From Uvil Zajmi
Memorie.al/The new generation, mainly those who were born after the 90s, very few may know who Niko Bespalla was, the footballer with the most terrible and powerful shot that Albanian football has seen? The son of a family coming from Russia, childhood, youth, “Lokomotiva” of Durrës, “Partizani” of “Dinamo”, in Flora, as well as the kidnapping and love with the beauty of “Emin Duraku”. Punishment for a handful of tin, up to farm work. The spectacular goals, the meeting with the first secretary of the Party Committee of the Durrës district, Muho Asllanin, the drama about the loss of the son, a football player. What is Nikola Bespallov, my player of the 60s, doing today? The unknown story of one of the legends of Albanian football that is remembered even today with a lot of nostalgia by the elderly people of Durrës and not only, who once followed football as ardent fans.
Child of a White Russian
The story of Niko Bespalla (or Nikolla Bespallov, as his real name is), is not only a sports one, but also a family one. Even, very special…! His father, Spiridon Bespallov, a white Russian, very noble, major officer, after leaving Russia with his family around the 20s, came to Albania. First he stays in Tirana, then in Durrës. Married to Varvara, a wedding that took place in Titograd, three children are born: Nikola is the only son of two sisters. Like many others, the surname Bespallov was transformed into Bespalla, due to the consequences it could have for the time and beyond. That’s how they got to know him and few know that the real one is Bespallov, a heavy surname worthy of an athlete of this caliber.
Youth, soon protagonist
Born in 1938, Niko Bespalla, very quickly joined the football teams of the ages in Durrës, where he stood out from the others. He played well and became active with the youth team “Lokomotiva”. In 1956, the federation organized a national tournament and the city of Durres was to be represented with a team selected with footballers from Kavaja, Shijaku and Durres. The youth of Durrës are champions, he is the captain of the team and Coach Adem Karapici brings him closer to the first team of Lokomotiva. He is only 19 years old, the 1957 football season is played with eight teams and suddenly he scores 17 goals. Tall 1.72, he has a strong shot that distinguishes him from others, as well as a robust physique, not even considered by specialists as a footballer with a future.
Military service, at the “Partizani” Sports Club
Year 1957. Discovered as a talent, he is taken to perform the mandatory three-year military service at Sport-Klub “Partizani”, where he stays until 1960. He wins the title of champion twice, being part of the team’s triumph in Leipzig, when the club took second place and received silver medals in the football tournament of the People’s Armies of the countries of the People’s Democracy, as the countries of the Communist East were called at that time. He plays alongside Sul Maliqati, Fatbardh Deliallis, Miço Ndin, Besim Fagut, Rexhep Merje, Mejit Haxhiu, Deda, Lin Shllaku, Panajot Panos, Refik Resmjes, Kolec Krajes, etc., with coaches Borini and Xhep Spahiu. He wore the number 8 on his jersey, which at the time also indicated the position as a half-forward that the footballer had on the field. But before the transfer a sporting event would record another milestone in his career…!
When there were three minutes left in the game and the score was 0-0, the well-known capital referee Ramazan Kuka awarded a penalty to “Lokomotiva”, which was playing against “Partizan” in Tirana. Those present at the “Qemal Stafa” Stadium held their breath, when Bespalla approached the penalty spot, hit hard, but the ball was saved by the Maliqati goalkeepers. Meanwhile, “Partizani” took advantage of the Durrsak players’ confusion and scored twice in a few moments, winning the match 2-0. It was November 3, 1957, and Bespalla does not forget that day, because a week later, he would be taken to perform his military service at “Partizani”. But the loss of the penalty has left a bad taste among the fans: “You knew you were going to Partizan, that’s why you missed it on purpose”, were the accusations against him. But, it was the opposite: “For two weeks my hand has hurt from waiting for your shot”, Sulejman Maliqati told him, when they met together at the “Partizani” Sports Club. And the first challenge with the jersey of “Partizan” in a friendly against the Russians of “Krilla Sovjet”. A completely random encounters, but surprisingly connected to his background. In fact, it would not be the first and the last against the Russians.
“Dinamo” fan, ran away from “Partizani”
Although they begged him to stay at “Partizani”, another feeling pushed him to go to the “Dinamo” team, which at that time was under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, just like in the entire Communist East. A fan of this team since childhood, before finishing the army (year 1960), while the second phase was being played, he was accepted to “Dinamo” and the name Niko Bespalla is registered as an effective member of this club. In November, a friendly match is played between “Partizan” and a Romanian team, only Bespalla is missing from the organized banquet, who had already announced the separation with “Partizan”, to open another cycle, that with “Dinamon”. There was no pressure from the high military officials of the time, but only Refik Resmja and Robert Jashari, were the friends who tried to change his mind, but to no avail.
