Travel Special; Mauritius

It’s not every day that we get to talk about African football here on Club 25, owing to the rarity of official replica/authentic shirts and the resulting difficulty one experiences in identifying and sourcing them. Of course, things become slightly easier if one were to visit African shores, which is exactly what this humble site did a little while ago, when we visited the island paradise that is Mauritius;

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Travel specials are something we very rarely do compared to our usual output of ‘get a shirt, take awkward pictures, talk way too much about’-articles, so there are only two previous travelogues for you to peruse as well as a lone African shirt, which are as follows;

Of course, writing about Mauritius in light of it being an African country rather than from the perspective of it being a fully independent nation state would be doing it the greatest of disservices. After all, this beautiful island nation, the so-called Star and Key of the Indian Ocean, is a beautiful and diverse country that remains woefully underappreciated by the world at large.

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If you were worried about this article trailing off into long-winded-geography-lecture or thinly-veiled-tourism-advert, then fear not! We have no fewer than ten shirts, all from different Mauritian league clubs, to cover today – this is not only a new record for the site, but this micro-collection most likely makes us the single biggest source of Mauritian shirts outside of Mauritius! Some honour! Since this article went live, we’ve done an in-depth article about the navy Curepipe Starlight shirt you can spot in the above picture.

Because none of the clubs that contest the Mauritian football pyramid operate websites (at most a Facebook page in some cases), today’s article is the potentially the only peek you’ll get at these shirts, outwith going down to the island yourself to catch a match.

We did lie about something though; our esteemed readers are still getting a geography lecture.

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Although the main, droplet-shaped island (with the very apt name of Mauritius Island) looks rather beefy on our map, it is but 790 square miles in size – for reference, this is about the size of the Greater Manchester area in the UK, and just over half the size of Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US. Consisting of the main island, the islet of Rodrigues, the Agaléga Islands, numerous small rock outcroppings and, depending on who you ask, the Chagos Islands, Mauritius is found some 700 miles (1,100 km) to the East of Madagascar, and some 1,200 miles (2,000 km) off the nearest coast of continental Africa.

A nation of some 1.3 million people, mostly of Indian and Creole descent with noteworthy Sino-Mauritian and Franco-Mauritian minories added in to make for a nice societal salad bowl, Mauritius is ruled by a democratically-chosen government based in the capital of Port Louis, found on the (North) Western shore of the island. Other than this lone city, four towns (Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, Curepipe, Quatre Bornes, and Vacoas-Phoenix) and numerous villages dot this hilly nation, with our favourite settlement being Vingt Cinq on the Northern Agaléga Island (Vingt Cinq is, of course, the French word for 25). Other slightly amusing village names include Flic-en-Flac, Fond du Sac, Pamplemousses, and Quatre Cocos.

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In terms of football infrastructure, Mauritius has a few stadiums that, even by snooty European standards, can be considered rather decent. Anjalay Stadium in the North is by far the biggest, boasting a seating capacity of 16,500, although it shares the honour of hosting the national team’s home matches with the 6,500-seat Sir Gaëtan Duval Stadium in Beau Bassin-Rose Hill and Stade George V in Curepipe, pictured above during renovation work ahead of the recent Indian Ocean Island Games.

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We did not have the pleasure of visiting Anjalay or the ‘big’ Sir Gaëtan Duval Stadium, but we did visit the small Sir Gaëtan Duval Stadium. This ground does not seem to be used by any Mauritian teams to our knowledge, and is located in the North of the country near the towns of Trou-Aux-Biches and Grand Baie – don’t bother looking for it, though; it does not appear on any online maps (to our knowledge).

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Mauritian football is, much to our dismay but definitely not to our surprise, in the doldrums; a select few matches of the MNSL – the Mauritian National Super League – are aired on local television, but these draw scant few viewers. Pictured above is a MPL match between Petite Rivière Noir and AS Vacoas Phoenix, which goes a long way in showing that the stadiums, much like the family couch, is completely devoid of life when kick-off rolls around.

Indeed, we sensed lethargy and apathy emanating from any and all locals we spoke to about Mauritian football. ‘Ayooooo’, they exclaimed (‘ayo’ being a very common Mauritian Creole word used to signal anything from surprise to frustration, with the more curt synonym being ‘ki caca’) ‘what do you want to watch these teams for, won’t you join us for a viewing of an English Premier League match?’.

Club 25 is of the express opinion that local football is always worth supporting over (or at the very least alongside) foreign leagues and behemoths like Liverpool, Manchester United and City, Real Madrid, Juventus, and so on, but it seems that the battle has been lost in Mauritius; the locals proudly wear shirts of foreign teams, foreign match action is easily accessible via satellite, and any interest foreigners display towards Mauritian football is met with bewilderment and varying levels of confusion.

