps the only real one – able to communicate across the deep divides that cost so many lives. Football was his language.
That he had been starting from scratch After Vokrri was made president of the Soccer Federation of Kosovo. His offices were two rooms at a Pristina apartment cube; two desks and 2 computers. It was 16 February 2008. Kosovo announced its independence the moment.
Vokrri was in control of a institution with no cash, he had a group that didn’t possess the right in an isolated state with minimal infrastructure.
What he did was his standing. He was the greatest footballer Kosovo created – although the exciting new generation of talent that’s emerging may challenges soon that name.
He was charismatic, charming and persuasive. He and secretary Errol Salihu would be the campaigners the nation needed.
“When we talked in the home at the moment, at the beginning my father was thinking the process would be simple,” says Vokrri’s eldest son Gramoz, 33.
“Today we’re recognised as a nation, it’ll be quickly, he thought. He soon realised it’d be anything but easy, but he did not mind it like that.”
Gramoz resides in Pristina now. After he was old he would often accompany his dad and help with his work. Like his dad, he is well known at the capital of Kosovo. Because allies and acquaintances stop to say hello Chat is interrupted every five minutes. Many remain. Among them are government officials, football agents, and former generals from the Kosovo Liberation Army.
“My father never made a political declaration in his entire life and just focused on football. Soccer is greater than everything else – that was his eyesight,” he states.
“It enabled my dad to help reach our aim – of entering Uefa and Fifa.”
Vokrri was an adventurous with two feet. His flair and determination made amends, if he wasn’t the most prolific goalscorer. He was adored by the fans. They recognized in him one of their own – even when he was not.
He climbed up in Podujeva, a small city which today lies close to Kosovo’s northern border with Serbia. Back then, exactly it had been a part of Yugoslavia. He was born in 1960. During his youth, Yugoslavia was a country made up of varied nationalities, languages and religions, more or less held jointly by its charismatic leader Josip Broz Tito.
This was an era when Kosovar Albanians such as Vokrri were seldom celebrated. They became symbols of Yugoslav satisfaction. However, this gift was not possible to ignore.
Vokrri was the first to play for Yugoslavia – and that he would be the only one. His debut came in a 6-1 defeat by Scotland and scored the goal, the first of six in 12 caps between 1984 and 1987.
He’d started out in Llapi, his home team, before moving to Pristina. In 1986 he moved on to Partizan Belgrade and stayed for 3 years -“the most beautiful” of his career,” he said.
They won the league title in also the cup along with 1987 in 1989. In between, Italian giants Juventus came to calling – but Vokrri was forced to turn down them. He had not completed the then-compulsory two years’ military service, and so could not go overseas. He also completed his duties while playing for Partizan, satisfying light jobs during the week in between games.
But leave the country he would, for reasons that were spiralling out of anybody’s control.
Many historians place President Tito’s passing as the crucial point in the collapse of Yugoslavia. They state he left a power vacuum which would be filled by resurgent rival nationalist factions.
Born in 1986, Gramoz was the earliest of Vokrri and his wife Edita’s three kids. By 1989, the family had decided they could remain in Yugoslavia no longer. Vokrri settled on the Notion of departing for France. In the summer, he signed up Nimes.
“At this time, everybody in Yugoslavia knew that war could happen,” Gramoz says. “They just didn’t know where or when it would start.”
Years of anguish would define another decade. During the 1990s, Yugoslavia was plunged into a bloody conflict where as many as 140,000 people were murdered.
From this combating arose the different contemporary lands of now: Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the newly renamed North Macedonia. Kosovo has been the last to declare itself an independent state.
Lulzim Berisha was 20 when he took up arms. He also joined the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). It was 1998.
For the past six years he’d been in Pristina, still living under Yugoslav rule but enjoying football in what was an unofficial Kosovan top flight setup following the institution of some separatist shadow republic there.
Matches were held on pitches in remote locations. On sloping hillsides to watch fans would gather. The gamers would prevent on the way and detain them. But somehow they were able to get up word the road for the resistance to wait. Players will wash their bodies that are muddy at a river.
This football league ceased when fighting started in 1998.
“I decided to join the KLA because of my nation,” says Berisha. “I’d no military experience but I watched many awful things happening here. That was the reason.”
There was open conflict between the independence fighters that the KLA and Serbian police in the area of Kosovo. It led to a brutal crackdown. Civilians were driven out of their homes. There were atrocities killings and expulsions at the hands of Serb forces.
