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From Patrick Jennings
BBC Sport in Pristina
All day that the term”miracle” kept coming up. These thousands of people spilling out into Pristina’s roads have seen yet another.
It was September 2016 if Kosovo played their first international football game.
They extended an unbeaten streak to 15 games with their result – that a 2-1 home victory over the Czech Republic. It is the longest run in Europe.
Kosovo have an excellent chance of reaching Euro 2020. Along with their second qualifier is from 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 acknowledged as Fifa and Uefa members at 2016. The process began immediately following its declaration of independence from Serbia. Some countries – including Serbia – do not recognise its right to exist.
That such a troubled and young nation from the heart of the Balkans should shine on soccer’s biggest stages was not the fantasy of one man. But there is one figure who’s admired here above all other people – along with his story helps clarify the origins of this team.
He was critical to the effort for recognition of Kosovo also is a hero in his nation. Following his death last year at age 57, the home ground of the team was renamed in his honour: The Fadil Vokrri Stadium.
Like many people here, the war that still raged in this area marked Vokrri’s life. By the tensions between Albanians and Serbs, as well as the cycle of vengeance and counter-vengeance that exist now.
And Vokrri was among very few – perhaps the only real one – capable to communicate across the deep divides that cost so many lives. Soccer was his speech.

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When Vokrri was made president of the Soccer Federation of Kosovo he was starting from scratch. His offices were just two rooms in a Pristina apartment cube; 2 computers and 2 desks. It was 16 February 2008. The next moment kosovo declared its independence.
Vokrri was in charge of a institution with no money, he had a team that didn’t have the right to play with any official matches, in an isolated state with infrastructure.
What he did have was his reputation. He was the greatest footballer Kosovo created – although the exciting new generation of talent that is emerging may challenges soon that name.
He was convincing, charismatic and charming. He and general secretary Errol Salihu would be.
“When we spoke at home at the time, at the beginning my father was believing the procedure would be easy,” says Vokrri’s eldest son Gramoz, 33.
“Today we are recognised as a country, it’ll 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. If he was old he assist with his or her work and would often accompany his father. Like his father, he’s well-known in the capital of Kosovo. Because allies and acquaintances cease to say hello conversation is interrupted every five minutes. Many remain. Are football agents police officers, and also former generals from the Kosovo Liberation Army.
“My father never made a political statement in his entire own life and only focused on soccer. Soccer is greater than everything else – that was his vision,” he states.
“It enabled my father to help reach our aim – of entering Uefa and Fifa.”
Vokrri was an adventurous forwards with two feet. If he wasn’t the most prolific goalscorer perhaps his flair and determination made amends. The fans adored him. They recognised in him among their own – even when he wasn’t.
He climbed up from Podujeva, a little city that today lies near Kosovo’s northern boundary with Serbia. Back then, exactly it was part of Yugoslavia. He had been created in 1960. Throughout his youth, Yugoslavia was a communist country made up of diverse nationalities, languages and religions, all more or less held together by its own charismatic leader Josip Broz Tito.
This was an era when Kosovar Albanians such as Vokrri were rarely celebrated. They became symbols of Yugoslav satisfaction. But this ability was impossible to dismiss.
Vokrri was the first to play for Yugoslavia – and he would be the sole one. His debut came at a 6-1 defeat by Scotland and scored the goal, the first of six at 12 caps between 1984 and 1987.
He had started out in Llapi, his home team, before going to Pristina. In 1986 he went to Partizan Belgrade and remained for three decades -“the most beautiful” of his career,” he said.
They won the league title in 1989 in also the cup and 1987. In between, Italian giants Juventus came calling – but Vokrri has been forced to turn down them. He had not completed the then-compulsory two years’ army service, and so could not go abroad. He completed his responsibilities while playing for Partizan, satisfying mild jobs during the week in between matches.
But leave the country he’d, for reasons which were spiralling out of anyone’s control.
Many historians place President Tito’s departure as the vital point in the collapse of Yugoslavia. They state he left a power vacuum which would be filled by resurgent rival nationalist factions.
Produced in 1986, Gramoz was the first of Vokrri along with his wife Edita’s three children. From 1989, the family had decided they could remain in Yugoslavia no longer. Vokrri depended upon the Notion of leaving for France. Nimes, he signed in the summertime.
“At this time, everyone in Yugoslavia understood that war could happen,” Gramoz states. “They simply didn’t know when or where it would start.”
The next decade would be defined by years of anguish. Throughout the 1990s, Yugoslavia was plunged into a bloody battle where as many as 140,000 people were killed.
From this fighting emerged that the separate modern territories of today: Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with also the newly renamed North Macedonia. Kosovo has been the last to declare itself an independent nation.
