Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Rag Trade

Reading back over the past few posts, I realize I may have exaggerated the extent to which the Premiership dominates Tanzanian football life. There's UEFA Champions League football as well. The Arab Fort in Stonetown, for instance, which is possibly the oldest building in the country (built by the Omani Sultanate in the 18th century according to an earlier Portuguese design) is used as an outdoor amphitheatre on alternate Tuesdays and Wednesdays to show the big UEFA matchups. So much for national heritage.

But what is most striking visually, on the street or road is the number of "replica" jerseys out there. These are not all English - in fact, English jerseys might be a minority. Herewith, the totally unscientific results of my random shirt-spotting activities.

1) Arsenal
2 (tie) Milan, Real Madrid, Barca, ManU and Liverpool.
7) Inter
8 (tie) Juve, Bayern, Chelsea
11 (tie) PSG, Feyenoord, Ajax, Roma, Newcastle (no, really)

In terms of national teams, England was the most popular (yes, I know...) followed by Brazil, Holland and Italy. Nobody seemed to wear Tanzanian colours (possibly because they are a god-awful melange of black, blue, yellow and green), but few other African teams were in evidence either (just Nigeria, actually). But all of these were rarer than club shirts.

What does this random and totally unscientific poll mean? Well, it's interesting to note that the top 10 in my shirt sightings also happen to be the 10 richest clubs in the world according to the annual Deloitte survey. G-14 strutting aside, those big teams do certainly come close to constituting a sort of global super-league in terms of fan bases if nothing else.

A better question of course is: how is it that so many replica shirts are being worn in a country with a per capita GDP of less than $1,000? And believe me, there were a lot - in Zanzibar, probably one in every twenty males I saw was wearing kit - at least as high as anywhere else I've ever been.

There seems to be a variety of explanations at work here:

1) Some of the shirts are really pathetic fakes. And I don't just mean those crappy silky things you can get for 10 euros at any stall in Italy or Eastern Europe. I mean shirts that bear only the vaguest possible resemblance to any strip ever worn by the club it purports to represent. Like a Liverpool jersey with the word "Liverpool" on the front, where the Carlsberg logo should be, in the Carlsberg logo. This seems to account for maybe 10% of the jerseys I saw.

2) Some of the jerseys are cheap knock-offs. Some crappy silky things, some cheap cotton t-shirts - the colours and logos are right but the material is definitely off. Accounted for at least between a third and a half of all jerseys seen.

3) Some of the jerseys are charity hand-me-downs from richer countries. These are noticeable because of their age and slight raggedness. Between a third and a half of all the jerseys I saw were of this type. Which makes you wonder about whether or not the shirt actually says anything about the allegiances of the person wearing it. Maybe they chose it, maybe they were give it. Who knows? To that extent, shirt numbers in Tanzania may reflect supply (i.e. the recycling habits of wealthy club supporters in the north) rather than demand. A New York Times article on used clothes in Africa is available here, though it deals more with the effects on trade and domestic garment production.

4) Some of the jerseys are "real". Or, at least, indisinguishable from what you'd buy in the shops. That doesn't mean anyone's paying full price for them - they only cost about $5 to make and it would probably still be profitable for high-quality Asian counterfeiters to sell them at low cost in Africa. (For those wanting more detail on the quality of Asian counterfeit shirt producers, I recommend the next-to-last chapter of John Sugden's Scum Airways, which is an excellent book on football's grey economy).

This is absolutely textbook capitalism. An aspirational product (G-14 football) is produced, and the market comes up with various ways for people to associate with it, with different products priced differently in different markets according to local purchasing power. One has to sit back and marvel sometimes...

Oh yeah, about the picture (top). I couldn't find a decent one that illustrated second hand clothes, so I just used Arsenal. Because, you know, today is a particularly good day to be a Gooner...


Anonymous ursus arctos said...


I know you just got back from your honeymoon.

And I know you've been ill.

And I know you're still over-excited about Arsenal seven past a bunch of Czechs who could have been on a reverse-commute stag night for all of their defensive prowess.

But, please, please, please, put a comma between "Real" and "Barca" or I'm never coming back.

And if you don't want to look silly, call them "Real Madrid" or "Madrid" or the Merengues, or something else. Even Marca, which fawns over their every breath, doesn't call them "Real".

10:07 AM  
Anonymous arsenalist said...

I went to Marrakech, Morocco recently and I noticed the exact same thing. Except I thought AC Milan had the most popular "jersey". The jersey is in quotations of the exact same reasons as cited, they're made of freaking cotton!

11:21 AM  
Blogger Antonio G said...


You knew who I was talking about though, didn't you? No chance I was talking about Sociedad.

Had I just written "Madrid", no one would have thought I was talking about Atletico.

Interesting that they have such a hold on *both* words in their name.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

Yeah, I knew.

But I could always hope that it was Oviedo.

I'll look for the Sugden book, I haven't heard of it before.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Fred Dynamite said...

Don't get me started on people who bandy about United simple assuming that we all know they're talking about that wee squad based out of Manchester.

Don't they know there's another United, who happen to be enjoying their best start in 11 years?

6:00 PM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

Fred, do you support Wednesday?

Or are you ignoring the 15 point penalty?

Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor is inspired by Gramsci:

6:33 PM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

He's bianconero.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

A-ha, another one benefiting from having gotten to play Tottenham.

3:34 AM  

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