HISTORY OF KF TIRANA – THE WHITE & BLUE LEGEND OF ALBANIAN FOOTBALL
KF Tirana is an Albanian football club based in the country’s capital city, Tirana. The men’s football club is part of the multi-disciplinary sports club SK Tirana, and is the most successful in Albania, having won 49 recognized major trophies. They play their home games at “Selman Stermasi” and “Qemal Stafa” Stadiums and they compete in Albania’s highest tier of football, the Albanian Superliga
The club was founded on 15 August 1920 as Shoqata Sportive Agimi, which translates to the Agimi Sports Association, and they have since participated in all the top tiers national championships ever held in Albania, making KF Tirana and FK Vllaznia the only clubs in Albania to have never been relegated. They have competed under the name of SK Tirana between 1927 and 1947, when they the communist regime forcibly renamed the club 17 Nëntori Tirana, Puna Tirana and KS 17 Nëntori. In 1991 KF Tirana retook its pre-1947 name and was divided into two branches, the multi disciplinary SK Tirana and the football branch of KF Tirana.
KF Tirana is the most successful Albanian team in European competitions, having progressed from the first rounds on 11 occasions since making their European debut in the 1965-66 European Cup. The club also holds the record of being the highest ever ranking Albanian club according to IFFHS having been ranked 31st in the world in 1987, as a result of the success in their 1986-87 campaign. KF Tirana is also an ECA member.
Although still an unofficial event in the official FSHF footballing history, in 2012 historians revealed what is believed to be the first ever competitive football tournament in the country. It took place in Fier between 7 and 14 April 1911. The tournament featured 8 teams and was played in a one-legged format, similar to that of other European competitions at the time. Tirana was represented with what is believed to be the predecessor of KF Tirana, and in their first game on 7 April 1911 against Elbasani they won 9–4 to progress to the semifinals, where they defeated Kavaja 4–0 to reach the final. The final was held on 14 April and was contested between Tirana and Peqini, and ended 6–1 to Tirana, making them Albania’s first ever champions, although this is still not officially recognised by the Albanian Football Association.
Early Years (1920 – 1929)
On 15 August 1920, shortly after Tirana became the capital city of Albania, patriot and football enthusiast Palokë Nika, who had already formed KF Vllaznia Shkodër built and trained a new team in Tirana, with A. Erebara, P. Jakova, A. Hoxha, Anastas Koja, P. Berisha, Avni Zajmi, H. Fortuzi, B. Pazari, L. Berisha, S. Frasheri, H. Alizoti, A. Gjitomi, and V. Fekeci. The captain was Erebara, and the name of the team was Gjurmuesit Republikanë, which a few months later was changed into Agimi Sports Association. The name Agimi (in English: Dawn), was taken from the building in the centre of Tirana where they would hold meetings near to. The club was formed as a multi disciplinary one, but the emphasis on football was far greater than that of other sports. In October of the same year the club played its first ever football match at Shallvare in the centre of Tirana against Juventus Shkodër, which was a selection of players from Bashkimi Shkodran, modern day Vllaznia Shkodër, led by Palokë Nika, its captain.
In 1925 the association’s governing council was elected and its members were Avni Zajmi, Selman Stërmasi, B. Toptani, Irfan Gjinali and Anastas Koja. Shortly after in the same year, the club played its first international match against Yugoslav team Crnogorac Cetinje from Montenegro. On 16 August 1927, which was the seventh anniversary of the formation of the Agimi Sports Association, the club’s name changed into Sportklub Tirana, which would be commonly referred to as SK Tirana. On that day the president of the club was Teki Selenica .