We encountered a very similar trend in various South East Asian countries during our time living there, most heavily in Singapore but also Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and so on. It would appear that, in an age where most of the world has been decolonized (but sadly not all, we once again respectfully refer to the Chagos Islands) in terms of geography, the hearts and minds of peoples outside of Europe remain swayed by the illusions of grandeur that permeate competitions like the Premier League and La Liga, much to the detriment of local football.

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Not all is well, then, in Paradise, although one would be hard-pressed to find a more delightful corner of the Earth to enjoy life.

Considering the locals prefer foreign leagues, it is perhaps apt that Club 25 took up the glove and smashed thousands upon thousands of Mauritian Rupees on buying local shirts to give the local scene (or the technical suppliers of the various clubs anyway) a financial boost. Actually finding the shirts and then getting the locals to sell them was a wee bit harder than we would have liked for it to be, considering that same mixture of apathy and bewilderment made for a fair few perplexed Mauritians. Alas, if this is the wrong kind of tourism, we don’t want to be right.

Eight shirts, eight clubs, seven designs. We wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of any of these teams before, so allow us to introduce all of them to the best of our abilities.

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What better team and shirt to kick off with than this, ahum, ‘Nike’ shirt of Association Sportive Port-Louis 2000 (saying just AS Port Louis is fine), which out of all the teams currently active in the National Super League is the joint-most succesful side with 6 titles to its name.

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This is actually a prototype shirt, presented to the club to allow them to determine whether it was the right fit for the team. Special features, not offered to the smaller teams around the island, include an embroidered crest (ridiculously luxurious by Mauritian football standards) and holes down the sides to allow for the evaporation of sweat.

ASPL are one of the most well-funded teams on the island, and play at the St. François Xavier Stadium in Port Louis. However, their offices are located at the Champs de Mars Racecourse – a horse racing circuit notable for being the single oldest facility of its kind in the Southern hemisphere.

This shirt was never used in competitive play, as the club decided to opt for adidas shirts instead.

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ASPL are sponsored by Chinese company HISENSE and the Sunday Times, one of Mauritius’ biggest weekly newspapers. Having last won the title in 2016, the team from the capital finished in a disappointing 4th place in 2018/2019, leaving the title to Pamplemousses for the second year in a row. Speaking of that team…..

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Pamplemousses SC are, together with ASPL, the most well-known Mauritian team outside of the island, although that really doesn’t mean all that much. They are, however, the current team to beat with two back-to-back championships under their belt – besting Roche-Bois Bolton City Youth Club on goal difference in 17/18 and by three points in 18/19.

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Pamplemousses’ crest makes handy use of the colours of the Mauritian flag, each representing a different element;

  • Red for the country’s toils in attaining freedom from colonial rule (arguably red because of the bloodshed)
  • Blue for the Indian Ocean, which defines Mauritius’ existence and offers the people a bountiful selection of fish and other seafood (we tried sea cucumber, it was….. interesting).
  • Yellow for ‘the new light of independence’ (we didn’t make this up – it would have been less pretentious to say it represents the sun that blankets the land in a sweltering heat during the summer and produces  a mild, pleasant mid 20’s temperature during winter)
  • Green for the country’s farming traditions and the pervasive flora that colour it throughout the year

The rest of the crest further strengthens the maritime theme, with waves providing a background behind the club’s motto – march to win.

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This is Pamplemousses 2017/2018 away shirt, and comes with bespoke dotted detailing down the sides and diagonal pinstripes pressed into the fabric.

Considering this novel and thoughtful design is branded with adidas’ wordmark, the elephant in the room is deftly outed; Mauritian football has zero regard for trademarks and intellectual properties, and much like how ASPL’s shirt was fake Nike, this is fake adidas. The real kicker, however, is that the standard of design on these fake tops is leaps and bounds better than on the real deal. Some of the Nike/adidas shirts on show in this article are locally made, while some are imported from China, but they are all very much knock-offs.

However, they are worn by clubs, so they are authentic in a twisted kind of way.

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The Mauritian pyramid consists of three semi-professional divisions, with regional leagues below them. From top to bottom, the semi-pro competitions are the National Super League, National Division One, and National Division Two.

This red Nike shirt belongs to the Entente Boulet Rouge-Riche Mare Rovers (try saying that out loud three times in a row, or go for the acronym EBRRMR), who won the 2018/2019 Division One title and will thusly be playing in the top tier next season. The team represents the eponymous neighbourhoods of Boulet Rouge and Riche Mare, which make up a sizable portion of the village of Centre de Flacq found in the East of Mauritius Island.

