The remarkable Mr Vokrri: Kosovo’s football rise

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From Patrick Jennings
BBC Sport in Pristina
All day that the term”miracle” kept coming up. Maybe these thousands of people spilling into Pristina’s roads have seen yet another.
This was September 2016 when Kosovo played their first competitive global football game.
On Saturday, they expanded an unbeaten run to 15 games with their result – that a 2-1 home victory over the Czech Republic. It is the longest such run in Europe.
Kosovo have a very good probability of reaching Euro 2020. And their next qualifier is against England on Tuesday (19:45 BST). They are currently relishing the possibility.
This nation of roughly 1.8 million people campaigned for 2 years before being acknowledged as Fifa and Uefa members in 2016. The process started immediately after its declaration of independence from Serbia. Some nations – including Serbia – do not recognise its right to exist.
This a troubled and young nation from the heart of the Balkans should shine on football phases was not just 1 man’s dream. But there is one figure who is admired here over all other people – and his story helps explain the roots of this team.
He was critical to the effort for recognition of Kosovo as a football country, also is a hero in the country. After his death this past year at age 57, the national team’s home floor was renamed in his honor: The Fadil Vokrri Stadium.
Like so many individuals here, Vokrri’s life was marked by the war which still raged in this area only just over 20 decades back. From the tensions between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, as well as the freezing cycle of vengeance and counter-vengeance that exist now.
And Vokrri was among very few – maybe the only real one – capable to talk around the divides that cost so many lives. Football was his language.
He had been starting from scratch After Vokrri was made president of the Soccer Federation of Kosovo. His offices were just two chambers in a Pristina apartment cube; two computers and 2 desks. It had been 16 February 2008. The day, kosovo announced its independence.
Vokrri was in charge of an association with no cash, he had a team that didn’t have the right at an isolated nation with little infrastructure.
What he did was his reputation. He was the best footballer Kosovo made – though that name may be contested soon.
He was charming, charismatic and convincing. He and general secretary Errol Salihu would be the campaigners that the nation needed.
“After we talked at home at this moment, at the very beginning my father was believing the process would be easy,” says Vokrri’s eldest son Gramoz, 33.
“Today we are recognized as a nation, it will be quickly, he said. He soon realised it’d be anything but easy, but he didn’t mind it like that.”
Gramoz resides in Pristina. He would often accompany his father and help with his work After he was old . Like his dad, he is well known at the capital of Kosovo. As allies and acquaintances cease to say hello Chat is interrupted every five minutes. Many remain much longer. One of them are former generals in the Kosovo Liberation Army, soccer agents, and also government officials.
“My father never left a political statement in his lifetime and just concentrated on soccer. Football is higher than everything else – that was his eyesight,” he states.
“It allowed my dad to help achieve our aim – of entering Uefa and Fifa.”
Vokrri was an adventurous with two feet. If he wasn’t the most prolific goalscorer his flair and determination made amends. The fans adored him. They recognised in him among the own – even when he wasn’t.
He climbed up in Podujeva, a little city which now lies close to Kosovo’s northern boundary with Serbia. Back then, exactly it was part of Yugoslavia. He was born in 1960. Throughout his youth, Yugoslavia was a communist country composed of varied nationalities, languages and religions, more or less held together by its own charismatic leader Josip Broz Tito.
It was an era when Kosovar Albanians such as Vokrri were rarely celebrated. They became symbols of Yugoslav pride. However, this ability was impossible to dismiss.
Vokrri was the very first to play for Yugoslavia – and he are the one. His debut came in a 6-1 defeat by Scotland and scored the goal, the first of six at 12 caps between 1984 and 1987.
He’d started out in Llapi, his home club, before going to Pristina. In 1986 he moved to Partizan Belgrade and stayed for three decades -“the most beautiful” of his career,” he explained.
They won the league title in the cup and 1987 1989. In between, Italian giants Juventus came to calling – but Vokrri had been forced to turn them down. He had not finished the then-compulsory two years’ military service, so couldn’t go overseas. He also completed his duties while playing for Partizan, fulfilling light jobs during the week in between games.
However, leave the nation he’d, for reasons which were spiralling out of anyone’s control.
Many historians put President Tito’s departure as the key point from the collapse of Yugoslavia. They say he left a power vacuum which would be filled by resurgent rival nationalist factions.
Born in 1986, Gramoz was the initial of Vokrri and his wife Edita’s three kids. From 1989, the family had determined that they could remain in Yugoslavia no more. Vokrri settled on the Concept of departing for France. Up Nimes, he signed in the summer.
“At this time, everyone in Yugoslavia understood that war could happen,” Gramoz says. “They simply didn’t know where or when it would start.”
Another decade would be defined by years of suffering. During the 1990s, Yugoslavia was plunged into a bloody conflict in which as many as 140,000 people were killed.
From this combating arose that the different modern territories of now: Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with the recently renamed North Macedonia. Kosovo was 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). This was 1998.
