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Qatar’s Mercenaries Bring a Whole New Meaning to “International” Football: Qatar Home Shirt 2014-2015

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Qatar has become somewhat of a target ever since securing the right to host the 2022 Word Cup and the bull’s-eye on the team—and country’s—collective backs has only grown larger since the FIFA scandal exploded at the end of May. A friend of mine recently gave me a Qatari national team shirt as a gift so I thought it would be prudent to present my thoughts on the Arab nation’s footballing practices along with the shirt.

The shirt itself is a standard Nike design, similar to the Turkish and American national team shirts. The only unique feature of this shirt is the Qatari flag on the inside of the collar and the badge; the Arabic script makes an otherwise basic shirt visually interesting as well as reminding the viewer of the 1994 Adidas World Cup Ball. I wonder if Nike paid attention to that?

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.soccer.com/channels/worldcup-ball-collection/

Regardless, Nike tries to outfit the best in world football and Qatar are seen by many as a rising star—even if the football played on the pitch often leaves much to be desired. In a recent friendly in Crewe, England—one under-reported by world media—Qatar played to a draw with Northern Ireland in front of a little over 3,000 fans, enduring many jeers in the process. Personally, I understand the jeers but not for the traditional reasons. For me the issue is that Qatar’s football federation has pursued a policy of “employing”, for lack of a better word, mercenaries; half of the team were neither born nor raised in Qatar. Most of the players are of African origin, born in either Africa or France, yet they represent Qatar in international football. To understand what this means it is helpful to look at the bigger picture, where politics inevitably comes into play.

Qatar has been harboring ambitions to be a regional power in the Middle East for a long time, looking to capitalize on the regional fissures exposed by the Arab Spring. One route by which Qatar has tried to gain influence is through sport, specifically football, which Professor James Dorsey has written about extensively. Ever since the colonial days of the last century Africa has been a place empire builders have looked to exploit as a resource-rich periphery; then the search was for raw materials to support industry, now the search is for impoverished youths with athletic ability that have become the commodity in what some have termed “the new slave trade”. Qatar has mirrored the Europeans and, through a sports academy called Aspire, the country has been gobbling up young African talent. The “brawn drain” is not just limited to football and the rich Gulf state has also bought Africans to represent them in international track and field competitions.

What is worrisome is that Qatar’s search for mercenaries goes outside of the sporting realm: it extends to the political realm as well. The large labor force Qatar has imported from South Asia in order to support the country’s industrialization—and World Cup related construction projects—have been called mercenaries, although “mercenary” seems to be a kind word; they could be more accurately termed construction fodder as their high rates of death and injury are consistently ignored by the state. Although the Qatari business magazine cited above claims that “Qatar’s expatriates don’t carry swords; but hammers and briefcases.” the truth is that they also carry guns. It is estimated that Qatar has provided over 3 billion USD to rebels in Syria and, as one rebel officer in Syria interviewed by the Financial Times says, “Qatar has a lot of money and buys everything with money, and it can put its fingerprints on it.”

It should be noted that lately Qatar’s mercenary schemes have backfired with the FIFA scandal threatening the Qatari World Cup—the worker’s high death rates provide a convenient humanitarian excuse for its cancellation—and with the Syrian conflict becoming intractable despite Qatar’s unwavering support of the opposition. We can only hope that in footballing terms Qatar’s mockery of international football fails as well. Of course the subject of what “nationality” truly means in a footballing sense is tricky (in fact some pundits hate international football) and ESPN’s Gab Marcotti wrote a thought provoking piece about it in the context of dual nationals. But Aldo Simoncini, the goalkeeper for San Marino (one of European football’s minnows and a country that has no real hope of scoring a goal—let alone winning—every time they step on the pitch) offers a healthy interpretation. The man who has conceded over 120 goals while representing his country was asked in an interesting interview how it feels to play with no real hope of victory or even a respectable outcome. His reply? “Nobody pays us to play: We do it patriotically and Europe understands this.”

For me Mr. Simoncini’s spirit is the spirit of international football. It is a privilege—not a right—to represent one’s country in any form, and knowing that is what provides strong results in football and in life. There are some things money can’t buy; its something that Qatar is learning the hard way both on and off the pitch.

