Memorie. al publishes the exclusive interview with the legend of Albanian football of the 1970s-’80s, the great master Ilir Lame, former football player of the team “Partizani” and the representative of Albania, who tells about his team of the heart in one of the periods his golden years, in the late ’80s, when he also faced the famous Portuguese team, Benfica of Lisbon, a match which will be long remembered for the way it took place and the absurd arbitration of the referees of that meeting ….?!
Although three decades have passed since then, Ilir Lame, one of the most famous former footballers of the Partizan team and the Albanian National Team of the ’80s, does not easily forget and never forgets the match with the team. of Benfica, which the Partizan team played in Lisbon, at the end of September 1987, in the framework of the European Champions Cup. That match has remained a huge hostage, not only for him, but also for all his teammates, as not only was it an unprecedented scandal and he severely punished them unjustly, but also marked the end of a cycle that had just begun for Partizan of that time. Regarding that match, which marked the end of the career for some of the Albanian football stars of those years, the Master of Sports, Ilir Lame, as one of the players of that meeting, introduces us with his exclusive interview for “Memory”, by witnessed and recalled what happened there that distant September of 1986.
Mr. Lame, how do you remember the successful performance of Partizan in the ’80s?
The Partizani football team, that year, in the 1986-1987 season, was a team rebuilt by the well-known coach Neptun Bajko, who had managed to create a group of very good players. At that time, in addition to well-known footballers, such as Perlat Musta, Arjan Ahmetaj, Genc Tomorri, Adnan Ocelli, Skënder Gega and some others, who were already quite well-known and with a big name, some new players had joined the team. , very talented, such as: Lefter Millo, Ylli Shehu, Leskaj, Kaçaçi, Frashëri and others. Both of these groups of players that I mentioned constituted the basis of the representative teams of Albania, that of Shpresa and that of the national adult team. With this team, Partizani managed to win the national championship of that year, competing in the last matches with the team of Flamurtari of Vlora, which was at the peak of its brilliance, achieving a series of positive results in the eliminatory matches of the cups of Europe.
How did you expect the draw when you learned that you would face Benfica, and where did you go through the preparatory phase for that meeting?
We welcomed the draw with Benfica of Lisbon with great pleasure, because at that time it was a great honor, not only for us Albanian teams, but also for those of other Eastern countries, to play with a team with such a famous name. great. There was no sign of fear in the whole team, as until then we had also faced other western teams, such as Celtic of Glasgow, Austria of Vienna, Malmo of Sweden, etc., and there was no question of any negative emotion in our ranks. The preparatory phase for that match we held in Ballenjë of Martanesh, as there was a mountain climate and the conditions offered to us at that time by the club “Partizani” and the Ministry of Defense, as a material base, etc., were quite good. Of course, compared to other Albanian teams of that time, but it must be admitted that we lacked nothing. The group of players was quite enthusiastic and also the interest shown for that match was quite large. Senior officials from both the Partizani club and the Ministry of Defense came to our summer camp from time to time. Most often of all came Deputy Minister Maliq Sadushi, who was quite passionate about football and kindly intervened down to the technical details. In addition to all this, I wanted to add the great work done by our coach, Neptun Bajko, who at that time had just returned from Italy, where he had finished the course of Koverciano and brought to us the latest news from European football and he Italian in particular.
For the meeting in Lisbon, did you receive reinforcements from other teams, as was usually the case at the time with Albanian teams for international matches?
Absolutely, there was no such thing. Our team, as I said above, formed the basis of the representative teams of Albania, that of Shpresa and the national team of adults and we did not need reinforcements.
What was the formation of Partizan in the match with Benfica, who were the people who accompanied you and for what result did you go there?
The basic formation was this: Musta, Ahmetaj, Ocelli, Gega, Frashëri, Lame, Millo, Leskaj, Tomorri, Shehu and Kaçaçi. The head of the team was the commissioner of the club “Partizani”, Mit’hat Shehu, the assistant coach Bajko was Iljaz Dingu, the doctor of the team was Dhimitraq Stratobërdha, while as a journalist, as far as I remember, was Gëzim Sinemati. Our team went there for a positive result, which of course was a draw, but we would be satisfied with a minimal loss, 1 to 0, which made us hope for a reversal of the result in the return match in Tirana.
Where were you accommodated in Lisbon, what was the Partizan team for Benfica and how did the local media comment on that meeting?
Our team was accommodated in one of the most luxurious hotels in Lisbon (five stars), with excellent conditions. For Benfica, of course, we were an unknown team and as far as we learned, the local media had presented us as an ordinary Balkan team of a communist country.
The whole team and you personally, did you have any pre-match emotions, and who were some of the best players Benfica had in that match?
Before the match we had no sign of negative emotion, as almost all the players were used to such international matches. Unlike some other players, who could lack experience for international matches, I had positive emotions and could not wait for the game to start. The Benfica team had a large group of Brazilian players, including central defender Aldair, the prominent footballer of the representative of that country, who played until a few years ago with Roma in Italy. Along with him was the other Brazilian Mozer, well known at the time.
In which stadium was the match played and how do you remember the beginning of that match and the flow that the game took afterwards?
The match started at 22:30 pm and it was played in Lisbon’s main stadium, which was four storeys high and packed with local fans. The atmosphere before the match was quite electrifying and, as far as we understood, because Benfica had underestimated us, the match started with some euphoria on their part. And based on this fact, the local fans expected their team to score from the beginning of the match and win with a deep result. But not only did that not happen, but the match flowed in the exact opposite sense of how sharp they had been. Our team from the beginning moved the game to half of their field and as a result of some combinations I made with Ylli Shehu, he came out two or three times in front of the opponent’s goal, but out of hesitation he could not score. However, thanks to some spectacular dribbles and slips of Shehu, our team seriously endangered the gate of Benfica, with three or four clear scoring chances, causing the Portuguese team to behave on the field as perverted, without appearing in its game. As the game progressed towards the end of the first half and the timer marked the 45th minute, amid the constant whistling of the local fans who did not agree with her team’s game, in the second extra minute, Benfika took the lead, by means of an own goal. of our left defender, Frashëri. It was something quite unexpected and their goal did not come as a result of pressure, but it was a case completely detached from the game in general. However, we were punished and with that result we were ushered into the locker rooms.
