Oxford Street in London woke up on Friday morning to hundreds of people lined up around the block in lengthy queues leading to the Nike Town store. They were all there with the sole objective of getting their hands on Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup home jersey, which reportedly was sold out within minutes of the shop opening its doors. Incidentally, England were scheduled to face Nigeria on Saturday in a warm-up match for the World Cup at Wembley Stadium.
That so many English supporters would be sacrificing their sleep to buy Nigeria jerseys a day earlier wasn’t so much a slight against their own team. It perhaps wasn’t even a sign that the Three Lions fans this time had given up on Harry Kane & Co before the start of the World Cup rather than a week into it, like is the case generally. It was simply England waking up to the global hysteria surrounding the mint-green-with-black-on-the-sleeves-zigzag-chevron-design jersey that Nike claim received 3 million pre-orders.
Not many would have picked Nigeria to be the most-talked-about team in the lead-up to the tournament. And it’s not like the Super Eagles are projected to be a big threat — they went down comfortably to England at Wembley — or have a wonder-kid on their roster, which generally gets football fans excited. It has solely to do with the boldness of their “Naija” kit design. It costs approximately $ 85 but bootleg versions made in Thailand have been doing the rounds in Lagos since April, and are being bought for $ 30. The Nigeria Football Federation’s contract with Nike was worth $ 3.5 million and they earned a bonus of half-a-million US dollars for qualifying for the World Cup in Russia.
It’s ironic that Nike have chosen to have the word printed boldly in front of what is widely regarded as a throwback to the 1994 jersey where the Super Eagles soared for the first time on the World Cup stage. Naija or 9ja, after all, is a moniker used by the young and flamboyant in the West African nation to represent ‘new Nigeria’.
According to young fans in Nigeria, their popular kit is not just the “nicest” but also shows off how “fly” (millennial for cool) their generation is. For now, the rest of the world agrees. The zigzag style of the chevrons are said to represent an eagle’s wings.
The Super Eagles have made it past the group stages on three occasions, including their loss to Italy in the round of 16 in 1994. They were beaten by Denmark in 2002 at the same stage and went down to France in Brazil four years ago. Nigeria have always been strong contenders at the junior level, having won the under-17 World Cup on a record 5 occasions. But somehow lack of funding — their captain had to organize food and places to stay and train for their last Olympic campaign — and political turmoil has meant that most of their players get lost in the system. Their squad this time is representative of their jersey with a lot of youth intermingling with a few veterans including John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses. They will, however, have their work cut out to emulate the feats of their predecessors with Argentina, Croatia and the enigmatic Iceland the other teams in their group.
The only bigger stage than the FIFA World Cup for countries around the world to showcase a blend of their sartorial tastes and national identity using their premier athletes is perhaps the Olympics opening ceremony parade. But there’s only so much you can do with a football jersey, and it’s always intriguing to see how far the designers push the envelope.
Some sports jerseys have transcended national boundaries and become iconic regardless of whether the team donning them have tasted success or not. Think of the beige brigade that the New Zealand cricket team inspired in the 1980s or Marco van Basten’s Oranje army for that matter. There are some that make neutral observers turn partisan, be it the Asian Paints brochure that Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos wore in 1994 or the Croatians at every World Cup.
Let’s hope the Nigerians can break the second round voodoo and go deeper into the tournament this time around, at least for the sake of the 3 million who broke the internet to go Naija.
The only headlines that the English jersey, costing nearly Rs 14,500 per piece, has received so far is how it’s been made by factory workers in Bangladesh earning around Rs 18 an hour. The home kits are rather minimalistic with the traditional combination of white on blue with white socks. To their credit, the away version is catchy in red with the St George’s Cross peeking through the centre.
Last year in the African Cup of Nations, Senegal had a roaring colourful lion across the right shoulder. Perhaps, the Teranga lion fancied its chances a lot more then. For, at the World Cup, the big cat seems to be content with staying silhouetted in the background and hoping for the best.
The Croats have always loved checks on their shirts. But this time around their traditional checkerboard is intentionally faded and looks more like one you could play chess on and goes right down the front. The away jersey looks the same just with the lights turned dim.
You expect the Japanese to be adventurous. But while they insist on their home jersey being a take on the Samurai nature of their players, the dots on the front make it look more like a pac-man board without the maze and the four ghosts.
The hosts, Russia, aren’t expected to last the distance in the World Cup. But while their home jersey is as plainly Russian as it gets, the random dot pattern on the away top easily could be mistaken as a “go decode that” message to the Americans who won’t be making it to their shores this time. According to the official description, the code is said to depict the “an abstract version of the architectural landmarks” of Russia.
Peru are the runaway winners in terms of nostalgia, as they will be wearing the same design — a Miss World sash cutting diagonally across the front—that they wore for their previous World Cup outing back in 1982.
La Seleccion’s home jersey (skyblue and white) remains, perhaps, the 2nd most popular jersey after Brazil’s canary yellow and green. But its popularity also puts it in fashion straitjacket. Their away jersey is modern in black with flag-coloured side strips.
Even the Germans will bring back memories from West Germany’s win in 1990 with their green and leafy away shirt this time around. Germany’s home jersey — which is exactly like the ones worn by them 28 years ago, except that the design is front this time is in black and white rather than the colours of their flag.