Favourite Five: Kits from Football’s Frontiers

In a very special guest article, Adam Beaumont (follow @ratkiller75 on Twitter) shifts our focus to the edges of our planet’s obsession with football, and to five shirts that represent a struggle for recognition and existence for those who wear them:

Selecting five favourite kits is always a subjective thing.

Some people will panic and name 5 fairly nice kits, some like the plainest of kits for the memories they represent and some people have spent an inordinate amount of time optimising the process.

Most times it will vary, day by day.

Today, as with many days, my thoughts have turned to those international kits outside of FIFA.

When you see them you think about the nation itself in football. The history before those kits and the legacy of when they were used gives them more weight than any shirt you’ll see in the Premier League or at a World Cup.

Tuvalu

Tuvalu, 2011, Masita, Conifa
Picture credit – Wikipedia

Tuvalu, 2011, Masita.

Is there much to the shirt? No, it is blue with some yellow trim, a badge and a logo. It looks alright but doesn’t exactly strike a bold new path in kit design. So how can it ever be ranked in a top 5? As will become a bit of a theme, it is what it represents.

The tiny nation of Tuvalu is spread across 9 atolls deep in the Pacific Ocean. With only 11,000 or so people, very few large, flat surfaces and being predominantly Polynesian you wouldn’t have thought it would be much of a hub for football.

You’d be wrong.

Tuvalu has participated in 5 Pacific Games, 1 Pacific Mini Games and the CONIFA 2018 World Football Cup to date, with results ranging from the impressive 2-1 victory over New Caledonia’s U21s to the . . . less than impressive 16-0 loss to Fiji.

Their record against the nations that take part in the OFC Nations Cup qualifying is reasonable, though games are sporadic at best.

This Masita shirt represents a turning point for Tuvalu with the involvement of the Dutch Oceania Support Foundation and the fact that they were actually sold, leading to some lucky people securing replica shirts.

With outside support helping Tuvalu get a bit of brand recognition, continue to play at a decent standard within Oceania, and eventually go on a tour of the Netherlands, it was inevitable that FIFA and the OFC would continue to completely ignore them . . .

This shirt represents the spread of Tuvaluan football globally (or at least to the Netherlands). They’ve been trying to join FIFA since the 1980’s but, with a little help, 2011 showed they can still thrive without football’s global governors and that, more than anything, shows a truly great shirt.

Kiribati

Kiribati 2003
Picture credit – clubandnationalfootballteam.blogspot.com

Kiribati, 2003.

Spread across a vast array of time zones and the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati struggle to field a team, let alone produce a kit to be admired worldwide.

At first and second glance this kit appears to be a cure for geographical amnesia and the third glance just makes you start to question why the numbers are so large and high up the shirt. But then you realise how rare football is for the team and it gains a quality of its own.
With 7 goals scored and 125 conceded in 11 games, their record would not have most fans jumping for joy.

Like Tuvalu, Kiribati struggles with football infrastructure, being much more suited to beach soccer due to the abundance of sand and distinct lack of grass. However, when you consider the hurdles and unfamiliar conditions (yes we mean grass pitches) they overcome just to face opponents with FIFA grants and trained coaches; then Kiribati are a nation to be respected.

The photo shows the kit for the 2003 Pacific Games, the middle of only 3 appearances, where they conceded 40 goals in 4 games, scoring just 2 goals, both against Tuvalu (in a 3-2 loss). 2003 also brought the Kiribati women’s team (an earlier women’s team than many FIFA members) to the Pacific Games, with them scoring 2 and conceding 38 in 6 games. It was a bold step from a federation that hadn’t been seen at the games since 1979, a huge leap back into the limelight to show FIFA and the OFC that they were here to stay.

They were ignored.

Again.

2003 represents what I’ll think of as the golden era of Kiribati football; they were last seen in 2011 where they bowed out with consecutive 17-1 losses and a lack of funding has doomed them since. 1979 was before my time, 2011 was bittersweet, 2003 represents Kiribati at their best.

A nation struggling against bureaucracy and climate change, defying the odds to even play. Plus, a country name printed across the shirt does bring a smile to your face. You’d certainly never forget who you were playing.

Palau

Palau Football Association
Picture credit – Palau Football Association

Palau, 2018.

Where is Palau, you ask?