The main turning point in the war arrived from 1999. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) had already intervened in Bosnia and it did in Kosovo. Even a 78-day bombing campaign forced Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw troops and permit international peacekeepers in. Milosevic’s government collapsed a year later. He would later be held in the United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal for genocide and other war crimes carried out in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia. In 2006he had been discovered dead in his mobile before his trial might be finished aged 64.
After Serb forces left Kosovo in 1999, the territory remained for two decades under UN rule. Around 850,000 people had fled the fighting. An estimated 13,500 individuals were killed or went missing, according to the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC). The HLC, with offices in Pristina and Belgrade, continues to concentrate on documenting the human price of Yugoslavia’s wars – like the civilian victims of Nato’s bombardment.
As peace returned to the area, so did lots of Kosovo’s refugees. Kids were appointed after then UK prime minister Tony Blair – left as a single first name: Tonibler in Albanian. There is enormous gratitude in Kosovo to the states that intervened. Nowhere is it more obvious compared to Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina, where a image of the US president looks out throughout the traffic below.
Now 41, Berisha uses words to describe his life he observed.
He’s one of the principal personalities behind the national team fan club Dardanet today. The title means”the Dardanians” – the individuals of an ancient kingdom which dominated here.
Dardanet have opened. Opposite an old tile mill whose chimneys grow into the sky, the call to prayer by a local mosque conveys over energetic conversation between the revived chain-smokers gesturing in their outside seats. The other fuels are talk about soccer of any type and dark black espresso coffee. Serie A is no longer the very passionately discussed. That would be the Premier League.
Lulzim sucks on his teeth as a staccato point in the end of each sentence that is brief.
“We need every type of people to come to the stadium. Every game we give 100 tickets for lovers. We want families to come,” he says.
With glee, a reel of tickets to the England match in Southampton is unfurled on the table next to people. They arrived that morning. The banks to journey would be too. Lulzim clarifies there will be a suit against an English fan clubEngland Fans FC, in Hounslow on Monday, ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifier at St Mary’s of Tuesday.
Inside, the walls are all high with photos of Kosovo players, both old and new. Vokrri’s picture is. They describe themselves as”Children of Vokrri”. He’s become a legend to its fan club. They create banners, T-shirts and online posts that take his image under messages such as:”Looking down on us”
“Vokrri is a legend,” says Berisha. “He’s our hero. He did. For Those people.”
But pride of place at the fan club bar belongs to the match shirt worn by Valon Berisha after he scored the primary goal in official competition of Kosovo. This was a 1-1 draw in Finland, also a 2018 World Cup qualifier played in September 2016.
It had been the culmination of several years’ hard labour. Not so long after, it looked like things would just go downhill.
Vokrri returned from France to Kosovo about five years after the war finished. With him at the helm, football’s world governing body Fifa turned down Kosovo’s first efforts towards membership in 2008. At that stage 51 of the 193 penis nations of the UN had just recognised the country. It seemed a majority would be required.
Instead, they continued to play unofficial suits against unrecognised states: Northern Cyprus, a team representing Monaco, a group representing the Sami people of north Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland.
The players at this time have been drawn almost exclusively from the pool. People who had been forced to flee their homes only a few years back, who had taken up arms and struggled.
There was another way. Tantalisingly out of reach.
“In 2012, if Switzerland played a game against Albania, 15 of those players around the pitch have been entitled to signify Kosovo,” Gramoz says.
“My father was in the game, seeing Sepp Blatter, afterward the Fifa president. Mr Blatter said for my dad:’Are you enjoying the game?’
“He replied:’It’s like seeing Kosovo A versus Kosovo B.'”
The significant step forward came in 2014, when Fifa enabled Kosovo to play matches against its member nations – . There was opposition from Serbia.
Mitrovica was the place for the initial match that is recognized of Kosovo. This city, together with all local Albanian and Serbian populations divided in 2 by the Ibar river, but nonetheless needs the presence of Nato troops now, 20 years on from their arrival as a peacekeeping force. Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent politician seen as a moderate Kosovo Serb leader, has been shot dead there.
Albania goalkeeper Samir Ujkani chose to take a call-up, as did Finland global Lum Rexhepi, Norway’s Ardian Gashi along with Switzerland’s Albert Bunjaku. The resistance were Haiti. It finished 0-0.
“For us, it turned out to be a big, big victory,” states Gramoz.
“It was a very clear message from Fifa. The minute they enabled us to play friendly games we took it to mean:’Don’t stop, you may enter as full members – but we want the time to prepare people.’
“Even though we did not have the right to play our national anthem, it’s OK. We play with soccer. {That

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