K.F Skenderbeu History

The first years

The first football club in the city of Korçë was formed on 15 April 1909 under the name Vllazëria by politician and poet Hilë Mosi.[2] The rise in the popularity of the sport resulted in a number of clubs being formed between 1920 and 1922, including clubs such as Përparimi and Sport Klub Korça. In 1923 the Albanian National Lyceum formed the Shpresa sports society. Skënderbeu was officially formed in 1925, when a large number of the young men and young men of the city were playing football regularly in local fields. The rise in popularity of the sport led to most neighbourhoods forming their own football teams, such as Zhgaba in 1926 and Leka i Madh, Pirro, Brekverdhit, Zjarri, Tigri and Diamanti in 1927, which competed in the city’s first organised football competition held in 1928. However, these teams were local, and would only compete with one another, as the main football club to represent the city was Skënderbeu who managed to overcome several problems at the start, some of which were even political. Skënderbeu was named after 15th century Albanian nobleman and national hero Skanderbeg. The club quickly became the city’s main football team, and in 1926 they began to play friendly games against teams from neighbouring countries, starting with Macedonian side Monastir, then part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In two games played Skënderbeu won 5–2 and then drew 2–2. Skënderbeu also played friendlies against Greek teams from Ermioni and Thessaloniki, which is modern day Aris FC. They also played against Kavala, who they beat 2–0 in Albania but lost 1–0 against in Greece.[3]

1930s championships

The club competed in the first ever national football competition in Albania, which was the 1930 championship. As the only club to represent Korçë nationally, Skënderbeu had hug popular support within the city, with similar support bases seen with the likes of KF Tirana and Vllaznia Shkodër, who all earned a name for themselves in the early stages of Albanian football. During the 1930 championship, Skënderbeu finished runners up to KF Tirana, after forfeiting both championship playoff matches.[4] The club managed to win its first ever Albanian Championship just 3 years later in 1933, finishing 2 points ahead of Vllaznia.[5] The championship winning side was: Klani Marjani, Kristaq Bimbli, Andrea Çani, Andon Miti, Lefter Petra, Fori Stasa, Nexhat Dishnica, Tomor Ypi, Thoma Vangjeli, Servet Teufik Agaj, Enver Kulla, Vasil Trebicka, Stavri Kondili, Aristotel Samsuri, with Qemal Omari as their manager. In the same year the club’s striker Servet Teufik Agaj was the top goalscorer with 7 league goals, an honour also won by his strike partner Aristotel Samsuri in 1931, also with 7 goals scored. The following year Skënderbeu strongly fought to retain their title, but only managed to finish as runners-up once again to KF Tirana, with Samsuri being the club’s top goalscorer that season with 7 goals. In the next 2 championships held before the start of World War II Skënderbeu finished in 4th place in both years under the guidance of manager Qemal Omari. The club ceased operations between 1938 and 1945 due to World War II, as there were no official tournaments held in Albania.

Post-war struggles

In 1945 the club began operating once again, much to the delight of supporters who paraded in the streets of Korçë as the club announced the news. The majority of the players who were active in the 1930s were no longer playing football competitively, so the squad was virtually new, except for Klani Marjani, Bellovoda and Saro. But the delight was short lived as the club struggled to match their performances before the war. In 1945 they finished 4th in Group B, consisting of 6 teams, and in the following 1946 season they finished 5th in Group A, just 1 point ahead of bottom place. The manager Tato Bimbli decided to bring in young players in order to revive the squad during the 1947 season, when the club also changed its name to Dinamo Korçë for the Communist Party, Bimbli’s decision to bring in young players paid off as the club finished 3rd in the league out of 9 teams. The following season, however, turned out to be a disaster as they finished bottom of Group A with just a single point from 7 games. In 1949 the club changed its name to simply Korça, and they finished in 6th place out of 9 teams in the same year. The manager Tato Bimbli left the club after having a difficult time in charge, and he was replaced by Spiro Koçe in 1950. in 1951 all Albanian teams were ordered by the Communist Party to be named Puna, which literally translates to work. During these years the club remained a notable force, but with no relative success often finishing in mid table in the league. Skënderbeu is also a three time finalist in the Albanian Cup in 1958, 1965 and 1976, in which they lost all three finals. They did however win the Albanian First Division in 1976/77 as well as three other times with the last win in 2008–2009 season where Skënderbeu won the rights to move into the Albanian Superliga where they have never looked back.

