Home 2015 – Ego Sports
Nestled snugly high in the Himalayas between India and Tibet, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the world’s most enigmatic, insular nations, so much so that the country was effectively closed to foreigners until 1974, booted out around 100,000 ethnic Nepalese in the 1990s for failing to adhere to culture laws and only introduced television as recently as 1999, allowing the largely Buddhist population to abandon the pursuit of spiritual and intellectual fulfilment in order to ponder even more abstract questions such as who shot Phil Mitchell? The nation’s spiritual leader is known as “Zhabdrung Rinpoche”, a title which doesn’t so much roll off the tongue as it does die a death there and require scraping off with a sturdy spatula. Originally the Dalai Lama had been earmarked for the role, only for a grumpy, spitting Peruvian pack animal to turn up instead after someone in admin accidentally phoned ‘Dial a Llama.’
Bhutan’s name in the local Dzongkha dialect is “Druk Yul” or “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, which sounds like something conjured up by a focus-group of excitable eight year olds overdosing on Sunny Delight. Dafter still, the country’s ruler traditionally adopts the title of “Thunder Dragon King.” I’m not sure how visiting dignitaries manage to keep a straight face when introduced to such a chap. Perhaps they don’t. This would at least go someway to explaining the Bhutanese aversion to foreign relations. Anyway, the titular beast also makes an appearance on the national flag, a garish banner where the yellow stands for the monarchy and the orange for Buddhism, while the conspicuously white dragon represents the flag designers’ inability to get to grips with Microsoft Paint.
For all their isolationist leanings, Bhutan’s people are renowned as some of the friendliest, most progressive-thinking folk you’ll find anywhere on Earth. For a start, it’s the world’s only ‘carbon sink’ meaning the nation actually absorbs more carbon dioxide than they produce. The country also enforces strict laws protecting their forests and wildlife, has banned tobacco and plastic bags outright and, perhaps most endearingly of all, practically ignores GDP as a measure for success, instead promoting a ‘National Happiness Index’ prioritising the well being of citizens and preservation of Bhutanese culture. Incidentally, one aspect of said culture involves the scrawling of huge hairy phallic symbols on peoples’ homes to promote fertility, a tradition that appears to have spread to my home town of Milton Keynes if the state of our underpasses are anything to go by.
As you might expect from such a quirky, antiquated nation, Bhutan’s sporting culture is, well, quirky and antiquated. Traditional games include Pundo (shot put), Soksom (javelin) and horseshoe throwing (horseshoe throwing), although none of these can touch the status of Archery, the national sport which draws huge crowds all of whom must remain on their best behaviour, presumably because heckling a gentleman in possession of a bow, arrows and a murderous aim is not exactly conducive to one’s continued good health. By comparison, Bhutanese football is still in its infancy, with the country only joining FIFA in the year 2000, although the national team’s journey thus far has been as colourful as it has been brief. Some predictably frightful hammerings (20-0 vs Kuwait, 11-2 vs Yemen, 8-0 vs Turkmenistan) immediately anchored Bhutan to the foot of the world rankings. Ironically, it was this lowly position that would thrust them into the spotlight in 2002 when Dutch film maker Johan Kramer spawned the idea of ‘The Other Final’, a match between the two lowliest football nations to be played – with FIFA’s blessing – the same day as the actual World Cup final in Japan. So, while Brazil and Germany were doing battle in Yokohama for football’s grandest prize, Bhutan (then ranked 203 out of 204) played host to their only underlings; the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, ultimately beating the visitors 4-0 in the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu, perhaps the greatest venue ever to host a game of football. (See photo below if you don’t believe me.) The result was of course largely immaterial and both team captains jointly lifted a specially made trophy afterwards. It’s a shame that the concept of this fixture seems to have been a one-off, especially as England’s current trajectory probably makes it the next trophy we’d have a realistic shot at.
More recently, The ‘Thunder Dragon Boys’ (the national team’s nickname, because of course it is) made their World Cup qualification debut, earning an historic 3-1 aggregate victory over Sri Lanka in the preliminaries to advance to the second round group stage and glamour ties against the likes of China and 2022 hosts Qatar with their merry band of dubious eligibility. Unfortunately by this point Bhutan were hopelessly out of their depth and subsequently crushed 12-0 by the Chinese and 15-0 by some South Americans posing as Qataris. Still, the fact they made it that far represents a massive step forward, hopefully they’ll continue to make progress in the future
Bhutan national shirts used to be a holy grail for collectors, practically impossible to obtain unless you knew the right people. Fortunately a friend and fellow polyester hoarder Nick Warrick actually managed to make contact with some of the Bhutanese squad a few years back and managed to ship over some match-issued shirts for us other lunatics who will doubtless on day all be appearing on a BBC 2 documentary about OCD and how it can ruin your wardrobe.
Since then – and especially since their recent World Cup heroics – Bhutan’s latest suppliers Ego Sports made their new design commercially available and this is the shirt you see at the head of this post. Apart from the cheap screen-printed badge (always a pet peeve of mine) it’s pretty damned wonderful, coloured luminous orange with a garish yellow thunder dragon creeping up the side. It basically looks like the Chinese new year edition of a Sainsburys bag for life. Marvellous, and now you can own one, too. Or not. You’re probably one of those sensible people with jackets, trousers, ties etc.