From Uvil Zajmi
The first part
Memorie.al / Although today, June 5, 2023, 35 years have passed, that afternoon of Sunday, June 5, 1988, known as the “Revolt” or “Hejseli” of Kucova, (“Stalin City” as it was known before the 90s), an enigmatic shadow still remains over that event. Yes, because, after the “Naftëtari” – “Dinamo” meeting, held three and a half decades ago, a large crowd of fans attacked the referees, threw stones, burned cars, etc. An unprecedented revolt in an Albanian stadium before the 90s. What was the atmosphere like on the eve of the double survival showdown? As the goalkeeper Bozhiqi remembers, an “ex”, when his father told him; not to play and Ben Vila, when he scored the only goal, which stunned the stadium? From the main referee Besnik Kaimi, radio-chronicler Fatmir Mneri, operator Naun Lasku, manager of the “Naftëtari” team, Fatmir Ismaili, footballer Koçi, etc., how they remember the 90-minute event and the event that shocked, no only one city, one state, but the whole Albania of that time.
“Dinamo”, for the first time in danger!
In that season, as never before since its creation, “Dinamo” risked relegation from the Category. After “November 17”, in the 1973-’74 season, ranked penultimate, played twice with Apolonia (0-0/2-0), avoiding relegation, the blues were the second well-known capital club, located in such a position. The end of the 1987-’88 season was: November 17, the champion, Flag winner of the Cup, while according to the formula, the penultimate team would play twice, with the second of the Second Category: specifically; “Dinamo” against “Naftëtari” as runners-up who, on May 26 of that year, in the “Dinamo” stadium of the capital city, had lost the final, between the winners of Group A and B:
“Tractor” – “Naftetari” 3-0
“Qemalstafase” match, Demollari-goal, but there are claims…! The first match, “Dinamo” – “Naftëtari”, played at the national stadium “Qemal Stafa”, on Thursday, June 2, 1988, ended at least 1-0 for the locals. Midfielder Demollari scored the goal in the 53rd minute. The match was led by a trio of Korçars, with Dhori Prifti as the main player, and it was contested until the end, even the Kucovars claimed an 11-meter penalty that was not given, inciting the dissatisfaction of the players and fans. After three days, the return match would take place and “Naftëtari” in good condition, had high hopes for victory. For this reason, the challenge was awaited with great interest.
Coach Bardh Deliallisi comes from Tirana
Since the coach Agim Mukavelati had resigned, the leaders of the district of “Stalin City” received Fatbardh Deliallis, who was known in that city, as he had managed “Naftëtar” before, but for that match, he appeared as an advisor. The team was gathered at the Hand Games Training Center (tennis as they call that environment) and treated at the restaurant next to the Museum, which also serves as a tourist point.
The bus with driver Pandeli Fypen, also known as a collaborator of the newspaper “Sporti Popullor”, was available. The analysis took place on the morning of June 5, around 10:00. “From above it was seen that the stadium was full and there were no seats even on foot. As they were on their way to the match, we saw the city’s off-duty policemen. We asked them and they told us that police had come from other cities and they would manage everything”, recalls Aleksandër Koçi.
All towards Kuçova, no tickets in circulation…!
Kuçova was buzzing, even to the surrounding villages. The interest was extraordinary, even from Fieri, Lushnja, Berati there were people, although in circulation, you could not find even a single ticket. When at 15:00 the five gates of the stadium were opened, a few minutes were enough for it to be filled with many fans, while others who remained outside, even riding on poplars, or buildings and other high objects, from where a little field could be seen. The streets were empty, shops closed, a city talking and living only with the long-awaited 90 minutes of that challenge. And the match, with a little history: Sunday, June 5, 1988, 17:00, at the city stadium, “Naftëtari” – “Dinamo” 0-1.
Scorer Arben Vila in the 82nd minute. The referee, a trio from Tirana, led by Besnik Kaimin and assistants, first assistant Hajro Leskajn and Fatmir Dama. Observer Ilia Plaku, all from Tirana. There are 90 minutes that are characterized by tension, protests against the referees, accusations of favoritism for “Dinamo”, controversy about closing early and after the final whistle, everyone runs and quickly enters the dressing rooms.
The bleeding child, the cause of the mass protest
This moment, i.e. a bloodied child, was a detail that greatly irritated and incited and provoked the revolt and the explosion. The law enforcement forces have hit a child, since the collision on the concrete of the opposite sector, he is bleeding on the head. When the police mounted him over the fence to take him out to the field, seeing him bleeding, one of the spectators shouted, saying that; “they are killing our children”!
After that, fans climb over the railings and flood onto the field, while others throw stones. Another fan is hit and loses consciousness and, in the following minutes, there is a call that spread very quickly in the stadium and around it, that; “the fan died in the hospital”. This caused all the attention to be shifted to the event, players and referees were forgotten, a situation that finds the law enforcement agencies unprepared for such a riot.
