The neon sign towering above one of the main squares in Pristina reflected the excitement and anticipation surrounding England’s arrival in Kosovo for their final Euro 2020 qualifier.
“Welcome brothers!” These are the words that lit up the nights in the bustling city showing Raheem Sterling in action with full England kit.
This has been a theme of the build-up to a game regarded as one of the most important showcase moments in the history of the country.
Other posters echoed the same message. Banners stretching across streets here emblazoned with “Welcome And Respect” flags-with the red poppy helping to make up the word “Welcome.”
This signifies a very Kosovan demonstration of the fact England’s players will be welcomed here in a way they were not in Montenegro and Bulgaria. Here, members of manager Gareth Southgate’s squad were victims of racist abuse.
This also acts as a reminder of the gratitude still felt in Pristina city in the rest of Kosovo for the United Kingdom’s involvement in the country’s liberation after the Kosovo war.
The England party was greeted with flowers at Pristina airport and by British troops based in Kosovo. Additionally, Southgate revealed some locals were out to greet them on the route to their hotel.
Southgate said, “It has been a really warm welcome. I think this game is a celebration for Kosovo. It is a shame they were not able to qualify. I know for the players the pressure is off to an extent and they will put in a really strong performance.”
“They have a chance to create a historic result and we are very confident we are going to receive a brilliant reception.”
Kosovo defender Amir Rahmani explained the wider significance of this game. He termed it as one that stretches far beyond simply football.
He said, “We are friendly people and of course our relationship with England and English people is very good. This is not only political but also we like the people.”
“I know there has been racism at England games. I don’t know the reason but in our country that cannot happen. Not just because we are friendly but because these players are idols to our people.”
“Everyone is fans to Manchester City, Manchester united, Liverpool and other Premier League clubs. The people here have idols in those teams-so that will not happen here.”