From Uvil Zajmi
Memorie.al / Do you remember the unlimited friendship tournaments when everyone ran to the People’s China?. From morning gymnastics, “Fair play” by Himçi, quotes by Mao Zedong, Ni Cih Cini, Loro Borici, Agim Fagu, the yellow of Lulzim Konci, the Chinese coach Pai, to the porcelain cups of the Chinese brand. Endless history, in the name of unbreakable friendship, that even the high mountains could not separate!
1961 – 1978, the great Albanian-Chinese friendship
It was a friendship that continued for about 17 years in sports, culture, art, everywhere. It was born after 1961, when Albania broke with the Soviet Union. It continued like this until 1978. The first but silent crisis of friendship happened in the early 70s. In 1971, Lin Biao, Minister of Defense of the People’s Republic of China, dies in a plane crash, and a year later, in secret, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visits China, followed shortly after by the introduction of at the UN, instead of Taiwan.
In 1972, the American president, Richard Nixon, visits China for the historic meeting with Mao Zedong. Çu En Lai is the current prime minister and gives signs for another new political course, the opening of R.P. of China. On January 8, 1976, Chu En Lai died and on September 9 of that year, also Mao Zedong. In April 1977, Hua Kuo Fen is the prime minister and together with Ten Sia Pin, they run the great Chinese state for years.
Meanwhile, in Albania, “hostile groups” have been hit in art, culture, economy and army, the situation is confusing. While the political one of R.P. of China, the change and the pro-American support for years are not liked by the Albanian government, that even though there was talk of a critical atmosphere, cooling of relations, the public separation would be declared in 1978. Now the unbreakable Albanian-Chinese friendship is not more like that!
Reflected in sports, the Albanian-Chinese friendship was unbreakable!
Such has been considered evaluated, treated, propagated in sports as well. In the 1970s, sports movements towards the People’s Republic of China were massive. Groups of athletes from representative teams, clubs, in all sports and disciplines, flocked for weeks, months to the Far East, where they trained, were treated in very good conditions.
In football, basketball, volleyball, shooting, athletics, cycling, table tennis, etc., etc. Although the confrontations, the difference at the technical and tactical level was evident in favor of the Albanian teams, in many cases our teams were oriented to make concessions, so that the meeting did not end with a deep result. In Albania, the stadiums were filled with students, Skenderbegas, students, to express their interest and great love. Everything before or after, with visits to historical places, even with joint work in agricultural cooperatives or manufacturing companies. In China, it had a different atmosphere, when in addition to matches, meetings; visits were made, usually to the Great Wall, cities with history, etc.
The stays were long, they lasted a month, and they were usually organized in the spring-summer period. In those years, almost the entire generation of Albanian athletes, boys and girls, went to China. Along with the teams, they traveled, accompanied by a staff of club leaders, trusted party people, etc. Likewise, the Chinese delegations when they came to Albania. A well-known practice with opening speeches, even receptions by high government officials. Then the competitions, the matches under the spirit of friendship, without winners or losers.
Forced morning gymnastics!
Morning gymnastics became compulsory not only in schools, universities, and work centers but also in institutions, everywhere. 30 minutes before the start of the official schedule, employees had to report to work every morning, as the mandatory morning gymnastics would take place, about 15 minutes. It was styled and oriented by the Chinese theory “Work-Health-Tempering”. Although in civilian clothes, gymnastics was organized and developed near the institution, enterprise, schools, and universities, in warm and cold, sunny or rainy weather.
Unexcused absences from morning gymnastics were frowned upon by the leaders, who appealed and the absentees were forced to account. This method continued for several years, and then was discontinued, never to be applied again. Even more so after the break with the Chinese, the methods, forms and applications in the sport were reduced until they were finally removed from circulation.
Goal conceded Himc’s unique case…!
The event took place in 1971, when the “Labinot” team from Elbasan was on a friendly tour in R.P. of China. In Mao Zedong’s hometown, Shaoshan-Hunan, a friendly match between “Labonite” and the local team was scheduled. In the middle of the game of the first half, Pëllumb Himçi, a dentist by profession, “Macola” from Elbasana, (so they called him because of the similarity in the style of play with the famous Italian footballer) one of the outstanding attackers of “Labinot”, of those years, takes a ball, and after dribbling two or three Chinese opponents along with the goalkeeper. And while he is heading alone to the empty gate, he stopped for a moment in front of its line.
Regarding this, Himçi himself says: “The Chinese brothers could not score a goal in that way, even more so against the team of a city where their leader, Mao Zedong, was born. Then, even out of fear of a personal punishment that this goal could cause me, I stopped in front of the goal line with the ball, I didn’t hit it towards the net. I stopped her, left her next to her, turned around and shook hands one by one with the Chinese soccer players I had dribbled, a friendly shake. They stood amazed, while from the loudspeaker of the stadium came the greeting: ‘Long live friendship, well done Çimçi, the goal is not worth but the friendship between two peoples’. Even the players of “Labinot”, responsible coaches, approved that action, without having the courage to ask me to account why I didn’t score. However, Labinoti won the match 3-1″ – concluded Himçi.