Surprise departure and return
January, are the first days near the new club. All the players of the team stay organized and sleep in the rooms of the “Dinamo” stadium, which has also served as a club for many years. He was assigned one together with goalkeeper Mile Qoshe, but bored, not acclimatized to the gray and cold environment of the stadium; he decided to leave “Dinamon”. Together with the footballer A. Dume, without notifying anyone, he returns to Durrës and starts training with the local team, “Lokomotiva”. Erzeni”. Bespalla is also present to watch the meeting. “I went to watch the game,” he says. – The fans of “Erzeni” and “Dinamo” come to me and ask me to play in the second half with “Dinamo”. Someone gave him a pair of shoes, another pair of underwear and a jersey and, without thinking for a long time, Bespalla appeared on the field with “Dinamon”. After a few days, in the capital, the Dynamo team plays another friendly with “Vllaznina” from Shkodra, which ends with a goal from Bespalla. “Niko Bespalla plays with “Dinamon”, but not with regular federation documents. He is a player of “Lokomotiva” and should return to Durrës”, wrote at the time, among others, in an article in the newspaper “Sporti Popullor”.
Rare transfer, normal for the time
In order to make the official transfer of Bespalla to “Dinamo”, the club had designed a variant, completely unique for the time. A tournament is played for the 5th Congress of the Labor Party and in Durrës in a friendly match; “Lokomotiva” and “Besëlidhja” of Lezha are facing each other. With the director of the “Dinamo” stadium, he leaves early in the morning for Durrës, first presenting himself at the Interior Department, to the then president, Colonel Kopi Niko. Then in the old field, where the official transfer would also take place: According to the agreement, he wore the jersey of “Lokomotiva”, making the appearance with the team, as well as the symbolic kicking of the ball, to then leave the field, without anyone understanding what was happening. No one spoke to him and him quietly left Durrës..! Skënder Jareci, Skënder Halili, Selim Gjoci, Halluni, Aurel Verria, Tallushi, Mehdi Bushati, Stavri Lubonja, Duro, Shyqëri Rreli, Beliu, Vorfi, Bet Vila and Coach Zyber Konçi were already waiting for him in the “Dinamo” blues.
Love and abduction of the beautiful girl…!
The arrival in Tirana to “Dinamo” is connected with three unforgettable moments in his life: Bespalla becomes active with the well-known Albanian club, which enrolled him in the “7 Nëndori” Polytechnic, but also falls in love. A love like no other. While coming to the club, passing by the “Emin Duraku” school, he discovers the beautiful Flora, an athlete, member of the Dajçi family, well-known figures in athletics. A ringing of the bicycle bell (Russian brand, women’s) with which he moved was enough to attract his attention, even Taip Çutra, Aagim Janku, Lad Balluku, V. Lleshi and Faruk Sejdini also contributed to this love. , students of a class in ‘Polikum’, who informed their friend that Niko had arrived. Then the kidnapping, when she was only 16 years old, a love story like in the movies, which is still the case today. Four children were born, two boys and two girls, of which the boy…!
In Bulgaria, the most beautiful match
In his nearly 20-year career, Niko Bespalla has played more than 400 matches, championships, cups, but also international challenges. However, he remembers and appreciates the one developed in Bulgaria, the challenge for the Balkan Cup between “Levski” of Sofia and “Dinamo” of Tirana, as the most beautiful match of his career. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. Mehdi Bushati was the author of two goals for “Dinamon”. However, for Bespalla, this challenge remains the most special: they remembered him as a player taken from “Barcelona”, for what he demonstrated during the 90 minutes. Meanwhile, there is no match with the National Team. These are the years of non-representation in European activities (1953-’57 and 1958-’63). Only tours with the representative team of Tirana, which was considered in many meetings as the national team, as well as with clubs in the Soviet Union or other countries of the Communist East of that time. From May 1, 1958, when the goal of Kolec Kraja was played against the German Democratic Republic (1-1) in Tirana, the national team returned to official meetings. This happened in 1963, exactly on June 29, in Copenhagen 4-0 with Denmark.