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 had been at Pristina, still living under Yugoslav principle but playing football in what had been an unofficial Kosovan leading flight setup following the institution of a separatist shadow republic there.
Matches were stored on demanding pitches in rural areas. On sloping hillsides to see fans would gather. Serbian police would discontinue the gamers and detain them . But they were able to get word up the road for the resistance to wait. Players could wash their bodies at a river.
When heavy fighting started in 1998, this football league ceased.
“I decided to join the KLA because of my nation,” states Berisha. “I had no military experience but that I watched many awful things happening here. That was why”
There was now conflict between Kosovo’s freedom fighters that the KLA and Serbian authorities in the area. It resulted in a crackdown. Civilians were driven from their houses. There were forced expulsions at the hands of Serb forces, atrocities and killings.
The turning point in the war arrived in 1999. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) had already intervened in Bosnia and it did in Kosovo. A bombing campaign made Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic allow international peacekeepers in and to withdraw troops. Milosevic’s government dropped 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 2006he was discovered dead in his cell before his trial may be completed, aged 64.
The territory remained for two years under UN rule Following Serb forces left Kosovo in 1999. About 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 Pristina and Belgrade, has been work on documenting the human cost of Yugoslavia’s wars – like the civilian victims of Nato’s bombardment.
As peace returned to the region, so did lots of the refugees of Kosovo. Children UK prime minister Tony Blair – left in Albanian. There’s tremendous gratitude in Kosovo. Nowhere is it more evident than on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina below.
Berisha utilizes words to describe his life he observed.
He is one of the personalities supporting the biggest fan club : Dardanet of the Kosovo national team Now. The name means”that the Dardanians” – that the individuals of an ancient kingdom which dominated here.
Dardanet have only opened. Opposite an older tile mill whose chimneys rise high into the skies, the call to prayer by a local mosque carries over lively conversation between the animated chain-smokers gesturing inside their outside chairs. Another fuels are dialogue about football of any type and black espresso coffee. Serie A is no longer the most passionately discussed. That are the Premier League.
Lulzim sucks sharply as a staccato stage at the end of each sentence that is brief.
“We want every type of people to arrive at the stadium. Every game we give 100 tickets for fans. We need families to develop,” he says.
With glee, a reel of tickets for the England match in Southampton is unfurled on the table next to us. That morning, they arrived. The banks to journey are through also. Lulzim explains there will be a match in Hounslow on Monday, against an enthusiast club England Fans FC, before the Euro 2020 qualifier in St Mary’s of Tuesday.
Inside, the walls are all packed high with photographs of Kosovo players, new and older. Vokrri’s picture is everywhere. They describe themselves as”Children of all Vokrri”. He’s become an icon to its fan club. They create banner ads, T-shirts and online posts that carry his image under messages like:”Hunting down on us.”
“Vokrri is a legend,” says Berisha. “He is our hero. For whatever he did. For Those people.”
But pride of place at the fan club bar belongs to the match top worn by Valon Berisha when he scored Kosovo’s primary target in official contest. That was a draw in Finland, also a 2018 World Cup qualifier played in September 2016.
It had been the culmination of many years’ hard labour. Not so long it seemed like things would just go downhill.
Vokrri returned to Kosovo about five years following the war ended. With him at the helm, the earliest efforts towards membership of Kosovo turned down in 2008. At that point 51 of the 193 member nations of the UN had only recognised the nation. It seemed that a majority will be required.
Instead, they chose to play with unofficial matches against unrecognised countries: 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 almost exclusively from the domestic pool. Individuals who were forced to flee their houses only a couple of decades before, who had taken up arms and fought.
There was yet another way. One that was tantalisingly out of reach.
“In 2012, if Switzerland played a match against Albania, 15 of the players around the pitch were qualified to symbolize Kosovo,” Gramoz says.
“My father was in the game, watching with Sepp Blatter, and the Fifa president. Mr Blatter said to my father:’How are you enjoying the match?’
“He responded:’It’s like visiting Kosovo A versus Kosovo B.'”
The major step forward came from 2014, when Fifa allowed Kosovo to play matches against its member countries – provided that certain conditions were fulfilled. There was opposition from Serbia.
Mitrovica was the location for the initial match that is recognised of Kosovo. This city, with nearby Albanian and Serbian populations divided in 2 from the Ibar river, but nevertheless needs the presence of Nato troops today, 20 years on from their birth as a peacekeeping force. Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent politician observed as a medium 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 and Switzerland’s Albert Bunjaku. The opposition were Haiti. It ended 0-0.
“For us, it was a big, big victory,” states Gramoz.
“It turned out to be a clear message from Fifa. The minute they enabled us to play friendly games we took this to mean:’Do not quit, you may enter as full members but we need the time to prepare people.’
“Even if we did not have the right to play our national anthem, it is OK. We play with football. {That

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