Domestic Dominance (1930 – 1937)
With the formation of the Albanian Football Association on 6 June 1930 came the first officially recognised football competition held in Albania, which was the 1930 National Championship, of which SK Tirana had enrolled in. The club reached the championship final after winning 5 games, drawing 4 and losing just one, to finish joint top, along with Skënderbeu Korçë, albeit with a slightly better goal difference. The championship final games against Skënderbeu Korçë were due to be played on 26 June and 6 July respectively, but Skënderbeu Korçë forfeited both games by refusing to play, which was a sign of protest against the bias of the competition and the Albanian Football Association towards the SK Tirana. SK Tirana was awarded both games 2–0, and were thus crowned champions of Albania for the first time. The winning team consisted of Rudolf Gurashi, Abdullah Shehri, Irfan Gjinali, Xhelal Kashari, Vasil Kajano, Gjon Sabati, Llazar Miha, Mark Gurashi, Bexhet Jolldashi, Shefqet Ndroqi, Isuf Dashi, Adem Karapici, Hysen Kusi, Mustafa Begolli, Hilmi Kosova, Emil Hajnali, Rexhep Maçi, and Selman Stërmasi (as player-manager). Maçi and Hainali also won the inaugural golden boot for being the joint top goal scorers with 3 goals each. As multi-disciplinary club, this was the second national championship that Tirana won, as the athletics team had already won the national championship a year earlier, in 1929. The team was received by Zog of Albania, and is, still to this day the only Albanian team to have been received by a monarch.
The following season the club introduced former Fenerbahçe goalkeeper Vasfi Samimi into the team, who had represented Sportklub Vlorë the previous season. Other players, such as Sabit Çoku, Muhamet Agolli and Halim Begeja joined as well the club. The Albanian Football Association decided to alter the format of the championship as they divided the teams into two groups, with SK Tirana being placed in Group A along with Sportklub Vlorë and Bashkimi Shkodran. They played four games, winning two, drawing one and losing one, to finish top of the group level on points with Bashkimi Shkodran but still won the group due to a superior goal difference. The club met Group B winners Teuta Durrës in the championship final, who they drew 1–1 to at home at Shallvare in a notable game. SK Tirana had opened the scoring and taken the lead through a Mark Gurashi goal, before Teuta Durrës’ goalkeeper Niko Dovana instructed one one of the forwards to cover for him in goal as he went to play as a forward, and with a shot on goal he scored and equalised. His goal led to mass media coverage, with many Albanian football fans fascinated by the sight of the goalkeeper playing as a forward and scoring. SK Tirana complained to the Albanian Football Association on the grounds that a registered goalkeeper cannot play as an outfield player, but these complaints were not heard and the second leg of the tie was played a week later on 5 July 1931 in Durrës, which SK Tirana won comfortably 3–0 to win 4–1 on aggregate and to regain the National Championship.
The Albanian Football Association once again changed the format of the championship and opted for a five team league format, where every club would play each other twice and the winner would be decided by who finished top of the league, and not a championship final. SK Tirana went unbeaten throughout the season, with five wins and three draws to their name, including emphatic 6–0 wins over Urani Elbasan and Teuta Durrës respectively and a 9–2 away win once again against Urani Elbasan. The club were crowned Albanian champions for a third consecutive season, which further cemented their place in history as the first club to dominate football in Albania.
The 1933 National Championship proved to be less fruitful for the club, as they missed out on a fourth consecutive title, finishing in a disappointing third place out of six, behind Bashkimi Shkodran and the winners Skënderbeu Korçë. However, they bounced back firmly in the 1934 National Championship, finishing five points ahead of runners-up Skënderbeu Korçë in a seven team format. They won a total of ten games out of twelve, which included 9–0 wins over Teuta Durrës and Bashkimi Elbasanas respectively, as well as an 8–0 win over Sportklub Vlorë, with Mark Gurashi being named the top goalscorer with 12 goals. The following year there was no official competition held by the Albanian Football Association, so only friendly games were played.
In 1936 the National Championship returned and SK Tirana regained their title with a two-point difference between them and runners-up Vllaznia Shkodër. The ethnic-Albanian forward from Yugoslavia Riza Lushta was the top goalscorer with 11 goals scored in the campaign. The following season the club once again won the National Championship, with Vllaznia Shkodër coming in second place, and Riza Lushta being named the top goalscorer, this time with a record 25 goals. This was the last pre-World War II competition held by the Albanian Football Association as there was no championship held in 1938 and World War II broke out in 1939.