With Bylyku, the unforgettable duel
Niko was not afraid of any defender and any opponent. Only against Nuri Bylyk of the team “17 Nëndori” he had a hard time. He was a fanatical player for the coach, strong and with an “annoying” marking for the opponent. The coach always put him in the coverage of the most problematic players that the other team had. (Such a historical duel is the Pano-Bylyku one, known for the sports rivalry between football players). Such was the duel Bespalla-Bylyku. While “Besën” had the team, which he scored continuously. He even recorded the record of four goals in one match with “Besa” in Kavajë.
The blow, which removed the mole from his body
The 1963-1964 season and Bespalla has finally settled in Durrës, even as a starter with “Lokomotiva” playing against “Partizan”. In one moment of the game, he tries to break away from the cover of Miço Papadhopulli, who seriously interferes; hitting him in the waist with his heels, tearing his shirt, at the same time a mole is detached from his body, which caused a wound on his body which they treated him. He does not forget that moment when he did not see the mole, as he was momentarily confused and shocked by the blood that was flowing. He sewed the jersey of that match and played with it for many matches, even for a long time he kept it as the only legacy from sports life. But time, circumstances, carelessness, indifference, caused him to lose it and never find it, as the only memory he had left from his sports career.
Why do you look like the famous Sivor…?!
I don’t know, but Niko Bespalla reminds you of the famous Omar Sivor, the former Argentine of Juventus in the 60s. An almost close career in many respects: Same height and appearance, same position on the pitch, natural intelligence, dribbling ability, ego, game aggressiveness, protagonist for the teams and the time they played, rebels on and off the pitch. Even Bespalla opposed the decisions of the arbitrators, protesting with his hand raised as a sign of disapproval of their decisions. With the well-known referee from Shkodran, Baki Dibra, there is also the most spectacular departure from the field of play…! In the 1963-’64 seasons, in Durrës, “Lokomotiva” – “Besa” was played. The judge of the meeting, Dibra, calls him, asks for his number to advise him. Out of nervousness, Bespalla turns his back…! They sentenced him not to play in 5 matches, as the Disciplinary Committee rightly considered his behavior as an unsportsmanlike gesture.
When they remembered him as a fugitive…!
Year 1962, he is in Istanbul with the “Dinamo” team for the Balkan Cup. All of a sudden, word spread in Tirana that Panoj Pano and Bespalla had escaped. Concerned, his two sisters knock on the doors of the Ministry of the Interior, to be informed. They don’t wait for them and don’t even give them information, since they too were suspicious of the news that was circulating. Of course, in a few days the situation calmed down and it was clarified that the news was not true. However, the steamer “Partizani”, on which the team was traveling back, had to arrive, so that in the port of Durrës, the two sisters who were waiting for the ship could hug their brother.
Abandonment of the capital
At “Dinamo”, Bespalla played in two years, 1961 and 1962. His final departure from the club and the capital was unexpected. He is in good physical condition, he is in shape and with “Dinamon” he is a starter. In the “Dinamo” stadium, it will be played for the Balkan Cup, between “Dinamo” and “Levski” of Sofia, when the coach calls him and informs him that he will stay on the bench, to be fresher for the second half. Revolted, he stays in the room, refuses to undress and sit on the bench, and while nervously moving in the corridor of the second floor of the stadium, he faces the Minister of Internal Affairs, Kadri Hazbiu. The next day, an emergency meeting is held and the order comes that excludes him from sports activity. He returns after a year, but no longer with “Lokomotiva”, but they allow him to play in Shijak, with “Erzeni”, in the second category. Plays in the final against “Traktori” from Lushnja, an unforgettable match: tension, it is even said that gunshots were heard. “Erzeni” won, but the federation repeated the match that was played again in Tirana and Lushnja won the match. Only in the 1963-’64 season, Bespalla will be a starter with Lokomotiva, where he finds his friends, coach Tom Gjini, but also Teli, Ciko, P. Konomi, Daja, Golashi, Grami, etc.
The goal that made him famous…!
The most beautiful goal, which gave him more fame, is the one scored against Partizan, in Durrës in the 1964-65 football seasons. Here’s how Mikel Janku, the well-known goalkeeper, remembers that moment: “The referee awarded a free kick for “Lokomotiva”, frontal, about 30 meters away. I arranged the defensive wall, leaving a small space for my position. After placing the ball, Bespalla starts the countdown, i.e. with his back to the ball, which was always accompanied by the crowd. Only 16 steps, turns, gains momentum and hits. It was a lightning shot, a real projectile, which I couldn’t stop and the ball ended up in the net”. For Bespalla, that ritual has been systematic in the match when a free kick was given. “It was a momentum distance that gave me speed and hitting power, after which the ball took a parabola, which were characteristic of my shot. The whole stadium was eagerly waiting for such a moment. But even Teliti had such a shot”, said Bespalla.