Agalliu, from the lost title to picking cotton with the Chinese
The 1960s and 1970s were accompanied by many meetings and races that took place in Albania, in which Chinese cyclists were also present. A rare event is related to the famous Albanian cycling athlete, Bilal Agalliu, with the lost title in the 1967 season, which did not pass without controversy. “At the end of that cycling round, the Chinese cyclist came out first, but since he could not be officially declared champion, the title was given to Shefqet Dervish, classified second and me third” – Agalliu recalled.
But, Agalli, the Chinese did not leave him when they appeared again during a friendly tour of Albanian cyclists in China. As it was done in those years of great Albanian-Chinese friendship, the sides of competitions and joint trainings spent part of their stay visiting museums, the Great Wall, even helping agriculture. Albanian cyclists are also involved in such an action, it is enough to refer to the photo, when you see Bilal Agalliu, together with the members of the delegation, picking cotton, in one of the plantations, on the outskirts of Beijing.
Reading Mao Zedong’s quotes!
Even though you have it in your hand, you see the picture; it is hard to understand what is happening. One of the more than unique photos for Albanian sports, its history, not only volleyball. The photo was taken before a friendly volleyball match between the Chinese and Albanian teams, a friendly match held in Beijing in 1967, at the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1969).
“There are: Anastas Panteqi, Todi Driza, Vesel Rizvanolli, Fatmir Sharofi, Tonin Fistani, Sandër Paloka, Ali Bushati, Enis Terihati, Fatmir Meka, Xhel Koja who are reading the quotes of Comrade Mao Zedong before the match. But none of us know what those pages are about. We were reading in Chinese, sure that we were doing a “revolutionary” act, but that really had nothing to do with sports. I remember the endless applause of the sports palace that accompanied and approved our reading”, said Fatmir Sharofi. Nowadays, you can’t even think, imagine something like that!
A gift of a bottle of Albanian olive oil for “Partizan”
In 1972, the “Partizani” football team leaves for a friendly tour in China. The stay there was long and in addition to the friendly meetings that took place in the city of Huan, the team and the leaders invited them to go first to an agricultural production plantation, with olive as the main and important product. This because some time ago, a delegation of the agricultural sector from China had been in Vlora and had been given some olive seedlings as a gift.
Having just returned to China, they had planted it and were reaping the fruits. For this reason, they invite the “Partizani” team, who dressed as soldiers go to see the result, even picking the few grains that the tree had produced, since the conditions probably did not favor the growth of olives there. “Before we left, as a gift, they gave us two bottles of Albanian olive oil, but produced in China” – Gjergji Thaka would tell us.
The arrival in Albania of the record man, Ni Çih Çin!
It was one of the greatest athletes of the time, Ni Chih Chin, the athlete of the high jump competition. Most famous, at least in China or the areas around it. Ganefos Games medalist, Asian Games, but that’s it. Talented athlete, exceptional in high jump, with a career of several years and reached its peak on November 8, 1970, when in the city of Çansha, he set the figures of 2.29.
But his record is not recognized by the International Olympic Committee, as China is not a member of the UN. Ni Çih Çin, in 1973, comes to Albania and competes in the “Qemal Stafa” stadium, overflowing as rarely ever. They jump in overalls at a height of 2.00 m on a sandy platform, because at that time and until many years later, there were no sponge mattresses in Albania! Then he passes the height of 2.25, with the “Brumel” style.
Applause for the Chinese champion and great respect for him. In four Albanian cities, where he competed, crossing heights up to 2.26, he was welcomed, applauded by everyone. Then a surprise visit to the Agricultural Farm “Gjergj Dimitrov” on the outskirts of Tirana: From that day, Ni Çih Çini, 30 years old, keeps as a memory a photo where he is harvesting, together with colleagues, Albanian officials, etc.
When Loro Boriçi refused his salary, for a pack of cigarettes!
Special and unrepeatable is the case of the great Albanian football coach, Loro Borici. It is the time when the Chinese, they claim, seek to raise the level of football, since being outside international organizations they lacked qualified people, results, meetings, etc. For this purpose, they propose to the Albanian government to get an Albanian coach for a few months. The Albanian Football Federation appoints Loro Boriçi (as a personality in this field) and in 1973, the legendary Boriçi travels to China and stays there for a long period, next to the national football team of R.P. of China.
However, the special thing is not here, but in the “agreement” that Boriçi made with the Chinese leaders. While they assigned him a monthly salary, Boriçi did not accept it, stating that: as a volunteer, he could not receive financial payment from a friendly country like R.P. China. But, for the work he was going to do, he asked the Chinese authorities to continuously provide him with two packs of cigarettes a day, as he smoked them endlessly. So, he did not accept financial reward, but in exchange he received packs of Chinese cigarettes.
Agim Fagu’s “anti-sports behavior”!
The year 1976…! Long and tiring friendly tour in the People’s Republic of China, of the Albanian national basketball team, which consists of high-level players who make a difference with the Chinese ones. In the match held in the city of Beijing where the sports hall was overcrowded, the game is tense as the Chinese basketball players intervened harshly, causing serious fouls against the Albanians, but who were not punished by the Chinese referees.
