Away shirts barely ever feature on this humble site, and for good reason; they see less use than home shirts, are much less iconic than clubs’ traditional designs, and are typically quickly forgotten and replaced. Last season, however, there was one gorgeous away shirt that made waves when we reviewed it, and today, we’ll be looking at its director successor – a shirt that continues its use of navy, gold, and a rather celestial theme, yet takes it all in an unexpected direction. Introducing the gorgeous, jaw-dropping 2019/2020 away shirt of R&F (Hong Kong).
A special shirt for a special club; R&F (Hong Kong) (or 富力R&F if you will) are a satellite/feeder side to the Mainland Chinese Guangzhou R&F FC, play in the same city as their parent team, but compete in the Hong Kong Premier League. We’ll touch upon them more in-depth later on.
For now, just take a moment to appreciate this gorgeous shirt, manufactured exclusively for the club by Chinese brand UCAN. Across a black base, what one could presume to be stars are dotted around with lines connecting them to one another to form constellations. The resulting pattern, made up of irregular squares and triangles, is further enriched by a playful use of various shades of blue.
This is both a continuation of and a break with the theme set by the previous away shirt used by R&F – a ‘starscape’ of sorts appears once more, but is made much more concrete this time around. There is so much we can say about that previous shirt, how it seemed to be in motion and was an absolutely unique design, so please refer to its article to get a closer look;
The 2018/2019 away shirt for R&F was our favourite kit of the season, worldwide; not at all bad for a club that was founded just a few years ago and a relatively small Chinese brand with zero customer teams outside of China and Hong Kong. This is, of course, high praise coming from a blog dedicated to football shirts, so this new shirt we’re covering today has a lot to live up to.
Now, where there was no real hidden message or meaning behind that 2018/2019 shirt, there is one here – something that keen-eyed punters may have picked up on already. If you haven’t, then consider the following promotional image released by UCAN when the shirt was officially revealed.
Those constellations seem a lot less random now in hindsight, don’t they? The stars and their connecting lines form a geometric representation of a lion’s face, including an eye and its whiskers, across the left and middle of the shirt. A stunning bit of artistry by UCAN, superimposing a larger design across the shirt yet retaining its recognizability (although, admittedly, many will need to have the lion’s presence pointed out to them).
It’s ironic that, considering the lion is an animal that does not make a terrible lot of use of camouflage compared to many other species, it is so well-‘hidden’ here – mixed in with the galactic imagery R&F seem to love so much. However, a large part of the lion’s head ends up lost, as only 40% percent or so (and that is a generous estimate on our part) of the full artwork is featured on the shirt with the rest being left off. You could ask yourself whether UCAN’s designers went too far in this, or whether they hit a sweet spot; after all, the shirt still looks absolutely amazing and the lion remains identifiable as being a rather large feline – including the full head would not only have taken away from the shirt’s asymmetry, but also possibly veered it right into ‘over the top’ territory.
We are massive UCAN-apologists here at Club 25, so we are going to argue that the brand’s designers aced what they were going for. The lion’s head is not dominant enough to make one lose sight of the starscape, and even loses its identity as one gets a closer look at the shirt – you really need to see it in full and from further away to have reasonable hope of catching out the lion.
Instead, when being near to the shirt as seen above, it’s the stars, lines, and colours that dominate and bedazzle, creating the most elaborate fading effect we’ve ever seen; going from using a lot of light blue on the left half to much darker blue, even navy, on the right. When considering this, be sure to note how much the stars differ from one another as well; some make use of darker blue tones while others are sky/pale blue.
This site is named after a very specific number, so to see it appear in lovely golden brushstrokes as part of the sponsor is a very, very special treat for us. The 25 here ties in with the R&F Group’s 25th (of course) anniversary, with this Chinese real estate firm having been founded in 1994. Before you ask, R&F stands for ‘Rich & Force’, which is the kind of half-broken English the a more cynical reader would expect from a Mainland Chinese company.
Make no mistake though, that name is bang on; R&F is a huge corporation, a massive player in the Guangzhou property market (and responsible for massive developments abroad, such as the Vauxhall Square project in London, England), and their owners and stockholders are probably very ‘R’ indeed. Additionally, R&F is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange rather than on the Shanghai one, although this makes sense when you consider Guangzhou’s proximity to Hong Kong.