Recent dominance

During the winter of 2009–10, the club was bottom of the league and facing the real possibility of relegation from the Albanian Superliga, but there were seismic changes in terms of the ownership and the board, as a new president in the shape of Red Bull Albania CEO Agim Zeqo was appointed. A new 16-member board was also elected, and a host of new donors attached themselves to the club. The club’s short term goal was to remain in the Albanian Superliga, and they planned to win the league the following season. In order to escape relegation the club brought in Mirel Josa as the new head coach, along with a host of new players, both from Albania and neighbouring countries. They finished the league in 10th place out of 12 teams, meaning they entered a relegation playoff with the third placed Albanian First Division side KS Kamza, which they won 1–0 through a second minute Klodian Asllani goal to remain in the Albanian Superliga.

Ahead of the 2010–11 season, the squad was revamped and under the guidance of Shkëlqim Muça as the head coach, new players were brought in, many of whom were Albanian internationals including Orges Shehi, Ditmar Bicaj, Endrit Vrapi, Jetmir Sefa and Bledi Shkëmbi who was named captain following his return to his hometown club. Other quality signings made Skënderbeu the favourites to win the title. They were defeated by KF Tirana in their first ever Albanian Supercup game, and they spent much of the season in second place in the league, behind pacesetters Flamurtari Vlorë. Shkëlqim Muça was replaced by Shpëtim Duro as head coach in February and defeated Flamurtari Vlorë in his first game in charge to move closer to top spot, and he went on to guide the club to 11 wins in his 13 games in charge, to win the Albanian title for the first time since 1933 and to qualify for the UEFA Champions League qualifying round for the first time in their history. After winning the league for the first time in 78 years, the club’s president Agim Zeqo said “It was a great season and it was great to see our city and our fans enjoy this title. This town loves football and deserved this win. Let’s do it again next season.”

The club made its Champions League debut against Cypriot side APOEL FC in the second qualifying round on 13 July 2011, and they lost 2–0 at home, before losing 4–0 away as they were knocked out of the competition. They continued a poor start to the season as they lost out to KF Tirana in the Albanian Supercup before the start of the Albanian Superliga season, where they also struggled. After only one win in their opening 4 games the head coach Shpëtim Duro was replaced by Stanislav Levý from the Czech Republic, who became the club’s first foreign coach since Qemal Omari in the 1930s, who himself was of Albanian ancestry, making Levý the club’s first truly foreign coach. He guided the club to a 14 match unbeaten run to reach the top of the table, and he only lost 2 games in charge as they narrowly beat Teuta Durrës to the title with only a single point between the sides to claim the only Champions League spot once again. In the Albanian Cup, Skënderbeu reached their first final since 1976, but they lost to KF Tirana, as they continued their 100% losing record in Albanian Cup finals, having lost in 1958, 1965 and 1976 before the 2012 final.

They kicked off the 2012–13 campaign with their first ever Champions League and European win, as they defeated Hungarian side Debreceni VSC 1–0 at home through a Sebino Plaku goal to give them real hope of qualifying for the third qualifying round of the competition. In the away leg however Skënderbeu lost 3–0 and were knocked out after a 3–1 aggregate loss despite winning the first leg of the tie.

A new era began , Ardjan Takaj was defined as the club’s new president after resignation of Agim Zeqo.