The event that sparked the protest
The great irritation of the fans causes them to cross the fence and throw objects, bottles, stones. There are injured fans, who are taken to the hospital, while outside the clash begins between the police, civilians and sampistas. The people were more excited after the news that there were “dead”. The “Dinamo” bus is attacked and its windows are broken, and two vehicles next to it, which were owned by the Ministry of Interior, are also destroyed and burned. The square in front of the stadium is full of people, and so is the city hospital.
The cries “we want justice” are heard. With a megaphone, Avdyl Pilafi, the First Secretary of the Berat District Party Committee, asks the people to calm down and disperse, but things fly towards him, and there are even insults, which force him to leave. A total chaos, until the night has completely fallen and around 10:30 p.m., people start to disperse, as there is information that the Special Forces are coming from Tirana.
Football players and referees stuck until midnight
They were hours full of tension and anxiety, when in that old environment, not at all comfortable, narrow, the footballers with the management staff and referees, endured until they were released. Football players and referees stayed there for hours. In just a moment, from a primitive telephone of the stadium, the police leaders were able to communicate directly with the minister Hekuran Isai, after his interest, from whom they received an order to protect the referees and the teams at all costs.
Reinforcements are coming from Tirana
When in Kuçovo, the situation was precipitating, it forced the Ministry of the Interior to react and around 19:00, four “Ifa” trucks with Special Forces, or as they were known otherwise, left Tirana; “Parti 326” with “Sampists”. Due to the speed, one of them, taking the turn to “21 December”, overturned. The departure of the “sampists” of the Special Forces attracted the attention of the citizens of Tirana, who knew nothing and still had no information about what would happen. In “Stalin City”, they arrived shortly before midnight, when the chaotic situation had calmed down, encountering only one obstacle at the Vajgurore Bridge, with people blocking the road with stones. Then, the departure of “Dinamo” and the referees, accompanied by them towards Tirana.
A state on foot, looking for organizers
They considered it a revolt and the Ministry of Internal Affairs immediately searched for its organizers. Such a situation has continued for several weeks in a city, with families, women, men, and children all on their feet. In the meetings held, the punishment of acts of violence and calls against the Party were openly and forcefully directed. Vehicles of the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs circulating with people who took them, sent them to Berat, among them football players, fans, managers, even the instructor of the Kuçova Party Committee, Naim Halilaj. In order to make Kuçova guilty, the trial was held quickly and 10 people were convicted, including Halilaj and several sportsmen.
Press reaction: Anti-sports foreign shows!
The event that took place in “Stalin City”, as rarely ever, became an object and was covered in the only sports newspaper of that time, “Sporti Popullor”. So, in the next issue, the newspaper “Sporti” had a short chronicle and a little comment about that event. While, after a few days, in a more extended article, the public opinion is informed that; “After the end of the match, which was judged correctly and was won by “Dinamo” 1-0, a group of street people approached the judges’ and athletes’ rooms, both teams, committing acts of vagrancy, foreign to our sport. although the unpleasant event, it does not spoil the undeniable truth of the enthusiastic and objective environment in our stadiums…!
But, in the positions of the sick fan, club managers also fall several times, which was reflected in the managers of the “Naftëtari” Club, before and after the match, as well as some other personnel who, with the pressure on the referees, became instigators of foreign actions by fans. Uneducated footballers and sick fans, who create serious situations, should be shown the right place…! Rightly, the competent bodies, for unworthy behavior in society, have given different punishments, with deprivation of liberty for 10 people, instigators of these actions. Whereas, for the anti-sports events, which contradict our moral norms, the KKP of FSSH and the football sector took the following measures:
The team of “Naftëtari” is excluded for 1 year from all national football activities and is relegated to a lower category and will play outside its field.
For poor educational work and lack of organizational measures, the manager of the “Naftëtari” Club, Fatmir Ismaili, is dismissed from his position, while the coach Pandi Angjeli is stripped of the right to lead teams in national activities.
The footballers S. Meta, R. Makashi, are permanently excluded from all sports activities for foreign anti-sports performances and incitement of sick sports opinion”.
The testimony of the main referee of the match, Besnik Kaimi
Besnik Kaimi belongs to a constellation of well-known referees, such as: Sami and Plarent Kotherja, Dhori Prifti, Arsen Hoxha, Hiqmet Kuka, Lulzim Konçi, etc. At that time, the 36-year-old from the College of Tirana was appointed to referee “Naftëtari” – “Dinamo” 0-1, when the others, meanwhile, had rejected him. In 1969-’70, Qaimi performed his military service in Aviation, being also a footballer, midfielder, with the “Naftëtari” team led by Njazi Shehu. Then two years in Poliçan, with “October 22” and the return after two decades, to rush into the challenge of survival.