To return to today’s sampling of polyester, the use of gold to tie this sponsor into the shirt’s overall design is lovely and makes for a pleasing look – although this is also partly down to us thinking Chinese symbols look really nice. We can’t read Chinese, of course, which probably informs this opinion more than it should (after all, no one’s going to say ‘oh, ‘Fork Lift Borders’ looks so pretty on this shirt’ just because it’s in the Roman alphabet).
We happen upon the crest, which is a lot less synthetic than the one on the 2018/2019 shirt; that was really just a slab of plastic stuck to the shirt, although a very, very fancy slab with lots of texture. This year we are treated to a woven rendition, heatpressed onto the shirt, of the same old lion’s head gobbling up a football while bursting through a laurel wreath. Spectacular. This also explains why the designers went for a lion motif in the starscape rather than one based on a different kind of animal.
Recolouring crests on away shirts to fit with whatever theme these shirts are going for is becoming increasingly common, and this year UCAN couldn’t resist to hop on the bandwagon, hence this circular design now appearing in navy and gold rather than the much lighter blue and white that are normally used. Not the worst decision they could make, as this is in keeping with the sponsor being in gold and helps the shirt retain a very unified look. Note that the crest appears in the exact same recoloured configuration on the new home shirts.
Our favourite element remains the set of Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia Blakeana) flowers on either side of the laurel wreath; these mirror the flower’s prominent appearance on the country’s flag. Not that this tricks any fan of Hong Kong football; R&F are a Chinese-owned team playing in Mainland China, even if their squad is now mostly made up of Hong Kong nationals. As such, the club is viewed with some distrust by fans of the other teams in the Hong Kong Premier League, with many holding the firm opinion that a foreign satellite team has no place in the country’s league system. The fact that R&F reportedly have one of, if not the biggest budget out of all the competing teams this year and seem to be heading for the title (sitting in the top spot in the table at the time of writing) may lead one to expect disgruntlement among the locals to grow in a similar way to how Albirex Niigata has incurred increasing opposition in Singapore following their conquest of eleven straight trophies.
UCAN probably doesn’t care that much about the geopolitics of Hong Kong football; they really only seem interested in delivering amazing shirts, and boy, are they good at that. Their flowing logo appears as a sticker this year – disappointing compared to the lovely rubber rendition of last year – and remains without a wordmark, making this brand hard to identify for kit fanatics who first stumble upon them.
At the time of writing, UCAN has just two professional customers besides the Hong Kong R&F team (the Guangzhou R&F side is outfitted by Nike); these are Meizhou Hakka and Inner Mongolia Zhongyou (playing out of that region’s capital of Hohhot), both of whom compete in the China League One, the second tier on the Chinese pyramid. A crying shame, honestly, as the brand deserves a lot more exposure based on their work for R&F.
As for what moved the designers to envision this shirt’s starscape, we can offer the standard 404-page of R&F’s site as a possible inspiration. Alternatively we can put our faith in the marketing blurbs, which mention a ‘urban starry sky’ (in keeping with R&F being a property developer that makes money developing endless urban sprawls) and the pattern ‘condensing the light spot of dreams in the vastness, the beasts in the heart are gradually taking shape, stepping forward, and creating an infinite light environment with prosperity. It’s all for the ultimate belief.‘.
Take that with a grain of salt. Or a whole tub of it.
If you thought a company being called Rich & Force was broken English, you might want to cover your ears and eyes for UCAN’s new battle cry on the shirt’s jock tag. GOAL WITH ME UCAN, it reads – you missed at least one comma there, lads.
This is written on a very coarse gold-and-black sticker which sits just off the side of the seam connecting the shirt’s front to the back, affording us a closer look at UCAN’s proprietary perspiration-evaporation system; this is made up of tiny holes punched through the fabric and connected by diagonal lines, with horizontal shadow stripes thrown in for good measure. Does this actually help players stay dry during a match?