Interwar Period (1939 – 1944)
In 1939, following the Italian invasion of Albania, a national football tournament was held which featured eight of the country’s best clubs at the time, of which SK Tirana was part of. Under the fascist rule of Victor Emmanuel III, king of the Albanian Kingdom, sports activities in the country were revamped in order to mirror the systems in place in Italy. Giovanni Giro, a loyal trustee of Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, was in charge of organising the first football competition under Victor Emmanuel III, which was called Turneja Kombëtare E Footbollit Për Ndeshjet E Trofeut Të Liktorit (lang:en|National Tour of Football for the Matches of the Lictor Trophy). In the first round of the tournament, SK Tirana met Dragoj Pogradeci, which they defeated 7–0 in the first leg, with Zyber Lisi opening the scoring in the 7th minute, after which Naim Kryeziu netted 5 goals in the 8th, 35th, 68th, 81st and 89th minutes, with Zyber Lisi finding the net once again in the 85th minute. SK Tirana starting formation in the game consisted of previous championship winners Rudolf Gurashi, Sllave Llambi, Foto Janku, Hasan Maluçi, Hasan Balla, Zyber Lisi, Haki Korça, Naim Kryeziu and Mark Gurashi. Tirana defeated Dragoj Pogradeci in the second leg as well 2–0, winning 9–0 on aggregate and thus reached the semifinals against Skënderbeu Korçë, on a match played on 6 August 1939. Mark Gurashi scored the opening goal of the game within 10 minutes, as SK Tirana went on to win 3–0 and reach the final against Vllaznia Shkodër on 30 September 1939. The final was played at the Shallvare field in Tirana, in the presence of many important figures in the National Fascist Party as well as important Albanian nobleman and figures which included Eqrem Vlora, Aleksandër Xhuvani, Anton Harapi, Dhimitër Beratti and Karl Gurakuqi.
The ruling fascist regime organised a similar competition the following year in 1940, this time in a group format where teams were divided into two groups based on geography location. Two of the club’s most important players who had come from Kosovo had left Albania for Italy to join Bari and Roma respectively. They met Vllaznia Shkodër on 17 March in a memorable game which ended in a 2–2 draw, and where the fans left the ground at Shallvare following two stoppages due to players and staff fighting. The game had started positively with Skënder Gjinali opening the scoring in the 10th minute for Vllaznia, following an assist by Frederik Shkjezi. Vasif Biçaku then equalised four minutes later, before Zyber Lisi gave Sportklub Tirana the lead in the 40th minute from a Skënder Begeja cross. However, Vllaznia levelled the scores just 60 seconds later through Met Vasija, following a combination of Muç Koxhja, Loro Boriçi and the goalscorer Vasija. On 31 March they met Elbasani at Shallvare in a thrilling game which saw the home side go 3–0 down through goals by Progri, Shefqet Lamçja and Kasapi in the 30th, 48th and 56th minute respectively. Sportklub Tirana then scored a free kick through Vasif Biçaku in the 60th minute, to begin a comeback which saw three goals in three minutes, before Zyber Lisi scored the winner in the 85th minute. The rest of the campaign did not prove to be fruitful as Vllaznia finished top of the group ahead of Sportklub Tirana and reached the championship finals, where they defeated Skënderbeu Korçë 11–1 on aggregate to win their first national championship, to this day unrecognized by the Albanian Federal Association.
