‘Tis the season to be festive right about now in the latter half of December, and as such it falls upon the shoulders of the Editor-in-Chief at Club 25 Football – the premier analyze-football-shirts-in-needless-detail website – to once again hammer out an article that can only strenuously be considered a Christmas special. Because the bar is set really rather low and a shirt can qualify by virtue of including both red and green, we have a lovely (and rare!) shirt for you to read about today, all the way from the African country of Malawi!
Because nothing screams ‘Christmas’ as much as the combination of the colours red and green, right? Sure, Malawi of all countries probably doesn’t register as particularly relevant to the spirit of the December holidays, but then neither did the two sides we previously covered for our increasingly laborious festive specials;
Now, if you aren’t a regular reader of the site but merely someone who stumbled upon this humble page because you were googling pictures of a Malawian shirt, then do please read on as we’ll be covering the specifics of this top, the national team that wore it, the Football Association that fielded the team, and the country they represent – but if you are a general collector of national team shirts, then do consider taking a gander at the previous shirts we featured on this site;
- Bhutan National Team 2014-2016 Home shirt
- Myanmar National Team 2018/2019 Home Shirt
- Uganda National Team 2018-2020 Home Shirt
Is this really only the fourth national shirt we’re adding to the online collection? Good grief, there are individual clubs out there that have cropped up more often than that paltry number of appearances!
No good article about a National shirt can start without a map, and in this case we have a rather elongated strip of land to consider; a landlocked nation in the Southeast of the African continent, Malawi snakes its way from its northernmost point in the district of Chitipa – squished between Zambia and Tanzania – all the way down to the district of Nsanje on the border of Mozambique.
Despite having three much larger countries hugging its border, Malawi is defined not by its sizeable neighbours but by the eponymous Lake Malawi that gives this country an awful lot of shoreline for what is in all actuality a landlocked state. Known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania and Lago Niassa in Mozambique – the other two countries that border it – this is fourth largest fresh water lake in the world and a massive driver of economic activity for the country of Malawi. Massive schools of fish are harvested from its waters each year, whilst one needn’t be surprised when running into the odd Nile crocodile or hippopotamus – two decidedly more aggressive denizens of the lake.
While one would expect a clustering of settlements upon the shoreline, most of Malawi’s cities lie inland; this includes the capital of Lilongwe (home to just under a million people), the industrious city of Blantyre (named after the town in South Lanarkshire, Scotland), the former capital of Zomba, and Mzuzu, which is the biggest settlement in Malawi’s Northern Region. Pretty much the entire country lies in a deep geographic trough called the Great Rift Valley, formed by the same tectonic activity that allowed Lake Malawi and the other African Great Lakes to form.
As far as history goes, Malawi has by and large avoided the massive amounts of bloodshed that colour the pasts of many other African countries in a deep, dark red. Initially a part of the Maravi Kingdom some 500 years ago, its peoples’ first experience of outside cultures came from the Portuguese and Arab travellers that came to trade for Malawi’s ivory and iron. Interaction with other parts of the Maravi territories was straightforward thanks to the shared language of Chewa, which is also suspected to have provided the inspiration for Malawi’s name; the Chewa word for ‘flames’ is malaŵí, supposedly inspired by the many kilns used in the production of iron that illuminated the land at night.
Because this is Africa, Malawi naturally had to deal with a pesky European superpower coming in to arbitrarily take control and in this case, it was the British empire that figured it’d make a fine ruler of that little stretch of land alongside that big lake. Although David Livingstone had travelled through the region and religious missionaries sought to spread a number of good faiths to the locals, it wasn’t until 1891 that the British usurped modern day Malawi into the romantically-named British Central African Protectorate. Some fifteen years later its name was changed to Nyasaland; ever fond of geopolitical reform, the Brits then decided Nyasaland was a bit too small to rule on its own, so they chucked it in with Rhodesia to form the equally delightfully-named Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
Some revolts did take place over the course of Malawi’s British history – most of them squashed with extreme prejudice – but in the 60’s independence was achieved in a relatively peaceful manner. Inaugural Prime Minister Hastings Banda saw an opportunity and seized power upon the Brits’ retreat, establishing a one-party state with himself as the unchallenged leader. Like many other African leaders Banda had a fondness for killing compatriots who opposed him – backed up by Western powers who appreciated his distaste of communism at the height of the Cold War and his support of the Apartheid regime in South Africa – but he eventually ceded power following a referendum in the early 90’s. He ran in the first open elections later that decade, was swiftly defeated, and surprisingly didn’t stage a bloody revolt, instead electing to retire peacefully abroad.
