We’re pleased to welcome a new contributor from Albania to BTLM today. Andi Kasmi is an Tirana-based journalist and he has a fascinating story to share about Gerd Müller’s forbidden Albanian love.
1461 goals; 4 Bundesliga titles and 3 European Cups with Bayern Munich; European Nations Cup and World Cup success with West Germany: big numbers and lofty accolades that earned Gerd Müller the Ballon d’Or in 1970, two European Golden Shoes and the nickname of “Bomber der Nation”. Even now, nearly four decades on since his last Bayern appearance, Müller remains the all-time leading Bundesliga goalscorer.
Such were his goalscoring feats that when the striker was playing his team practically had a goal head start, but one goal Gerd Müller never achieved was sharing his life and love with a little-known Albanian girl. Finding a way through the majority of the defensive line-ups he faced in his time was one thing; however the daunting ‘Sigurimi’, the communist-era secret police within the small Balkan state where the object of his affections resided, proved far too formidable an obstacle for him.
It’s a wistful story in which a young man who was achieving new heights professionally was unable to attain similar satisfaction in his private life. We all search in hope for ‘the one’ in our lives, that special woman or man with whom we want to spend our lives above all others. Gerd Müller appeared to find his ‘one’, but not in his hometown of Nördlingen nor the city of Munich where he enjoyed deity-like status among the supporters of Bayern. Instead she lived more that 1500 km away in Tirana, the capital of Albania. This most unusual of European cities hosted a football drama played out over three acts in 1967, 1972 and 1985, with an accompanying romantic sub plot involving a hotel maid and the deadliest centre forward on the planet.
1967 – On a cold December afternoon Albania achieved a fine goalless draw at home to the previous year’s World Cup runners-up, a scoreline that was enough to cost West Germany qualification for the finals of Italy 1968 – to date the only European Championship it has missed. 22-year-old Gerd Müller was called-up for the qualifier but oddly did not play and to this day no-one can answer the question as to why Helmut Schön chose not to field the Bayern striker.
The German team was accommodated in the ‘Dajti,’ the best hotel Albania had to offer. Named after the mountain which dominates Tirana’s skyline, the then-luxurious venue was the place where Gerd Müller fell in love with a female hotel staff member popularly referred to as Hojna. To give you an idea as to how extraordinary this event was, there are certain aspects of Albania under a communist dictatorship, as it was back then, that need to be explained.
The country was isolated with any foreign media, artwork or even individual movement strictly forbidden and censored. The people lived in fear of the secret police, a nasty copy of Soviet Russia’s KGB, but with one key difference: in this small country everybody knew everyone else and accusations needed not be proven: just being accused of betraying the ideology of the communist party was enough to ruin the lives of the individual targeted and their entire family; whether deportation, imprisonment or even the death penalty.
So it’s easy to understand why the girl concerned wanted to remain anonymous. Nonetheless, the gossip continued unabated and whispering of the “sparks between the little lovebirds” grew louder and louder among the young folk of Tirana. The West Germany party left the country disappointed with the result, but Müller found it hard to turn his head away from the Dajti hotel for a different reason.
Randomness rules the universe and four years after that first encounter, the paths of West Germany and Albania would cross again, and this time qualification for the 1972 European Nations Cup finals in Belgium was at stake. Again the German delegation is hosted at the Dajti hotel and, three days after Valentine’s Day in 1971, West Germany stepped out onto the pitch of the “Qemal Stafa” national stadium. This time the Germans emerged victorious against their Albanian hosts, albeit by a narrow 1-0 margin. The match-winner? You guessed it. Gerd Müller was playing this time and ‘Der Bomber’s’ 38th minute goal was redemptive. Maybe inspired by the nights in the Dajti hotel? Maybe in the company of Hojna? Just maybe …
The German delegation returned home victorious and with Albania being such an awkward place to visit for both footballing and non-footballing related reasons, there was a strong preference towards avoiding the Balkan nation in any qualifying group again anytime soon. With one exception. Gerd Müller stayed hopeful that an opportunity might arise to take him back to Albania. His hopes were in vain however as neither West Germany nor Bayern Munich were drawn to play in Albania again during the remainder of his playing days, and it was of course impossible for Der Bomber to return to one of the most isolated nations on earth as a simple visitor. This dubious privilege was one extended usually only to diplomats.
This seemed to close the door on any future contact between Müller and Hojna, the Dajti hotel maid that legend suggests so captured the affections of the prolific forward; but as the saying goes: where there is a will, there is a way. In 1985, Flamurtari FC won the Albanian Cup to earn themselves a place in the following season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup competition. The draw pitched them against HJK Helsinki in the first round. Fast forward a few days and out of the blue the Finnish club receive a very special request: a former international superstar who had retired from the game four years earlier wished to join the HJK playing staff. “I want a single-match contract. Let me come to Albania with you. I want to see my girlfriend …” – it’s Gerd Müller! The club officials cannot believe their eyes although the request presented a great dilemma.
On one hand, well, it’s Gerd Müller for goodness sake! Of course time had passed since the end of his playing days, but a player of such reputation appearing for HJK would still be an unprecedented coup. Fear of a diplomatic incident encouraged caution however. A timid wind (better call it a gentle breeze) of change had started to blow through the Balkan state after dictator Enver Hoxha had passed away earlier that year, though not much else had changed since 1971, the last time Müller had set foot in Albania. The request was turned down and the story was published in the Finnish newspaper Italehti. Until the change of regime in 1992, it was impossible for Müller and Hojna to be together and by the time the barriers fell, it was too late.
Today Tirana’s Dajti hotel is neither called “Dajti”, nor used as a hotel anymore. Built in the 1940s by Gherardo Bosio (the mastermind behind Tirana’s boulevards and city centre design), the building became a cultural monument in 2002. Nowadays it’s closed and is currently owned by the National Bank of Albania. Gerd Müller is 71-years-old and was sadly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. Which just leaves Hojna – although it’s highly unlikely that this was even the mysterious girl’s real name. Perhaps the fear of prosecution from the regime, or the conservative mentality and strict morals of an eastern society forced an anonymous status upon the girl – an anonymity that continues to this very day as we sadly know nothing of what became of her.
Andi Kasmi is a Freelance journalist from Albania. Aged 6 he attended his first game alongside his dad and fell in love with football and FK Partizani Tirana. A derby addict (Partizani vs Tirana is a way of life), sometimes he writes retro football stories and has been published in Copa90. You can follow Andi on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.