Football is serious business in the Balkans, and Albania is no exception. While in Tirana, I obtained a ticket for the big derby and joined the most fanatic supporters of KF Partizani, the Ultras Guerrils. Together we watched how they won 1-0 against their most important rival: KF Tirana.
The football game was taking place in the Qemal Stafa stadium, for which construction was completed a long time ago in the 40s. The largest of Albania, but without toilets, the stadium is a typical Balkan stadium and does not meet UEFA standards. It hosts the home games for Dinamo, KF Tirana and KF Partizani.
I learned back in 2009 that watching a football game in the Balkans can be an excellent lesson in getting more familiar with the local language and history. I once was a spectator at a Partizan game in Belgrade, and later also photographed the game when Kosovo played against Haiti. Because of my good experiences, I knew I had to be part of this epic derby taking place in Albania’s capital.
Locals warned me to go to the stadium early, as queuing up can take a very long time. Fortunately that didn’t happen, but it was mostly because we were late. We arrived 1.5 hours before the start of the game, and the entire stadium was already full. Supporters in the Balkans are able to hold their pee for a long time and love to come to the game early. It’s an excellent way of building up anticipation.
So once inside the atmosphere was amazing. There was some Partizani music playing on the background while I sat down in between the supporters. I started repeating their chants (it won’t be smart to repeat them here) and making ‘gestures’ towards the Tirana supporters in the other corner. Albanians truly are masters at intimidating others when they need to.
Right before the kick-off, I pulled out a red piece of paper and held it up in the air. Only later that night I saw what I had actually been doing, see the picture below.
The game itself was a bit boring, but luckily there was a great goal from Partizani. It came out of the blue for me, so I missed filming it. But it triggered the biggest fireworks show inside a stadium I have ever seen. Hundreds of red torches lit up and loud crackers were thrown on the field. The game had to stop for at least 10 minutes before continuing. Apparently this is what they always do during a derby. See my video below for yourself (goal at 1:47 minutes):
And this is how it looked from the other side:
Tirana derby between Partizani and Tirana yesterday (Albania) pic.twitter.com/jI0MqPW6TZ
— FootballAwaydays (@Awaydays23) October 4, 2015
In the end the game closed at 1-0. After the Partizani team came back on the field to thank us for our support, we all left the stadium in great spirit. For just €2.85 it’s an experience I will not quickly forget!
Tip: If you are ever around somewhere in the Balkans, check with the locals if there will be a football game anywhere near. It’s really worth visiting, even if you’re not a great football fan (like me)!