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Wednesday, September 30 2020 @ 02:01 am ACST

Yze brothers leading the Albanians at the Harmony Cup


On March 21st of this year, the revamped Harmony Cup will see the first-ever Team Albania take the field at the Whitten Oval, promising to bring a big supporter base from the Victorian Albanian community and featuring a few high-profile names on the field.

So far, only one player of an Albanian background has so far played in the AFL, with Adem Yze's celebrated career with the Demons spanning more than a decade, however at a suburban and country footy level there have been plenty of Albanian champions come through the ranks. Adem has confirmed for the Harmony Cup side, as have his brothers Damien and Ramadan who are local footy stars in the Goulburn Valley, and the Albanians are confident of their chances.

Adam Lika from Team Albania spoke to WFN about the side's preparation.

Lika first had the idea to assemble an Albanian side when he went to see some of his mates play at the 2005 Multicultural Cup. "I think it was a couple of years ago, I went to watch a few of my mates, who were playing for Team Turkey at that stage... It was just by chance that I recently met up with that guy for coffee and he said it was on again. Surprisingly, there was another spot available, which we jumped on straight away."

The Albanian community in Melbourne has for the past three years supported an annual match between the Western suburb Albanians and Northern suburb Albanians, an event which has grown bigger each year. Lika isn't sure how many Albanians are playing club footy in Melbourne in total, but he estimates there are "quite a few".

"I can't really speak for the other side of town, but in the western suburbs alone I'd say there would be well over seventy, and some good players at that. Obviously it's a good opportunity to show the rest of the people participating that there's a lot of Albanian talent out there, that's probably not being recognised as much as it should. Apart from having just one AFL footballer to make it from the Albanian side of things, hopefully there'll be a couple more coming through the ranks in the future."

Besides Melbourne, the other major centre for the Albanian community in Victoria is Shepparton, the centre of the Goulburn Valley region around 150km north of Melbourne. Shepparton is the home town of Adem Yze, who was drafted from Shepparton United by the Melbourne Football Club in 1994 and played 271 matches for the Demons up until 2008.

Adem is now at Hawthorn's VFL feeder club the Box Hill Hawks, but his brothers Damien and Ramadan are still playing in the Goulburn Valley FL for the Shepparton Swans. Swans coach Perry Meka, another Albanian and a cousin of the Yzes, has been instrumental in getting the Shepparton contingent together for the Harmony Cup.

"The majority of our squad are from the western and northern suburban sides that we put together, and the rest pretty much are the boys from Shepparton, which is Adem Yze and his two brothers. Perry Meka has supported us in getting hold of these guys, which has been good."

Community response to the project has been very positive, with Lika and fellow organisers having to limit the size of the initial training squad to avoid disappointing too many potential squad members. "We'd have maybe seventy guys come to training, and then have to try to pick a side of around 24 or 25 players who could actually make the cut. So at this stage we're probably going to limit it to about thirty who come to training, so there's not too many people disappointed at not making the squad."

"There's been a big following... we've sort of targeted Albanian soccer clubs and other things in the community, such as an Albanian community website, we've created flyers and stuck them around the place, also facebook has been an interesting concept for generating support. I know there's roughly five busloads coming from Shepparton, and with the Albanian community in the western suburbs, we're going to have quite a big supporter base."

"With the sponsors and people who've wanted to jump on board, it's just been amazing. With the timeframe we've got, the amount of people willing to help has been astonishing, really."

"Because we've had such a big reception with these teams, and our little events yearly are getting bigger and bigger, there's been talk of starting a club, not so much an ethnic Albanian orientated team, but more a base for Albanian people in the community to get together and start up a footy club from scratch."

The Albanians are very optimistic about their chances in the Cup, with Lika saying "I think with what we've recruited and the young talent we've got on our side, we're going in there to have a bit of fun, but at the same time we want to win the thing as well. Everyone's confident, we're training once or twice a week at this stage, plus the majority of the players are doing pre-season training outside as well. We've got a good team on paper and we're in it to actually win it, so we're taking it pretty seriously."

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