Saturday, December 22, 2012

Head to head, Albania was probably stronger than Iceland on both club and national team levels, but these two never played against each other official matches: there was no way. The real strength of Albanian football is impossible to measure – as a peculiar, self-isolated Communist state, Albania was practically unknown. In football matters too, for the international matches were few – both Albanian clubs and national team were quickly eliminated and they did not travel much for friendlies. And Communist countries did not export players - if occasional Icelander was becoming known abroad, it was not so for Albanian players. Enveloped in anonymity, very little could be said about Albanian football – it had regular league championship and standard Cup tournament. The Army and the Police run their teams, which, following the traditions of Eastern Europe, were more or less the strongest clubs. The rest were attached to various industries and there was surely a club or two of old fame, now suppressed and oppressed, and developing the mythology of martyrdom. The world knew next to nothing about all that – there was no way to know even if the world cared to learn. As a result, it is very difficult to show a pictorial glimpse of Albanian football of those long gone years.

The championship was reformed into 2 phases – after standard 22 matches, the top 6 clubs played final 2-legged round robin tournament for the title, and the other 6 clubs – to determine survival and relegation. One team was relegated and the unlucky were KS Besa (Kavaje). The combined record of both parts of the championship left them with 26 points from 32 games, one point short of survival. They were replaced by the Second Division winners Tomori (Berat) for the next season.

In the upper part nothing unusual happened – Dinamo (Tirana) was first at the end of the first part, however, only by better goal-difference. The final round confirmed their leadership more convincingly: the total record from 32 matches left them 4 points above their consistent pursuer Skenderbeu (Korca). Scoring was not exactly the forte of Albanian football, yet, Dinamo left everybody else behind by far – they ended with 46 goals. The second best record was 33 goals.
Dinamo, belonging to the Internal Ministry, or simply the Police, collected one more title. Founded in 1947, they already won 11 titles. Now they had 12th. Strong in Albania, no doubt. Coached by Durim Shebu, the champions were: Jani Rama, Vasillaq Zeri, Ilir Pernaska, Shyqyri Ballgjini, Muhedin Targaj, Andrea Marko, Aleko Bregu, Xhorxhi Puka, Torez Ciraku, Iljaz Ceco, Haxhi Mergjyshi, Faruk Sejdini, Kujtim Cocoli, Rifat Ibershimi, Gani Xhafa, Gj. Gjini, Ibrahim Kodra, Riza Hicka, Shaban Zenuni, Ahmet Ahmedani, Luarasi.

Dinamo went for a double, meeting 17 Nentori (Tirana) at the Cup final. Hard to tell was this the derby of Tirana – depends on who sees whom as a 'real' rival – but the final was dramatic: 17 Nentori won 2-1 the first match and Dinamo won the second with exactly the same result. At the end, penalty shoot-out decided the winners and they were not Dinamo. 17 Nentory clinched victory 8-7.
Unlike Dinamo, 17 Nentory were quite old Albanian club, founded in 1920 under the name "Agimi Sports Association”. Eventually, the name was changed to SK Tirana (Sportklub Tirana) in 1927 and it was – and is to this very day – the only club to play all championship of First Division. However, they are also the 'sufferers' of Albanian football – when the Communists took power the club was renamed to 17 Nentori in 1947 and also diminished. With the forming of Dinamo and Partizani, the 'true' Communists clubs, 17 Nentori was immediately weakened – the new clubs took the better players. Yet, it seems 17 Nentory got its own powerful state sponsor, for after 1958 they were again among the best Albanian clubs. Winning trophies as well, especially in the 1970s. They were also champions of 1966-67 season, but were banned and the title given to Dinamo. More to add to the mythology of suffering. Anyway, they took their revenge – in a way – in 1977, winning their 4th Cup. The first was won in 1939. As for anything else about the Cup winners, there is only one small mystery about their log – may be it was the one above. May be it was this:
As for faces... one photo has to suffice. Partizani (Tirana), the Army club, and perhaps the most popular Albanian club, were not very strong at that time. The were trophyless since 1973. Measly 4th place this year, 4 points behind the bronze medalists Vllaznia (Shkoder). Empty hands do not suggest photography, so the club left one of uncertain time – it is a squad of '1975-78'. Was it from this very season I don't know, but at least is from the same time period. Winners left no photos anyway, so the losers would do.

Some national team players, names known only in Albania. Agim Murati was the top goal-scorer of 1976-77 – with 12 goals. By far, the biggest name here is the coach – the legendary striker and perhaps the best all-time Albanian player Loro Borici. Was he coaching Partizani in 1976-77​?

The championship 2-phased format lasted only this season – the league returned to the traditional format for 1977-78.