Home 2008-09 – Legea
Most people will have at least heard the name Bosnia, unfortunately it’s unlikely to be a positive association. Following independence in 1992 from a rapidly crumbling Yugoslavia, the country tumbled headlong into a bloody mess of civil war, ethnic cleansing, brutal rapes and stern tutting as the majority Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population found themselves targeted for extermination by Serb and Croat forces while a deeply inept, overly bureaucratic UN peacekeeping force stood around awkwardly, claiming they were unable to step in and prevent the massacre as some of their paperwork had been signed in the wrong colour ink. Mercifully, since the end of hostilities in 1995 the three constituent people groups have decided to bury the hatchet (presumably in a mass grave somewhere) and attempt to function as a single nation. This hasn’t exactly been plain sailing however such is the lingering sense of mistrust, and Bosnia’s government remains decentralised to an almost ludicrous degree. The country even has three separate presidents, which nominally is done to ensure equal representation, but is in reality merely a clever ruse to blag three car parking spaces at the United Nations.
Bosnia’s cities – despite the best efforts of the Serbs and Croats to pound them into dust – remain some of the most captivating and beautiful to be found anywhere in the former Yugoslavia. Mostar, for instance, is a sparkling Ottoman-style architectural gem centred around the stunning Stari Most (Old Bridge), a popular spot for tourists and locals alike which students are particularly fond of hurling themselves from in the summer months. Given that they face a drop of 78ft into an average water depth of about five inches, it’s safe to assume that those taking the plunge probably aren’t maths graduates.
Elsewhere, the capital Sarajevo is a bewitching blend of east and west famous for its grand mosques, elaborate churches, a bustling Turkish Quarter and also for its craggy streets, which sounds like the name for a disappointing Irish rap artist. The city is also home to quite possibly the most sarcastic monument in the history of civilisation, I refer of course to the infamous “ICAR Canned Beef monument”, a not so subtle dig at the international community’s half-arsed efforts to feed the starving citizens during the 1992-95 siege by plying them with rancid, out of date (by up to 20 years) tinned food, much of which also contained pork rendering it (even more) useless to the mostly Muslim populace. Even the city’s cats and dogs were allegedly turning their noses up at the stuff which prompted people to label it as “the least edible product ever packaged for human consumption”, leading to grovelling apologies from the UN and a “challenge accepted” message from Pot Noodle.
The country’s sporting preferences are fairly typical for a former Yugoslav state, with Basketball, Athletics and Handball all regularly pulling in the masses. Sarajevo also hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, scene of Torvill and Dean’s perfectly scored Bolero which inspired thousands of British couples to take up ice skating and then, a few weeks later, to take up wrist splints, leg casts and divorce proceedings. Through all this football has remained the undisputed number one, although Bosnia’s national team have had to overcome more obstacles than most including questionable allegiances (nearly half the country would much rather support Serbia or Croatia), training pitches littered with landmines (where practice matches regularly degenerate into five-a-side through necessity rather than choice) and, during the height of the war, having a cemetery grafted onto the edge of the national stadium to accommodate those who have evidently never heard of a crematorium.*
*Apparently some supporters have attempted to bring glass containers of their father’s ashes to the stadium only to be turned away at the turnstiles. Pretty shocking really when you can’t even bring a bottle of pop to the game. What? Too soon?
Anyway, Bosnia Herzegovina first dipped their toes in international waters during the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, scoring a memorable 3-0 win over eventual group winners Denmark and eventually finishing in fourth place. Subsequent campaigns saw other notable victories over established nations such as Belgium, Norway and Turkey but without ever showing the consistency required to gatecrash a major finals. Then, around the turn of the last decade, Bosnia started to bang on the tournament door rather more boisterously, reaching the play offs for both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 only to be paired with and beaten by Portugal on both occasions before finally breaking their duck next time around, pipping Greece to an automatic spot at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. At the finals, despite a navigable looking group featuring Argentina, Nigeria and Iran, the Bosnians found themselves on the wrong end of a costly refereeing blunder against the Nigerians when a perfectly valid Eden Dzeko goal was ruled out for offside with the score at 0-0. Shortly afterwards Peter Odemwingie netted a winner for the Africans and, having already narrowly gone down 2-1 to Argentina, this second defeat for Bosnia ended their interest in the tournament, although they did sign off with a consolation first ever tournament victory, 3-1 over Iran.
Anybody wanting a Bosnia Herzegovina national shirt these days (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t?) need only browse briefly through eBay, Subside Sports, Classicfootballshirts etc to find them in plentiful supply. Things weren’t always this easy however. Prior to Adidas swooping in like a functional if slightly dreary vulture to nab the supplier contract from Italian designers Legea as soon as the team’s first World Cup qualification was confirmed, Bosnia was unquestionably the toughest of all the ‘decent’ European nations to find official replicas from.
Then about five years ago this specimen popped up on eBay featuring all the correct tags and labels and, most tellingly of all, was actually being sold by someone based in Bosnia. Despite their scarcity at the time, I appeared to be the only bidder, possibly because the seller had listed it as a “Bosna shirt”, or perhaps others were put off by a hefty postage fee that equated to about 50% of the product price, or maybe I just got lucky. Obviously it’s no masterpiece or anything, but compared to the mass produced Adidas versions saturating the market today, this little rarity will do very, very nicely.