Elizabeta Ejupi: London City Lioness star who fled Kosovo war before entering football | Football News
Elizabeta Ejupi has been a professional footballer since she was 16, but the beautiful game wasn’t always part of her parents’ plans for her – at a young age it was just about survival.
Ejupi’s family was forced to travel more than 1,600 miles to London to escape the increasingly volatile situation in his hometown of Kosovo, which was under a cloud of war between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the NATO-backed Kosovo Liberation Army.
The conflict began in February 1998, escalating before ending in June 1999, making it extremely dangerous for all who lived in the region.
“It was not a good war, there was a lot of genocide,” said London City Lionesses midfielder Ejupi. Sky Sports News as she reflects on what her parents told her about living in a war zone.
“A lot of people have [also] experienced similar things and we have to talk about it so that it stops and does not allow it to continue elsewhere. “
With her family fleeing to London when she was just three, Ejupi’s transition was not easy, with football quickly becoming a comfort as she adjusted to a new environment.
“It was obviously difficult, mainly learning a new language, but I think football made it easy,” she said.
“Just playing football allows you to connect with people and get to know people.”
On the domain ‘you have to earn your place’
Playing street football in South London has helped Ejupi’s development in the same way it has helped some of the game’s biggest stars, including Callum Hudson-Odoi, Jadon Sancho and Wilfried Zaha.
“Playing in the streets, Cherry Orchard, this area [in Charlton in the Royal Borough of Greenwich] that’s where I fell in love with it, ”she explains.
“I made so many friends and learned a lot about myself as a footballer. In a field like this you kind of have to earn your place.”
As she honed her football skills growing up, it became clear that Ejupi was a talented player. And it was from the very field where she grew up that her journey into professional gaming began.
“Pauline Cope (the former Charlton, England goalkeeper) was a professional player at the time,” Ejupi said.
“She saw me in my elementary school and told me to come and try in Charlton. I was afraid, of course. I hadn’t thought of joining a team at this age.
“When I went there, playing 11 was completely different. I thought I had so much time here. Here (playing in the cages) you don’t have a lot of time, because someone is always listening to you.
“I think you learn so many different skills in a cage that you can transfer to 11-a-side pitch, it gives you a lot of confidence. When you do a really good skill, you feel like they accept you, and you feel awesome. “
Ejupi won a bronze medal at the London Youth Games as she progressed from academy to Charlton’s first team and has since had stints in Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Aston Villa.
“Growing up we never did it for the money, we did it just because it was what we loved to do,” added the 27-year-old.
“It was frustrating growing up seeing your male friends [who play the game] and they have all the facilities. Not that you let that bother you, but you thought “why can’t it be me?” It should be equal. “
Ejupi chose to sign for the London City Lionesses in 2019 and was drawn to the squad by their sole focus on a dedicated women’s squad.
“It’s a really ambitious club,” she said.
“When I heard that it was an autonomous team, the vision it had and the women who work there [I was impressed]. The women in the chair really want to move the game forward. “
Far from football, Ejupi works with the XLP social project for disadvantaged young people. This is something close to her heart as a person keen to inspire girls and keen to give back to the community.
“I think it’s important for the local teams and local clubs to get people to run sessions and see if there are any girls that they can pick up and bring into the trials, it’s so important that the girls come to train and train, ”she added. .