The remarkable Mr Vokrri: Kosovo’s football rise

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By Patrick Jennings
BBC Sport at Pristina
All day the term»wonder» kept coming up. These tens of thousands of people spilling into Pristina’s roads have just seen yet another.
It was September 2016 when Kosovo played their first competitive international football match.
They extended an unbeaten streak with their result however — that a 2-1 home victory over the Czech Republic. It is the longest such run in Europe.
Kosovo already have a very good chance of reaching Euro 2020. And their second qualifier is against England on Tuesday (19:45 BST). They are relishing the possibility.
This nation of about 1.8 million people campaigned for eight years before being declared as Fifa and Uefa members in 2016. The process started immediately following its declaration of independence from Serbia. Some countries — including Serbia — do not recognise its right to exist.
This a troubled and young nation from the core of the Balkans should excel on football phases wasn’t only 1 man’s dream. However, there is — along with his story will help clarify the roots of this team.
He is a hero in his country, and was crucial to the effort for recognition of Kosovo as a football nation. After his death this past year at age 57, the team’s home floor was renamed in his honor: The Fadil Vokrri Stadium.
Like so many people here, the war that raged within this area only just over 20 decades ago marked Vokrri’s life. From the freezing cycle of vengeance and counter-vengeance, as well as the tensions between Serbs and Albanians that exist now.
And yet Vokrri was one of very few — perhaps the only real one — capable to communicate across the deep divides which cost so many lives. Football was his language.
After Vokrri was made president of the Soccer Federation of Kosovo that he was starting from scratch. His offices were just two rooms at a Pristina apartment block; 2 desks and 2 computers. It had been 16 February 2008. Kosovo announced its independence the following moment.
Vokrri was in control of an association with no cash, he had a group that didn’t possess the right at an isolated state with infrastructure.
What he did have was his standing. He was the greatest footballer Kosovo created — however the new generation of talent that is emerging may challenges soon that name.
He was charismatic, charming and persuasive. General secretary Errol Salihu and he would be the campaigners that the country needed.
«When we talked in the home at this time, in the beginning my dad was believing the procedure would be simple,» says Vokrri’s eldest son Gramoz, 33.
«Today we are recognised as a nation, it will be quickly, he said. He soon realised it would be anything but easy, but he didn’t mind it like that.»
Gramoz lives in Pristina. He would often accompany his father and help with his job, If he was old . Like his father, he’s well known at Kosovo’s capital. As acquaintances and allies cease to say hello, Chat is interrupted every five minutes. Many remain longer. Are football agents police officers, and also former generals from the Kosovo Liberation Army.
«My father never made a political declaration in his entire own lifetime and only concentrated on football. Soccer is higher than everything else — that was his vision,» he states.
«It enabled my dad to help reach our aim — of entering Uefa and Fifa.»
Vokrri was an adventurous forward with two good feet. His flair and decision made amends, if he was not the most prolific goalscorer. He was adored by the fans. They recognised in him among their own — even when he was not.
He climbed up from Podujeva, a little city that now lies close to Kosovo’s northern boundary with Serbia. Back then, just enjoy the rest of Kosovo, it was part of Yugoslavia. He had been born in 1960. Throughout his youth, Yugoslavia was a communist country made up of varied nationalities, languages and religions, more or less held together by its own charismatic leader Josip Broz Tito.
It was an age when Kosovar Albanians such as Vokrri were seldom celebrated. They became symbols of Yugoslav satisfaction. However, this ability was impossible to dismiss.
Vokrri was the very first to play Yugoslavia — and he are the only one. His debut came at a 6-1 defeat by Scotland and believed the goal, the first of six in 12 caps between 1984 and 1987.
He had started out in Llapi, his home club, before moving to Pristina. In 1986 he went to Partizan Belgrade and remained for 3 years «the most beautiful» of his career,» he said.
They won the league title in the cup and 1987 in 1989. In between, Italian giants Juventus came to calling — but Vokrri had been made to turn down them. He had not finished the then-compulsory two years’ army service, and so could not go overseas. He completed his duties while playing for Partizan, satisfying mild jobs throughout the week between games.
But leave the country he’d, for reasons which were spiralling out of anybody’s control.
Many historians put President Tito’s departure as the key point in the collapse of Yugoslavia. They state he left a power vacuum that would be filled by resurgent equal nationalist factions.
Produced in 1986, Gramoz was the first of Vokrri along with his wife Edita’s three children. From 1989, the family had determined that they could remain in Yugoslavia no longer. Vokrri depended upon the Concept of departing for France. Up for Nimes, he signed in the summertime.
«At this time, everybody in Yugoslavia understood that war could occur,» Gramoz states. «They just didn’t know when or where it would begin.»
Years of anguish would define the next decade. During the 1990s, Yugoslavia was plunged into a bloody battle where as many as 140,000 people were killed.
From this combating arose the different modern territories of now: Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with also the newly renamed North Macedonia. Kosovo was the last to declare itself an independent nation.
