Kosovo’s Long Road Towards Recognition

Football Federation Kosovo
An Albania fan wears an FFK jacket before Switzerland played Albanian in a 2014 World Cup qualification match. ©James Montague

Back in 2012 I met two Kosovan men in a diner on the outskirts of Zurich. The two men were well known in Pristina. In fact one of them, Fadil Vokrii, was particularly famous. He was the only Kosovar player to ever represent the Yugoslav national team and was considered the best player ever to come from Kosovo. He was now the president of the Football Federation Kosovo [FFK] and was sitting at this small diner with Erol Salihu, another former player who was his general secretary.

The two men were on a mission. They wanted recognition for Kosovo at both UEFA and FIFA. But this wasn’t going to happen. Russia and Serbia were opposed to any such move and they had got nowhere in recent years. But around a dozen Kosovar players DID play international football, usually for countries their parents had fled to during the war. Finland, Albania, Belgium and, of course Switzerland.

Albania and Switzerland were playing each other in a 2014 World Cup qualifier, and over half of those players had Kosovar roots. Fadil and Erol were in town to meet those players and get a signature from them for a petition, asking that Kosovo be given the right to play international football.

So the three of us, Erol, Fadil and I, snuck into the Swiss hotel and met Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, amongst others. Who all signed the petition. I wrote about the encounter in my book Thirty One Nil, but I thought again of that day when Kosovo was recently admitted into both UEFA and FIFA.

Back in 2012, membership seemed far, far away. And yet Kosovo is now likely to be included in qualification for Russia 2018, a country that does not recognise it.

There are still some barriers. Serbia, understandably given that they see Kosovo as a historic part of their own territory, is livid and will be taking the decision to CAS. Then there is the issue of who plays for Kosovo? Will Swiss and Albanian players be allowed to switch nationality, for instance?

Over the past few days I tried to answer a few of these questions. Here’s a BBC World Service report for the World Football show where I revisit that meeting in a diner in 2012. 

And here are two New York Times pieces, one on Kosovo and the other detailing FIFA’s other new member, one no less controversial: Gibraltar.






Thirty One Nil wins Football Book of the Year Award

Haiti 2 Getting the stadium ready1 Brazil Girl before Confeds final5 American SamoaAll photos © James Montague

June saw the 2015 British Sports Book of the Year awards take place at Lords in London. Thirty-One Nil had been nominated for for the TalkSport Football Book of the Year. I’d assumed it had zero chance, as it was up against some pretty strong competition. Plus I saw that Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs — of TalkSport’s Hawksbee and Jacobs fame — were handing out the award.

When Thirty One Nil first came out I went on the show to talk about the book, minnows and the football loving public’s adoration of underdogs. I wouldn’t exactly call the following discussion a spat as such, but we had a proper discussion about whether minnows like San Marino should ever be allowed to play the likes of England or whether those games are a waste of time.

So, I was content with the free bar. But somehow it won, which was a shock as I didn’t have a speech planned. A massive thanks to the Football Writers’ Association for picking the book from an amazing field. Plus to Andy and Paul. The discussion carried on afterwards, on camera. Here’s the highlights of the awards show, which went out on Sky Sports. The football award comes on at around 11 minutes.