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Sunday 20th October 2019 ko 14.00

Kategorie e Dytë Grp A

FC INTERNACIONAL TIRANA 5 (Ajdini 65 Xhuveli 69 Shkreta 78 81 Konci 86)

FK KAMZA 1 (Bode 90p)

Biba penalty saved 62

Att 48 at Kompleksi Internacional, Pezë Helmës

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In footballing terms at least my stag weekend finished at the one ground that you could argue that wasn’t in Tirana, despite the name of the host club we were a good half an hour’s drive from Skanderbeg Square. Zaja seemed happy negotiating the odd pot hole on dusty roads as we climbed into the mountains, to a surprise to all for the party that hadn’t researched where we were heading!

The Kompleksi Internacional is the brainchild of businessman Ervin Canollari. The idea was to build a training facilty to develop Albanian football talent, with Italian club Udinese involved, with Internacional to play purely youth football. The complex opened in 2014 and the project was soon expanded to include a team in the adult third division.

What I loved about this last game was firstly that the place was completely different from anywhere else we’d visited. There are two back-to-back stadia here, Pezë Helmës I where we were with a 1000 seat stand and the 500 seat Pezë Helmës II behind. At the end of the smaller stadium is a covered training pitch. However one common factor with every other ground we visited was that there was a bar…..

The second reason I loved where we were was that everything important in the stag weekend game came together. Our driver Zaja and his son Ditmar were there as was Endi Hyka from the Albanian FA. Without those 3 gentlemen we’d have never got to all these games and had all the adventures.

But there was more to it than that. Remember the match delegate/journalist that I’d met at Kamez and who’d helped to get us in at Yrshek? He’d made his way here too and ambled over for a chat. And despite neither of us speaking the other’s language we made our mutual appreciation clear. And just to make things even more mind-blowing the referee from the game on before ours came over to ask why we were there? How do you explain it in a couple of sentences?

It was a time to gather my thoughts and enjoy the bizarre fact that there we were a group of middle-aged British men watching lower-league Albanian football. If the locals couldn’t believe we were there, I sat there thinking much the same thing! We watched Internacional start slowly but once Florjan Biba missed a penalty for Kamza, they raised their game and eventually won easily.

At the end of it all we held an impromptu photoshoot; it wasn’t really necessary, but I wanted a record of all of us that took part, both British and Albanian. Via Ditmar we’d asked whether Zaja was able to drive us around on our final day in Tirana and to the airport afterwards? There’d be no football, there were no fixtures and with Zaja being employed by the Albanian FA it was uncertain whether he’d be available, but we wanted him to have first refusal on the work.

I get the impression that Head of Competitions Endi sensed what we’d offered as he offered us Zaja and the minibus. I will never, ever forget what the Albanian FA did for us.

We spent that evening by exploring the Ish-Blloku district of Tirana, just south of Skanderbeg Square. The name translates as “Ex-Block” as under Communism the block was a restricted residential area for the members of the Albanian politiburo, Enver Hoxha’s house was here, and the area was often left blank on maps. You could say it was a case of it all being for the few not the many.

These days its an upmarket part of Albania’s capital. I say upmarket, but it does contain one of only two KFC’s in Albania , and here’s an incentive for you to visit, there are no McDonald’s in Albania (or Kosovo for that matter) but there are no end of boutiques readily accepting  foreign currency. I ended up testing their mettle by trying to buy a pair of underpants; 3 pairs and 4 days away doesn’t go! I succeeded, even taking into account I’m hardly the ideal size, and the shop assistant was more than surprised when I paid in Lek!

From there we sampled no end of bars including one that served cans of “Elbar” Weissbier notable for the labels being upside-down! Ideal of you’re shotgunning them but no more than a gimmick otherwise! In the end we ate at the “Bruce Lee Kungfu Express”  an establishment that I suspect that had paid no image rights money to the actor’s estate! As distinctly average as the food was it was another of those wonderfully random moments the weekend supplied on a regular basis.

The final day started with something started by Martin who like everyone else had been touched by the obvious poverty we’d seen. Every time we’d returned to our hotel there was someone going through the dumpsters outside to try to find something inside to help them keep body and soul together.

Martin, like many of us, is in the habit of taking old clothes on these weekends away to throw away once used, freeing up space for souvenirs when you’re flying on hand luggage only. Here Martin organised a bin bags for them and the hotel agreed to find a suitable charity for us. I hope we managed to do a little good.

We checked out of the hotel but as Zaja and Ditmar came to lead us to the minibus the staff of the Hotel Vila e Arte came to shake our hands as we left. I’m not sure why they did, but we were all rather touched by the gesture and take it as read, when you visit Tirana you know where to stay.

We visited Bunk’Art 1 and the Dajti Express – you read all about that in the Kamez article. After that we returned to the edge of Ish-Blloku to visit the pyramid of Tirana. It was built in 1988 as a museum to the life and work of Enver Hoxha, and was co-designed by his daughter Pranvera Hoxha. At the time is was said to be the most expensive individual structure ever constructed in Albania and two years later when communism fell it was utterly obsolete.

Since then it has been used as a conference centre, a radio station and a parking lot. Right know its derelict, fenced off as an irrelevance to the extent that Zaja and Ditmar wondered why we wanted to visit it? Until recently it looked as if it was going to be demolished,  but the plan now is to refurbish the structure as a learning centre for young people with a focus in IT projects.

We had a little time left so Zaja and Ditmar decided to take us for a late lunch in the university district and boy did we surprise the locals!

But then, suddenly it was all over. We picked our way through the usual appalling Tirana traffic back to the airport. Even then there was a final surprise, Zaja had bought us gifts of bottles of wine and firewater. We were humbled at his gesture, and extremely thankful but since all of us were travelling hand luggage only were unable to take the bottles on board the aircraft.

I hope Zaja and Ditmar understood why we were unable to take the drink, all of us in the “Scottish Delegation” had so many reasons to be grateful to our new Albanian friends and I hope they raised a glass to us when we’d gone our separate ways.

I’ll leave this, the last of the 5 tales from Tirana with my final photo of our stay. I think it sums up how we all felt.

 

This article is dedicated to Zaja and Ditmar Mira and Endi Hyka. Gentlemen, from all of the Scottish delegation thank you for everything you did for us. We will look at your country with a completely different view than when we arrived.

Thanks to Simeon, Adrian, Scott, Kevin, Jack, Martin, John and Dave. Gentlemen in my eyes we will always be the Scottish Delegation!