That is not to say that Malawi’s recent track record has been all that great; as so often in countries that saw their borders drawn by European parties disinterested in the mutual dislike of tribes and peoples they lumped together in a territory, various parties have been at odds with one another in the past three decades – including Christians versus Muslims and a number of tribes squabbling amongst one another. As of today life expectancy is poor, infant mortality rate is high, and women’s rights aren’t always looked after all that well, but the economy is doing okay with a degree of growth thanks to the commercial activities in Blantyre and international investment.
But what about the shirt? Well, it is a fine, bespoke effort that the people of Malawi can be proud of. Decked out in red, green, and black – which, surely by complete coincidence, are also the national colours and found on the nation’s flag – this is a restrained effort by English manufacturer Umbro that was launched in 2014 for use across the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 seasons. This meant that the shirt was poised to see action in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equitorial Guinea, the 2015 CECAFA Cup in Ethiopia, and the 2015 (and possibly 2016) COSAFA Cup in South Africa.
Sounds good on paper, but Malawi failed to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and either of the COSAFA Cups (which are exclusively open to a handful of Southern African countries). So the shirt certainly isn’t memorable in terms of performance on the pitch, although the 2015 CECAFA Cup proved to be a mildly succesful endeavour for the team; Malawi succesfully advanced from the group stage wherein they faced both South and Non-South Sudan and Dijibouti, before falling victim to the Cranes of Uganda, who would go on to win the tournament.
Funnily enough, the FA of Malawi is no longer associated with CECAFA, so the chances of a repeat of 2015’s successes are slim at best.
We did mention that the name Malawi came from an old word for ‘flames’, so it should come as no surprise to our perceptive readers that fiery embers not only adorn the shirt’s crest but also form the nickname for the team itself. Indeed, where neighbours Tanzania and Zambia call themselves the Taifa Stars and Chipolopolo respectively, Malawi has the much cooler Flames as monniker.
Until you learn that Chipolopolo means ‘copper bullets’, anyway, because that’s a bit more rad still.
What is there to say about the FAM, the Football Association of Malawi? They use the exact same crest of the national team and are headquartered in Chiwembe Township (near Blantyre) rather than Lilongwe. They’re also brimming with ambition and perhaps a slight degree of delusion in that their mission statement reads that they wish ‘To make Malawi a respected football nation and reinforce its dominance on the African continent’. This is a national team that won the regional CECAFA Cup but three times – twice in the 70’s and once in the 80’s – and made it to the biannual Africa Cup of Nations only twice despite attempting qualification no fewer than 23 times. We may reach out to the FAM with a request for them to elaborate upon their understanding of the word ‘dominance’.
Although Malawi’s flag (inset in the top right) itself does not appear anywhere on the shirt – to our dismay and disappointment – the crest does take some inspiration from it, including the crescent motif in the top half. It is let down by the standard of embroidery – the top strip of red should be a collection of thirty-one separate red bars rather than one continuous line – but mirrors the rising sun found on the country’s flag, representing dawning freedom and hope for the future of Africa. The choice for both this theme and the thirty-one stripes isn’t coincidental; Malawi was the thirty-first country in Africa to gain independence with more nations on their way to rid themselves of European shackles.
As for the colours of the crest and the shirt, these too are taken from the national triband; black for the people of Malawi, red for the blood that was shed in their struggle for independence, and green for country’s natural splendour.