Ah, a name to put on UCAN’s fancy system of overlapping holes with lines and stripes and hoping it does something for sweat evaporation; UTECH-DRY. When you have Nike with Dri-fit and adidas with Climacool/adizero/Formotion/whatever iteration they are on now, this is a refreshingly correctly-spelled name with little pretense, appearing out of a small silvery tag.
As you might have noticed previously, the sleeves on this shirt join in on the asymmetric fun; the right sleeve is plain black but the left sleeve continues the starscape, if awkwardly as the constellations do not line up with their cousins on the torso of the shirt. It adds a note of interest to the design all the same though, and we all know that sleeves are notoriously difficult to line up when making use of a pattern anyway.
If you can ignore the massive elephant in the room that is cuff detailing written-in-reverse for just a minute, we’d like to direct your attention to this wonderful patch found on the left sleeve, further celebrating R&F’s 25th anniversary as a company.
Listing 1994-2019 seems more fitting for an epitaph but then we shouldn’t be splitting hairs over such a fun celebratory addition to the shirt. The ’25’ on this patch is formed of the same font as the number found on the front, albeit with the company’s name added in miniature. R&F’s headquarters and flagship building, the marvel of (post)modern architecture that is the R&F Centre (imaginative name) found in downtown Guangzhou, makes a cameo appearance here in light blue as being the company’s representative. Clocking in at 243 meters tall with 54 floors, this is one of the larger buildings in the district of Tianhe, so keep an eye out for it if you ever somehow end up in the area.
In terms of comedic timing, this is the part of this specific article where we all chuckle and make predictable jokes about Mainland Chinese manufacturing standards; UCAN was kind enough to top off the cuffs of this shirt with a nice stretchy fabric incorporating the club’s name, but was not quite kind enough to do it properly – R&F appears as ꟻ&Я on both sleeves.
Oops! And mind that this is not an isolated defect; the ꟻ&Я (here’s a Club 25 first; having to mirror our text) appears even in the promotional material released for this shirt. This begs a questions that beggars belief; was this done on purpose or is it a honest-but-widespread accident? We are inclined to belief the latter option, as there is no reasonable explanation for having the club’s name completely mirrored. The same text appears on the home shirt, but faces the correct way lending further legitimacy to the theory of a mistake having been made on the away shirt.
If it’s any consolation, folding the sleeve cuffs inside out does rectify this issue, but then you end up having to wear the cuffs inside out and having the letters upside down. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And more than a little bit silly.
The right sleeve features a league-mandated patch (the R&F 25th anniversary patch is, of course, endemic to R&F’s shirts and a voluntary inclusion) in silver to celebrate the club’s second place finish in the 2018/2019 Hong Kong Premier League, behind our good friends at Tai Po (whose 2019/2020 shirt, with accompanying gold champions’ patch, makes a cameo here).
In last week’s Tai Po article we spoke at length about our frustration at having the amazing league patches the HKPL teams used to carry be replaced with these new variants which, despite being rather smart, are not a patch (hah!) on the old ones. Typically on a white base (gold and silver are, of course, privileges for the champions and runners-up of last season), they incorporate the oriental-dragon-curling-up-into-a-ball logo with the league’s name, title sponsor, and season across a bed of miniature dragons. It’s absolutely fine, way ahead of the average uninspired league patches you see elsewhere, but still a massive step down from what the fans in Hong Kong were used to.
Flipping the shirt over reveals the lion’s head / stars motif not making it onto the reverse, although this could have been a much bigger disappointment had it not been fully expected; getting patterns and designs to continue on the back is a luxury feature not seen nearly as often as it should, and last season’s shirt similarly cut its starscape from the back. As a side note, this top looks rather ‘boxy’ and squareish from this angle – perhaps because our copy of the shirt is an XL.
As UCAN is a Chinese brand catering to the Chinese market, they use Chinese sizing charts with their XL being a reasonably regular Western/European L. If you somehow find this rare shirt online and decide to order it, be sure to go for one size above your usual fit.
We previously noted the left sleeve to carry on the starscape, and are happy to report that this includes its reverse – this makes for a very unusual look which helps make the back of the shirt rather interesting, although one could argue whether or not ‘interesting’ equals ‘looking good’ in this case. The contrast between the material used for the sleeve and UCAN’s UTECH-DRY fabric used for the back panel is especially evident here.
