Belarus

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The country

The former Soviet state of Belarus is a landlocked nation in Eastern Europe sandwiched between Russia, Poland and Ukraine and is considered the continent’s last real dictatorship, having been ruled over since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, a cranky fellow with a sullen demeanour, cold, malevolent eyes and a mustache that just doesn’t quit.

For the past 23 years the dastardly despot has kept his country in a kind of grumpy diplomatic limbo. Relations with the United States are pretty frosty, EU pleas that they perhaps tone down the human rights abuses just a smidge generally fall on deaf ears, and – in recent years – even the amorous advances of traditional ally Russia have been met with a shrug of the shoulders and a vague promise that Belarus might possibly ring them back later if they remember, and if they’re not too busy.

 

This deep suspicion of outsiders probably stems from an unfortunate quirk of history whereby Belarus has consistently found itself caught between where powerful armies are and where they desire to be, with all the gory consequences one would expect from such a setting. In 1812 Napoleon’s Grand Armee swept through en route to Moscow only to find the retreating Russians had laid waste to Belarusian crops, preventing the French troops from living off the land and leaving the famished natives non too thrilled either by the prospect of scorched earth and thistles for dinner again. Moving forward a century, and although Belarus was largely able to avoid the carnage of World War One, Hitler and Stalin’s little tiff in 1941 ensured the country would definitely be hosting the sequel. During that devastating conflict, some three million Belarusians (about one third of the population) perished, including 90% of the Jewish community whom the invading Nazis were all to happy to relieve of their homes, possessions, wealth and pulses. Meanwhile most cities, including the capital Minsk, were reduced to rubble and the landscape pulverised as German and Soviet forces waged pitched tank battles, pitched infantry battles and, on one memorable occasion after getting sidetracked in a barn, pitchfork battles.

Even in times of peace Belarus can’t quite shed its perennial status as collateral damage, case in point; the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Despite the accident occurring in neighbouring Ukraine, around 70% of the fallout drifted across the Belarusian border resulting in significant loss of arable farmland, numerous cases of radiation sickness, heightened cancer rates and, most disappointingly of all, still no superheroes. To this day significant swathes of land remain dangerously radioactive, inhabited only by those too poor or foolhardy to evacuate. The government has pledged investment towards cleansing the affected areas however, promising “a brighter future for all Belarusians” which seems bitterly ironic given how many of them already glow in the dark.

The number one sport in Belarus is probably Ice Hockey for which afore-mentioned madcap lip-rug enthusiast Lukashenko has a particular affinity, often posing for photo opportunities clad in full kit (as if the guy weren’t unsettling enough without throwing razor-bladed shoes and a bloody huge wooden club into the equation.) Football ranks a close second though, even if the national team’s form since independence in 1991 could best be described as wildly inconsistent. Impressive results in qualifying competition – including victory over the Netherlands (Euro 96), beating France in Paris (Euro 2012) and twice holding Italy (1-1 and 0-0, Euro 2000) – have largely been offset by disappointing results against the likes of Moldova, Malta, Estonia and a particularly irksome Luxembourg, a minnow Belarus have been drawn with on no fewer than five separate occasions and whom they have dropped points against every time.

Unsurprising then that a maiden appearance at a major tournament has yet to materialise, with the 2002 World Cup still the closest the team have come to breaking their duck. Rather typically, having done the hard work by thrashing group winners Poland 4-1 in their penultimate match, the Belarusians slumped to defeat against a mediocre Welsh side in Cardiff when victory would have seen them pip arch-rivals Ukraine to the play-off spot. Fifteen years on, and despite some success at under-21 level offering hope for the future, Belarus appear no closer to taking that extra step towards becoming a credible force on the international stage.                      Then again, what do you realistically expect from a national team that counts Luxembourg as their bogey side?

The shirt

Not too much to say here; it’s Adidas, it’s red and it’s dull, but at least it’s official. This shirt was purchased directly from the Belarus F.A via their website and was pleasingly inexpensive at just £25 including shipping. Also, it just feels good on. The sizing is UK accurate, the material comfortable and the stitched crest a welcome relief from the cheap, ironed-on variety you get on those (generally iffy) badged-up templates floating around on eBay.

Belarusian national shirts have typically been one of the trickier European boxes to cross off, with one strange exception dating back to the mid-late nineties when a bright, white design from Mitre made its way into sports stores across the UK (see picture below.) I distinctly remember seeing this shirt for sale in JJB Sports Milton Keynes around 1998*, and I know some fellow collectors have it in their possession even though no photographic evidence of it in use seems to exist. Furthermore, the white/red colour scheme and badge seem to be taken from the old Belarusian flag which was phased out in 1995, meaning that the timescale doesn’t even match.        Very peculiar.

*I know it was 1998 as I distinctly remember passing up on this shirt in order to buy the Germany shirt from France 98 instead.

 

 

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