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Wear one for the team, The National 01.03.2011

TheNational arts&life Tuesday, March 1, 2011 www.thenational.ae

Wear one for the team

The camaraderie engendered by replica football strips can help kids learn about loyalty and sportsmanship, writes Jo Wadham


The new must-have number in Abu Dhabi, 32, is not a car number plate but striker Carlos Tevez’s number, which is the favourite to have printed on the back of the Manchester City strip at the Man- chester City Football Club store, CityStore, now open in Marina Mall.

“The home shirt is our bestseller,” explains Hannah Dewar, the manager of CityStore, and the Emirati population is proving keen to support the team now owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed and sponsored by Etihad. “Emiratis who come in want to buy anything that they’ve seen [Roberto] Mancini [the club’s manager] wear, or anything that they’ve seen Sheikh Mansour himself wear.”

In a city where having items personalised is de rigueur, the shirt printing offered by CityStore is a huge hit – so much so that store owners have had to order a second printing machine from the UK. “We print the name and number on the back of the shirt, which is even more popular in Abu Dhabi than it is in Manchester,” Dewar says.

Thanks to his job working at Al Ain Sports Club, Sultan Al Ketbi is a fan of football and has brought his sons Zayed, aged eight, and Khaled, aged 10, into the store to buy them personalised training shirts. He is keen for his boys to become interested in football. “With TV, with school, etc, the boys try to like football, and at the same time we encourage them to like football because it is good to have something for them to be interested in and be busy with,” explains Al Ketbi.

It’s not just the physical side of football that Al Ketbi is keen forhis boys to get involved in, but the social side too. He wants Khaled and Zayed, who both attend the British School Al Khubairat, to be able to talk about the beautiful game. “It’s nice when they meet their friends they have something to talk about. Football is life now. It’s everywhere. Manchester City has become famous in Abu Dhabi and in Arab countries.”

For expatriates living in Abu Dhabi, giving their children the football strip of their home team can be a welcome reminder of home and a useful way of keeping the children in touch with their roots and culture.

Andy Keir’s twin five-year-old boys, Ewan and Warrick, cut a striking pair as they play football at The Club in Abu Dhabi wearing their matching bright yellow Scotland away strips. Like Al Ketbi, Keir thinks football helps his boys, who were born in the UAE, assimilate with other children.

“I like them playing football. I think it helps them fit in with other expats, and I think it also gives them a flavour of home.” When they visit Scotland, the boys’ English accent is an obstacle for them, says Keir. “They’re a little bit alienated already, so it’s good to have something that allows them to fit in.”

Even teams that lack the international success and cachet of Man- chester City find a devoted market for their strips. Keir, for example, is not entirely altruistic in his desire to get his boys supporting his local team back in Scotland, St Mirren. “My team are not very good and they need all the support they can get, so if I can indoctrinate themfrom a young age, that’ll be great.” But Keir has a point: support- ing a football team can also teach children about the importance of standing by their commitments in life, giving their support even when things are not going so well. Keir explains about his own un- wavering support for his team, “I feel about St Mirren in a similar way to how I feel about the Scottish football team. I don’t think either team are very good, but I would love them to be good, and I would hang in there until they have theirmoment. Most years they don’t do anything. Most years they just get beaten, but occasionally you get a little moment that makes you feel good. Kind of like the opposite feeling of supporting Brazil.”

The football strip as we know it today is a relatively recent phenomenon, explains Dr Joseph Maguire, Professor of Sociology of Sport at Loughborough University in the UK–prior to that it was all bobble hats, scarves and rosettes. “From around the 1970s onwards you did start to see the development of the wearing of football tops and that’s become very popular. Teams quickly realised, for the reasons of home pride, civic identity, a sense of a common bond, that in fact not only would it be a way of expressing their loyalty to the club, and to the town or the city the club represents, it was also a commercial opportunity. So you started to see the development of a home and away kit and even, sometimes, a third kit.”

Shared support for the same team in families can provide a bond between the generations and help children acknowledge their roots. “There is a common bond, a common identification,” explains Maguire. When the father refers to past players, “the child is, through an oral history, being reminded of that club; its history and its tradition. But then the club itself, more importantly, is reminding them of the town or city where the father or mother came from and there is that sense of social capital being passed on as well. So it does per- form a positive social function in that regard.”

In reality, the commercialisation of football shirts is an important revenue stream for clubs. “It’s also part of big business reflecting the way in which global sport, and as- sociation football, have grown and developed in the past 20 years,” says Maguire. “The game has globalised, so traditional forms of spectating and wearing of teams’ colours have broadened and widened.”

Dressing in your favourite team’s football strip can be about roots, identity and culture, but also about the present, thanks to the UAE’s investment in Premier League clubs. And for younger fans, age need not be a barrier to dressing like a Man City player: the mini-kits, a complete training kit of shirt, shorts and socks, start in size 0-6 months.







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