For the previous six years he’d been at Pristina, still residing under Yugoslav ruler but enjoying football in what had been an unofficial Kosovan leading flight setup after the establishment of some separatist shadow republic there.
Matches were held on demanding pitches in rural areas. Fans would collect on sloping hillsides to observe. Serbian police detain them and would discontinue the players. But always they managed to find word up the road for the opposition to wait. Players would wash their bodies that are muddy .
When fighting started in 1998 this football league ceased.
“I decided to combine the KLA because of my country,” states Berisha. “I’d no military experience but that I watched many bad stuff happening here. This has been why”
There was conflict between the independence fighters the KLA and Serbian authorities in the region of Kosovo. It led to a brutal crackdown. Civilians were pushed from their homes. There were forced expulsions at the hands of Serb forces, atrocities and killings.
The turning point in the war came from 1999. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) had intervened in Bosnia and it did so again in Kosovo. Even a bombing campaign forced Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic allow international peacekeepers in and to withdraw troops. Milosevic’s government collapsed a year later. He would later be held at the United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal for genocide and other war crimes carried out in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia. In 2006, he was found dead in his cell before his trial could be completed 64.
After Serb forces left Kosovo in 1999, the territory remained 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 both Pristina and Belgrade, has been concentrate on documenting the human cost of Yugoslavia’s wars – including 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 – rendered in Albanian. There’s tremendous gratitude in Kosovo. Nowhere is it more evident than on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina, in which a picture of the US president seems out across the visitors below.
Currently 41, Berisha uses words to describe his life as a soldier along with the violence he observed.
He’s one of the characters supporting the federal team’s largest fan club Dardanet today. The title means”that the Dardanians” – that the individuals of an ancient kingdom which dominated here.
Dardanet have opened a brand new cafe bar that serves as their headquarters. Opposite an old tile factory whose chimneys rise high into the sky, the call to prayer from a local mosque carries over energetic conversation between the revived chain-smokers gesturing in their exterior seats. The fuels are talk about soccer of any type and dark black espresso coffee. Serie A is the very passionately discussed. That would be the Premier League.
Lulzim sucks sharply because a stage at the conclusion of every sentence that is brief on his teeth.
“We want every type of people to arrive at the stadium. Every game we give 100 tickets for fans. We need families to come,” he says.
On the table next to us, a reel of tickets for the England match in Southampton is unfurled with glee. That afternoon they arrived. The visas to travel would be also. Lulzim explains there will be a game in Hounslow on Monday, against an enthusiast club , England Fans FC, ahead of Tuesday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in St Mary’s.
Inside, the walls have been packed high with framed photos of Kosovo players, both new and old. The picture of vokrri is. They describe themselves as”Children of Vokrri”. He’s become a legend for the fan club. They create banner ads, T-shirts and internet articles that take his picture under messages for example:”Looking down on us.”
“Vokrri is a legend,” says Berisha. “He is our hero. He did. For the people.”
But pride of place in the fan club pub belongs to the match top worn by Valon Berisha if he scored the first target in contest of Kosovo. This has been a 1-1 draw in Finland, also a 2018 World Cup qualifier played in September 2016.
It had been the culmination of several years’ labour. Not long afterwards, it seemed like things would only go downhill.
Vokrri returned from France to Kosovo roughly five years following the war ended. In 2008, the earliest efforts towards enrollment of Kosovo turned with him at the helm. At that point 51 of the 193 member nations of the UN had just recognised the country. It seemed a majority would be required.
Instead, they continued to play unofficial games against unrecognised states: Northern Cyprus, a team representing Monaco, a group representing that the Sami inhabitants of north Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland.
The players at this time have been drawn in the national pool. People who were forced to flee their homes who had taken up arms and fought.
There was another manner. Tantalisingly out of reach.
“In 2012, if Switzerland played a game against Albania, 15 of the players around the pitch have been entitled to signify Kosovo,” Gramoz says.
“My dad was in the game, seeing Sepp Blatter, afterward the Fifa president. Mr Blatter said for my dad:’How are you enjoying the game?’
“He responded:’It’s like seeing Kosovo A versus Kosovo B.'”
The significant step forward came from 2014, when Fifa allowed Kosovo to play friendly games against its member countries – . There was still significant opposition from Serbia.
Mitrovica was the location for the first game that is recognised of Kosovo. This town, with all local Albanian and Serbian populations divided in two by the Ibar river, nevertheless needs the presence of Nato troops today, 20 years from their birth as a peacekeeping force. Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent politician viewed as a Kosovo Serb leader, was shot dead outside his party offices there.
Albania goalkeeper Samir Ujkani decided to take a call-up, as did Finland 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, huge success,” states Gramoz.
“It was a crystal very clear message in Fifa. The minute they enabled us to play friendly games we took it to mean:’Don’t quit, you will enter as full members but we need time to prepare people.’
“Even if we did not possess the right to play our national anthem, it is OK. We play with soccer. {That

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