Moving up to the back of the collar, we find a golden-coloured hexagonal sticker featuring a fragmented lion’s head, further continuing R&F’s increasingly unhealthy obsession with this majestic creature.
According to the marketing blurb, this sticker represents ‘ambitions and aspirations’, of which R&F has plenty considering its (wanton) spending in pursuit of the league title. The legend ‘BLUE FIGHTER’ that appears across the collar (and also features on the inside) is, thankfully, not reversed or mirrored or upside down, and is noted to represent ‘ubiquitious fighting spirit’ and ‘the formation of unity’ by ‘blue-blooded soldiers’. That being said, the lion appears to be rather fractured, which is not necessarily something you’d associate with ‘unity’
The mention of ‘blue-blooded’ in the marketing likely refers to the club’s colours rather than any royal heritage, but it really makes you think; why doesn’t R&F (Hong Kong) ditch the white shirts they’ve been wearing at home for a few seasons now in favour of blue shirts? The ‘BLUE FIGHTER’ inscription also appears on the white home shirts this season, making matters extra confusing because blue is, for all intents and purposes, not currently R&F (Hong Kong)’s primary colour. Perhaps this is part of a push to differentiate the Hong Kong team from its parent team playing in the Chinese league, but there surely has to be a better way to accomplish this. If only because the white shirts have paled in comparison to the amazing away shirts UCAN keeps coming up with for the club.
Last year we had Tan Chun Lok’s name and squad number 16 appear on the back, but with the midfielder having returned to Guangzhou R&F (having been playing for the Hong Kong R&F on loan) we had to have a different name on the 2019/2020.
And what a name that turned out to be; Igor Sartori, league player of the season in 2018/2019 while in service to Tai Po. With the green-clad brigade from the New Territories slashing their budget in the off-season and offloading quite a few players, it was no surprise that R&F were able to lure Sartori to Yanzigang Stadium ahead of other clubs interested in the Brazilian’s services.
Shown above is Sartori modelling R&F’s 2019/2020 home shirt, which as you can tell is really rather dull compared to the away shirt – further strengthening our question of why the lions don’t just play in blue rather than these pedestrian white shirts. Some issues with the legibility of the sponsor seems to arise here as well – just switch the home and away shirts around already!
Igor Torres Sartori was born in Rio de Janeiro in January 1993, with a rather famous footballer for a father; Igor’s dad is Alcindo Sartori, who represented Brazil’s U20’s during his early career before moving from Flamengo to Grêmio to the Japanese J.League, where he took up the role of striker for the Kashima Antlers, Tokyo Verdy (still based in Kawasaki back then), and Consadole Sapporo. He would transfer back to Brazil in 1996 to turn out for Corinthians and Fluminense before embarking on one final stint in Japan with Verdy, after which he took to winding down his career at Fluminense, Cabofriense, and a lower league team called CFZ do Rio, founded by Brazilian legend Zico.
Igor got his start as a youth player at that same CFZ before landing contracts with Kashima Antlers and Flamengo – his father’s former teams. Although he managed a handful of league appearances between them in addition to loan stints with Bragantino and Red Bull Brasil (coincidentally in the same season as his later Tai Po teammate Dudu), the younger Sartori’s future did not lie in his native Brazil.
As Sartori was playing his for-now final season in Brazil in 2016, Dudu was already making appearances for Tai Po in Hong Kong and in one way or another, Igor found himself travelling after his former teammate to Chek Lap Kok International Airport, signing with the club in 2017.
In his first season, Sartori, who still had his name in Roman letters on his shirts, made 17 league appearances and netted 9 goals. The following season he fired Tai Po to the league title, this time with 8 goals in 18 outings. R&F came a-calling and, in keeping with the club’s use of Chinese on their shirts, the midfielder’s name now reads as 伊高. Not that this seemed to slow him down; at the time of writing Igor Sartori has played in all 9 of R&F’s league matches, scoring 7 goals.
