Home 2012 – FBT
Situated in Southeast Asia between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, the Kingdom of Cambodia is today a burgeoning hipster tourist destination attracting the kind of smug, pretentious travellers who are SO over the mainstream, not shy about informing everybody they meet of this and whose heads are generally to be found exploring the far reaches of their own arses. Key attractions include the imposing Angkor Wat (a Buddhist temple complex abandoned in the 15th century and now in desperate need of several million licks of paint), the mighty Mekong River (home to the near mythical Giant Mekong Catfish, semi-mythical Giant Mekong Stingray and the actual mythical honest Mekong fisherman, “Seriously, Lau, it was thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis big.”) and the capital city Phnom Penh, famous for its French colonial architecture and overpowering scent of Jasmine, especially when she hasn’t bothered to wash under her arms for a couple of days.
Cambodian cuisine could politely be described as “different.” The majority of the people are unashamedly entomophagous, meaning insects and arachnids frequently find their way into most meals, and not just due to a lack of basic hygiene in food preparation areas. Deep fried tarantulas are a speciality and a great way to send tourists running for the nearest airport, while other dishes include ant chutney, dung beetle soup – where the critters serve as a kind of pungent crouton – and “Cambodian popcorn” which are actually stir-fried crispy insects, perfect ice-breaker material for an awkward first date at the cinema. “Butter on your crickets darling?”
On a darker note, we can’t discuss Cambodia without addressing the horrors visited upon its people by the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979 the communist hardliners set about purging the country of any undesirables including monks, intellectuals, students and just about anyone else they found mildly troublesome. In all at least two million Cambodians were murdered by their own government during this period, leading eventually to the grisly discovery of the skull-laden ‘killing fields’ which brought outrage and revulsion from the outside world but did at least provide a welcome boost to the country’s ailing Halloween supplies industry. Chief instigator and all round malevolent bell-end Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998 having never faced trial for the genocide, and one suspects he probably had plenty more skeletons in his closet, quite literally if those overflowing mass graves were anything to go by.
In football terms Southeast Asia isn’t exactly a hotbed for the international game at the best of times, and while its true that Indonesia (then playing under the title “Dutch East Indies”) did provide Asia’s first ever World Cup participant way back at the 1938 tournament in France, no country from the region has come close to making the finals since. With this in mind, Cambodia’s status as one of the local whipping boys should give you a fair idea of their place in the overall pecking order. Their record in the regional ASEAN Cup is, quite frankly, atrocious having lost 20 of their 22 fixtures to date, a run that includes twice shipping nine goals against Vietnam (9-2 in 2002 and 9-1 in 2004) as well as brutal batterings from the likes of Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar, with their only victories coming against the equally inept Laos and the Philippines.
Prior to France 98 the team didn’t even bother entering the World Cup qualifiers, no doubt expecting (quite rightly as it turns out) that they would be eaten alive the second they dipped their toes the water. Amongst their more humiliating capitulations were a 6-0 thumping by the tiny Maldives in 2002, an 8-6 aggregate reverse against their traditionally even more feeble neighbours Laos in 2014 and, most recently, a pair of defeats against lowly Afghanistan on the road to Russia 2018. Funnily enough, the Cambodian team (then known as the Khmer Republic) did reach the semi-finals on their only trip to the Asian Cup in 1972. While this could be dismissed as a fluke given that the competition was barely developed by that point, it does make you wonder just how much the looming genocide stunted the development of football in the country seeing as an entire generation were essentially snuffed out in their prime, with subsequent generations inheriting a nation strewn with around four million landmines and left to, ahem, pick up the pieces.
For all their team’s utter naffness, Cambodian national shirts are remarkably easy to come by. Around five years ago eBay became saturated with various home, away and even under 23 designs usually sold by some guy based in Thailand and almost always made by Thai manufacturers FBT, whose kit empire currently includes other exotic, far flung places such as Bhutan, Myanmar and Doncaster. Attempting to differentiate which of these shirts are authentic and which are about as kosher as an advent calendar stuffed with baked hams can be tricky, but I typically favour those where the flag/badge is stitched rather than ironed on such as the example shown here as I imagine these are probably harder to forge.
Annoyingly, more Cambodian shirts have been popping up recently that now feature not only the flag but the football association logo as well which clearly depicts the villainous Quintessons from the original Transformers animated film, you know before Michael Bay got his grubby, childhood-ruining hands on the franchise.
And here’s Michael Bay’s pitch for every single Transformers film so far.