|In Memoriam : Panajot Pano "The Greatest Soccer Player in Albania"!|
April 7-th, 1939. Bombs all over Durres as Italy occupied the country on the World War II. One city hero was dying, as Mujo Ulqinaku trying to defend the name of the nation and another legend was being born. A soccer legend. Panajot Pano.
I grew up loving soccer. I grew up hearing about Panajot Pano. I grew up living in the same building with Panajot Pano. Well guess what? I played my first ball with Panajot Pano.
As he will see us kids playing together, his son, myself and all the boys of the neighborhood he was never afraid to criticize the way we played. “Don’t pass like that. Don’t move like that”, he will say, Although he always had the patience to teach us the right skills, Ledio was the one getting yelled the most, even though he was better then all of us.
It is amazing, as we grew up idolizing soccer players, I had a chance to say Good Morning and Good evening to him almost everyday and as I will hear many say: “Panajot Pano was the greatest”. “His goal against Denmark was unforgettable”. “His play against Beckenbaur and Germany was great”…and many more….as they admired the Legend for what he had gave the fans to see on the field - excitement, fun, entertainment, success, goals, wins – but they missed at times the real him, the man of his words, the father, the mentor, the human with a great sense of humor, fun and great story teller, as he will share all the time magnificent stories. That’s what made him great and I was blessed to have a chance to live part of my youth growing with the feeling: “I know that man. I live next door to that man. I see him every day”. That was unforgettable and that was an honor.
I am deeply sorry for his loss, but his soul and spirit are in piece!
In a memory of his legacy and the respect of his wife, daughter and my very close friend his son Ledio Pano, I have attached below a very unforgettable conversation about his career as Panajot Pano “The Master of the Goal” and the greatest Albanian Soccer Player of the Century, looks back on his career and recalls some of the glorious and memorable moments of his modest past.
You have played close to 700 matches, over 100 of which are international (friendly matches included), over 400 domestic goals and over 50 international goals. You have been declared publicly “The greatest soccer player in Albania”. Do you feel honored?
“ Correction. I am voted the Greatest Player, but the Albanian burocracy would like to name me only “Master” a title which I have received decades ago. I would like to be noted as I am voted “The Greatest”, then I will feel really honored and respected”.
Panajot Pano was born in Durrë,s on March 7, 1939 and is the son of Thoma and Vasilika and the brother of Kaliroi and Kristofor. His native town is Delvina, Sarandë.
Soon, after he was born, his family moved to Tiranë, where he would pass most of the time on “Fortuzi” road, watching all the good and popular Albanian players of the time play .Spending too much time playing with his would be fellow peers, like Sulejman Maliqati, Gani Xhafa, Gani Merja, Bert Jashari, Skënder Halili left very little time for studying. “My parents were totally against me spending time playing and staying away from books” remembers Pano or Joti as all friends and family called him. He started his education at elementary school “Hasan Vogli” and then middle school “10 Korriku”.“ I remember my first teachers, great teachers, Myftar Marku and Ljubica Vejanka, who always encouraged me”he said.
When did you become aware of your ever growing passion for soccer?
“Ever since I was little, 4-5 years old, the only thing I would do or think about was play soccer”
When did you first start playing with a team and which was your first club?
“I started playing in the early ‘50s, with SK Tirana. Actually was Spartak with coaches Iliaz Dingu and Fadil Bakalli and the team wasn’t in any Youth league competition. Then in 1956, I moved at Tirana with coach Xhavit Demneri. On the first match he activated me as a goalkeeper”.
Then how did you become a forward player?
One player was missing, so the coach decided to put me as a right forward. We lost to Partizani 0-4. Since that match, coach Demneri must have liked my skills, because he decided not to put me back as goalie again.
How long did you play with Tirana’s youth team?
Between two- three seasons. In 1957 we won the National Title and I was the top scorer of the League, but please don’t ask me how many goals I scored, because I don’t remember at all.”
When did you play your first professional match with Tirana?