To the West Germans of Cologne, for a shot
It was 1964 when “Partizani” played in the Champions Cup against the famous Cologne where the great Overat played. In September of that year, the first match was played at the “Qemal Stafa” Stadium, which was rarely overcrowded, and Bespalla was taken as reinforcement with one motive: only for the bomb shot he possessed. And the moment came. A blow was given to “Partizani”, in a very favorable position for Bespalla, at the gate from the hills of the lake. While he was preparing to hit, Pano and Jashari, have combined between them, losing this scoring opportunity. Even that challenge has two special details, but, in order to avoid any verification, even the radio reporters were instructed not to mention his name, but only: “The half-forward has the ball…” And for the return match in Cologne, he did not travel with the team, as an order had been given not to take him with him to that match. Acquaintances of the family asked to meet him, thinking that he would be part of the team, but they left the hotel disappointed when they were informed that: “due to injury”, Bespalla did not come to Cologne.
In 1967, seven years of imprisonment
They deprived him of his freedom for a handful of tin, the value of which was up to 25,000 ALL. He was working as a warehouseman at the Industrial Production Company and it was a friend who asked him. But they “discovered” it, and according to Article 80 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, that action was considered appropriation of socialist property. They sentenced him to 7 years of imprisonment, one year in Spaç, then in labor camps. His career was already over once and for all. The drama had hit him, his family, friends, and sports opinion. No one believed that one of the most famous football players, Niko Bespalla, was punished by the court for a tin fist. “It could also be as a revenge for the abandonment I did to the club “Dinbamo”, an action that irritated the officials of the department”, judges Bespalla.
In Sukthi Farm, Muho Asllani is looking for him…!
After being released from prison, Niko and his wife settled down to work in the Sukthi Farm sector. At that time, Muho Asllani, First Secretary of the Party Committee, visited the farm. Bespalla is driven away so as not to meet her, while his driver, Petrit Pullazi, for a moment saw Flora, his wife, and said to his boss, Muho Asllani: “This is Niko Bespalla’s wife.” “Where is Niko?” he addressed. “They hid it”, was the cheerful answer of the driver. Before finishing his speech, he, the First Secretary of Durrës, ordered to be brought there to meet him. They quickly informed him and he was able to come with a bicycle. After seeing him fall morally, depressed, Muho Asllani hugged him, as a sign of respect and gratitude for all the contribution he had made as a football player of that district. Niko Bespalla and his wife worked in that agricultural enterprise until he retired in the 90s, inheriting only a monetary asset from her, the amount of 125 thousand old lek, of a pensioner now…!
How near and far from death
The field, the opponents, nothing has defeated him, but the year 1981 was the saddest for him, his wife, his family, when his son suddenly died at a young age, who, after a year in a coma, could not live longer. In recent years, he himself was struck by a concern, a wound on his right leg, the very thing that gave him fame. Several months of struggle to overcome the pain and to live. He went through an untold ordeal, from one hospital to another. A great commitment of the doctors, in an attempt to save him, was able to restore his health, enthusiasm and desire to live. The only heir, his son, Justin, played with “Teuta” of Durrës, while he has hope in his grandson. Now 75 years old, Niko Bespalla is very charming, he keeps an amazing memory, stunned when you listen to him tell the events, the characters down to the details.
Niko was a real myth for the time and so simple, he lived together with his wife, Flora, in a modest apartment in Durrës, until he passed away on March 27, 2017. He would not have played any other sport except football, even though the sea was very close. For a few years, (1993-’97) he worked as an age coach in the city of Shijak. I don’t go to the stadium even though until he passed away, there was a seat named after him in the VIP tribune of “Niko Dovana”, placed by the famous Tut Leshteni (former captain of “Lokomotiva”) and President Soport – Club “Teuta”, Mon Hasanbelliu. From that time, few relics remained. He was sorry for the famous jersey and the silver medals that he no longer had. Sometimes data and unreturned, sometimes forgiven, the archive had few memories left. He was the man who lived the time of the iconic footballers of the 50s, played alongside the legends of the 60s, being the undisputed protagonist among them. In particular, even for the famous shot! Memorie.al