Let's stop and stare and see the football shirts

Let’s stop and stare and see the football shirts

July 10, 2020

In Kampala, a low, long breeze-block building is rendered in the precise royal blue of a Ufabet Chelsea shirt, the club’s crest neatly painted on top. Manchester United’s Red Devil, undulating on its corrugated iron canvas, stares back from a lean-to in Nairobi.

Sitting amongst thousands in the agonizingly stationary go-slow on Lagos’s Third Mainland Bridge, we can hear every radio tuned to ‘It’s Monday morning and it’s a huuuuuuuge week in football. We got EPL. We got La Liga. We got Serie A … Take a closer a look at the battered buses and the taxis and see the pennants, stickers and flags in foreign football colours on their dashboards.

Step into a barber’s shack, the key arena for the arbiters of taste and style in Africa’s male urban social networks. Here, ยูฟ่าเบท hand-painted signs offer the Essien, the Ronaldo and the Pienaar.

In Nigeria, Star Beer have partnered with five foreign football teams to produce dedicated club packaging and branding on their cans and bottles. From Lagos’s main roads you can see the crests of Manchester City and Juventus, huge, high and back-lit, hanging over the rubbish dumps, slums and scrapyards that hug the hard shoulder.

In 2014, sportsdirect.com reported that almost 30 per cent of their sales of the new official Chelsea shirts were from Lagos alone. In the distant Omo Valley of Southern Ethiopia, lip plates and scarification are giving way to a new aesthetic of recycled European clothing, in which football shirts are prized for their blocks of intense colour.

Like every other aspect of African society, football has been linked to global economic, technological and cultural networks that have put the continent at a disadvantage, and accentuated rather that narrowed existing inequalities between Africa and the world.