PFC Nesebar Shirt Year Unknown, 15 Matchworn

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This poorer quality PFC Nesebar shirt is still worth featuring as it is from Nesebar, a town (also a UNESCO world heritage site) that holds a place of fond memories in my mind having visited there a few years back. 35 Kilometers north of Nesebar is Sunny Beach—Slanchev Bryag—as is noted on the back of the shirt beneath the number 15. I only caught a short glimpse from a bus window of PFC Nesebar’s Nesebar stadium en route to Sunny Beach. Still, the classic Puma design of fading colors around the sleeve—obviously very period-ey from the mid 1990s—warrant a picture or two. To me the colors are fitting for a seaside footballing side. All details of this (very large) Extra Large sized Puma shirt are screen printed on, as is fitting for a side that currently resides in the third division of Bulgarian football, the V AFG. While I wouldn’t recommend any travelers looking for a classy vacation to visit Sunny Beach, it is still a good time for the younger crowd—sunny beaches, cheap beers, and beautiful people are always a good draw in the summer. For the more cultured I’d recommend Nesebar’s old town, as a walk through the cobblestoned streets is a romantic experience for the intrepid traveller that is not to be missed. After all, it led to the purchase of this shirt!

 

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For The Intrepid Traveler a Few Shots of the Beautiful Black Sea and Historic Nesebar, From My Visit:

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PFC Cherno More Varna, 2007-2008 Away Shirt

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This shirt was acquired by way of a female accountant at PFC Cherno More Varna’s Ticha stadium during my visit. The shirt is made by Bulgarian manufacturer Tomy Sport, and while this may not be a household name in the West the material is still suitable for a football shirt. While the fabric is similar to the “Puma” Lokomotiv Plovdiv shirt I have, this material is softer and with a matte finish–similar in many ways to Adidas shirts produced in Turkey under the Adidas license in the late 1990s. The badge and sponsor are sewn into the white and blue fabric, making it a one of a kind piece produced specifically for Cherno More Varna. The accountant in question also had a match worn piece available which I eschewed due to its prohibitive price–its material was the same, which leads me to believe that Tomy Sport replicas are the same quality as player shirts.

 

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Liverpool Centenary Home L/S Shirt, 1992-93–In Remembrance of Hillsborough and The 96

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For readers of this blog who are not football fans I would like to remember today, April 15th 2014, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster. On April 15, 1989 ninety-six Liverpool fans died in a tragic human crush at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield during an FA Cup semi-final—more than 400 more were hospitalized with injuries. The causes of the disaster were many, from an antiquated stadium to poor decision-making and communication by Police.

On that sad day in April “The 96” were immortalized in English history and changed English football—and society—forever. After the disaster standing room sections were banished and stadiums in the top tier (the Premier League only started in 1992—in many ways a response to this tragic event) became all-seaters. What also happened—and perhaps more important for English society—was a re-appraisal of football (and fans).

After the Heysel distaster of 1985 English clubs—and Liverpool in particular—were pegged as troublemakers throughout the continent due to the pervasive “hooligan” element in British football. Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, made no attempt to dissuade such labels. Indeed, British authorities tried to peg “the 96” as drunkards and troublemakers who had caused the crowd crush by entering the stands without tickets. It was a false accusation; one that the police manufactured so as to shadow their own failures in the disaster. Many subsequent documentaries (Including a well done feature by US sports network ESPN) have focused on the doctored reports of police who were at the stadium the day of the match. Many were edited to cover up criticisms of the police response by their own. It was a shame to disgrace the names of those who died at a football match in the name of politics.

For years Liverpool fans have wanted justice for “the 96” and it has been echoed by football fans across Europe; the scarves sent to Anfield Road for the weekend match against Manchester City are testament to the fact that the Hillsborough disaster was not just a tragedy for Liverpool fans—it was a tragedy for football fans everywhere. The quest to clear the names of “the 96” has forced a new look at the British justice system and the government’s role in the tragedy.

For more in depth writing on the tragedy please see:

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/hillsborough-disaster-anniversary-25th-anniversary-of-tragedy-that-claimed-lives-of-the-96-marked-as-nearly-25000-attend-anfield-service-9262439.html

and

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/soccer/news/20140415/hillsborough-disaster-liverpool-tragedy-25-anniversary/.