While the loudspeaker boomed with the usual slogans: “Long live the Albanian-Chinese friendship, it doesn’t matter what is happening on the field, the peoples of the two countries are friends”. In particular towards Agim Fagut, the interventions were systematic and quite provocative. This is until Fagu, already crushed, did not endure but waited for the opponent, physically reacted to him and with one blow, knocked him to the ground unconscious. The game continued, Fagu came out of it, but the consequences were not small for the best Albanian basketball player, his symbol.
This moment was and remains one of the saddest moments of his career, which came precisely from his “unbreakable friendship with the Chinese brothers”. The Albanian state did not react, it remained silent, even criticizing and punishing the “anti-sports behavior” of Agim Fagut. Until the removal of the title “Deserved Master of Sports”. Unforgivable, even today it remains inexplicable…!
The Chinese song “East is red”!
In Albania, it started to be fashion, style, but also Chinese music, songs, etc. The dress was the first that began to spread widely in the Albanian style, from the leadership to the layers of the population. But the song was more special: The words were learned automatically, without knowing the lyrics. The most memorable song was “Lindja es red”, where eight-year-old school students practiced singing from Chinese instructors in different environments, such as sports halls, etc. The population should be ready to sing the song in demonstrations, but also in sports, Chinese songs.
In the friendly matches with Chinese teams, especially in football, the stadiums were filled with students of eight-year schools, secondary schools and military from the wards, the “Enver Hoxha” United Officers School, etc. And the result of the meeting should have been without a winner: Even though the Albanian teams had the lead, they had a higher level than their rivals, the orientation was given that not many goals should be scored and possibly the meeting should end in a draw, or with a close result. The match should be characterized by the spirit of friendship.
Chinese sports materials, high quality
Chinese sports materials have been a great, valuable and important help for Albanian athletes. Especially in the blossoming years of friendship, it was a great favor to have Chinese sports materials. Privileged with the opportunity to be supplied, were the two military teams, “Partizani”, “Dinamo”, and less the other clubs.
In almost all sports disciplines, such as football, hand games, gymnastics, etc., etc., the materials were of high quality, from sneakers, tracksuits, very high quality and preferred. They came to Albania by ship and really gave massive support to Albanian sports, in national and even international representations.
The first yellow card in China!
The yellow card was a very historic moment, both for an Albanian football team and for the Chinese themselves. It was a tour of the youth representative team, in the summer of 1973, consisting of: Sulejman Starova, Seit Hyseni, Albert Sejdari, Luan Metani, Vladimir Janku, Arjan Bakiri, Ardian Arra, Sulejman Mema, Dion Kushe, Millan Baçi , Edmond Gezdari, Kreshnik Agolli, Ardian Lleshi and Ilir Bushati, with coaches, Refik Resmja and Thanas Jançe. The match was played in the giant “Workers” stadium in Beijing.
In the 70’s soccer world cup in Mexico, the yellow and red card was applied for the first time. But, being out of international participation, and separated from FIFA, it was still unknown in China, and they had very little information about the changes in regulations. To make the first demonstration, the referee of the match, the Albanian Lulzim Konçi remembers: “I constantly asked the footballers Seit Hyseni, Sulejman Starova, to cause a deliberate foul, to give me the opportunity to demonstrate, punishing them with the yellow card.
But, no one accepted, they were afraid of any possible consequences. And the moment came, Dion Kushe, corçar, (not mischievous), interfered in the wrong way with a Chinese football player. I reacted immediately, quickly took it out of my pocket and with my hand up visibly showed him the yellow card. The game was interrupted for a few minutes by the applause and the announcer’s voice thanking me and explaining why the yellow card was issued” – remembers the former international referee, Konçi.
Exchanges, students, coaches
Mutual exchanges in sports, teams, teams of all sports, in the circus, Albanian students who graduated in China, near the Beijing Sports University were the practice of the time. From Beijing, prepared cadres and high-level athletes returned to Albania, where we highlight the hammer throw champion Fatmir Bajraktari, athletes Skënder Balluku, Agron Çuka, etc.
But also from China, well-known specialists came to Albania, such as basketball coach Pai, who for a period of two years stayed with the Albanian national team. Even, being decisive in the results of many Albanian teams, in international representations, in the change of the way of training, treatments, etc. They were exchanges of experiences with professional value and important for the time. Many athletes even today remember the valuable contribution of Chinese training to Albanian sports, in many sports disciplines, mainly volleyball, basketball, athletics, gymnastics, table tennis, etc.
Chinese mugs and coat of arms of Mao Zedong traditional gifts
Chinese cups, emblems with the face of Mao Zedong, were the most valuable gifts that you could receive from the People’s Republic of China, on the way back to Albania. In the bags or suitcases that the athletes had, the boxes with cups of tea or coffee were especially noticeable. .
It could not even be imagined that coming from a friendly tour in China, you would not get Chinese souvenirs for the whole family, where different coffee or tea cups were distinguished. Even today in many families of former sportsmen there are or remain those historical cups, which more than them, nothing else symbolizes that time, as an integral part of the Albanian-Chinese friendship. Even in sports! Memorie.al