There was no competition held in 1941 but on 21 April of the same year, the foreign ministers of Italy and Germany met in Vienna and concluded that most of Kosovo should join Albania to become what was known as the Kingdom of Albania under Victor Emmanuel III. In 1942 the national championship was held with the inclusion of three clubs from Kosovo, which were Prizreni, Peja and KF Prishtina. These clubs from Kosovo competed in the northern section along with the reigning champions Vllaznia Shkodër, and Sportklub Tirana competed in the new middle section group and the southern clubs competed in their own group. In a bizarre ruling, only players born between 1921 and 1925 were allowed to participate in the competition, meaning that only players between the ages of 17 and 22 were allowed to play. However, this rule was not followed by most clubs and senior players did participate in the competition. Another rule was that all participants had to members of one of the youth fascist groups, but this was merely a formality as many players who were anti-fascist competed. Tirana defeated Elbasani 5–1 and drew 1–1 with Teuta Durrës to reach the semi final against Prizreni which was played in Tirana over two legs on 26 and 27 June. During the first leg, Zyber Lisi opened the scoring through a 21st-minute penalty before doubling the lead just 7 minutes later. Former SK Tirana player Skender Gjinali then scored for Prizreni on the 30th minute before Hasani equalised on the 81st minute and sent the game to extra time, but a winner could not be decided while led to a replay the following day. The scoring in the replay was opened by Akil Derani on the 17th minute, with Zyber Lisi scoring a minute later to make it 2–0 to the SK Tirana. Skender Gjinali scored a conciliation goal for Prizreni in the 76th minute but they could not equalise, and SK Tirana reached the final against Shkodra on 29 June. The final was played at the Shallvare and Shyqyri Bylyku opened the scoring for SK Tirana in the 65th minute before Pali equalised in the 90th minute. Italian referee Michele Carone then asked both sides to play extra time of two 15 minute halves but Shkodra refused to continue play without a concrete reason, although it has been suggested that the darkness was one of the reasons. Two days after the final had been played the match was awarded 2–0 to SK Tirana along with the title.
The club won two out of the three National Championships that were held during World War II, with the other championship being won by Vllaznia Shkodër in 1940. The AFA finally made a decision in February 2013 that, according to them, although AFA admits the WWII Championships have indeed been played correctly and rightfully, are not legitimate and won’t be recognized since they weren’t organized by the AFA, but by the Fascist regime.
Postwar Period (1944 – 1957)
Following the end of World War II, Albania fell in the hands of the socialist dictator Enver Hoxha, and footballing activities resumed as they had done before the war under the guidance of the Albanian Football Association. The first championship held was in 1945 and Tirana were placed in Group B along with a short lived military team under the name of Ylli, Bashkimi Elbasanas, Skënderbeu Korçë, Apolonia Fier and ShqiponjaGjirokastër. Tirana eased through to reach the finals, after finishing top of the group with 16 points, 7 wins, 2 draws and one loss. In the first led of the finals on 23 December Tirana met Vllaznia Shkodër, who they lost 2–1 to, but Vasif Biçaku’s late goal gave Tirana some hope for the second leg on 26 December. Vllaznia won the second leg 2–1 once again, with Tirana’s only goal coming from a Besim Fagu penalty. Vllaznia won what is officially recognised as their first title, in a season where Loro Boriçi was the top goalscorer. Despite a relatively successful season which saw the club finish as runners-up, they would quickly become victims of the ruling Communist regime under Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship. In early March 1946 at the Nacional movie theatre in Tirana, the ruling Communist Politburo had instructed the club to change its name to 17 Nëntori in honour of the Liberation of Tirana which took place on 17 November 1944. In the following decade, the club was subject to appalling treatment by the Communists, and this was highlighted by the creation of a privilege system for the newly created Communist backed teams Partizani Tirana and Dinamo Tirana.
The following decade would unroll in the same suffocating atmosphere, becoming even heavier after the foundation of two system-privileged teams that would follow the experiences of their sisters in the former USSR, former Yugoslavia, and the other eastern European countries: Partizani, the Defense Ministry team and Dinamo, the Internal Affairs Ministry team. Dozens of Tirana’s talented players were “convinced”, against their will, to play for either Partizani or Dinamo. As a result, “17 Nentori” struggled to stay at the top during the years 1947–1957, however the team managed to gain some of the lost groung during the second part of the 50’s after replacing in part some of the first choice players of its line up.