Lulzim Berisha was 20 when he took up arms. He joined the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). This was 1998.
For the past six years he’d been at Pristina, still residing 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 demanding pitches in remote, rural areas. Fans could gather on sloping hillsides to see. Serbian police detain them and would prevent the gamers in route. But they managed to find up word the road for the resistance. Following the game, players will wash their bodies that are helpless in a nearby river.
When heavy fighting started in 1998, this football league ceased.
«I decided to join the KLA for my nation,» states Berisha. «I’d no military experience but that I saw many terrible stuff happening here. This has been why»
There was open conflict between Kosovo’s independence fighters that the KLA and Serbian police in the area. It led to a crackdown. Civilians were pushed from their homes. There were killings, atrocities and expulsions in the control of Serb forces.
The turning point in the war arrived from 1999. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) had 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 dropped a year later. He’d 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 2006, he had been discovered dead in his cell prior to his trial might be completed 64.
The territory remained for nine years under UN rule, Following Serb forces left Kosovo in 1999. Around 850,000 people had fled 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, continues to focus 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 many of Kosovo’s refugees. Kids UK prime minister Tony Blair — rendered as a first name: Tonibler in Albanian. There is tremendous gratitude in Kosovo. Nowhere is it more evident compared to Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina, in which a giant image of the US president looks out throughout the visitors below.
Berisha utilizes words to describe his life he witnessed.
Now he is among the key characters behind the Kosovo national team fan clubDardanet. The title means»that the Dardanians» — the individuals of the ancient kingdom which dominated here.
Dardanet have opened a new cafe pub that serves as their headquarters. Opposite an old tile mill whose chimneys rise into the skies, the call to prayer by a local mosque carries over energetic conversation between the animated chain-smokers gesturing inside their exterior chairs. The other fuels are dialogue about football of any kind and espresso coffee. Serie A is the most passionately discussed. That are the Premier League.
Lulzim sucks sharply as a staccato stage in the conclusion of each brief sentence.
«We need every type of people to come to the stadium. Every match we give 100 tickets for lovers. We want families to develop,» he says.
On the desk next to people, a reel of tickets for the England game in Southampton is unfurled with glee. That morning they came. The banks to journey really would be through also. Lulzim explains there will be a match in Hounslow on Monday, against a British enthusiast club , England Fans FC, before the Euro 2020 qualifier in St Mary’s of Tuesday.
Insidethe walls are all packed high with framed photos of Kosovo players, new and old. The image of vokrri is. They describe themselves as»Children of Vokrri». He has become an icon to the fan club. They create banner ads, T-shirts and internet posts that take his image under messages for example:»Hunting down on us»
«Vokrri is a legend,» says Berisha. «He is our hero. He did. For the people.»
But pride of place at the fan club pub belongs to the game shirt worn by Valon Berisha if he scored the primary target in official contest of Kosovo. That has been a draw in Finland, also a 2018 World Cup qualifier played September 2016.
It was the culmination of several years’ hard work. Not so long it seemed like things would go downhill.
Vokrri returned to Kosovo from France about five years following the war finished. With him at the helm, the first efforts towards membership of Kosovo turned down in 2008. At that point the country had been recognised by 51 of the UN’s 193 member nations. It appeared a majority would be required.
Instead, they continued to play unofficial matches against unrecognised states: Northern Cyprus, a team representing Monaco, a team representing that the Sami inhabitants of north Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland.
The players at this time were drawn almost entirely in the pool. Individuals who were forced to flee their homes or who had taken up arms and fought.
There was yet another way. One that was tantalisingly out of reach.
«In 2012, when Switzerland played a match against Albania, 15 of those players around the pitch have been eligible to symbolize Kosovo,» Gramoz says.
«My dad was in the match, seeing Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president. Mr Blatter said for my father:’How are you enjoying the match?’
«He responded:’It’s like watching Kosovo A vs Kosovo B.'»
The significant step forward came in 2014, when Fifa allowed Kosovo to play friendly games against its member countries — . There was considerable opposition from Serbia.
Mitrovica was the place for Kosovo’s initial friendly game that is recognised. This city, together with all local Albanian and Serbian populations divided in two by the Ibar river, but still requires the presence of Nato troops today, 20 years on from their arrival as a peacekeeping force. Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent politician observed as a moderate Kosovo Serb leader, was shot dead there.
Albania goalkeeper Samir Ujkani chose to accept a call-up, as did Finland international Lum Rexhepi, Norway’s Ardian Gashi and Switzerland’s Albert Bunjaku. The opposition were Haiti. It finished 0-0.
«As an example, it was a big, big success,» states Gramoz.
«It was a clear message in Fifa. The minute they allowed us to play friendly matches we took it to mean:’Do not stop, you will enter as full members but we need the time to prepare folks.’
«Even though we didn’t have the right to play with our national anthem, it is OK. We play with football. {That

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