Regarding these and other things, Besnik Kaimi remembers: “In those years, the reward for a match was 25 Lek, or 250 Lek old for FIFA referees, 180 Lek for those of the First Category and 100 Lek for assistants “, says Kami. The Executive Committee, which also covered the Collegium of Referees of Tirana, after a request from the “Dinamo” club, appoints Besnik Kaimin, a FIFA referee for the match. But he is located in the several-day choir of the enterprise, in ward “N”, on the outskirts of Tirana.
From the Command, they have announced that; they don’t give him permission to referee in Kuçovo on Sunday. “It was Josif Devole, the sports representative in the Executive Committee of Tirana, who addressed the Ministry of Defense with an official letter, after which I was allowed to leave the department”, Kaimi remembers about that match, which later to return to “war”!
Mr. Kaimi, how did you travel to Kuçova?
With the train at 08:00, Tirana-Lushnje, then by bus “Skoda” and around 11:30, we arrived in “Stalin City”. At the agency, we saw leaders of the “Naftëtari” Club and the Executive Committee, who had come out and checked every vehicle entering Kuçovo, to verify the arrival of the arbitrators. They suspected that we would come with “Dinamon”, or with means of the Ministry of the Interior. When we arrived, the Secretary of the City Party said to us: “Why did you come as an arbitrator from Tirana? Don’t help “Dynamo”?! We stayed a few hours in the small hotel of the city, then close to the stadium.
High tension match, what do you remember?
It was hot, humid and the first half could have ended 3-0 for the locals, but it was the Kuçovar goalkeeper, Bozhiqi, who prevented them from scoring. I remember that, during the game, I issued 8 yellow cards, among them Koç, the main striker, who protested constantly and me saying: “Whatever you do, I will not punish with a red card, because I do not want to spoil the game …”! An electrified atmosphere that gradually increased on the stadium steps. After the scoring of “Dinamo’s” goal, I was waiting for the chance to give “Naftëtari” an 11-meter penalty, to reduce the tension, although it didn’t work. It was minutes that only for the game, it was no longer a question.
What were, in your opinion, the causes of that great tension?
Even today, if you ask those who experienced that afternoon, they don’t give you complete information, or details, to understand what the real causes were…! When a fan base in the stadium explodes in those proportions and when, for the first time in Albania, cars were burned by people’s revolt after a match, then I think that an important factor was also the severe economic situation in which Albania was at that time. I think that this could be one of the reasons, and the opportunity was found to vent there.
Many complaints about the refereeing and in the end the match was called off prematurely. How do you think you refereed?
I think that the arbitration was normal. Of course, for every questionable case, there were claims from local players and fans. I couldn’t close it prematurely, as it would be a serious violation, because there was no major motive, or reasons that the regulation clarifies. I didn’t play the extra minutes, because from the 90th minute, staying on the field for everyone was dangerous. I also remember that the local football player Dume came and shook our hands, then stones were thrown, people entered or tried to jump the fence.
Then you holed up in your room and… bread, tomato and some cheese, right?
Yes. For hours, we stood in that small building of the stadium, without having any information, what was happening outside, since getting out was impossible. Only assistant Hajro Leskaj took advantage of the darkness, because they did not recognize him, and bought bread, tomatoes and cheese and returned again. Until midnight, when the Special Forces came, then with an “Aro” gas from the Ministry of the Interior, we traveled to Tirana and the Albanian Football Federation, worried family members, but also sports leaders, Azis Tahiri, Mehdi Bushati were waiting for us, Kristaq Miço.
Did you return to Berat on Monday?
The next day, the work for the Women’s Congress would begin in Tirana, so it was a celebration. I was drinking coffee on the 15th floor, together with my friend, Ylli Zaçe, when a group of investigators (from Fieri, Kavaja, Lushnja, Tirana, none from Berat or Kuçova), alarmed, presented me with the document and asked me to to leave together with them, to Berat, as the investigation required information and explanations from me, the arbitrator, as to what was likely. In the square in front of the Interior Branch in Berat, there were about 50 suspected people who, facing the wall, stood with one leg, as a disciplinary measure, among them, people who had hit policemen and burned cars. They asked me if there were football players responsible and only after two hours the investigator let me go.
In the match before that, “Dinamo” also had claims for an 11-meter…?!
At the beginning of the season, I was assigned to manage the “Partizani”-“Dinamo” derby. In an instant, I hesitated to give a 11-meter penalty for “Dinamon”, which prompted coach Birçe to protest at the end of the meeting. But I remember that Sokol Morina, the head of the Sports Club, stepped in and said: “Don’t complain, because this referee kept us at work”! It was about the Kuçova meeting, if “Dinamo” would fall to the Second, everyone would have left.
After that event, did you referee again in Kuçovo?
After that meeting and taking into account what it looked like, I never returned and never refereed in Kučovo. Also due to the fact that the team was severely punished by the Federation and played in the Second, and also the field was suspended for a long time. Memorie.al
The next issue follows