Home 2007 – Umbro

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The country

Albanians, it would be fair to say, are a curious bunch. Their language is unique, being completely unrelated to any other European tongue, the people shake their heads to say yes and nod to say no and the entire country holds an endearing but baffling affinity for the films of British slapstick merchant Norman Wisdom.

And then there’s their leaders. For over 40 years following World War 2 Albania was ruled by splendid communist nutbox Enver Hoxha who – despite a palpable lack of interest from the outside world – was so paranoid about foreign invasion that he littered the country’s hills and beaches with over 700,000 concrete artillery bunkers because, you know, just in case. Prior to this the Albanian commander in chief was a man with the unlikely title of King Zog, a name that suggests the kind of intergalactic visitor fond of whisking away American turnip farmers and doing unspeakable things to their rectums.

Against this backdrop of hardcore isolationism and eccentricity Albanian football spent decades in the doldrums. Heavy defeats for the national team were manifold, with the nadir arriving in 1990 when Spain administered a 9-0 pummelling during a Euro 92 qualifier. Chief tormentor that day was striker Emilio Butragueno, whose four goal haul was perhaps the worst case of Albanian persecution by an individual until Liam Neeson unleashed his “Very particular set of skills.”

Mercifully, following the collapse of communism that same year things quickly improved and the team grew ever more competitive over the years. Even so it was still a major shock when wily Italian coach Gianni De Biasi led Albania to qualification for the Euro 2016 finals, their first ever major tournament. In France the “Eagles” acquitted themselves admirably, losing narrowly to Switzerland and the hosts before an historic 1-0 win over Romania saw them return to a heroes welcome at Tirana airport despite a group stage exit.

Albania’s time in the spotlight may turn out to be brief however as their 2018 World Cup qualifying group features both Spain and Italy.                   Good luck with that one guys.

The shirt

A good solid effort from Umbro here with a simple, understated design and a nice colour scheme lifted directly from the flag. It’s also good to note that the wording on the badge is actually in Albanian. This includes the country’s native name ‘Shqiptare’, which is so far removed from ‘Albania’ that frankly you have to wonder if it were made up by somebody who was dealt a particularly bad hand during a game of Scrabble.

Anyway, this design seems to have been worn for some – but for some reason, not all – of Albania’s Euro 2008 qualification campaign. It also saw action in that most pointless of occasions; an England B international in 2007, where Albania managed to lose 3-1 to a group of players that even Steve McClaren was reluctant to hand out caps to. For shame.