We’ve glossed over it so far but we cannot deny it any longer; both the letters and numbers used by the club feature an amazing pattern, something you barely ever see as most teams are content with just a fancy font. Made up of dots that increase and decrease in girth in a zigzag-like formation, this move delivers a welcome degree of extra depth. Honestly, with lettering like this, one would feel silly for paying upwards of 10 Pounds/Dollars/whatever for the plain stickers used in ‘top’ competitions like the Premier League while a team in the Hong Kong Premier League of all places goes the extra mile like this.
This is a new addition for 2019/2020, going above and beyond the similar gold lettering that featured last season but lacked the pattern. Even without the dots contained within, this new font seems to be an upgrade over its rather modern counterpart seen in 2018/2019 – yet still retaining the linework that made its predecessor stand out.
The gents in marketing also had something to say about these new numbers, noting that they are ‘filled with a light gradient texture, using light and shadow to create a three-dimensional effect, highlighting the name of the player‘. The decision to include this was made because, and we quote, ‘behind the glory is the bloody struggle of each soldier.‘. Almost sounds like we’re writing a Poppy article for Remembrance Day.
A sour note to make, and an explanation for the lack of in-match action shots we usually include in our articles, is the fact that the away shirt has yet to be worn in competitive action – despite R&F having played every other team in the league once already. The white shirt, which has some fine detailing along its side but really can’t hold a candle to the lion’s head, was worn in each and every league fixture so far, and the chances of the away shirt making an appearance in any of the remaining cup ties are rather slim; this is due to the existence of a cup shirt that is best described as consisting of a collection of triangles caught at the epicentre of an earthquake.
This is frustrating at best and an absolute disgrace without equal at worst; here is a glorious away shirt that not only beats out the home shirt in every single respect but is also more fitting for use at home rather than in away matches, yet it has failed to make a single appearance across half a season. This is partially explained away by the colours of the other teams in the league, with Kitchee, Eastern, and Biu Chun Rangers all playing in blue at home and Tai Po and Happy Valley playing with loads of dark green on their shirts (effectively clashing with the darker blues on this kit) – meaning that the only fixtures in which one can reasonably expect R&F’s away shirt to be worn are against Lee Man and Pegasus (both yellow), Southern (red) and Yuen Long (orange).
Thankfully, out of those teams, R&F have only faced Southern away from home (yet still wearing their white home shirts), meaning that there are still three fixtures left in which we can hope to see the away shirt feature. Yes, this is a preciously low number, but then not entirely without precedent; the Go Ahead Eagles shirt we featured recently only got two league and one cup appearance before being unceremoniously binned for being unlucky.
While we normally advocate the use of home shirts as often as possible in away matches, it is a crying shame to see R&F’s away shirt not feature at all so far this year – both from the perspective of the design being so wonderful and from the viewpoint of fans; after all, when you shell out good money for your team’s away shirt, surely you’d want to see it actually being worn by the team at some point, right? With this in mind, it is a bit disappointing to note that the cup shirt is so similar to the away shirt what with using a black base – they both provide plenty of contrast to the home shirt but barely any to one another, meaning that there is hardly a point in using one over the other.
Be that as it may, we humbly request our readers’ understanding in not being able to offer photographs of the away shirt in match action; instead, note the home shirt being used versus Tai Po in the above picture on the 22nd of October 2019 – this turned out to be an absolutely bizarre match with Tai Po leading 3-1 at half time only to lose 3-5 come the end of the match.
We will be updating this article in the near future as and when the proud lion’s head finally features in a match but for now, we hope you not only enjoyed this closer look at a very special football shirt but also learnt a thing or two about R&F and football in Hong Kong. Although nowhere near the glitz and glamour of European football, the various domestic leagues in Asian countries like Hong Kong (and Singapore and various others) are very much worth seeking out and following, and we warmly encourage our readers to spend some time researching them. After all, you might just happen on a gem like this shirt.
That’s just about all you need from us for now, but as always, we would like to remind you that Club 25 is a weekly publication – expect a brand new article from us next week, so keep checking back for when we have a new shirt going live. Additionally, keep up to date with us on our Twitter page and flick through the site’s Shirt Archive to see what shirts we’ve covered in the past.