The joy of playing sports brings people together, regardless of where they come from. This is the motto written on the banners of the Albanian football club KF Sharri e.V. Wearing their ruby-coloured strips, the young players dart across the field. Today they're playing a home game. Most of the people here have Albanian roots, others come from Germany, Morocco, Syria, or Ghana. At a glance this is a completely normal team. Only one thing differentiates them from the players of the other team. Everyone’s strips depict a very particular crest: a black, double-headed eagle. This symbol connects Albanians from different countries. This is important to know, because Albanians don't just live in the region known today as Albania, but rather in Kosovo and Macedonia as well.
“The club name KF Sharri is tied to exactly that”, says Afrim Nebiu, founding member and head manager of the club. Sharri is the name of a mountain range extending from Albania to Macedonia and into Kosovo. While the people are proud of their common heritage, membership in the club is open to all. In the beginning there were also players of other nations: “right after founding the club, we had a German as our goalie”, says Nebiu. “He found our club by coincidence because he wanted to keep playing with his football friends”. Since then, more and more football fans from other countries have become integrated into the club. It's often the mutual migration stories that connect people.
Migration is a phenomenon that’s had a heavy influence on Albania. The nation’s history has seen many waves of emigration: before 1944, many Albanians moved out of economic reasons to other European countries. Up until the ‘90s, many fled from the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. When Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991, another wave of migration took place. Today, many Albanians turn their backs on their country because there are hardly any available jobs. Roughly 15% of the people have to survive on less than one dollar per day. Add to this the fact that medical care is miserable in most regions. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 54,760 Albanians submitted or resubmitted asylum applications in Germany in 2015.
There are many reasons why people have moved and are moving out of Albania. There are many members of KF Sherri whose families have moved to Dortmund over the past decades for completely different reasons. KF Sharri has already been around for twenty years. “The founding of the club happened to take place at a moment when a large number of migrants came to Germany from the Balkan states”, says Nebiu. “However, because most of them only had temporary residence and work permits, they weren't able to join the football club long term”. A similar thing happened this past year, when player had to leave the club because he faced deportation.
Afrim Nebiu has played in other clubs before, but never felt as at home as in KF Sharri. In other clubs, players drink beer after games. “We don't do that here; here it's all about the game”, says Nebiu. This is due in part to the fact that the majority of Albanians are Muslim and don't drink alcohol.
The need to live out a cultural identity is essential for many people living in a foreign country. KF Sharri builds bridges and prepares people for the path of creating new identities for themselves. Raised in Germany, Albanian at heart. What do Nebiu and his players dream of? “To one day go as a team to Albania – or maybe play against the national team”.
You can read here why many people are currently fleeing Albania.