1958 – 1970
From 1958 to 1964 Tirana kept on producing some good football and finishing the championship almost always at the third spot. These years were a prelude to what was about to happen later: Tirana reexperienced its pre-war glory spell under the services of the unforgettable coach Myslym Alla. At the end of the 28th national championship Tirana became champions of Albania more than twenty years after their last title.
Championship of 1966 – 67
The team repeated the success the year after, but this was an obvious challenge to Partizani’s generals and Dinamo’s secret service bosses. After having practically won the 1966–1967 title three matches in advance, Tirana was banned from the competition and the title was assigned to Dinamo.
After this, Tirana won the championship two years in a row in style, losing only two matches in 1968 and only one during the 1969–1970 season.
1970s and 1980s
During the seventies Tirana struggled hard to stay at the top, the best result being the second place and the worst the thirteenth. Yet the club won the national cup twice. The generation of older players came to the end of their careers and this could only mark the end of a highly successful era. However the unsuccessful spell would not last long this time. Tirana won the championship at the end of the 1981–1982 season, and they went on to win the title three other times during the eighties, in 1984–1985, 1987–1988, and 1988–1989 and the Albanian Cup in 1983, 1984, and 1986. The club was also successful in the European club competitions and many of the team players made up the core of the Albania national football team, such as Agustin Kola, Arben Minga, Shkelqim Muca, and Mirel Josa.
1990s and 2000s
During the first half of the nineties KF Tirana (which in August 1991 regained its old name), likewise the whole Albanian society, went through a period of profound changes. Almost all the best Albanian players left the country and went abroad looking for a richer team who could hire them. But it seems that the club simply could not stand being too long from the leading spots. Thus at the end of the 1994–1995 season, K. F. Tirana once again won the championship five matches in advance with 12 points ahead of the second placed team. During the recent years Tirana has dominated the Albanian football by winning 10 out of the last 18 Albania’s championships.
Recent Seasons and The Present
Between years 1993 – 2007 Tirana completed another significant feat, still unmatched from any other Albanian club; their end-of-season ranking never dropped from 2nd place within 14 consecutive seasons. 9 championship trophies and 5 runner-ups were achieved during this period, as well as 6 Cups and 7 Supercups were added in club’s palmares.
Even though KF Tirana has dominated in nearly last three decades, since 2007 club have displayed instability in management, which has also reflected in the results. Several factors have affected negatively the presentation, not only in the domestic competitions, but also the international appearances. Here is a summary of Tirana’s recent years performance:
Following a successful 2006–07 campaign which saw the club win the Albanian Superliga comfortably, KF Tirana began to struggle and they kicked off the season with two losses in the Champions League against Slovenian side NK Domžale meaning they were knocked out in the second qualifying round. Despite winning the Albanian Supercup in the next game against Besa Kavajë, the club had a difficult start to the season, as they won only one of their opening 8 games. They did regain some form and managed to reach third spot, but they ended the season poorly and ultimately finished 6th, their worst finish since 1993. In the Albanian Cup they defeated Butrinti Sarandë, KF Laçi, Kastrioti Krujë and KF Elbasani to reach the final against Vllaznia Shkodër, which they lost 2–0 as they failed to save their season. The 2008–09 season proved to be successful as the club won the Albanian Superliga title for the 24th time, officially, and they also reached the final of the Albanian Cup, but instability in terms of the ownership of the club was still present and the following season would prove so as they went trophy-less as they finished third in the league and were knocked out in the quarter final of the Albanian Cup. During the 2010–11 season there were major controversies off the field, as there was an ongoing dispute between the club’s chief and president, which lead to a delay in paying the players’ wages and even some players not receiving their wages. The results on the field were also largely negative, and there were three head coached throughout the campaign, as Sulejman Starova, Nevil Dede and the Croatian Mišo Krstičević all being in charge of the squad at some stage during the 2010–11 campaign which saw the club finish 5th. They did however do well in the cup, as they defeated local rivals Dinamo Tirana on penalties in the final as they won the Albanian Cup and earned a spot in the Europa League qualifiers for the following season. However, due to late preparations that included a delay in signing new players and appointing a head coach, the club failed to reach the second qualifying round as they were knocked out by Slovakian side FC Spartak Trnava.
