Home 1996-97 – Puma
As a cheery, devout Christian nation surrounded by malevolent neighbours, Armenia is very much the Ned Flanders of the south Caucasus region, watching on helplessly as Iran steals their milk and newspapers, Azerbaijan borrows land with no intention of returning it and Turkey indulges in a spot of genocide. Between 1915 and 1923 more than 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were systematically slaughtered at the hands of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, a crime modern day Turkey still can’t quite bring itself to admit, instead insisting they all simply fell down the stairs. Okily dokily. Armenia’s other main beef is with fellow former Soviet state Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, a conflict the UN insists is on their to-do list but somehow never makes it onto the security council’s power-point presentations, principally because they’re never 100% sure how to spell it.
With strife lurking on nearly every border, it should come as no surprise that Armenians are adept at setting up home in friendlier climes such as France, the US and Russia (you know you come from a rough neighbourhood when Russia starts to look inviting.) The current diaspora outnumbers those living within Armenia itself to the tune of 11 million vs 3 million, and has produced plenty of famous faces the people can be proud of – think tennis ace Andre Agassi, heavy metal group System of a Down and pop superstar Cher – and some of whom they would do well to distance themselves from – basically anyone whose surname starts with a “K” and ends with”ardashian.”
As previously mentioned, Armenians are a deeply Christian people, with evidence suggesting they may even have been the first nation to officially adopt the religion way back in 301 AD. Around this time several neighbouring countries unveiled their new invention the sofa, originally conceived not for comfort but rather something to safely hide behind and pretend they weren’t home whenever the Armenians came knocking at their borders with an armful of leaflets to spread the good news. In keeping with these religious sensibilities, Armenia’s national symbol is the mighty Mount Ararat (technically just over the border in Turkey, but hey ho) which, legend has it was the final resting place of Noah’s ark after he became hopelessly lost and confused, especially when sat between his grizzly passengers as the sat nav barked out “bear left” and “bear right”
On to football; Armenia’s national team made an inauspicious start to life following independence from the USSR in 1991, finishing bottom of their Euro 96 qualifying group and quickly becoming mired at the lower end of UEFA’s rankings. For the next 14 years or so this appeared to be Armenia’s lot in life, never really stinking the place up in the manner of a San Marino or Liechtenstein but, despite the odd notable scalp here and there, hardly going places either.
Then, in a startlingly abrupt upturn in form, the team exploded into life during their Euro 2012 campaign, twice sweeping aside a Slovakia team (3-1 and 4-0) who had reached the last 16 of the previous World Cup and making a dash for the group’s play-off spot. Ultimately, despite the best efforts of the country’s poster-boy Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Armenia were edged out by Ireland much to the relief of English commentators who would probably have required emergency speech therapy to wrap their tongues around names such as Hovhannisyan, Arzumanyan and Hayrapetyan.
This decent but slightly pedestrian Puma design was worn during Armenia’s first ever World Cup qualifying campaign in 1998, featuring in a pair of draws against Northern Ireland as well as the highly credible 0-0 vs Portugal. Armenia shirts are relatively scarce by European standards and, although I was able to nab this one on ebay a few years back for just £30, I’ve never seen the same design for sale anywhere before or since so I assume it to be pretty rare, even though the template itself was common at the time, i.e. Bulgaria and Czechia wore identical shirts only with different colour schemes.
The Armenian Football Federation crest features the twin peaks of Mount Ararat (Again, not actually in present day Armenia) and three letters from the bewildering Armenian alphabet which, although I’m sure they’re equivalent to AFF or similar, I can’t help but see an anorexic sock puppet turning its back on a pair of snooty rubber ducks.