This post is a part of the Home Truths series
Picture: Kishore Amati
Testing out ‘The Newcastle Fans Shirt' by the seaside
Growing up in a football crazy part of the world is always memorable; even more so, when your ‘part of the world’ is one of the smallest regions in the country, and arguably the ‘second-most’ fanatical region in the country. Goa spent 450 years as a ‘Estado da India Portuguesa’, or state of Portugal. In similar vein, Bengal spent centuries being the hub of the British Empire in India, from 1765 to 1947. Both countries are avid lovers of the sport of football, and have over time passed that same passion for the sport down to its natives.
The reason I say that Goa could possibly be second-most fanatical, is purely because at the end of the day, the love for local clubs is without a doubt, dwindling. Today, an ‘I-League’ game in Goa gathers a handful of fans in the Jawarharlal Nehru Stadium, a venue that can seat approximate 19,000 spectators. A Bengal derby between fierce rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan however, sees a frenzied following fill up Calcutta’s Salt Lake Stadium 68,000 seats. Therein lies my reasoning when it comes to justifying my statement.
But I digress. Coming back to the point of my story…As a child, I grew up a fan of Vasco Sports Club, a football team from the port town of Vasco da Gama. Originally having been named Clube de Desportos Vasco da Gama, the club was founded in 1951; a project taken up by residents from the port town of Vasco da Gama, Goa, including the Portuguese garrison stationed there at the time. The etymology stems from its Brazilian counterpart, Clube de Regatas Vasco da Gama, and the local team adopted similar colours. The players would practice in the open fields where a stadium known as Tilak Maidan now stands. From its days of glory to its more recent fall from grace, the club has endured, but still I digress.
My point is merely this. It is incredibly difficult to get ones hands on local merchandise from clubs. To date, I do not own a single jersey of my home-town team, even though I would love to. One cannot go into a store and purchase club merchandise. In fact, if one needs to get merchandise, it needs to be arranged by way of personal favours and the like. I honestly believe that this is a shame, and wish it would change. In fact, stretching the story further, when the Indian Super League or ISL, the Premier League of Indian football debuted in 2014, nobody could get their hands on original merchandise of those clubs either, despite having kits being sponsored by major sporting brands such as Adidas and Puma. Unless you were one of the club’s stakeholders, or family, or a friend…you get the drift. Fans had to resort to wearing knockoffs. And while there’s nothing wrong with wearing knockoffs, it should be by choice, and not for want of an option. In the second season, fortunately kits were made available to the general public, much to many a fan’s relief. For the upcoming season, FC Goa has announced Umbro as the official kit partners of the local franchise for the third season of the ISL. Umbro doesn't have physical outlets in Goa, begging the question as to where said jerseys can be bought.
I’ve always been a fan of three clubs for varying reasons:
1.) Vasco Sports Club (because it was my childhood club, and you know what they say about your first love)
2.) Sporting Lisbon (because many families in Goa grew up with what I like to refer to as a colonial hangover; a term I borrow from a friend, and use liberally, but one that holds true when it comes to the trifecta of Portuguese football: supporting ‘Sporting Clube de Portugal, Sport Lisboa e Benfica or Futebol Clube do Porto)
3.) Newcastle United (because I have been following them avidly since 1996, when the telecasts of the English Premier League, the Holy Grail of club football, first began in India)
Newcastle United has shown much unrest under the regime of current incumbent, Mike Ashley; something I don’t always agree with some fans on. It is, however, my opinion; and every fan is entitled to his/her own. My take on it is simply this. He made a promising start, failed with his ‘revenue generating model’ and then, finally seems to have gotten things right, with the appointment of Rafa Benitez and all a proper concept of how football should work. There can be no doubt though, that the kits that Newcastle United has sported in recent years have been appalling.
For an incredibly long time, the team’s shirts were made by Adidas, which dished out kits that were elegant, where Newcastle United jerseys were some of the most outstanding in the league and didn’t look like they were made from a generic company template. However, post the sponsorship deal having ended and Puma having taken over in the 2010-11 season, the kits have left much to be desired; except for 2012, when I thought all three kits were fabulously well made. So what does a fan do, when they want to wear their club’s colours, but the only ones available are a let-down, even if they are willing to pay top dollar?
The newer design of ‘The Newcastle Fans Shirt' (left) versus the initial design of 'The Magpie Shirt' (right)
Enter ‘The Newcastle Fans Brand’, a company that swears by their motto of ‘allows fans to represent their club with pride, without unethical loan shark sponsorship and more stylish design’. The company was formally known as the ‘The Magpie Brand’ and their jersey, ‘The Magpie Shirt’. However, after being embroiled by the club in a legal tussle, the organisation rebranded itself, dropped the magpie from its shirt and name, and came back to the fore with a vengeance. Shirts are only available on advance booking, and it takes ages to make your way up the waiting list. At times (as was the case with me) your order will get lost in the mail, and it is perhaps better to have someone in the United Kingdom ship you one from there, as I did the second time around. However, once it’s in your hands, you realise that it is beyond worth the wait.
The design is fresh, crisp, and I’ve now made it sound like a salad. Jokes apart though, it is a throwback to the Adidas days. It is, in fact, an Adidas shirt, with a crest down the middle, following the revamping of the look that formerly had two crests, one on either side of the chest portion of the jersey. The effort needs to be lauded, and I hope that the company goes on to create a series of shirts in similar vein.
The reason that I mention everything that I have though, is purely because of this. While FC Goa has learnt from its first season, and fans can now shop for official merchandise, the other locals clubs haven’t. Perhaps it’s time to get kit sponsors on board. Perhaps it’s time to have merchandise available to the local fan. Perhaps it’s even time to have a local body step forth and start producing class jerseys that represent local teams. I think that branding and visibility go a long way towards building a local audience and creating a sense of ownership in each one for a team. We love turning up in our jerseys and sports tees and official colours to a game, and egging our boys on. Maybe this is a huge step forward, for the local sport as well. It’s definitely not the only step required, but from a fan's point of view, it’s certainly a good place to start.
‘The Newcastle Fans Brand’ is a great initiative, and offers fans an alternative that is non-sponsorship oriented, and represents their views, not merely that of a corporate giant.
‘The Newcastle Fans Shirt’ requires getting on a waiting list that will test your patience, but is well worth the wait. If for any reason you do not receive your shirt, management offers you an entire refund.
‘The Newcastle Fans Shirt’ is priced at a very affordable £26, approximately ₹2,296, as opposed to the club's official shirt, which is priced at £47.99, approximately ₹4,236 (all prices being relevant to the time of publishing this story).
From miscellaneous musings, to human interest stories, the Home Truths series of posts deals with linkages to one of the things that is quite dear to me: home. By which, of course, I do not mean brick and mortar, but my bond with geography and its natives, my best and brightest and of course: family. Because without purpose, there can be no meaning. Clearly, I love to pontificate.