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The International Football Kit is something that has the job of representing more than just a football team. In one piece of cloth, there is the duty of representing the country’s population, the country’s colors, the unique culture, the history, the heritage and the footballing pedigree of the nation. It has the pressure of being something that can be the symbol for a national triumph while also appealing to one’s own fashion taste and comfort. However, in recent time, more and more football associations and kit manufacturers have looked towards jersey templates. While this may be a cheaper and easy alternative for nations without a big market, the risk of losing a country’s identity in the kit is at risk. Thankfully, one region is happy to continue to produce beautiful jerseys that continue to push the worldwide kit industry forward in beauty, uniqueness and advancement: Africa.
Naturally, the first jersey to come to mind for most of you reading is Nigeria’s World Cup 2018 strip. The jersey that exponentially stood out at the tournament in which many tribute kits were dawned by their respective national team. Although, Nigeria decided to take “tribute” to a new and exciting meaning passed just a slightly different remake. In the 1994 World Cup, a debut tournament for the ‘Super Eagles’, the Nigerians took the pitch in an exotic, tribal inspired kit. These tribal triangles weaving their way in and out of the jersey pay homage to that iconic pattern in one of Africa’s most regular sides in international football’s top level. The badge is also a homage to the Nigerian team that saw its members have their chest covered in Olympic gold in 1996 as they became the first African footballing nation to dawn the top podium at the games. The jersey did a beautiful job of not only representing the cultural and football heritage of the country, but also the colorful culture of the country and the tribal roots of a nation. For many, the strip is the first one that comes to mind when you think of that tournament and really jerseys in the last decade in general. This may be mainly because the jersey turned out to be the fashion statement of the year in football. The jersey sold out with 3 million preorders after Nike announced the jersey in June of 2018. At a sale price of £64.95, this jersey managed to land Nike and The Nigerian F.A £194.85 million. Making the jersey not just a nice homage to the country but quite the business move as the jersey appealed to the country’s population, and anyone who had functioning eyes.
Some may argue the Nigerian jersey may be a bit too much on the eyes or maybe just too different from a traditional jersey. This creativity and originality, however, is what leads to innovation and a fresh football kit culture for us all to enjoy. Sadly, we cannot all quite get it right, and I am looking directly at you Cameroon. This is a story about not success, but simply trying new things pushing the football kit industry to improve itself. At the end of the day we simply cannot all be winners, and this is what happened at the 2002 FIFA World Cup when Cameroon decided to cut the sleeves from their jerseys in an NBA style due to the climate of the country. The quarterfinalists of 1990 and one of the most impressive African sides over its footballing history just did not quite get it right on this occasion. The ‘Abominable Lions’ were able to win their fourth African Cup of Nations in the strip before FIFA deemed the jersey a vest and not a kit heading into the 2002 World Cup. To spite the federation, the Cameroon F.A crudely stitched on some black sleeves and kept the same green kit behind it. Luckily, and maturely, this was the end of the saga between Cameroon’s innovative new kit and FIFA – I wish. The next step in getting revenge towards FIFA was to make a kit that was all one piece. The national team stepped up to the next African Cup of Nations wearing a kit that was also connected to the shorts making it a one-piece to spite FIFA. The ‘one-piece’ jersey got the country a six-point deduction towards the next World Cup qualifying group for 2006 but was later reversed by FIFA.
Although there have been blunders along with the amazing successes of this beautiful continent’s kit, it has led to a beautiful middle ground in the continent that I truly believe has the best status quo for international kits. A few will always be dull and lacking much character, but you struggle to find these across the continent. Many kits simply dawn one of the country’s culturally predominant animals embedded in a darker shade in the kit. Some may illustrate the tribal markings or symbols of the nation in a way that is clean while still representing the country and the people whom it is for. Some very worthy mentions would be that of Botswana who showcase the national colour of light blue in a striped pattern. This striped pattern isn’t two solid colours however. The light blue is paired with black and white zebra print, the national animal of the country. Ghana famously displays its national symbol of the black star on its iconic kits which have seen World Cup quarterfinals. The Democratic Republic of Congo dawns its vibrant blue, red and yellow with leopard prints shaded into the kit. Even Madagascar, which is more than a decent children’s movie, presents beautiful wildlife and tribal markings in a darker shade bringing out the heritage and wildlife of the nation. From teams who punch above their weight on the World Stage, to countries who you may assume have a national team but don’t think much of, they all wear their nations and traditions proudly on the body as they play for more than just a round ball of leather. I believe the rest of the world could take notes from these unique set of kits.
Author: Riley Moore.