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The footballing refugee - Shefki Kuqi


Kuqi and Cana reveal Kosovo sacrifice

Shefki Kuqi has enjoyed a playing career which could well be described as nomadic, having taken in varied locations such as Helsinki, Stockport, Koblenz and now Newcastle throughout his 16-year career.

However, the 34-year-old is far from your typical Premier League footballer.

As a boy, Kuqi lived with his family in the region of Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia.

Yet as tensions simmered across the Balkans in the early 1990s, the family embarked on a journey that was to change Kuqi's life forever.

"My father was a builder, and he thought the best way for them to give us the opportunity of freedom and some kind of life, it was to move away," Kuqi told BBC Late Kick Off.

"Things started to change, we didn't know what was going to happen but for things in Kosovo to change so much.

"My family decided we needed to leave Kosovo and, as a kid, I remember we were crying when we found out, as soon as we knew."

Aged 12, Kuqi would leave his native country, his friends and family behind for a new life, away from the fighting to come.

We were one of the first foreign people in Finland and everywhere we walked people would stare at us

Shefki Kuqi

"When we closed the door, I remember I used to kiss the door when we left, because I imagined we would never be back here again," Kuqi continued.

"I remember walking down the village, looking back at the house, it was such a strange feeling, we were crying and my family, my dad's family, my mum's family, we were all crying.

"We were thinking 'why must we do all this?' and it was shocking."

Finland, via a arduous boat journey from Gdansk in Poland, was where the family settled, a huge adjustment for Kuqi - an early refugee of the Balkan conflict.

"We were one of the first foreign people in Finland and everywhere we walked people would stare at us," he added.

"I would think, is there something wrong with me?'

"When I first started playing with other people, I would go to my mum and dad and say 'What is wrong with me? Why are they laughing at me?'"

The end of Slobodan Milosevic's reign in 1999 brought an uneasy peace to the region and eventually a year later Kuqi was able to visit his homeland again.

"I didn't go back to Kosovo for 10 years but when I went back people didn't recognise me," Kuqi said.

Shefki Kuqi
Kuqi made his Premier League debut at Blackburn Rovers

"People, even like neighbours, I would say the name and shake their hand and they would say 'yeah, yeah, how are you doing?' like you do when you don't know someone.

"I would say 'you don't remember me do you?' but then I would tell them and they would hug me."

The striker started his football career in Finland and has since represented the nation at international level, with his spell at FC Jokerit in Helsinki the springboard for a move to England.

Stockport County was the first calling point of nine British clubs, which ultimately led to a Premier League bow with Blackburn Rovers in 2005.

"It's proud for me because I was the first Kosovar to play in the Premier League," Kuqi continued.

"For me to play here, gives everyone else an opportunity in their life, whatever they do, you have to sacrifice yourself.

"Whatever you do, if you want to do something you always can do it."

You can watch the latest episode of BBC North East & Cumbria Late Kick Off at:

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see also
Newcastle complete Kuqi signing
10 Feb 11 |  Newcastle

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