From UVIL ZAJMI
Memorie.al / This is the untold story of Artur Lekbello: From playing the guitar and singing at the “Skënderbej” cadet school in Tirana, to becoming a major officer. Then, goalkeeper at “Partizani”, at the National team and hero at Barcelona. “Inati” with Zubizarreta, the discovery from “Sportski”, the famous duets with Ilir Lama e Sul Starova or Rrapo Taho e Vlora, to the telegrams that changed his life. From a senior officer in the Tank Brigade, to the intervention of Muho Asllani, to bring him to Durrës and “Happy end” in Rotterdam, at the age of 36 to “Fejnord”. What did the man who stopped “Barcelona” at “Camp Nou” do after he left football?
Çiçiku discovers Lekbello, Musta and Ahmetaj…!
A start very different from others for Tur Lekbello. Family settled in Durrës, without any sports tradition, in 1971-’72, he enrolled in the high school of Cadets “Skënderbej” in Tirana, with the aim of becoming a good soldier. It was Sherif Çiçiku, a school driver by profession, but a football coach by passion, who discovers it and takes it with the students of the school team. A little later, Perlat Mustën and Arjan Ahmetajn, (the two later icons of the “Partizani” team and the Albanian representative team), would have companions, friends and for many years together at the famous Albanian club that was under the patronage and dependence of Ministry of National Defense since its creation. But the ones who opened the door for him were the well-known coaches, Refik Resmja and Iljaz Dingu, who put him in the goal with the youth of “Partizan”. This is where the career begins, which Lekbello never thought would be very special.
Events in the army, taken by “Partizani”
We are in the 70s and 80s. At the gate of “Partizan” are Bashkim Muhedini and Jani Kaçi. After the punishment of the military in 1974-’75, Muhedini’s position, as the son-in-law of the Minister of Defense, Beqir Balluku, became difficult and “Partizani” wanted to have a second goalkeeper after Kaçi. The first and possible alternative, without asking and receiving from other teams, is Artur Lekbello, the goalkeeper of the youth team, distinguished and promising. He is only 17 years old and together with Perlat Musta who will come after; he will stay at “Partizani” for a long time. For his stay in Tirana, he receives the appointment from the Ministry of Defense, which assigns him an officer in the Tank Brigade in Sauk. He only appeared as such, since he did not even ride or drive the tank for a single day.
1986 – When Muho Asllani returned to Durrës
There are not rare cases when sportsmen have taken or changed teams and clubs, due to the wishes, orders or actions of the rulers of the time. There are cases like those of Saba Biz and Medin Zhega (legends of Shkodran football), that the Prime Minister of the time, Mehmet Shehu, remembered as engineers and brought them back to Shkodër (playing with “Partizan” and “Dinamon”), to “finish” the Vau de Deja hydropower plant, after the employees of that important work asked him for an inspection visit of the works he did there.
The 1984-’85 season has ended and Lekbello is 27 years old, while a request made by the “Lokomotiva” club of the coastal city of Durrës and with the interest of Muho Asllani, (then First Secretary of the District Party Committee) , Artur Lekbello, moves to his city, to play with the Durrsak team, but also to be close to his family, now newly engaged. And at “Lokomotiva” he will join well-known names, such as: Lad Ajazin, Nar Kokë and Shtama, Fred Filjarin, Niko Janin, Mir Himën, Çelën, Kokën, Engëllin, Arjan Hado, Abazin, the two Ballgjins, the two Manushës, Meta , Miho, Marku, Sejdin, Sulejman, Keta, Sukaj, Bisha, Cheka, etc.
Lekbello had nothing to do with Vlora, but the Vlora team would be decisive for his life and career. He was gathered with the team at the “Kruja” hotel on the beach, when on Wednesday morning, while staying in the room with the left defender Niko Janin, he was informed under his breath that a telegram had arrived at the Club for him from the federation. And the information was accurate and “bomb”. At noon, after training, the club’s secretary, Zeneli, informs him that on Monday, at five o’clock, he should be in Vlora, at the “Flamurtari” Club.
The motive was not written in the telegram, but it was understood that reinforcements were requested, on the eve of the meeting with “Barcelona”, where the Volyn team would play in the framework of the European Cup of Cups. They had proposed exactly that, since a problem prevented goalkeeper Birçe from going abroad and the second goalkeeper, Arapi, was young and inexperienced. Seeing that Lekbello was in shape, the footballers talked to the Club to ask the AFL for his name.
