Home 2015 – Maana
Situated in the Indian Ocean, roughly halfway between Southeast Africa and the island of Madagascar, the Union of Comoros is sometimes referred to as the “Perfume Islands” due to the country’s mass cultivation of the ylang ylang plant, the flower of which is used extensively in the production of fine fragrances, aromatherapy oils and even as an ice cream flavouring. I can just picture it: “Three scoops of gelato please my good man. One chocolate, one vanilla and one Midnight Fantasy by Britney Spears.” Anyway, according to Islamic legend, the islands were first formed when King Solomon entrusted a Jinni (or Genie to those of us in the west) to carry a precious jewel to his beloved, the Queen of Sheba, only for the clumsy twat to drop it into the ocean, which somehow created an intense inferno resulting in the birth of the Karthala volcano and ultimately of Comoros itself. Alas, the myth makes no mention as to the fate of our butter-fingered courier, though chances are he probably shoved a ‘sorry you were out’ card through her Majesty’s letterbox and scarpered back to his Royal Mail Genie mobile before she could reach the door.
Present day Comoros consists of either three or four main islands depending on who you talk to. Prior to independence in 1975, Grand Comore, Moheli, Anjouan and Mayotte were all administered as a single entity under French colonial rule, that is until a referendum on sovereignty created a massive rift in the nation (sounds familiar), with Mayotte voting an emphatic “NON” to the idea of breaking away from France, leaving the fledgling country with about a quarter less territory than they’d anticipated. This result took many by surprise, not least the French themselves, who weren’t exactly thrilled to learn that their rebellious child in the Indian Ocean would still require regular maintenance payments, the occasional half-arsed visit and a functioning naval base chock full of France’s hardiest marines just in case any Comoran fishing vessel strays too close, as well as a strategic supply of white flags if said vessel happens to contain more than two or three inadvertent invaders.
Ethnically, most Comorans are of mixed African/Arab ancestry, with smaller DNA footprints left by French colonists, Indian immigrants and Malay folk from Southeast Asia, who interestingly may even have been the islands’ first human inhabitants, having first rocked up around the 6th century AD. Today, over half of the country’s 800,000 population are under the age of 15, and this youthful imbalance sometimes causes issues such as a chronic lack of experience to fill high-powered positions. To tackle this problem, government officials are often to be found holding emergency meetings to discuss the crisis, although these are invariably cut short once everyone starts getting cranky as it’s well past their bedtime.
Comoros are relatively new players on the international football stage as, despite having been a fully sovereign nation for over 40 years now, they didn’t actually bother joining FIFA until 2005. To their credit, the national team have entered almost every major tournament since, and have even shown real tangible improvement, most recently defeating Botswana 1-0 during the 2012 AFCON preliminaries and restricting mighty Ghana to a 2-0 aggregate victory in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, a far cry from their debut in 2010 that saw the hapless Comorans cop a 10-2 aggregate thrashing from a fairly rubbish Madagascar side.
Before gaining FIFA membership, Comoros’s only experience of international football came via the Indian Ocean Games – a competition held every four years between the tiny archipelagos of the eponymous body of water – where the team even took home the bronze medals on a couple of occasions, although this achievement is diluted somewhat when you realise there were sometimes only three teams competing to begin with.
The most famous Comoran player would have to be the French-born midfielder and national team captain Nadjim Abdou, currently of English Championship side Millwall but on loan this season at third tier Wimbledon, who has won 16 caps since his debut in 2010. Wrapping things up, the team’s official and slightly eccentric nickname is ‘Les Coelecantes’ (anglicised as ‘The Coelacanths’), named for a prehistoric species of fish that was rediscovered in the waters around Comoros in 1952, some 65 million years after it supposedly became extinct. For those not familiar with Earth’s geologic timescale, this places them on the planet at the same time as the last dinosaurs, so who knows, perhaps there’s the odd Velociraptor or T.Rex skulking around the island’s interior just waiting to be discovered. Would definitely make for a more intimidating nickname than a fossilised pair of gills if nothing else.
Up until very recently Comoros national shirts were rarer than a decent Irish theme pub and consequently considered a holy grail for collectors. Indeed, I know at least a couple of fellow polyester enthusiasts with more money than sense – and subsequently, more shirts than money – who splashed out extortionate amounts to acquire match-worn Comoran tops under the assumption they would most likely never be made commercially available. Then, just like that in 2015, french sportswear company Maana stepped in to supply the team and quickly made these beauties available through their website, allowing me to tick off this previously ultra-tricky box without having to splash out a small fortune.
Apart from the screen-printed badge (always an annoyance) these shirts are rather splendid. The crescent moon and stars running down both sides are taken directly from the Comoran flag, as are the yellow, white, red and blue stripes across the chest, while the French writing on the back of the collar “On va de l’avant” apparently translates as “It goes from the front”, which could either be a call for progress or instructions on how to wear the garment properly. Who knows?