Around 280km south-west of the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia.

What do you mean that doesn’t help?

Alright, 550km east of the Philippines.

Often a bit mysterious, football on Palau is very hard to find information on and these shirts, as ever, aren’t that inventive. There is, at least, a logo. For one of the rarest teams to play, having pictures of a shirt they used is impressive enough.

Palau is an archipelago nation in the Pacific Ocean (noticing a pattern yet?), home to around 21,000 people of largely Micronesian heritage. They are mostly concerned with the environment, more so than their small tourism industry, low GDP and negligible footballing presence, with an aim to be 100% solar powered and laws banning certain sunscreens that might harm their local reefs. A football league just about sometimes exists and the national side fits that description nicely too.

In terms of the national side you hear very little because even travelling to next door Micronesia has required crowdfunding. They’ve played recently, in 2014 and 2018, against 3 of the 4 states of the Federated States of Micronesia. Those 2nd and 3rd place finishes are the only modern relevance they really have against the rest of the world, with the other tournament having been years back and not under comparable rules. Plenty more to come though, assuming some money can be found.

The shirt is plain, but has nice colour to it and represents football clinging on at the edge of the world, despite the challenges it has faced.

How could you not like it?

Federated States of Micronesia

Federated States of Micronesia, 2015, Diadora
Picture credit – Paul Watson

Federated States of Micronesia, 2015, Diadora.

A template with a badge stuck on it, this better have some great “meaning” behind it I can hear you say. I respond with an affirmative and would like to point out that it is at number 4 of 5 because it is an actual company standard template, give me some credit.

The Federated States of Micronesia are a scattering of islands split between 4 states (Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap and Kosrae), spread across over a million square miles of the (guess where) Pacific Ocean.

A logistical nightmare for team sports, they mostly compete as 4 separate states (though Kosrae don’t play football so only 3 for that). Paul Watson and Matt Conrad helped bring football back to Pohnpei comparatively recently (and through that, helped the country as a whole, read the full story in Up Pohnpei).

These shirts saw an infamous 114 goals in 3 games at the 2015 Pacific Games. They got some publicity for it, very little of it good, and attained that dreaded title of “worst national football team” as if that’s any encouragement. Considering the huge list of qualifying statements you can make for why they did poorly (first time on a full size pitch, first times out of their country, comparatively recently learnt football etc. etc.) and the total lack of funding for the sport in the country, it is unfair to saddle them with such a title.

The shirt represents tenacity and the first steps of FSM as a united country in the world’s view. Laugh all you like at their losses, to those who know the backstory, this shirt marks an impressive achievement in merely existing and should be respected for that.

Monaco

Monaco Conifa
Picture credit – Conifa.org

Leaving the Pacific behind we turn to more shirts with real meaning.

The tiny principality of Monaco does not boast a rich footballing history on the national level. Whilst AS Monaco have brought a level of football success, it has come in the French league system.

However, international Monegasque football does exist, to an extent.

The above picture shows the Monaco national football side as sourced from CONIFA. The “nostalgia” that I can get from looking at a team I’ve never seen play live, prepared for a match I didn’t watch, that likely happened before I cared, is impressive. Mostly because they’ve totally dropped off the radar and that makes me genuinely sad for reasons that don’t really make sense.

UEFA and FIFA continue to watch Monaco play on the fringes of football in CONIFA tournaments.

Their 21-1 loss to Sapmi in the VIVA World Cup final has to be a tournament final record, on the international stage at least, but some respectable results against CONIFA sides and the Vatican show it isn’t all bad.

What does this shirt represent (aside from it being hard to find team photos of Monaco)? It shows one of the largest and richest sporting confederations can still ignore a country if it suits them. It also shows that those countries won’t be dissuaded!

These shirts show a side of football very few people know about which is a shame. They aren’t my favourites because they are rare. They are currently my favourites because they show football away from the money and the diving. At the edges of football, the true spirit of the game shows and the shirts, as simplistic as they are, are a gateway to that world.

Adam Beaumont (aka @ratkiller75 on Twitter) recognises that each of us represents something when we wear our colours, and answered our call to Suggest a Shirt with a run-down of his five favourite football kits.

If you have a shirt you’d like us to feature on Sartorial.Soccer please let us know in the comments section below.

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