By Nick Harris
4 October 2010
It was 4 September 2001, and the Albanian football team had travelled to Newcastle to play England in a qualifier for the 2002 World Cup. Norman Wisdom, a megastar in Albania, came along to the Albanian team lodgings, a motel on the fringes of Newcastle where I was spending the day chasing Albania feature stories for The Independent’s coverage of the game.
I’d got there early in the morning before any other journalists, and had bumped into the Albania captain, Rudi Vata, who happily spilt the beans about the Albanian FA’s attitude to their players. Vata told me that his FA didn’t care about the well-being of its players, was incapable of organising suitable travel arrangements and was run by amateurs who know nothing about the modern game. This was good stuff on the eve of a game, and it duly made a story the next day.
So far, so good. We were then having a drink in the hotel restaurant when an all-girl “Oompah band” from The Sun newspaper turned up to do a photoshoot with Norman, and I took the photograph below of the band, Norman, and Rudi. It was a slightly surreal day to say the least. (England won 2-0 the next day at a match staged at Newcastle’s ground.)
Wisdom had become a superstar in Albania because he was rare in being a Western actor whose movies were allowed to be screened under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.
When England had played in Albania in the first match of the double header earlier in 2001, Wisdom turned up at the England training session in Tirana and got much more local attention than David Beckham. He also performed his trademark trip.
Today Wisdom, 95, tripped off this mortal coil. RIP.