Kosovo’s recent Euro 2020 qualifier against England was more than a football game. It represented a chance for both countries to come together in mutual respect. COPA90’s latest Creator Commission details the nations’ unique friendship.
When England stepped off the plane in Southeastern Europe last month, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were experiencing a case of déjà vu. This was not the hero’s welcome they’d received when returning home from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, though – this was simply a greeting from the citizens of Kosovo.
Both countries struck up a strong friendship two decades ago in 1999, when British and American troops gave aid to Kosovo civilians in the wake of a conflict between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The last 20 years has seen Kosovo undertake a huge rebuilding process. A derelict infrastructure, economic instability and a broken society were all in deep need of repair. One thing that has helped bring everything back from the brink, though, is football.
“Football is one of the rare things that makes us happy because life here is not so easy.”
Faton Berisha, Kosovan Actor and Director
“Football has played a major role in our country since we were part of Yugoslavia,” Kosovo fan, Albert Hashani, tells COPA90. “Football has helped introduce Kosovo to the world.”
The game may have always been part of the state’s culture, but it’s only in the last three years that Kosovo have been officially recognised and accepted by FIFA. League matches once contested on uneven, open grass pitches with limited facilities are now hosted in stadiums and attract fans into the thousands.
The national team is also thriving, and for the first time ever were afforded the chance to qualify for the European Championships. The qualification process has presented Kosovo with an opportunity to play against old allies, England, and it is here where COPA90’s Creator Commission kicks off.
“Football is one of the rare things that makes us happy because life here is not so easy,” Faton Berisha, Kosovan Actor and Director says to COPA90. That happiness manifests itself in Kosovo’s ultras scene, too.
Despite many ultras groups carrying an over-simplistic reputation for thuggery and hooliganism, ultras in Kosovo are known for togetherness and love for their nation.
As Lulzim Berisha, leader of Kosovo’s ultras – who are known as Dardanet – explains, they want to broadcast a message of love and respect. The aim is to celebrate their nation, as opposed to cause trouble and goad opposing teams. “This is for our younger generations, to tell them how to love their country, not to hate.”
Kosovo ended their campaign in the playoffs, meaning they’ll have to navigate their way past North Macedonia before beating the winners of Belarus vs. Georgia in order to qualify for Euro 2020. Should they do so, Kosovo will find themselves in the so-called ‘group of death’, alongside Portugal, France and Germany.
It’s undoubtedly a big ask but, given Kosovo’s storied history, it’ll just be viewed another chance to overcome the odds. After all, its citizens have been doing that their entire lives.