How football helped me show Sweden another side of Albanians

Sweden is a rather small country in Scandinavia where more than 9 million people reside. When you mention Sweden to non Swedes there are several of them who believe that there are polar bears walking around the Swedish cities on a daily basis but the chances are higher of you bumping in to an Albanian football player playing in the Swedish League than a polar bear.

Out of those 9 million people there are approximately 40 000 Albanians living here and you sometimes forget that you are in Sweden just because there is always one Albanian around the corner. We all know that Albanians in general have a bad reputation, especially in Sweden. On numerous occasions people have called me a Swede just because I am not the trouble maker type which often made me raise my voice and remind them that being Albanian does not mean you automatically come from a criminal family. Do not get me wrong, I’ve been living in this country for more than 20 years and I love Sweden with all my heart but my roots are Red and Black. Anyway, I eventually was fed up with this and had always wanted to help give Albanians a better image but never quite knew how to do so. However, in 2010 a wonderful idea came to my mind.

It began on June 2009, as an 18-year-old girl I first started watching football, or soccer as the Americans say, after seeing the U21 Euro Cup that was hosted by Sweden. Sweden was represented by Emir Bajrami and Labinot Harbuzi amongst others and I was shocked when I first heard the commentators mention their names. “Since when do Albanians know how to play football?” I thought to myself. The first League I followed was the Swedish League which is called Allsvenskan in Swedish. I was surprised by the fact that so many Albanians played in the highest league and not to mention their National Teams as well. When I mentioned them to my fellow school mates and friends there were a few of them that had heard of our Albanian talents.

Being new to the football world meant that I had to stay up late several nights in order to learn everything about this wonderful game. Not to mention all those hours I spent at the library reading every single book they had just because I was so fascinated by this sport. I memorized the entire career paths of several Albanian football players and gladly bombarded people with facts whenever I heard someone say all Albanians are bad.”Well yeah, did you know that Besart Berisha scored the fastest hattrick ever (6 minutes) in Australia’s A-League?” was one of my favorite phrases. Eventually it came to my conclusion that there were so many more people out there that still had a negative image of Albanians so about a year later a blog named Albankollen was born.

Albankollen means keeping track of the Albanians in Swedish and I started writing the few things I knew. As my knowledge grew, so did Albankollen. It grew bigger in Sweden and I was all of the sudden followed by thousands around the country. My work was even caught by Kosovo’s head coach, Albert Bunjaki himself! The former Örebro SK and Kalmar FF assistant coach was impressed by me and called me to help him with the team when Kosovo were allowed to play their first official friendly game.

Kosovo welcomed Haiti to Kosovo as a historical first contenders and the home team announced the former Swedish NT assistant coach Tord Grip as Kosovo’s assistant coach. This caught media’s attention even more. However he was not the only familiar face amongst the Swedish newspapers.

Kosovo’s NT were led by the rock solid captain Anel Rashkaj, a former Halmstads BK player but he currently plays in Norweigan Sandnes Ulf. Alongside him Ardian Gashi was lined up as well together with Loret Sadiku and the duo both played for Helsigborgs IF at that time. Another Swedish player was striker Shpetim Hasani, Örebro SK at that time. The game against Haiti ended in a draw (0-0) and several of the Scandinavian teams welcomed back their players during the spring of 2014.

Throughout out these years I’ve introduced several players and young talents to the Swedish crowd. Apart from the one’s I have mentioned earlier we have also had players in Sweden such as the current Malmö FF player Agon Mehmeti and his former team mate Dardan Rexhepi. Etrit Berisha, first goalkeeper of Albania’s National Team, managed to make his way to the Swedish All start team last season but had left for Kalmar FF for Lazio shortly before the season ending. In Kalmar FF he was accompanied by Besnik Rustemaj, Liridon Leci and Alban Dragusha. Another Albanian NT player Valdet Rama played in Örebro SK a few years ago together with Ilir Berisha, Kushtrim Lushtaku and Shpetim Hasani. 22 year old Dardan Mustafa in Gefle scored his debut goal in the Swedish League this year, but he was not the only one to do so. Even Elfsborg’s youngster Arber Zeneli, born in 1995, accomplished the same this season.

However these are only a hand full of Albanians in Sweden alone and I am certain that I managed to achieve my goal of showing Sweden a better image of Albanians during these past years. One time I even overheard a group of young guys talking on the bus. “Hey man, did you know we had so many talents around the world. I know, I’ve heard about them on Albankollen. Best page ever.” . Those words made me walk out with a huge smile on my face and my heart was filled with joy. That is why I decided to put down Albankollen last month and begin a new era. Now it is time to show the rest of the world what we are capable of. Welcome to Albanian Eagle Football!

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