Entente is the French word for agreement, and signals the cooperation between both neighbourhoods in forming a team to rival Faucon Flacq SC, the five times champions of Mauritius and cross-village rival to EBRRMR that has fallen onto hard times, playing in Division Two last season.

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A lot of teams in Mauritius carry their name in big, bold letters across of the back of their shirts and EBRRMR are just one of these sides. However, much like how a big brother keeps his younger siblings down, it seems Riche Mare takes precedence over Boulet Rouge; the latter is not mentioned on the reverse of this red shirt, which also lacks the white details seen on the front.

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Up next is one of our personal favourites and quite possibly the newest holder of the title ‘team with the dumbest name on Club 25’ – it’s Rivière du Rempart Star Knitwear! No, seriously. Eat your heart out, Big Bang Chula!

RDR Star Knitwear is the works team of Star Knitwear Group Ltd, a textile company that serves domestic and African markets from their factory in the Rivière du Rempart district, the gorgeous Northermost area of Mauritius Island. They do not, however, produce sporting goods despite their company motto being ‘The Art of Jersey’ (sic).

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Where European works teams like PSV Eindhoven, Bayer Leverkusen, and previously Ferranti Thistle all made an effort not to brand themselves too heavily after their parent companies, RDR Star Knitwear Group has no such reservations, instead opting for the company logo on a white background.

If that wasn’t idiosyncratic enough to land this shirt in the Club 25 Hall of Fame, the lovely grey/black pattern across the top of the torso definitely pushes this shirt into our list of favourites. Three black stripes on each shoulder add a further dash of colour, although with no adidas logo in sight.

Star Knitwear finished sixth out of nine in Division Two, avoiding relegation to the local leagues by virtue of finishing two points ahead of WBA Barkly who went down alongside defunct GBA Spurs. The Knitted Stars (we just made that nickname up, sue us) finished 7 points adrift from fifth placed GBA Rovers which doesn’t seem like a huge gap until you realize that a season in Division Two is comprised of just fourteen matches. As such, Star Knitwear will have to massively improve in 19/20 if it wishes to survive another year in the third tier.

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One team that did enjoy life in Division Two was Union Sportive Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, or USBBRH for short. Hailing from the eponymous town in the central Plaines Wilhelms district (the only landlocked region on Mauritius Island), USBBRH usually spend their time in Division One, but had suffered a relegation to take them down to the third tier for 2018/2019.

Where Star Knitwear struggled, USBBRH stormed to the title with nine wins, four draws, and just one loss – 9 points ahead of third-placed Chamarel SC who failed to be promoted in lieu of only first and second place giving teams the right to step up to Division One.

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A stylized logo in red and orange betrays the team’s usual home colours, with yellow being their go-to livery for away matches. USBBRH used two different away shirts this season, one as pictured above and one with the crest on the left chest.

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Where some teams go up, others go down with one such case being Association Sportive Rivière du Rempart – the biggest team from the eponymous district (due to Star Knitwear being a bit awful) in the Northeast of Mauritius Island.

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Based in the district capital of Mapou but hosting their home matches at Anjalay, ASRdR were a mainstay in the top flight of Mauritius until their relegation at the end of the 18/19 season; 17 points from 18 matches saw the Eagles (who use the same two colours as a certain Singaporean side….) finish 9th, condemning them to at least one season in Division One.

This shirt utilizes the same template as the Riche Mare Rovers top, although with a particularly grumpy eagle eyeing up whomever looks its way. Because there is a reasonably big difference in quality and organization between National Super League and Division One sides, expect ASRdR’s stay in the second tier to be a short one.

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Funny this, AS Rivière du Rempart have an eagle as mascot and finished 9th and got relegated, three points adrift from…. Cercle de Joachim SC, who also have an eagle as mascot but finished in 8th place.

A design that is not without its fair share of detractors, fading black stripes run along the length of this home shirt, which is slightly unorthodox by Mauritian standards for actually having stripes – most other teams continue to play in plain shirts, having never evolved past the primordial plain shirts that were used during the genesis of the game in Mauritius.

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Possibly the second most famous football team called Cercle in the world (behind Cercle Brugge of Belgium), Cercle de Joachim combine the French word for circle (albeit it was also used as a name for colonial districts) with a bit of unintentional advertising for adidas in a rather decent crest. As mentioned, they are known as the Eagles, just like AS Rivière du Rempart is. These eagles, however, continue to soar in the top flight and will continue to welcome big sides like ASPL and Pamplemousses in 2019/2020, at their home ground of Stade George V in Curepipe.

