Central African Republic

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The country

The Central African Republic, aka a country so devoid of imagination they just copied and pasted their name from the ‘description’ box on their UN application form, is found, to the shock and surprise of absolutely nobody, in Central Africa, and for anyone requiring a more pinpoint location, it’s situated to the north of southern Africa, south of northern Africa, west of east Africa and east of west Africa. Oh, and its form of government is a republic. Hey, if they can’t be arsed with trying then why should I?    Anyway, since gaining independence from France in 1960, the CAR has been on something of a post-colonial cliche binge, enduring numerous civil wars, widespread poverty, an implausibly high volume of military coups and of course the obligatory bat-shit crazy dictator. Between 1966 and 1979 the country was presided over by Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a marvellously unhinged specimen who proclaimed himself “Emperor of Central Africa”, squandered £60 million on a lavish coronation ceremony and insisted that all children purchase school uniforms bearing his image, even going so far as to arrest, torture and murder many who refused, which kind of puts being made to do P.E. in your vest and pants into perspective.

Today, the Republic ranks amongst the ten poorest countries in the world, however this statistic only takes into account recorded sales and exports and pays no heed to the thriving unregulated market for local produce which includes the controversial bushmeat trade – where the menu reads like the cast list from Noah’s ark -, as well as copious volumes of banana wine, the potent national tipple causing quite a stir among connoisseurs for its bewitchingly pungent banana bouquet, subtle hints of banana on the palate, long, smooth banana finish and for the ease with which it can lower a chimpanzee’s inhibitions. Amazingly, despite all the internal drama and conflict, the CAR does have a fledgling tourism industry. Thanks to a low population density and generally rural nature, the country officially boasts the lowest levels of light pollution on the planet, making it a popular spot for folk to camp out in the wilderness, gaze up at the stars and contemplate the deepest mysteries of the universe, such as just who the devil has stolen their tent?

Football in the CAR remains, unsurprisingly, massively underdeveloped. For a start, the national team’s relationship with the World Cup is an absolute mess having only participated three times (2002, 2014 and 2018), withdrawing before the start of qualification on a further three occasions and even managing to get themselves booted out of the 1982 tournament for failing to pay the entry fee. Nor has their Africa Cup of Nations participation been a bed of roses, with a spate of drop outs and a pair of disqualifications in 1974 and 1998, the latter after the CAR government refused to send their players to anarchic, war-torn human misery parlour Sierra Leone for a qualifying match, presumably as they didn’t want to spoil them.

More encouragingly, recent years have brought about a marked improvement in the Republic’s results, particularly during AFCON preliminaries where established African powers such as Algeria Congo DR and Angola have all been sent packing by “Les Fauves” (the Wild Beasts.*) The scene of the Central Africans’ greatest triumph however was, perversely, also their greatest tragedy. In September 2012, on the path to the 2013 Cup of Nations, the CAR shocked the football world by defeating seven time champions Egypt 4-3 on aggregate (including a 3-2 triumph in the away leg in Alexandria), pushing the team to within one tie of the tournament itself with only Burkina Faso now standing in their way. Having established a 1-0 advantage from the home leg, the Republic then snatched the lead in Ouagadougou and were practically punching their plane tickets to South Africa. Despite the Burkinabe fighting back to lead 2-1 on the day, it looked as though the away goal would prove crucial, that is until the 96th minute when one of the indeterminably numerous Traores bundled in a winner breaking CAR hearts in the process.

Side note; as far as I’m aware only one CAR international has ever played in England, and it was for my very own club Charlton Athletic. Full-back Kelly Youga put in 69 performances for us during the late noughties, becoming something of a cult favourite with the Valley faithful for his boundless energy, enthusiasm and occasional ability to place a cross somewhere other than out for a throw in on the opposite side.

*It would appear that the stunning lack of imagination evident in the country’s title has also seeped down into the national team’s nickname.

The shirt

It’s blue. Moving on.

Official shirts vs fakes

Time to tackle a subject that was bound to rear its ugly, shoddily stitched head at some point. Any fellow collectors who happen to be reading this post will have probably clocked straight away that this Central African Republic shirt is not the real McCoy. Even though the team clearly used this exact same Adidas template a few years back replete with an identically ironed on badge, and although my shirt is a perfect duplicate in practically every way, it is not an official replica commissioned by the CAR Football Federation. Instead this came from eBay via a contact who is notorious for flogging homemade shirts online, utilising blank templates from Adidas, Nike et al and heat-pressing on the appropriate crest and occasionally, as is the case here, lettering on the back. Now, I knew this wasn’t 100% legit when I purchased it so I hold no ill feelings to the seller as this was entirely my choice, however it does raise the interesting question of what exactly constitutes an authentic shirt in my collection.

Essentially, wherever possible I endeavour to have an official shirt from every nation, however this is not always a straightforward process. Many of the more obscure FIFA members do not produce replica shirts for their national teams meaning the only possible way to bag one is to go down the match-worn avenue which can be time consuming and ridiculously expensive. For example, my friend and fellow polyester amassing lunatic Joe – whose own blog is brilliant, check it out here http://www.theglobalobsession.com/ – recently offered me player shirts from, funnily enough, the Central African Republic, which he’d acquired via a string of contacts leading all the way to the team’s kit-man. Unfortunately I had to decline as they were going for the best part of £300 (as opposed to the £25 I spent on my spurious yet basically identical version), not that Joe was overcharging me you understand, that’s just how much these rarities cost and he would probably have just about broken even. I’m also of the opinion that plenty of these sort of countries probably don’t have any official deal with Adidas or whoever and that their F.A.s are simply bulk purchasing template shirts and adding badges, numbers etc themselves. In this case, I can’t really justify shelling out an additional £275 on the basis that the badge was attached by a Federation rather than an individual.

That said, around 95% of my collection is 100% legit and I will always aim to replace the phonies wherever possible. Overall, the question of authenticity is chock full of grey areas and anomalies –  for example some countries have been known to don fake shirts in actual matches, i.e knock-off Adidas tops –  and while I certainly don’t want a wardrobe full of counterfeits, in some cases such as this CAR top, I’m ticking it off the list,, at least until something more valid (and affordable) comes along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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