The trip to Vlora with “Vollga”
Neither the departure to Barcelona, nor any other departure to a match or anywhere else, was like that of that Monday, September 8, 1986. There were no means of travel like today, only the scheduled train, which was the most safety and guaranteed for the population. “We will take it”, – said his two friends, surgeon Roland Katroshi and Niko Gjiri, director of the Park in Durrës. They let him meet at “Ura e Dajlani” and in the “Vollga” car, they left for Vlora, where in front of the stadium, the head of the club, Skënder Ibrahimi, was waiting for him, together with the footballers Rrapo Taho, Kreshnik Çipi, Land Iljadhi and Fred Ziai. Then settling in the “Adriatik” hotel, in a room with Vasil Ruci. It was Vasili’s choice, as they had known each other before, when they were together in the National Team.
The gathering, the match
Lekbello did not play the next match with “Lokomotiva”, in the championship, as he was registered and appeared as the goalkeeper of “Flamurtari”. Two weeks of training, then the match. A short, very simple analysis by coach Leonidha Čuri on the eve of the meeting, at 10:00 a.m. in the lobby of “Adriatik”, where they were present; Mehdi Bushati, Miço Papadhopudhi and Enver Halili, First Secretary of the district. No information about “Barca”, only Hjuxh, Linekr and Vejneblla’s coach were known. They gave him 30 pieces of tickets, of which Lekbello kept only ten, the rest he distributed to the fans. There was anxiety and fear for a goal, as he felt responsible for the team and fans of Vlonia. But, surprisingly, he saw confidence in the players, when they told him: “Don’t worry, we will win.” Then the game, a surprise 1-1 and after two weeks, the return challenge.
From Vlora to Han t Hoti, Titograd, Belgrade, Rome and Barcelona
This was the flight line that the team took from takeoff to descent. Very long but nice and fun. There were no direct lines and you have to “fall from China” to get to Barcelona. On Saturday, I took a bus from Shkodra to Han t Hoti, then the Titograd-Belgrade plane. One night’s sleep, the next day towards Rome, one night’s stay and visit to our embassy there, to continue to Barcelona and on Monday, around 14.00, the plane opens its wheels and lands at the airport, “El Prado”.
Together with the passengers, the footballers also go down the stairs. It’s an official reception, there are no autographs, as they don’t know them, they don’t have the Club’s official costumes and as footballers, they only have sports bags in their hands. Then, with the assigned bus, I headed to the “President” hotel, to check in on the eighth floor, room 804, as always with Vasil Ruci. The Catalan days have already begun, never to be forgotten…!
Ignorance and the glass of wine that surprised the journalists
The tie in Vlora had stunned the Spaniards. Unknown to them at all, Albania was suddenly made by a mysterious object, in a very curious place. No diplomatic relations, no cultural, sports or artistic exchange in years, even a hermetic closure with them and directly “Flamurtari”-“Barcelona” 1-1. There was no embassy in Spain either (it had just been established in those days) or the Albanian consul from France had arrived to accompany the team.
The match was to be played at 21:15 in the evening and the radio broadcast of the match by the sports journalist (the well-known broadcaster of the Albanian Radio-Television with the show “From one match to another”), Ahmet Shqarri, was quite special for Albanians. . But what later surprised the Spaniards was a glass of wine drunk by the team at lunch on Wednesday, a detail that did not escape the media: “How is it possible for the team to drink wine before the match and achieve that result?” – was one of the questions the press asked after the challenge, which never seems to have been answered correctly.
Philosophy and character at “Camp Nou”
Lekbello remembers that meeting: “Only a training session at ‘Camp Nou’, there was little thought and talk about the match by the players of ‘Flamurtari’.” This added to his uncertainty, when he saw that the players were free, moving calmly around the hotel, with humor, but not a word about the meeting. The fear of a punishment with many goals had confused Lekbello, but it was Vasil Ruci and Rrapo Taho, who kept telling them: “You know us, don’t you?” A short ten-minute analysis by the coach Leonidha Čuri, organized in the hotel and closed with the typical Vlohn conclusion: “We know everything ourselves, don’t tell us anything, we will respect”, after which the team made its way to the “Camp Nou” “-t. Regarding those 90 minutes, Lekbello remembers some details: “The English striker Lineker, after every missed opportunity, shouted ‘Oh my God'”.