Despite winning the 2011 Albanian Supercup, KF Tirana had another difficult season, and on 12 October 2011 the Municipality of Tirana city council voted through a unanimous decision to change the status of the club from a municipality owned to a shareholder own one, under the name KF Tirana Sh.A, with the municipality of Tirana initially holding a 100% stake in the club but with the possibility of any future private sponsors and donors to own stocks in the club. On the field they won the Supercup and Cup despite major financial setbacks caused by the change in status. Spanish coach Julián Rubio led the side to two out of three trophies during the 2011–12 campaign, and they finished third in the league despite major departures just before the start of the season and players not receiving their wages on time. The club sold their main striker Bekim Balaj to Sparta Prague ahead of the new season, and they failed to bring in quality players in time for their Europa League run, which saw them defeat modest CS Grevenmacher from Luxembourg, before being knocked out by Norwegian side Aalesunds FK. They won the Supercup in their next game, but they lost their Spanish head coach Julián Rubio due to a contract disagreement, and they appointed former accomplished KF Tirana player Artur Lekbello as head coach, but he struggled in charge and after a poor start to the season he handed in his resignation after just 42 days. The technical director Alban Tafaj took charge as interim coach as he had done previously, before Nevil Dede returned to the club, who guided them to a disappointing 5th spot. Dede, intending to use younger players as the basis for the future, presented a project to the club’s board and was eventually offered a two-year contract, but the 2013–14 began in turmoil as players had gone unpaid due to the Tirana city council’s failure to sell club assets. The situation on the field was heavily disrupted by off field troubles, and the squad was made up only 10 players with little experience just weeks before the start of the season, before three wealthy local businessmen took charge of the club to provide much needed short term investments. Ndriçim Babasi was appointed president, whilst former president Refik Halili and Lulzim Morina were also co-donors during the 2013–14 season, and they were able to bring in some new players ahead of the season. Despite the collective efforts of Babasi, Halili and Morina to build a squad days before the start of the season, the club made a poor start to the campaign which led to the departure of head coach Dede, who was replaced by Alpin Gallo, who himself lasted only 5 games before being fired. The board opted for an experienced head coach and hired Gugash Magani, who was given the task of avoiding relegation, which is something the club had never experienced. Magani succeeded in keeping the club up as they finished 6th in what is considered to be one of the worst seasons in the club’s history.
On 26 June 2014 the Tirana city council approved a proposal to give private donors a 66% stake in the club’s assets for the next 18 years, which at the time fell in the hands of Refik Halili and Lulzim Morina, which enabled such donors to invest in players, facilities and youth teams. Ahead of the 2014–15, head coach Magani and the rest of the back room staff with the backing of Refik Halili aimed to put together a squad capable of winning the league for the first time since 2009. They were title challengers in a highly competitive season, as Skënderbeu Korçë, FK Kukësi and Partizani Tirana all invested generously in their squads to be able to compete for the title, which eventually went to Skënderbeu Korçë for the fifth time in a row, as KF Tirana failed to carry on their good form in the closing stages of the season and ultimately finished fourth. FK Kukësi lost the final of the Albanian Cup to KF Laçi which meant that KF Tirana also failed to qualify for the Europa League, thus ending the season trophy-less and failing to qualify for Europe. During the winter break major investments were made in the training facilities at the Skënder Halili Complex as well as the Selman Stërmasi Stadium, with the latter being reconstructed as the club sought to return to the stadium permanently the following season. Magani left the club at the end of the season, and former coach Shkëlqim Muça replaced him, whose only task was to win the Superliga title.