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Funny thing about this shirt is that, while it does not rip off Nike or adidas, its manufacturer does secretly take a leaf out of Erreà’s book by coming up with a rather similar logo. Good going there by the Weiteyundong corporation – who will not be supplying the club in 2019/2020 as local brand Jonio has come in as new technical partner.

 

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Had Cercle de Joachim been relegated, their coach would have been spared the agony of having to worry about facing Roche Bois Bolton City Youth Club, the second strongest side in the country behind Pamplemousses. A partial namesake of England’s Bolton Wanderers, the Bolton City Youth Club is based in the Roche Bois neighbourhood of Port Louis, wedged inbetween colourfully named areas like Karo Kalyptus, Briquetterie, and Camp Yoloff.

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Although the club possesses a long history by Mauritian standards, dating back to 1978, Bolton City is a relatively fresh face in the top flight, having appeared once before their most recent promotion to the National Super League in 2015/2016. Since then, the club has finished third, second, and second, which seems to belie a wealthy backer having catapulted the team into the big time. Further evidence for this is the fact that Bolton City were still in the regional leagues back in 2006 – when teams like ASPL, Pamplemousses, and Cercle de Joachim were already well established at the top level.

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Perhaps sponsors Canal+, a big player in the domestic TV market, are to thank for the club’s meteoric rise through the pyramid? Fact of the matter remains that Bolton City can pride themselves on this excellent shirt, in a novel combination of deep blue and grey.

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The club has since switched from fake adidas to fake Nike, and has represented Mauritius in the 2019/2020 CAF Confederation Cup (Africa’s secondary continental tournament) on the back of their second place league finish in 2018/2019. The boys of Roche Bois won their home match in the preliminary round versus Botswana’s Jwaneng Galaxy, and need only hold onto their lead to book a place in the first round proper (where they will undoubtedly be spanked by much bigger teams like Tunisia’s CS Sfaxien or South Africa’s Bidvest Wits).

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That’s eight out of ten Mauritian shirts showcased in just a single article! Do you have a favourite out of this bunch?

You may have spotted two shirts that didn’t feature today – a rather garish lime green top and a peculiar navy kit – and we are happy to report that we will be doing individual articles on both this month. After all, we did say that Mauritius is woefully underappreciated, so this is us putting our money where our mouth is and cranking out more articles than strictly necessary.

Mauritius is an absolutely fantastic country, beautiful in its unspoilt nature and kind people. Of course, it is very much a developing nation with all the growing pains one could reasonably expect such a status to come with, and this is reflected on its football scene; we had to work hard to find these shirts and even then we had to sadly saddle others with picking them up as each shirt had to be individually ordered for us (technical suppliers only ever order/manufacture one batch of shirts for clubs, with no replicas available).

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We are deeply indebted to the kind locals for their help, although we do hope that one day things may be a little easier for people who fancy getting a Mauritian shirt or two (can’t be that big of a crowd, but still). Mauritian clubs don’t bother with replicas, or websites, or even decent social media, and with many of the locals happily watching foreign football and disregarding local leagues, one has to wonder whether things will ever improve.

Or, really, one can wonder whether they have to. The standard of European football is great and all, but perhaps it’s okay to not demand similar from countries that are well and truly different from the increasingly plastic culture surrounding football in ‘the West’. The likes of ASPL, Pamplemousses, and Bolton City won’t ever be serious contenders for the African Champions League, or even get that far in the Confederation Cup, owing to the scale of Mauritius’ talent pool and economy (sure, Mauritius has the third highest GDP of Africa, but sits at a microcosmic scale compared to the comparatively massive mainland countries).

Still, Mauritian football is local, it’s real, and it’s tangible for all Mauritians – more so than European football will ever be for all but a select few. In that light, it’s perhaps sad that there seems to be so much apathy, but then one can’t force these things. Especially not when you’re a Western intruder viewing things from your own biased perspective, wondering why people don’t go out in droves to cheer on the visibly overweight players of Petite Rivière Noire (we didn’t need a huge flat screen television to see these blokes).

We’ll definitely go back to Mauritius, some day very soon – our business there isn’t done and certainly won’t be for quite a while if we can help it. We’ll visit the MFA next time around too, even if we might be greeted with the same surprised faces that we got at the clubs. But hey, at least each individual shirt didn’t cost 80 EUR/50 GBP like they do in the Northern hemisphere!

Allez Moris!

(Like MFF on Facebook to stay abreast of Mauritian football – arguably the best source on the subject and accessible for foreigners)

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