Skenderbeu once again lost out to KF Tirana in the Albanian Supercup for the second consecutive season, but in the league they lost just once in their opening 20 games and managed to remain in first place for the entire campaign as they went on to win the title for the third time in a row. In the Albanian Cup they were knocked out by Bylis Ballsh in the semi final after a 2–1 aggregate loss over two legs, a result which came as a surprise as Skënderbeu had defeated all 5 teams they had faced during their cup run and were considered the favourites.

They then went on to win the Albanian Supercup for the first time in their history, after defeating KF Laçi. Later, Skënderbeu begun their the 2013–14 campaign with their first ever Champions League tie as they draw 0–0 in the away leg against Neftchi Baku, which gave them a shade of hope in their dream about qualifying for the third qualifying round of the competition. In the home leg, they managed to hold the score to a tie in regular time and went to win 1–0 in the extra-time through a Nurudeen Orelesi goal in the 116th minute, qualifying for the first time in the third qualifying round of Champions League. They were drawn against Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy and they lost 3–0 at home, before losing 3–2 at home as they were knocked out of the competition. They dropped into the UEFA Europa League play-offs, making their debut in the second most important continental competition with a 0–1 loss to Ukrainian side Chornomorets Odessa in the away leg. At home, they recorded their first ever Europa League win, defeating Chornomorets 1–0 with a Andi Ribaj goal, giving Skënderbeu hopes of becoming the first Albanian team to qualify to the group stage of a European competition by progressing to the Europa League group stages. However, with a 1–1 tie, the match went to extra-time and later penalties, with Skënderbeu losing 6–7. In the championship, they began with a 1–0 victory over Besa Kavajë, then lost important matches against Flamutari and Kukësi, but recovered and claimed a winter lead place. They managed to win their fourth consecutive league title after a 2–1 win over Partizani Tirana.

They then went on to win the Albanian Supercup for the second time in a row, after defeating Flarmutari 1–0 in the final. In the new Champions League season, they had great expectations fed by a 0–0 draw in the second qualifying round against BATE Borisov away, but a 1–1 draw at home ended their hopes as were eliminated on away goals rule. In the league, they win the first two games, before losing to Partizani Tirana and a win against Kukësi was shortly followed by a defeat to Teuta Durrës. Then, they managed to have an unbeaten run, with loses against only KF Tirana and KF Laçi. In the Albanian Cup, they were knocked out by Kukësi in the semi-finals.

The summer transfer window was marked by the signing of the Albanian international Hamdi Salihi, who played at Rapid Wien. However, after a 2–2 draw against KF Laçi, they lost the Albanian Supercup 7–8 on penalties. They kicked off the 2015–16 campaign with their biggest ever Champions League and European win, as they defeated Northern Ireland side Crusaders 4–1. They lost the away match 2–3, but managed to qualify to the third qualifying round for the second time with an aggregate 6–4 score and they faced Milsami Orhei. They beat Milsami 2–0 both home and away to become the only Albanian side to qualify to the UEFA Champions League play-offs, where they met Dinamo Zagreb. They were defeated 1–2 at home and 1–4 away and eliminated from Champions League. They were dropped into the UEFA Europa League group stages, becoming the first Albanian club to progress to the group stage of a European competition. Skënderbeu Korçë were drawn against Beşiktaş, Lokomotiv Moscow and Sporting Lisbon. In matchday 1, their first ever group stage game, the club was defeated at home 0–1 by Beşiktaş after a hard fight between the two sides. In the next matchday, they lost 0–2 to Lokomotiv Moscow in Moscow, Russia. Their worst defeat in the European competition yet came the next matchday, a storming 1–5 loss to Sporting Lisbon in the away leg at Lisbon, Portugal, but also had the Albanian side scoring their first goal in the UEFA Europa League group stages. In the home match, Skënderbeu Korçë recorded a historical 3–0 win to Sporting Lisbon, which was one of the most important victories of a football club in Albania, as Skënderbeu recorded their points in a UEFA Europa League group stage game.