Home 2014-15 – Lotto
Straddling the northern coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia, the itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, yellow polka dotted (ok, that last one’s debatable) nation of Brunei can count itself amongst the wealthiest countries in the world thanks pretty much entirely to their 1929 discovery of massive offshore oil reserves, an event celebrated annually as ‘what the fuck did we ever do without this stuff day.’ Oil, however, obviously doesn’t last forever and best estimates are that national supplies will dry up sometime around 2030. With this is mind you’d think Brunei’s reigning Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah might be a little conservative when it comes to splashing his estimated £15 billion personal fortune, but it turns out no, not a bit of it, in fact the man’s list of personal possessions is so grandiose as to be practically satire, almost as if he were ticking off the boxes on billionaire cliche bingo. Presently his majesty can claim ownership of a 1,700 room palace – replete with banquet hall, five swimming pools and private zoo – a collection of over 9,000 classic cars including a gold-plated Rolls Royce, a fleet of private jets, numerous racehorses and god knows how many yachts. Therein lies the problem, how exactly do you convince someone to run a tight ship when their obvious riposte is “which one?”
As for the remaining 417,000 who call Brunei home, aka “the help”, the majority are of ethnic Malay stock with a sizeable Chinese minority as well as smatterings of Indians, Europeans and the indigenous Sama-Bajau, or ‘Sea Gypsies’, a curious group who dwell on floating huts in coastal waters, shun material possessions and reject all modern technology, presumably as they’ve nowhere to plug it in. As an Islamic nation, Brunei recently courted a fair amount of controversy when, in 2014, the ever-aloof Sultan began the implementation of Sharia Law, this despite his own outlandish, hedonistic antics making himself a violator of those very same laws. Women’s rights especially could be in for a battering, not to mention the women themselves should they care to voice a dissenting opinion, or any opinion, or do anything remotely provocative like flashing a bit of bare ankle. His Majesty however has been doing his best to dispel such fears, insisting women will always have a crucial role in his society, whether it be fanning him down with oversized palm leaves or hand-feeding him strawberries.
Unlike other oil-rich nations we could mention – cough, Qatar, Equatorial Guinea, cough – Brunei has thus far resisted the temptation to flood their national squad full of foreign mercenaries although, seeing as how the team briefly employed misfit ex Blackburn boss Steve Kean as head coach, perhaps recruiting from abroad simply isn’t their strong suit. Under the less than astute Scot’s less than astute leadership Brunei’s form dipped alarmingly, with the team even tumbling to an embarrassing 4-2 defeat against East Timor, who traditionally are one of the few Asian countries that the Bruneians would actually expect to beat. Unsurprisingly Kean’s services were dispensed with shortly thereafter and results have improved somewhat. Brunei even won a World Cup qualifier for the first time ever in March 2015, beating Taiwan 1-0 away in the first leg of their preliminary tie for Russia 2018, although they still managed to screw it up by losing the return 2-0 at home.
This brief sojourn into the international arena was however a comparative rarity, representing as it does just the third World Cup participation in the country’s history to go with equally futile attempts in 1986 and 2002. The national team’s low profile can, in part at least, be attributed to their curious habit of competing in neighbouring Malaysia’s domestic league and cup – even winning the latter in 1999 – which seems to take precedence over the merciless thrashings they’d doubtless sustain through regular matches against the likes of Japan, South Korea et al. To further muddy the waters between domestic and international football, in 2005 Brunei relinquished their place in the Malaysian league and were replaced by their top club side Brunei DPMM FC, a team currently coached by one Mr Steve Kean, because apparently nobody in Southeast Asia has ever had access to English Premier League coverage.
If you chuck “Brunei football shirt” into the eBay search engine you’ll most likely be presented with the DPMM club side’s kit, the current version of which seems to be a carbon copy of Arsenal’s infamous ‘bruised banana’ shirt from the early 1990s. (See below.)
National shirts are typically a little harder to come by. Thankfully in 2015 this splendid design from Lotto became freely available online, enabling me to snap it up for a relatively painless price. Brunei’s colours of yellow and black are clearly borrowed from the nation’s flag and they’ve also given rise to the team’s nickname: “The Wasps”, suggesting a viscous streak, potent sting and a tendency to ruin your family picnic, that is until you realise they can be placated by smearing something with jam as a decoy such as a superfluous jar, some discarded bread or a particularly irksome nephew.