Or the end of the match: “Frightened, Barcelona retreated to their midfield, they even played the ball there and Fred Ferko and Agim Bubeqi could score. I never thought that a Barcelona, in five minutes, would not pass the midfield, in order to preserve the result and waiting for the rush of the Portuguese Da Silva”, – says Lekbello. The next day, after the great draw, the newspapers would also dedicate part of the credit to the goalkeeper: “Este senor tans simpatico ed Letbello, ‘el Capo de Albania’ (This charming gentleman is Lekbello, the boss of Albania)”, – it was one of the titles they would have on their pages.
A gift with tapes of Iglesias songs
He had a special desire to stay on the bus behind the driver. So also in Barcelona. He soon became friends with Marcio, the bus driver: “He had a little hair like me, he liked music and he played goalkeeper at a young age”, he remembers. Amazed by Lekbello’s appearance and the friendship he created, he had prepared a small package for him in the room, which he secretly gave to him, saying: “There are two tapes of Julio Iglesias. He was also a goalkeeper in his youth.” The tapes were stored and listened to for many years, until they were completely worn out. Meanwhile, he promised that at the earliest opportunity, they would meet again. Lekbello returned after a year to Spain, to Seville, but the meeting with Marcion did not take place.
“Anger” with the Spanish goalkeeper, Zubizarreta!
It wasn’t like that, but it was created from the first match, in Vlora. After the meeting, like many other footballers tried to get everything possible from Barcelona, Lekbello also ran to Zubizarreta, when he was entering the room, to change jerseys, as always happens after such matches. But he reacted coldly, a dismissive nod, then two words between his teeth and turned to the showers. Disappointed by this behavior, he got angry “that’s my mom”. But it seems he was wrong, because at Camp Nou, after the match, he had prepared a big bag with sports materials. And, above all, a tie of the official suit of “Barcelona”, which Lekbello keeps even today. But the special one came after a year in Seville, when Zubizarreta had prepared the second surprise: He had reserved a nightclub, a glass of wine and music, an unforgettable evening that lasted until the early hours of the morning.
The Dajlani-Barcelona Bridge, why was the return refused?
At the Dajlani Bridge, that’s where he started and ended his Spanish adventure. But, like never before, before and after, it had never happened that a Club team abandoned the plane and refused to return to Albania after the match. It had not happened and could not happen for many reasons. Only with Flamurtari was such a case recorded. Enthusiastic after the draw, the next day was the return flight. And, while at 12:00 the bus and the police were waiting for the players in front of the hotel, only Lekbello was sitting in the first seat.
“It was a collective decision-making by the team,” says Lekbello. “The players wanted to stay one more day, to enjoy the draw and to contemplate Barcelona.” An exception was made only for Lekbello: “You are a soldier and you have come as reinforcement, it is good that you go to the bus, just to justify yourself so that you don’t have consequences”, they told him. Meanwhile, the team could no longer stay at the “President” hotel, where it had been accommodated.
Without finances, without a hotel, “Flamurtari” would be helped by the president of “Barcelona”, who arranged them in his “Christal” hotel, guaranteeing them everything, until their departure. Then, the return and festive reception at the “Rozafa” hotel in Shkodër. Here are two moments that Lekbello never forgets: “When we were traveling from Titograd to Han t Hoti, we suddenly saw an Albanian police car accompanying us. The fear of the team not arriving on time, the strict control at customs, created panic and anxiety in the team.
However, the order was completely different: “No control, only festive reception”. The bus would stop at Dajlani Bridge and Lekbello got off, making his way home. “What a combination,” he recalls, “from Barcelona to Dajlan Bridge!” I started my journey there and ended it at that old bridge”. They asked him to travel with the team to Vlora, but they were waiting for him in the family. He returned to Vlora in the middle of the week, to celebrate at the Sports Palace, but also after a year in another challenge, this time with the National Team.
When and how does the newspaper “Sportski” find out…?!
He played as a starter for “Lokomotiva”, but also appeared as a goalkeeper for “Flamurtar”, while on the eve of the match against “Partizan” of Belgrade, one season after “Barcelona” – while he was in the project to join – the Albanian Federation of Football, it was informed that a newspaper (“Sportski” in Belgrade) wrote “secretly”, where it was said that; Lekbello was the goalkeeper of “Lokomotiva” of Durrës, but at the same time he also played with “Flamurtar”. The Serbs were not “Barcelona”, they knew us inside out, down to the details. So, it was impossible to activate it, because there was a risk of disqualification from UEFA, if their complaint was taken into consideration, as happened when “Flamurtari” was qualified.