 

 

So here is a picture of my Liverpool shirt, posted today in honor of “the 96”. I always wanted a Liverpool shirt for my collection because I think their “motto”, if we can call it that, of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is truly in the spirit of football fandom, whatever team you support. If you’re not convinced, these two YouTube clips of the fans during last weekend’s remembrance of Hillsborough are a good introduction to Liverpool’s spirit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3UPeulnY6c   and   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpP5SWH62Bg). I was lucky enough to find this rare long-sleeved shirt online last year, complete with classic Carlsberg sponsor.

The shirt is Liverpool’s centenary shirt with a special embroidery around the crest (According to this site, the embroidered crest and Adidas motif mean this is a player quality shirt)–there are also two embroidered FA Premier League patches on the arms, the first season of the now world-famous league. The fabric is normal for the era, shinier than that of current shirts. In my opinion, this shirt also has the added bonus of being a classic Adidas design from the early nineties, with the three stripes coming across the left shoulder. They just don’t make shirts like they used to.

 

Remember The 96.

 

Scarves From Around Europe In Honor of The 96, courtesy of Ultra Style’s Facebook:

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A Couple Pictures of My Liverpool Shirt:

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Istiklol Dushanbe Home Shirt 2009-10

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I will be posting some of the shirts I acquired before starting this blog, and after posting some pictures of Tajik stadiums I thought I should start the process of catching up with a shirt from the Tajik side Istiklol Dushanbe. It is made by the Chinese manufacturer Li-Ning Sports, a clear example of the economic influence China has in Tajikistan. Tajikistan shares an Eastern border with China, and China is more than willing to go head to head with Russia in a battle for influence over Central Asia, a 21st century Great Game. This influence reaches into many sectors, including energy and infrastructure (Chinese prisoners build tunnels in Tajikistan), transportation (many of the newer city busses in Dushanbe sport Chinese characters), and–apparently–sporting goods.

Although the material feels quality enough–reminiscent of some late 90s Puma shirts–I still cant help but feel it will come apart if I wash it too much. As such, I’ve resorted to hand washing, since I dont want to lose a shirt that was so difficult to obtain. Finding an official shirt in Tajikistan is very difficult. The Li-Ning store on Rudaki avenue in Dushanbe told me that they had no shirts available (other than the one on the mannequin standing in the window which was apparently not for sale), but the Li-Ning branch in Tajikistan’s second city, Khujand, was a different story. At first they too were reluctant to sell their one example of the shirt  (Why is there only shirt per store per city that isn’t even available for purchase?) which was, again, gracing a mannequin in the store-front window. After a little bit of pleading and  repeated assurances that I would pay them, the 3 shopkeepers relented–but not before they had a good laugh at the American guy who would not be deterred in his search for an official shirt from Tajikistan.

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The badge is a quality embroidery, despite being on the wrong side of the chest. Apparently, Li Ning sports has more of a hold on the player’s allegiance than their team:

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A Li-Ning billboard, advertising the shirts that….aren’t really on sale. One interesting linguistic fact here, that my friend Kevin and I noticed. The Tajik below the team’s picture reads “ИНТИXОБИ МО”, which translates as “Our Choice”. This is very similar to the terminology used in many Spanish-speaking countries for their nation sides–“La Selección“. Interesting, since Tajikistan is nowhere near Spain. Or El Salvador.

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FC Skonto 2013 Away Shirt

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After an amusing night of watching Galatasaray of Istanbul hold Juventus of Turin to a draw in the UEFA Champions League at an Irish bar in the old town of Riga I woke up with the taste of Black Balzams in my mouth and a thirst for…my soccer shirt. Indeed I made it out to the Skonto Stadium and promptly picked up an FC Skonto shirt for 20 Latvian Lats. The shirt is made by a German brand, Jako, and it marks my first shirt from that brand–a milestone of sorts. I chose navy blue over the traditional red of FC Skonto because 1) I have many red shirts and 2) the tree on the “Granat” sponsorship stands out better on the navy.

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FC Flora Tallinn 2012 Away Shirt Matchworn

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This shirt came out of a cardboard box at the souvenir stand/ticket stand run by the team before their match with JK Narva Trans at the A. Le Coq Arena. Its a nice extra-large Nike shirt sporting a number two, as well as a sponsor (a good thing, since I think that otherwise jerseys can look dull depending on their design). The only drawback is that this shirt is gold, and not the green and white stripes that FC Flora traditionally sport. Overall, its nice to have a shirt from the team that is arguably the most famous in Estonia.

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