A little light was cast on the Albanian experience when Scottish champions Kilmarnock drew 17 Nëntori Tirana in the first round of the 1965-66 European Cup. The Kilmarnock manager Malcolm McDonald wanted to take 16 players to the away leg, but only 15 visas were granted with no explanation being given for the other omission. 17 Nëntori translated directly as 17th November, the date Tirana was liberated at the end of WWII and a droll journalist deadpanned that 17 Nëntori was the date you finally cleared Albanian border patrol after your plane landed on 15 Nëntori.
Knowing nothing about the opposition, the Killie boss turned to Fleet Street reporter Roger McDonald who claimed some knowledge of the Albanian game. McDonald looked at the list of opposing players Kilmarnock had been sent in advance of the tie and noticed the name of Panajot Pano. That Pano had been the previous season’s Albanian League top scorer was not an issue; that him and several other names on the list were actually Partizani players was more concerning. Centralised player registration records were scant in those days and Kilmarnock tacitly accepted they would playing a team that featured ringers.
Air entry to Albania was only permitted via special charter flights forcing the Kilmarnock party to travel there via London and then Rome. No flights were permitted to land after dark and with their take-off delayed in Italy, it was hit or miss whether the Scots would arrive in Tirana before the curfew. They just made it, touching down at dusk amidst the anti-aircraft batteries at Tirana airport.
Some of the Kilmarnock party’s recollections of the experience were more interesting than the scoreless draw the teams played out. When trying to phone home to let their families know they had arrived safely, the Kilmarnock players discovered that telephone lines were only open for one hour in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Meanwhile the club’s physio found the match quite baffling: each time he ran on the pitch to treat one of his injured players he was accompanied by a large number of well-intentioned Albanian doctors in white coats, all eager to assist him.
Kilmarnock narrowly won their home leg and were relieved to do so. Play-offs in neutral locations were needed in the days before the away goals rule was introduced and rumours suggested Albania had proposed any third match be played in the land of their main political allies – China!