ballistet

Home or away: Tetovo

Tetovo is a city in northwest Macedonia and home of KF Shkendia. This post is for Aberdeen fans - whether you’re planning to go to the game, or will be unable to and want to create a bit of regional atmosphere at home!

To go or not to go?

It’s quite expensive. You can fly to Pristina in Kosovo - from which Tetovo is a three-hour train journey away - from Aberdeen. I wondered if it might be cheaper flying from London Luton to Skopje, but it is very pricey for the dates required.

There are no reasonable flights on 2 July, so you’ll have to fly out the day before. Use book.lufthansa.com to buy. Take Lufthansa flight LH975 to Frankfurt at 5.30am, then board LH6916 an hour later. You’ll arrive in Kosovo at 11.40am local time. Take a taxi to Pristina city centre, then board the bus to Tetovo (book via durmotours.com) 

You’ll need a taxi to get back to Pristina for your return flight, which leaves at 6.15am on 3 July, getting you back to Aberdeen by 11am. The taxi takes an hour and a half, but costs just £55. It’s up to you whether you get an early night after the game, or keep drinking!

There’s plenty of accommodation in Tetovo, but it’s selling out fast. Hotel Emka (book via booking.com) costs £50 for 2 nights and seems to have plenty of beds available, but the last booking was two hours ago, so move quickly. You can search booking.com for other options, but many are short on space and that’s going to get worse.

The verdict: You’ll need a minimum budget of around £900, although you could save £25 by propping up a bar after the game instead of sleeping. If I had the money, I’d probably do it as it is quite straightforward, but the cost is offputting. Check with Aberdeen FC to see if they are running a tour, and whether it’s cheaper (as of 7pm on 25 June, there is nothing on their website).

History, culture and food

The Press and Journal has beaten me to this one. Summary: Tetovo is multicultural, with 55 percent of residents belonging to the Albanian community and 35 per cent Macedonian, with small numbers of other regional ethnic groups; around 40 per cent of the population are students from the two universities; the barbeque restaurants are highly recommended. I didn’t really understand their point about the crime rate, but I doubt there would be much for a seasoned traveller to worry about: take the usual precautions.

The Press and Journal article possibly insults the intelligence of football supporters by ignoring the cultural tourism opportunities in Tetovo. The city boasts many ancient mosques, monasteries and fortresses. Food wise, if you’re familiar with the Balkans, never fear - there’s burek here. Try Tavë me Groshë, nationally known as Tavče gravče - the national dish of Albania. You can also try it at home (recipe from struga.org):

Tavče gravče

Ingredients:
- 500g dried white beans
- 1 onion, 1 red pepper
- 100ml cooking oil
- 2-3 pieces dried chilli
- pepper, salt, plain flour, parsley, mint 

Method
Wash the beans and soak them in water overnight. After that, bring to the boil, drain the beans and add them to another pan of hot water. Chop the onion and add half of it to the pot along with the chilli.
Continue to cook until till the beans are soft, but not disintegrating. Drain the beans if the mixture appears very runny.
Heat the oil in a separate pan. Chop the red pepper and fry it with the other half of the onion and 1tbsp white flour until the vegetables are soft, then add this to the beans. Pour this into an ovenproof dish and add the herbs and spices.
Place in a preheated oven [they haven’t given me a setting or anything like that… try the middle shelf on Gas Mark 5] and bake until the sauce is thick, but the beans are not too dry.

Football

I think I’ve got a new favourite team… To understand why, you need to know that I have a Masters degree in Central and East European studies, I like supporter power, and I’ve got a naughty side.

KF Shkendija were started in 1979, disbanded by the Communist government who feared their existence would lead to Albanian nationalism, and reformed when Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. They have qualified for European competition four times in five seasons. In 2012-13 the club ran into financial difficulties, and the Ballistet supporters group (see below) started a social media campaign for a company called Ecolog to take over. This takeover was completed in July 2013 and the club has been very active in the transfer market ever since.

Fans

For some reason, my usual method of inserting photos isn’t working. Trust me - look at this. Or just do a Google Image search for ‘Shkendija Ballistet’… Yeah, that.

KF Shkendija fans are mostly Albanian and the club was a hotbed of nationalism under Communism, when most similar expressions were banned - compare Barcelona under General Franco. They are still political and have participated in protests against inter-ethnic violence. I’m afraid I’m going to copy paste Wikipedia now, because the following passage would be rendered less effective if I reworded it:

“The Ballistët are one of the most notorious football supporter groups in Macedonia. Their antics are occasionally reported on the news. On 18 October 2010, Shkëndija played against FK Napredok away in Kicevo. The Ballist removed the Macedonian flag from the mast and put an Albanian flag in its place. As the police tried to put the Macedonian flag up again, the Ballist tore out their seats and threw them at the police.”

It all sounds a bit like Partizan-Red Star. Can I come?