These three colours were put to good effect by apparel partners Umbro, who initially supplied the Flames with black and red striped home shirts before trotting out this mostly red effort. The famous double diamonds were done up in black on the right chest whilst black and green were further added to the sleeves and to the rather unconventional collar.
Indeed, the collar is made up of folding bands, where black coloured fabric is layered over the red base and held down by the strip of green and its seams. This makes for a slightly awkward fit which is really rather tight, even before taking into account the fact that this is a crew neck which is naturally quite restricting. Perhaps not the best choice for a performance garment that would see extensive use in a very hot climate, although stylistically it looks quite good and keeps the shirt from getting a little bit too liberal in its use of accent colours.
Umbro are a quality brand and we wouldn’t normally question their craft, but the construction of the sleeves is rather odd in that they are woven tightly onto the shirt – no raglan cut here but also not the archaic 90 degree angle we’ve seen in shirts from the early 90’s. Rather, we get something in between both of these fits which doesn’t help to make the shirt fit one’s figure. Rather, when wearing it the outer edge of the sleeve tends to flay out, almost like a miniature wing, which is a little disappointing.
However, when not wearing the shirt we see excellent continued use of green and black, not only in the strips that mirror the application of both colours on the collar, but also in the form of a lovely green sidepanel that runs alongside both the left and right of the torso, all the way from the armpit to the bottom hem.
If we follow the sidepanel down on the left flank of the torso, we find the greatest delight harboured by this shirt; a fine, silver appliqué of Umbro’s ‘Tailored by’ branding which was also seen on its European customers in the early 2010’s. Unfortunately due to the heatpressed nature of the lettering, it has become rather weathered over time with clear damage to the double diamonds and the finer cursive writing.
What has, impressively, held up however is the shirt’s individual number; because Umbro could never expect to sell tens of thousands of these shirts, they saw fit to individually number each and every single one of them, with ours clocking in at #3376 (which we suspect is well into the higher range in terms of how many shirts were produced). This is a delightful touch that ensures that no two shirts are entirely alike. The practice of individual numbering on items is usually reserved to collector’s edition variants of trinkets and media, so to find it on a football shirt is really rather uplifting. And what’s more is that this really clearly mirrors the elusiveness and exclusivity of a shirt like Malawi’s; the collector in the Western world would need to be very lucky to find one of these shirts locally for a price anywhere near agreeable.
The back of the shirt is slightly disappointing in that it lacks any further design features beyond the continuation of the black and green bands seen on the front, but then this is a degree of consistency that is welcomed and appreciated. In the end, this isn’t an over-designed or particularly ambitious shirt; it is simple yet elegant affair in the national colours without any pretense of being much more than that. As more and more manufacturers move towards more elaborate designs to evoke or revive the brazen styles seen in the early 90’s, it’s fine and perhaps even refreshing to find a decidedly simpler shirt every once in a while.
These red home shirts were matched with red shorts (note the green side panels) and socks, as seen above during a friendly match against Uganda on the 6th of July 2015 – a tie which the Flames surprisingly won with a scoreline of 1 to 0 at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre. While the Cranes would have their revenge and knock out Malawi in the CECAFA Cup later that year, it was still a result to be proud of for a national team that never played a huge role at the continental stage – and likely never will due to its comparatively small population when contrasted to other nations eligible for the CECAFA and COSAFA Cups – let alone the actual Africa Cup of Nations, which will continue to see sporadic Malawian appearances at best.
All the same though, this is such a lovely shirt to own and delightfully African in its colours (red and green being two of the three Pan-African colours) and rarity. It’s also rather apt if slightly confusing when worn during the Christmas season, as evidenced by the puzzled look on the faces of the Editor-in-Chief’s colleagues during their latest virtual company Christmas meeting. But when the season to be jolly comes around and you need to avoid a tacky Christmas jumper, why not just proudly rep a small African nation? Because if you don’t, who will? Even if you don’t have a Malawi shirt of your own (which will apply to most if not all readers), we do hope you enjoyed this article and learnt a thing or two about Malawian football.
Happy holidays from all of us at Club 25 Football, and see you in 2021!