Yes, for Kosovans the significance of that match was a big deal - a big deal because it was a picture of how far we have come from our war torn past. It was a picture of how far we have come on our journey. From being the smallest country in the Balkans - about the size of Jamaica - with the past of centuries of foreign occupation, a 10 year war and then receiving independence as a state of our own in 2008, to an international stage against the likes of England, themselves.
At the age of three, I came to the shores of the UK with my parents and siblings as refugees from the Kosovan war in 1999 so I have never grown up in Kosovo. My parents said that we would have a safer life here than the one we left in Kosovo so I had to hear about our hometown threw the hazey memories of my older siblings who could still remember our house and neighbours. The image that I got from our old life there was that we were just poor, with next to no education or prospects of a bright future but this was average back then and still is now, due to a weak economy and bad infrastructure.
Now at the age of 24, I am writing about the first official Kosovan vs England game that will most definitely is just the start to our progress and success.
As cheesy as it sounds, this what the Kosovan team is for us - a vision of hope and a brighter future for our country. In an interview with IVT before the big match, our very own Sheffield Wednesday, Atdhe Nuhiu said:
“Biggest game I think for Kosovo, in the young history of Football Federation… just to play for Kosovo is not just to play for any national team. You know what the people have suffered there and I think nobody ever imagined that they would see Kosovo playing on the TV, in the qualifiers or even challenge to go to the Euros which I think we have a great chance at.
“I think the people are proud of this, just that we are a part of that and so are we because a few years ago no one would have thought about it.” Added Atdhe.
Even though we lost we couldn’t have been happier with Kosovo’s performance. I watched the match with another Kosovan friend of mine Shqiperim Reka who is a lecturer at Hallam University who was just as delighted as myself at the prospect of Kosovo playing England. He also came to the UK with his family as a refugee around the same time as my family and made his life here in Sheffield.
Of course we knew we didn’t have a chance against England in terms of winning but that wasn’t even on our minds because we were so happy the team got as far as beating Czech Republic. A day before the game I asked Shqiperim if he was proud of our team, he didn’t hesitate a second before saying, “Of course! Before they have even played, of course we are proud of them!”
We decided to go watch the match with a few of his colleagues who were there in support of England but celebrated with us as well when we scored. Again, this is the image I would say many Kosovans have of England as well - a supportive, encouraging friend.
We prepared ourselves as the game started. As the only two Kosovans in the whole bar I said: “I’ll be happy if we just score. Just one goal and I’ll be well happy with that.” Just as I said that, Berisha goes in and made a goal within the first 35 seconds. We could not believe it - we had a goal. Kosovo’s first goal against England and within seconds of the game starting was unthinkable. Myself and Shqiperim both hesitated out of disbelief at first but the realisation of getting our first goal in 35 seconds overwhelmed us. It’s safe to say that no one could have predicted that and definitely surprised everyone.
After this, we saw that we had a few good opportunities given to us by England players’ mistakes but we didn’t manage to score again until the second half. England scored and continued to score against us - our short lived glory was coming to an end. There was a moment where I’m sure all Kosovan fans winced as Vojvoda let his foot slip and scored into our own goal - a big mistake to say the least, but still a mistake.
Kosovo played brilliantly considering they have only been playing internationally for three years. They came back in the second half with new life in them to show everyone what they’ve got and they proved Kosovo is a budding football team, scoring two more times.
The significance of this game and how well the players performed satisfied us and filled us with pride.
Shqiperim summarised the game with: “It was a great game. Always expected England to be ruthless but Kosovo played their part and didn't shy away from playing their football.
“Heads held high. Qualifying will be tricky because Czech won tonight but few more games to go and it can still happen, for sure!”
We hope the players are as proud of each other as they’ve made us and Kosovo.