Albania’s most successful club relegated after a century in top flight

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 29, 2017 10:45

Albania’s most successful club relegated after a century in top flight

Story Highlights

  • The only consolation for Tirana fans now is the Wednesday, May 31 Albania Cup final against Skenderbeu, whose six year domination of Albanian football came to an end this year after finishing third

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By Ervin Lisaku

superligaTIRANA, May 29 – Albania’s historically most successful club, FK Tirana, have been relegated after almost a century in the top flight of Albania’s national football, irritating dozens of thousands of fans and club legends over the poor management of the 24-times record holder champions.

The relegation came after Tirana failed to win its do-or-die fixture against Vllaznia last weekend after the White & Blues were held to goalless draw in the closing Superliga tie, plunging Tirana to the First Division.  Both teams, two of the eldest and best in Albanian football history, faced the relegation threat in case of losing, but could have also secured their stay in the top flight with a draw had Laçi not beaten unmotivated Teuta in the closing Superliga week.

Tirana’s relegation comes following a series of losses in the championship’s second stage and amid financial problems with the world’s football governing body, FIFA, banning the Albanian club from the winter transfer window in punishment for debts to players. The country’s most successful club also lacked the support of its “Tirona Fanatics,” the club’s strongest supporters, who have been boycotting the club’s matches since last March in protest for the club’s poor performance and a decision by the club’s owners to allow arch rivals Partizani play their home matches at Tirana’s stadium.

The only consolation for Tirana fans now is the Wednesday, May 31 Albania Cup final against Skenderbeu, whose six year domination of Albanian football came to an end this year after finishing third.

The relegation sparked irritation among “Tirona Fanatics” fans who reiterated their call on club president Refik Halili to immediately step down. A traditional sponsor of Tirana, Halili is the owner of a 66 percent stake in Tirana, the rest being owned by the municipality of Tirana.

“This is the most shameful day in Tirona’s 97-year history as the team is facing a first ever relegation,” the fans said in a statement. The Fanatics say they will break their boycott and attend Wednesday’s Cup final against Skenderbeu at Elbasan Arena, a last chance that would give Tirana the opportunity to play in the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign.

While Tirana and Korabi were relegated from the 10-team Albanian Superliga, Kamza and Lushnja will replace them as the newly promoted clubs.

Minnows Kukes were the surprise winners of this year’s championship.

Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga after they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their first championship in their penultimate game.

Partizani finished second for the second straight year, failing to make a comeback after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

Kukesi’s championship victory also put an end to Skenderbeu’s domination of Albania football after the south-east Albania-based club won the Albanian Superliga for six consecutive years, also making history as the first Albanian club to have made it to the group stage of a major European competition such as the UEFA Europa League in 2015. Their success was somehow overshadowed by a UEFA decision imposing a one-year ban from European competition against the Albanian champions on match-fixing allegations.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 29, 2017 10:45