1. ITV Report

Flo Bojaj: the Kosovan refugee looking to come full circle against England

Flo Bojaj has spent the last couple of season Credit: PA

Flo Bojaj had a tough start to life, being forced to leave his Kosovan home due to war as a toddler but England provided him the sanctuary his family required.

Along with his parents, Bojaj travelled to the United Kingdom to escape the conflict in his homeland, which cost over 13,500 lives and resulted in up to 1.45 million Kosovo Albanians, including the Bojaj family.

“Due to the war we moved as refugees to England,” Bojaj explains. “Basically, they were just getting out of the country to get away from danger and England was a lucky place to end up.

"It was very hard to get out of the country, we snuck into England on the back of a truck when my mother was pregnant with my brother and they’ve told me how hard it was.

“They had to sneak onto the back of a truck to get out of the country as the war was crazy and they tried to do what they could to get out.”

Bojaj started his career at Huddersfield. Credit: PA

The relief of arriving in England had a great short and long term impact on Bojaj, with football helping him adjust to life in his new surroundings.

“It is the best country in the world for football. It was great playing in the playground as a kid, moving up to Borehamwood, I was just always playing football.”

Bojaj had to wait until well into his teens to get snapped up by a professional club and it was a surprise move for the striker who was brought up in Hertfordshire.

“I was playing with my college where there was a sports science scheme and there were loads of colleges who played against each other. "We were playing a game and an agent came to watch another player, he saw me, then contacted me after to ask if I wanted to go for a trial.

“At first I went for a trial at Crystal Palace for three weeks and was offered a six-month contract but then the agent said it was better for me to go up to Huddersfield, I went there for about a month and signed as a scholar. I had gone from nothing to being a scholar within a month.”

Bojaj, right, celebrating scoring in his Huddersfield days. Credit: PA

Although it was a dream to be part of an elite club like Huddersfield, Bojaj struggled in Yorkshire.

“It definitely wasn’t easy to settle in. I had to move to Huddersfield and live in digs. I was very homesick at the start and found it difficult. I had to tell myself why I was doing it; it wasn’t all for myself, it was for my family as well. Gradually, it started getting better there, I wasn’t homesick anymore and started to make friends.

“It was 100 per cent worthwhile. It was so hard for such a long time, some people would have given up, but I stuck with it as you never know what might happen. I was doing well and got my debut and from there I started getting better and better.”

After making his debut he was sent out on loan, enduring spells at Kilmarnock and Newport County where he wasn’t given a chance to shine.

“I think the loans weren’t right at the time. Kilmarnock was OK as I learned quite a lot there but I don’t think I got a chance, as I played just one game despite doing really well in training and while I was there people were telling me how well I was doing and that I’d get my start soon but it didn’t really work out too well, despite doing well in training and learning a lot from Lee Clark.

“At Newport, if I could take it back I wouldn’t have gone there. I think I got ten minutes and no other chance, just training, doing nothing and wasting time, really.”

Bojaj played with former Arsenal youngster Conor Henderson at FC Pirin. Credit: PA

When released by Hudderfield having made 10 appearances and scored one goal for the club, Bojaj dropped down the leagues and ended up playing for Welling United, then Walton & Hertsham in non-league as he tried to rediscover his love for the game.

“When I went to Welling, the style of play hit me hard, as after you’ve been at a professional team and you go that low; going from Huddersfield where you keep the ball, going to Welling where I was just heading it for the whole game.

“I told my agent it wasn’t for me and I started looking abroad. I didn’t really have much, so went to play for Walton and Hersham to keep fit and do my agent’s friend a favour. I went there, the level was low, so it wasn’t too difficult to play there but I started to enjoy football again.

“I left Welling feeling low but at Walton and Hersham I got my confidence back and football is all about confidence.”

At the unlikely setting of Walton and Hersham he was spotted by an agent who arranged a move to Bulgarian top flight side FC Pirin, where he joined former Arsenal youngster Conor Henderson.

“I just thought ‘what is there to lose?’. Going to Huddersfield taught me to get out of my comfort zone, as that’s very different to London.

“I spoke to Conor and asked him how it was, as sometimes in these countries you get paid late or not at all and he said it was OK and they try to play football despite being one of the lowest teams in the leagues. I signed for three or four months and got my head up.

“It was easy to settle in, especially with Conor - I think he set up all my goals - and I think due to the style of play, I was so familiar with it rather than the non-league way of playing where it’s all battling. I am not saying I can’t do that but it’s a negative way to play. I think I settled in very quickly and started scoring, which made me like it even more.”

Payment issues soured Bojaj’s time with the club but it was worthwhile as despite relegation he was snapped up by Etar at the end of the season rather than returning to England, hoping that staying in Bulgaria could offer greater rewards, helping them to finish seventh in the league.

“I had the option to go to League Two to Oldham Athletic as my old Huddersfield coach, Frankie Bunn, was there. He wanted to offer me a contract straight away but he wanted me to go there and prove I was fit before offering me a deal but the Bulgaria deal was on the table, so I thought if I go there and something goes wrong then I don’t have the Bulgarian one, I might be stuck.

“It wouldn’t have been bad to go there but I thought I didn’t want to take the risk, so I went to Bulgaria. If I have a good season here, I am going to get a move, as I am young, I’ve had experiences in other leagues, so 100 per cent someone will take a chance on me.”

As a teenager Bojaj was plucked from relative obscurity to play for Albania’s Under-17 side, much to the surprise of the young striker himself.

“It was weird how that came about because when I played for Albania under-17 I wasn’t with a team, I was just a Boreham Wood. It was due to my family knowing a guy who said there was player in England they might like, so went to train with them and played a few games.”

There are no plans to feature for Albania at full international level, instead his sights are set on representing the country of his birth Kosovo, who will face England in the Euro 2020 qualifiers later this year.

“That’s one of my main goals right now is to get a callup for them. It’s quite hard to get one, as they have qualified. I recently got my Kosovan passport and my agent has been speaking to some people from the federation as they’ve been watching a few of my games and they said they would keep an eye on me. One hundred per cent I will play for them one day.

“When I saw the group I was quite shocked. I was just wishing I was playing for them, as it would be good to play at Wembley and against Kosovo.”

Bojaj isn’t afraid to take a risk abroad but a return England to represent Kosovo at St Mary's in September would see his life come circle.