Football: Rushall's refugee dreams of stardom

An innocent victim of the civil war in Kosovo is eager to make the leap from non-League football to the big time.

IN THE world that Zijadin Shabani left behind, the name Milosevic is a byword for repression and fear. In the community he wants to make home, the same word is still synonymous with a striker whose wayward shooting for Aston Villa might have attracted the phrase "collateral damage" before it became the most gruesome euphemism of the Kosovo conflict.

Five months have passed since Shabani, a 22-year-old Kosovar, fled his native village of Varosh, some 20 miles from Pristina, and drove through Italy and France to seek refuge in the West Midlands.

Now, as his mother, father, five brothers and two sisters try to resume the peaceful existence they once knew, running the family restaurant in Kosovo, Shabani is living in Walsall. He is also striving to become the first footballer from the disputed region to play professionally in his adopted country.

In truth, his new colleagues in the Rushall Olympic squad, who include a plumber, insurance salesman and one who fits headstones on graves, play for little more than expenses in the Interlink Express Midland Alliance.

But both Shabani, whom they have nicknamed "Dino", and the Rushall secretary, Peter Athersmith, are sustained by the kind of fantasies the sport specialises in fulfilling.

Shabani's dream is to become so prolific a marksman against the likes of Boldmere St Michael's, Knypersley Victoria, and Pelsall Villa that he will be whisked away to the Premiership.

Athersmith pictures a similar scenario, only with his beloved club landing a much-needed windfall.

Such hopes are a trifle premature, however. Due to the difficulties in contacting the football authorities in Kosovo, Rushall have been unable to secure international clearance for a player recommended to them by Norman Deeley, the former Wolves and England winger (himself tipped off by a friend who runs a boxing club Shabani was attending).

"The problem is that the telephone and postal system in Kosovo have been badly affected by bombing," explained Athersmith. "The FA have told us that Fifa [the game's world governing body] are insisting that people follow the normal procedures with players from there, and I pointed out that could take months.

"So Fifa agreed that Dino could register with us within 60 days of our application reaching the FA, which was sent pre-season. It's just in case he's got any suspensions or fines hanging over him. I mean, he might have stabbed a referee for all we know, like most of us want to from time to time!"

Meeting Shabani, who appears a most affable individual, it is hard to imagine any such skeletons in the closet. In his three pre-season friendly appearances, the only damage he did was to opposition defences.

"Because we can't play him in the Alliance for another few weeks and the manager, John Allen, was concentrating on the lads who will be in the side, Dino was only a substitute," Athersmith said. "But he scored three cracking goals and looked as fast as anyone I've seen at this level. I honestly believe he could become top scorer in our league."

Rushall, who had Stan Collymore on their books as a 15-year-old, can always use a saleable asset. A good crowd at their trim but sloping suburban ground is one that creeps into three figures at pounds 2.50 a throw. And, according to Athersmith, League clubs tend to be reluctant to pay even four-figure sums for their players.

As a case in point he cites Zatyiaa Knizkt, a 6ft 5in defender whose handful of games for Rushall last season attracted widespread interest. "Would you believe this kid had an agent - at our level - and he not only went on trial from Rushall Olympic to Sporting Lisbon, but actually turned them down?" Athersmith chuckled, shaking his head at the incongruity of it all.

When Knizkt eventually joined Fulham, then under Kevin Keegan's stewardship, one of Athersmith's committee colleagues wrote to the club bankrolled by Mohamed al-Fayed's millions.

He emphasised that the player had been under contract and that small clubs like theirs could not survive without the revenue earned from unearthing talent and selling it on.

When it became clear there would be no fee or even a friendly match, Rushall settled for 30 tracksuits instead. A few years earlier they discovered a striker called Steve Taylor and sold him to Bromsgrove for pounds 1,500 plus 20 per-cent of any sell-on.

Taylor soon moved on to Crystal Palace for pounds 90,000, earning his first club a cheque which Athersmith reckons "kept us going for two years".

Shabani may never rise above the station to which fate and Milosevic (Slobodan, that is, rather than Savo) have led him. Whatever happens, he will be no less welcome at Rushall, a club as homely as an old tea cosy.

"Everyone's taken to Dino," said Athersmith, "and he wants to stay here and get citizenship. When he came he could say `yes' and `no' and just about get his name out. Now he's learning English two nights a week in college. He's saying more and settling well."

Football is reputedly an international language. Shabani, fighting off the midges in an unfamiliar left-back role to help balance the teams in training, certainly appears fluent in it. Casual conversation is more problematic, although he has no difficulty articulating his enthusiasm for "Chelsea", "David Beckham" and the "nice people" of Rushall.

Athersmith believes the delay in formalising his place with the club could be mutually beneficial, giving him more time to hone his communication skills. With his own Black Country brogue, he seems able to get through to Shabani where others struggle.

"Later, say in two months, maybe you, me and the manager will sit down and talk about a contract," he said to Kosovo's unlikely export, miming the signing of forms. "For one, perhaps two years, yes?" Whether or not Dino fully understood, he nodded his assent.

"Then," exclaimed the genial secretary, breaking into a hearty laugh, "we sell you to Chelsea for pounds 5m."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary