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Saturday 19th October 2019 ko 14.00

Kategoria e Dytë Grp A

KF MIRDITA 1 (Picaku 45)

Pepkolaj sent off 64 (Serious Foul Play) 

KF GRAMSHI 2 (Zani 6 Goga 59)

Att 110 at Stadiumi Skender Halali, Tirana

Free Entry

Zaja and the minibus bumped into the potholed car park; after the battery incident in Kamëz we were a little tight for time. The game has already started which was handy, it gave it us somewhere to aim for, as the entrance wasn’t obvious, we tried the bar and they helped, just head for the little gap in the fence in the corner….

We barely noticed the litter strewn car park, we just walked and climbed to the metal bleachers…There was a healthy crowd there which made me think. Remember as a Stag Party we were being looked after by the Albanian FA, and we’d only known about the change of venue 2 hours earlier. How did the fans know where to go? And why Stadiumi Skender Halali?

You’d think its local to Mirdita, but the district of Mirditë (translated as Good Day) and the town of Rrëshen where the club are based is 70 km north of Tirana. And if you think the game was switched to suit the opposition then you’ll be as puzzled as I am to find the the town of Gramsh is nearly 80km south of here.

The Stadiumi Skender Halali is the training ground of top flight KF Tirana, and does sport a wonderful stand, and is was of a little regret that we didn’t get to make use of it, this game was played on the 3G pitch behind and at right-angles to the main pitch. That would explain the entrance through a gap in the fence I suppose!

I should explain the structure of men’s club football in Albania. The top, and only national division is the Kategoria Superiore, often referred to as the Superliga. Below that is the regionalised Kategoria e Parë or First division, split roughly north/south into Groups A and B. The second division Kategoria e Dytë is organised along the same lines. Last season there was a rump Kategoria e Tretë or Third Division with just 6 teams in it. That didn’t complete its fixtures, and since one of those 6 teams was Mirdita it’s fair to say that it’s fallen into abeyance!

The bit of the stadium we were using was interesting though. Zaja had followed us in to the bleachers, and we were to find out why later on. But it became clear that there was an alternative vantage point, and one that didn’t involve watching through a fence. To our right we could see the roof of the changing room block being used as a terrace, but it wasn’t obvious how to get there so I waited until half time to find out.

It transpired the only way to access it was to leave the complex and walk around the facility’s perimeter. I’ve included the photos I took on the way to give a flavour of downtown Tirana. It was also a good excuse to explore that wonderful stand by the main pitch!

There was plenty of time to reach the “other stand” no bad thing as you could only access the roof before play restarted and once it had you were staying there for the duration. It is also probably the first and last time I’ll be warned out standing too close to the edge of the roof at a football match!

But why was Zaja there? I wish either that the 10 of us spoke Albanian or he spoke English because then he could have told us that he was watching because his son Ditmar was playing for Mirdita! We got to meet Ditmar on our last day, as Zaja brought him along to meet us, and since he speaks excellent English to provide translation services.

He is an excellent attacking midfielder, but as the case with so much in his country, Albanian third tier football isn’t a money maker for him even if the Albanian FA does class the Kategoria e Dytë as professional. I suspect that’s why they’re playing home games in Tirana, if you can’t get your home ground up to scratch then play where the most of your players live and where travel costs are minimised. 

Ditmar and his team were to have a frustrating afternoon, as is typical of so many newly promoted teams they did enough to win but found themselves losing the tie. A lot of that was due to the dismissal of Besjan Pepkolaj for the kind of two footed challenge that you see red for no matter where you and whoever is the referee.

As soon as it was over those of us up on the roof fairly blasted our way back round the block to Zaja and the minibus. We clambered aboard and the group fell silent as Zaja put his key in the ignition- would it start? It did, first time, we cheered and Zaja laughed as we headed back to central Tirana and a little uncertainty.