Sunday, November 1

The football-shirt experts of Kuching

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Yeo at his shop in Kuching.

COLLECTING football shirts is a hobby of many Malaysians, given that football is the No. 1 sport in the country.

The football shirt is known as the jersey. In the United Kingdom, football fans refer to the get-up set as kit, usually comprising the shirt, short, and socks.

Malaysians might have adopted the word jersey as it’s shorter to pronounce than football shirt.

Those familiar with the garb of the game know that football clubs set aside a few types of shirts and kits for their supporters – the home kit worn by teams playing at home and the away kit worn by teams playing away.

Yeo (right) and a friend hold a Manchester United shirt. Above them is a row of the club’s scarfs.

The goalie kit is different from outfield players’. Some clubs even have what is known as the third kit, contrasting in colours to the home and away kits.

There are also the international kits worn by teams representing their countries in world, continental, or regional tournaments. Teams playing in these competitions also have their home, away, goalie, and even third kits.

Among the top tournaments where players wear these kits are the World Cup and other famous continental tournaments such as the Copa América or the Uefa European Championship.

 

Local collectors

In Sarawak, dedicated football-shirt collectors would jump at every opportunity to buy their favourite jerseys. Some buy only outfits of their favourite clubs while others prefer rare or collector’s items regardless of which clubs they represent.

For Andy Yeo, a well-known football-shirt collector in Kuching, his passion stems from his support of the English Club Manchester United. He would do anything to get his hands on the shirt of the club.

“I first followed MU in the late 1990s and early 2000s after they won a historical treble of titles – English Premier League, English FA Cup, and Uefa Champions League in 1999.

Andil holds a pair of Liverpool’s 2010-11 home shirts, which are among his prized possessions.

“For me, they play the brand of football I like. Watching the team in action brings me a lot of joy. Because of that, I want to share my passion as an avid MU fan,” the 42-year-old enthused.

Yeo shows his support for the club by buying their shirts. For him, wearing MU colours brings him a sense of belonging. And as an out-and-out fan, he doesn’t mind being seen wearing the famous Red Devils jersey.

Although a staunch Manchester United fan, Yeo also collects the shirts of other clubs as his favourite MU players such as David Beckham have played for other teams.

“When Beckham moved to clubs such as Real Madrid of Spain, LA Galaxy of the US, AC Milan of Italy, and Paris Saint-Germain of France, I started collecting the shirts of these clubs with his name emblazoned across it. For me, Beckham will always be associated with Manchester United and he will always be my favourite player,” he said.

Buying the shirts of the famous clubs has allowed Yeo to help his friends obtain the shirts of their favourite clubs too. Many Kuching collectors recognise his ready help to get football fans in the city the shirts they are looking for.

Collecting football shirts over the years had led to Yeo opening a football jersey shop in 2005.

To his loyal customers, he is known as the football shirt expert, specialising in jerseys of clubs based in Europe.

“I never really thought what started as a hobby would turn out to be a full-time profession. I could go on doing this forever as this is my No. 1 passion,” he said.

Andil, wearing a Liverpool home shirt, stands in front of his collection of football shirts.

Liverpool fan

As for another football-shirt fan, Alvin Andil Kullin, from Lingit, Spaoh, Betong, his love of English Club – Liverpool FC – is the main reason why he became a football jersey collector.

The 28-year-old’s passionate support for Liverpool, which also happens to be Manchester United’s arch-rival, has given him something to be happy about doing like collecting the jerseys of the famous Merseyside team.

The collection of his Liverpool shirts are his and the family’s pride. He too would do anything to get hold of Liverpool jerseys. And like Yeo, he also buys the shirts of other clubs.

Andil also loves wearing the shirts of football clubs around the world – for instance Everton FC, another English football club based in the port city of Liverpool.

“For me, these shirts are either collectors’ items, reminding me of the important moments in football or simply unique in their designs or rare items,” he explained.

He cited the home shirts of Liverpool’s 2020 Premier League winning side as his favourite, saying they reminded him of the Club’s outstanding achievements.

The home kit worn by Liverpool in their 2019 Uefa Champions League victory is another favourite.

He said as a Liverpool supporter from his childhood days, these shirts were a must-have for all the club’s fans.

Yeo and Andil are the typical diehard football fans in Malaysia. With the game being the most followed worldwide nowadays, it’s no wonder there are passionate collectors of football shirts like the duo.

Andil wearing an away Liverpool shirt, while holding the jersey of the England national team (left) and that of the English club Blackburn Rovers.

Knowledge of the game

While Malaysians generally accept football standards in Asia are lower than that of Europe where football leagues attract the world’s best, it doesn’t mean fans of the game from Sarawak such as Yeo and Andil are not knowledgeable about the game outside the country, especially in Europe. And it follows that with their love for European football comes their passion for collecting football shirts of the continental clubs.

Like many of their Southeast Asian counterparts, most Malaysian football fans follow the European game such as the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, or even Germany’s Bundesliga, more closely than their own local league – the Liga Super Malaysia.

Yeo’s extensive collection of football shirts with his favourite player Beckham’s name printed on them.

This has given football-shirt sellers around the world the opportunity to market their commodities in Southeast Asia where fans are as passionate about the European teams as the fans from the continent.

Apart from Yeo and Andil, there are also Sarawakians who know more about football outside Malaysia than the game in the country itself.

Some say seeing the shirts of famous foreign clubs and researching the teams that wear them prior to buying the jerseys has contributed to such a trend.

The buying and selling of football shirts have proven to be an avenue for showing one’s passion for the game, regardless of where one comes from or the specific reason why the game should be loved.

For ardent fans such as Yeo and Andil, there is no obstacle to being passionate about football, no matter how one chooses to show it or whether one plays the game or not.