Home 2004 – Adidas
If there’s one thing everyone knows about the Chinese it’s that they are strikingly abundant. With around 1.4 billion citizens, the People’s Republic of China has the largest population of any country in the world – although India is projected to surpass this by 2024 – and it’s often said that every fifth baby on Earth is born Chinese, a statistic that is apparently a load of nonsense according to my brothers Simon, Colin, Michael and Chung Wi Hwang. Fun side note; if every single Chinese person were to hold hands and form a human chain around the Equator, then a good proportion of them would drown. Anyway, keeping this hefty slab of humanity to manageable levels has long presented an interesting challenge for China’s ruling communist party. Their infamous ‘one-child’ policy failed to stem the tide, largely because, with a shrinking peasantry and growing middle class, folk simply weren’t dropping dead at the required rate, prompting the government to invite several thousand of them to Tienanmen Square in 1989 for an active demonstration on how to get with the programme.
In addition to occasionally being at war with themselves, the Chinese haven’t always enjoyed the most cordial of relationships with their immediate neighbours either. Indeed, it was the frequent and brutal raids by Mongol tribes from the north that led directly to the construction of the venerable Great Wall of China in the 14th century, this after its predecessor the ‘Great Picket Fence’ proved woefully inadequate in keeping out the murderous hordes, not to mention some increasingly bold Jehovah’s Witnesses and the odd rough looking council estate brat asking for their ball back. Bizarrely, the completed wall as it stands today screeches to an abrupt halt just a few feet into the Pacific, suggesting the otherwise fearless invaders could be halted dead in their tracks by the threat of soggy shins.
Left; end of the wall. Right; the missing link in Mongolian invasion plans.
Relations with Japan meanwhile, though never exactly chummy to begin with, took a sharp nosedive in the twentieth century, particularly during the savage Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937 – aka the “Rape of Nanking” – that saw up to 300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians massacred, beheaded for sport, buried alive and generally having their day ruined. Eighty years on, the incident still represents a major diplomatic stumbling block for the two countries, especially as no formal apology from Tokyo has been forthcoming. Then again, in this part of the world, sorry seems to be the hardest word.
As is often noted, China has been bombarding the world with inventions since ancient times, ranging from the extremely useful, such as the so-called “Great Four” (paper, gunpowder, the compass and printing), to the more eccentric like acupuncture and puppet theatre to the downright pointless, such as kites, chopsticks (imagine, a whole country who’ve never had custard) and the concept of Feng Shui, a method of harmonious spatial arrangement that allows OCD fruitloops to pass off their perfectly symmetrical furniture and hour long bed making antics as a touch of culture rather than a festering mental illness. In terms of individuals, China’s bulging populace and grand history has produced many notable figures including prominent cosmetic surgeon Chin Tu Fat, diarrhoea specialist Dr Lee Kwid Poo and the country’s first ever billionaire Cha Ching.
Speaking of money, Chinese football has certainly been flexing its considerable financial muscles over the past year or so, with the country’s Super League clubs enticing numerous high-profile European, South American and African players to the Far East by offering the type of wages that suggest they’ve scooped Dr Evil from the dole queue to act as head negotiator.
China has some fairly lofty ambitions on the table here. Their stated aim involves propelling the national team to the status of world superpower by 2050, and all this flooding of the domestic league with expensive foreigners is seen as a crucial stepping stone because, as we all know, this has worked so well for England with the Premier League. What do you mean Luke Shaw isn’t world class? Shut your filthy mouth!
The team have made one blink and you’ll miss it appearance at the World Cup finals, specifically the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea. This was supposed to be China’s coming of age party. Expectations were for a huge following – especially in light of the host nations’ proximity -, a respectable showing on the field and sufficient momentum to ensure future participations wouldn’t be far behind. Unfortunately, it all went a tad pear shaped. Supporters failed to travel in the expected numbers, the team proved significantly out of their depth, losing all three matches without scoring a single goal (0-2 vs Costa Rica, 0-4 vs Brazil and 0-3 vs Turkey) and subsequent qualification campaigns have all ended in disappointment, often sprinkled with embarrassing defeats against tiny nations like Kuwait and Jordan. With this in mind, we can probably assume that shipping over John Obi Mikel to impart his wisdom probably isn’t going to swing things around all that much.
Finally, as a Charlton supporter, I have to sneak in a mention of our former Chinese midfielder Zheng Zhi and the cracking chant the Valley crowd adopted for him, which was sung to the tune of Lord of the Dance.
“Zheng Zhi, wherever you may be, selling dodgy dvds. Could be worse, could be Millwall, selling crack in a primary school.” Classic.
Dear Adidas; when tasked with whipping up a national shirt for a country that boasts one of the planet’s oldest and most vaunted civilisations, possesses some of the most colourful, vibrant and frankly bewildering culture, customs and cuisine known to man and is home to nearly 20% of the world’s human beings, then maybe, just maybe, you could see fit to muster up something a bit more interesting than this. Even the Football Association logo wants nothing to do with this garment and actually appears to be trying to escape down the sleeve. Call me fussy, but I really hate it when manufacturers just slap a national flag where the badge should go. I mean, it might as well be a Badminton shirt for all the clues you get.
Ok, rant over. This snooze-inducing design dates back to 2004 and China’s hosting of the Asian Cup finals, where the team reached the final only to be beaten 3-1 by deadly rivals Japan, a result that went down about as well as you might expect.
Some Chinese football fans graciously salute their victorious opponents.