Albania’s first professional club set for Superliga comeback as it marks 100th birthday

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 25, 2019 16:37

Albania’s first professional club set for Superliga comeback as it marks 100th birthday

Story Highlights

  • Established in February 1919, the Vllaznia sports society was Albania’s first to feature a professional football club, with amateur football having already been played in town since the early 20th century after it was introduced by a Maltese priest who brought the first real ball while serving in Shkodra

Related Articles

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Feb. 25 – The 100th birthday has found Vllaznia, one of Albania’s top teams, and the northern city of Shkodra, home to the first professional Albanian football club, in a tough moment as the local team struggles to climb back to the top flight of Albanian football following an embarrassing relegation last year.

However, enthusiasm in Shkodra, the largest northern Albanian city, has not waned and local authorities are celebrating 2019 as the ‘Vllaznia year’ with a series of events, commemorating a century of achievements in football and other sports where Shkodra players and athletes have excelled at local and international level.

Established in February 1919, the Vllaznia sports society was Albania’s first to feature a professional football club, with amateur football having already been played in town since the early 20th century after it was introduced by a Maltese priest who brought the first real ball while serving in Shkodra.

A century on, Vllaznia has been one of the elite Albanian football clubs, but currently face one of their worst times, being out of the top flight of Albanian football, although they are bound to make a quick Superliga comeback, comfortably leading their First Division Group A with eight games remaining.

Vllaznia’s 2018 relegation came amid growing financial problems and at a time when the club had been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign and failed to attract any investor interest following much-rumored privatization plans.

The last time Vllaznia was earlier demoted was six decades ago in the early 1960s. The Shkodra-based club have mostly been uncompetitive since the early 2000s when they claimed their last Superliga title.

The shock 2018 relegation finds Vllaznia out of the top flight of Albanian football for their hundredth anniversary, but competitive with a series of other team and individual sports.

Having produced some of Albania’s best talents, Vllaznia is the eldest club in the country and have won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups.

With eight games to go, Vllaznia are set to make a quick Superliga comeback, just like Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club did in 2018 following a humiliating first-ever relegation.

After an initial two stages, Vllaznia hold a comfortable 6-point lead over second-placed Erzeni in a new play-off stage that will feature the top five teams of Group A fighting to earn a single Superliga promotion place.

“Vllaznia are only half way through. Of course the 6-point lead makes us feel comfortable during the third stage but that’s where the tough road begins,” coach Hasan Lika has told reporters.

“We have to keep up this pace and take every game seriously. Vllaznia will do its best to make the return to the Superliga easier,” he adds.

 

‘Nation’s honor’ medal

On its hundredth anniversary, the Vllaznia sports club has been honored with the Nation’s Honor presidential decoration “as one of the first intellectual organizations in Albania with historic contribution and results in sports, a grassroots of talents who have supported Vllaznia and the national side, renowned for its quality athletes and teams and being special in the manifestation of the best values in sports, deserving respect and great love by Shkodra citizens and all Albanians.”

The Vllaznia (Brotherhood) society was set up in 1919 with a focus on sports, but also engaged in cultural and patriotic events at a time when Albania had only declared its independence in 1912 and the country’s independence and territorial unity was still at risk by occupying forces.

“This society was set up as an expression of freedom at a dramatic moment when their city [Shkodra] risked remaining out of the nation’s borders,” President Meta said visiting Shkodra last weekend, when he awarded medals to great late and living Vllaznia legends in football and other sports including weightlifting and wrestling.

“The union of Shkodra people into the Vllaznia society no matter what their religious affiliation, convictions or ideas is one of the greatest messages of insatiable spiritual wealth and the Albanian aspiration to build a united and prosperous society,” he added.

Shkodra Mayor Voltana Ademi, who also supervises the Vllaznia management as a wholly local government-owned club, described February 16, 1919 as a historic day for Shkodra and Albania.

“February 16 is a historic day not only for Shkodra but the whole nation. The red and blue are the colors of a city, history and values that have made us proud and kept us united all the time,” said Ademi.

“Vllaznia (Brotherhood) means a lot to this city. This name is not only sports, it’s history, spirit, passion, emotion, joy and victory. Vllaznia has accompanied all generations, children in all neighborhoods. Vllaznia is our pride, the dream of those who created it and the trust of everybody of us,” she added.

Loro Boriçi is apparently Shkodra’s most famous player with the local stadium named after him.

A Shkodra-born player, late Boriçi started his career with local Vllaznia club in 1937 and also played a couple of seasons with Italy’s Lazio in 1941-43, before returning home to play for several local clubs and the national side which he also led later as a coach.

Shkodra’s 16,000-seat ‘Loro Borici’ stadium was renovated in 2016 and also occasionally hosts the national side’s home matches.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 25, 2019 16:37