In 1958, was the first year, but with Tirana first team I played in few matches for Republic Cup, prior to the start of National Championship. Coach Myslym Alla called me from the youth team. We played against “Puna” of Kavaje and we were eliminated after 0-0 draw in Kavajë and 1-2 loss in Tiranë. I scored the only goal for the team and the first for me. In National Championship I remembered one of my greatest games was against Partizani the Champion of the League. We lost 2-4, but I scored both goals”
“Correct. I left Tirana, but before I joined Partizani (The Albanian Army team) I served in the Army for a few months as a marine, in the seaside city of Vlora. Then, prior to start of 1960 season, I was asked to join Partizani in a few of their International activities and then signed up for the “Red” team. After that, it’s history”
Your most emotional International match?
“As they say, “We always remember our first” (smile) and I do remember my first match with National Team against Bulgaria in Tirana, June 6, 1963. I was very emotional and my adrenaline was pumped up”.
Your most memorable International match?
“Against Germany,no doubt. Particularly the match in Tirana, in 1967. We won the game, we knew it, the Germans knew it and the referees knew it, even though in the pappers it appeared as a tie 0-0”
Your most important International Goal?
“Going back, definitely My First. It was the goal I scored against Denmark in Tirane and thanks to my goal we won 1-0”
Your most important Domestic Goal?
“Tough. I have scored many in very decisive times. But, only one tops them all. The goal that gave me my first trophy. After 2 matches and 5 extra times Partizani was playing against Dinamo for the Championship match. First game ended up 1-1 after regulation and 2 extra times. Then the second match was played. 0-0 after regulations and 2 extra times. Then was my turn. I scored and the winning goal gave us the Championship”
Your “lucky” goal?
“I scored from the penalty spot once. The opposing keeper Teli Ciko saved the kick but the ball rolled slowly under his arms into the net. That was a lucky goal”
“What do you consider the best time of Soccer in Albania?
“Years 1970-1975. I played in 50-es, 60-es and 70-es and early 70-es were the best ever. Then, there were the 80-es, but of course, I’d have to pick the years I played. The stadiums were sold out in every match played in Tirana, especially the “ DERBY” between Tirana, Partizani , Dinamo. In nowadays, in all the matches these teams play, you can count with your hands the fans in the Stadium. It is tragic for soccer in Albania.”
“ If Panajot Pano doesn’t remember me, I remember him”
Panajot Pano is married to his wife Rebecca and together have a boy, Ledio and a girl Nertila. Ledio followed in his father’s footsteps and to this day is very much involved with soccer in Albania. Pano, retired from soccer in Maj 1975. The greatest scorer ever in Albania hung his shoes. And since then, there hasn’t been another one to replace him. Many have come close, but none as close.
Who’s the best player to ever play the game?
Adriano and Shevchenko
Your 3 strongest weapons that made you so “Magical” as a player?
Love of the game, discipline in practice and of course, talent.
Do you have any regrets about your soccer career?
“Not really. I have been curious all my life as to how it would have been if I had had a chance to play in a foreign Championship. That’s all. No regrets”
Did you ever have an offer?
“Yes, of course. Many times. But couldn’t sign because of the system as we all know. I had offers from National Team scouts of Germany, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Northern Ireland and clubs like Keln, Fenerbache whose President was the Myslym Bey, of Albanian origin. He was very exited about me"
You have played against many great players of Germany, Holland, Yugoslavia, Poland, Turkey and many more. Did you ever have a chance to meet any one of those players outside of the pitch?
Actually, I did. One of the best. “The Kaiser” - Franz Beckenbauer. It was October 3, 1990 right after Germany had won the World Cup and Beckenbauer was the coach of Olympique of Marseille. His team was playing against our Dinamo of Tirana. I met him at Hotel Tirana and as soon as I entered the Hotel he got up ,came towards me and said: “How are you Panajot Pano. I told those guys (translators), if you wouldn’t recognize me, I would and I did.” We started talking and it was fun. Good memories.