What did coach Bajko say to you at the break of the match and how did the second half of the game go?
At the end of the match we received an order from coach Bajko, to continue the game at the same pace, in order to equalize the match. And given the development of the first part, that thing was more than normal. The second half of the match started with momentum on our part, making us look more at their half and their goal, as they continued to be perverted as in the first half. And this went on until the 20th minute of that part, when while we were waiting to score, something unexpected happened. The Spanish referee of the match, Pes Perez (who in 1984 had judged the Albania-Belgium match, 2 to 0 in Tirana and annulled the equalizer for the Belgians), with his very one-sided judgment came out openly in favor of the Portuguese and punished us heavy we. It is little to say that his trial was a real and unprecedented scandal up to that time.
Specifically, what happened in the 20th minute and beyond?
Before we get to the 20th minute, I wanted to add that throughout the second half, the actions and behavior of Judge Perez were extremely one-sided, in favor of the locals. With his actions he left the impression that: either he was paid with money by the Portuguese, or he was drunk. Sometime around the 20th minute, seeing that we were approaching a draw (after we had had some clean cases, yes with Shehu), Judge Perez did what was not expected. This happened after a penalty kick for the locals, when our goalkeeper, Musta, came out to punch the ball and after removing it from the area, fell to the ground along with the local striker, Rui Aguash (player of the Portuguese National Team), who had fought in air with it. While we all waited for the referee to give the penalty kick in our favor, as is common in duels of attackers with goalkeepers, the Spaniard Perez, not only did not do so, but he awarded the penalty in favor of the locals and awarded a yellow card for Musta. While we were protesting against his inappropriate decision, after two minutes of hesitation, he issued a red card to Musta (because he had taken the yellow card for the foul), removing him from the game. But to protest against him, Perez issued a red card to our captain, Arjan Ahmetaj. After that, the Portuguese turned the penalty kick in their favor into a goal, bringing the score to 2 to 0. This, so the actions of the Spanish referee of the match were very scandalous, so much so that the local public was surprised and with the whistles their did not approve of them. Given the fact that our possible substitutions were made, instead of Musta, our striker Genc Tomorri entered the gate. In those moments, I remembered the match between Partizan (coached by Bejkush Birçen) and Austria Vienna, where the scenario was almost completely similar. For two minutes, the East German referee, Prokop, awarded two penalties in favor of the Austrians, facilitating the match in Tirana, which we won 1 to 0, but without qualifying.
After what was happening, what were the instructions coming from our bench?
From our bench they called us to keep calm and not to fall prey to their provocations. But it was not necessary to end with that, as Judge Perez would end his adventure of an irresponsible man in that meeting. After a few minutes, he removed our defender Frashëri from the game with a red card. Like the other red cards before him, he was completely unfair to Frashër, because for each of our interventions, he punished us with either a yellow card or a red card. This happened a few minutes later, when after a foul, he unjustly issued a yellow card to Leskaj. And when I in the role of captain went to look for the reason, instead of the answer I got from him, the red card. In these conditions, with four deficient players and no goalkeeper, our team was idle on the field. But the climax came when he issued the fifth red card, this time for Ocellin. But, after that moment, the line-up called him and it seems that he told him to cancel it, because with five players missing, the match could not continue. And he returned the card. Given what was happening, in the end, the Portuguese scored two more goals and the game ended 4 to 0 in their favor.
How did the local public react to this and what did you do after the match?
As I said above, the public did not approve at all, not only of his team’s game, but also of referee Perez’s actions, and he continued to whistle even after the meeting was closed. After the match, so upset by that real scandal that had happened, we went to the locker rooms and then to the hotel. There we decided to make an advertisement, as provided by the UEFA regulations for such cases. Advertising, in addition to our language (Albanian), had to be done in French. And for this, it is fortunate that we had the doctor Dhimitraq Stratoberdha, as only he knew French, otherwise we would not have had anyone to write the advertisement, which we handed over to the UEFA envoy for that match. After that, we boarded the plane for Albania, but our return to Tirana resulted in an even worse spirit and atmosphere than Lisbon, as the top leaders of sports and football of that time, could hardly wait for the opportunity to attack us and condemned Partizan.
What happened to you?
If the punishment given by UEFA for the Partizan team was not enough, for us not to play the return match in Tirana and 2 years of non-participation in the European Cups, while for the four players who came out with a red card, the punishment lasted five years, when we arrived in Tirana, the authorities and senior sports leaders of that time put us in the “dock of the accused”. According to them, with our actions, we had tarnished and discredited the image of the young socialist man outside our country, doing great damage to sports and Albania. Which, in fact, did not stand at all, because in that match we had been quite correct and, like the coach and other bosses we had with us in that match, they did not say any bad words to us, as they saw it with their own eyes. their what happened there. However, after that meeting, numerous analyzes were made and we were all found guilty, calling it a serious event for the Albanian sport. Thus, severe measures and punishments were taken, starting from the club commissioner, Mithat Shehu, and onwards for other club and team bosses. Perlat Musta and Arjan Ahmetaj were sentenced by our Football Federation to one-year suspension from football activities, and me with a reprimand, as I had no other case. The match with Benfica in Lisbon, marked the end of a cycle for the Partizan team, which had just started./Memorie.al