Then, Lekbello would be the first goalkeeper with the National Team, in 1987, he would have two consecutive meetings: he returned to Vlora on October 28, against Romania (1-0 for the Romanians) and after a month, in Spain 0 -5 (he conceded two goals with penalties). For Lekbello, it would be the second time in the space of a year that he would return to Spain. And there is a big coincidence: If the National team played in Seville on November 18, after a week (on November 25), “Flamurtari” would face “Barcelona” (1-0 in Vlora, Kushta’s goal, and 1-4 in “Camp Nou”, Vasil Ruci scored with a penalty). However, Anesti Arapi was in goal. For Lekbello, it was a period of waiting, because he would soon become a father.
The hidden telegram and the meeting in “Dajti”!
This is one of the biggest paradoxes in Lekbello’s career. The year 1991 left him from the “Lokomotiva” team, he felt despair, as he considers the door finally closed. But no. Like a bolt in the sky, a telegram sent by the “Partizani” club would give him yet another surprise, even more pleasant than that of Barcelona. On the eve of the meeting with “Fejnor” of Holland in the Champions Cup, Musta had left for Romania to “Dinamo” of Bucharest and the leaders of the Club, Sul Starova and Hasan Lika, remember Lekbello. An urgent telegram to the Durrsak Club, but there is no answer.
Days pass and after two weeks, quite suddenly, while he was in Tirana and climbing the stairs of the “Dajti” hotel, he met Starova and Lika. “Why didn’t you come to the meeting, we are waiting for you, we sent you a telegram”? – They ask him in surprise. Without knowing anything about the invitation, Lekbello realizes that the telegram received at the Lokomotiva Sports Club was deliberately hidden and he was not notified. Meanwhile, he was overweight and without exercise. But anyway, he is the goalkeeper in the two spectacular matches, with “Fejnord” of Rotterdam, 0-0 in Tirana and 0-1, in Rotterdam: “They were the most beautiful meetings of my life”, – recalls Lekbello. And here, the end of his career, at the age of 36: It started and ended with “Partizan”.
Passion for music, friendship with Osman Mula
It is not only that goalkeeper who surprised Barcelona and Rotterdam, but also something else: An unexpressed passion, often even greater. Lekbello’s parents did not cultivate sport, but left it to him; the music. The father and the whole family sang beautifully and were well-known orchestrators, especially on the guitar and mandolin. Even Lekbello sings and plays the guitar beautifully (there are two guitars at home, one of the American brand “Gipson”). When he was at Partizan, the Lekbello-Lame-Starova trio kept the whole team alive. Similarly, at Flamurtari, with Tahon they were an unprecedented duet as the first and second voice.
While at “Lokomotiva” with Niko Janin, they remain protagonists in every festive event. He is nostalgic for the voices of Bashkim Alibali, Sherif Mejdani, Toni Tërshana, while he likes Eli Fara, Aurela Gaçe and Kastriot Tusha. However, what is special remains the friendship with the well-known Osman Mula. They have the same musical spirit; they sing and play instruments, Osmani the sax, Lekbello the guitar. They played football, even in the same role, i.e. goalkeepers, one with a short career at “Vllaznia”, the other a very long and successful one. How similar they are to each other: When you see them in the photo, you remember them as brothers and you can easily be mistaken.
Years after football, what did Tur Lekbello do?
Lekbello kept the same features, without changing at all. After returning to Durrës, he was appointed to the Free Military School in the Civil Hospital of that city, to be transferred later to the Army Convalescence Center in Plepa. Then another move and increase in duty: in charge of the Office of Civil Emergencies in the Prefecture of Durrës, where he continued to work for several years. He remembered difficult situations, such as the Kosovo crisis, the one in Gërdec and the flood in Fushë-Kruje, in 2011. Every day, every week, for him, was related to the forecast and atmospheric conditions: “If bad weather is predicted with rain, we are on standby and carefully monitoring the situations. Otherwise, when it’s sunny and the weather is good, we have it as a day off,” he recalls.
An invitation from the president of the “Teuta e” Durrës Sports Club, Mon Hasanbelliu, years ago, made him engage as a coach with the youth of that club. There was no follower of the family in sports, as the two daughters are doctors and pharmacists (just like Lekbello, who did not follow his parents’ passion). He had a great desire, still unfulfilled: To return once more to Barcelona, to that city, to that stadium, where for one night he was a myth, he was king, where he stopped Barcelona in that legendary 0-0 draw, the 1 October 1986. Memorie.al