Sascha Duerkop is a football shirt collector who owns over 500 national team shirts. In ‘Shirt stories’ he recounts the tales of five of his prized possessions.

The Madagascar national team used to be one of the weakest of all African nations throughout most of footballing history. They had never qualified for any tournament that required qualification before 2019. And then, last year, surprisingly, the Barea, as the team is nicknamed, made it to the Africa Cup of Nations and won the hearts of neutrals by topping their group ahead of Nigeria and Guinea.

After kicking out the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Round of 16, Tunisia toppled them 3-0 in the quarter finals of the tournament, but they officially went from being one of the worst teams on the continent to be amongst the top eight. The fourth largest island in the world became the African version of Iceland’s recent successes in European football.

With their recent fame and glory, you might think that a Madagascar shirt is now easy to obtain – and you are right. While the shirt supplier, Italian brand Garman, saw no need to open an online shop, several resellers, including Classic Football Shirts, the market leader, quickly got them in stock and served the increased appetite to dress like a Barea.

Madagascar's players celebrates after scoring their second goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
Madagascar’s players celebrates after scoring their second goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Before this recent success, however, Madagascar was treated as all African national teams outside the top 10. They had no shirt sponsorship, but were given the most horrible and basic templates Adidas could find in the most remote corner of their warehouse. Any British Sunday League club got more attention from the sports apparel industry. Subsequently, Adidas had no interest in marketing replicas of a struggling national team. If you watch footage of the Madagascar national team playing in the 90s, you won’t find a single fan wearing a replica shirt, as they simply were never on sale anywhere, including Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

For a collector that meant having to find someone close to the team and getting an actual player’s shirt. I took on the challenge and chatted to most of the Madagascar national team players of the 2000s and 2010s, several coaches, the German ambassador to Madagascar and a German blogger living in Antananarivo.

While getting acquainted with more and more Malgasy, I made amazing and unexpected contacts. The general secretary of the FA, for example, was also the head of the Chamber of Commerce and was working with his German counterpart to establish an exchange of skilled workers. I helped him translate several documents from French (which I could only understand thanks to Google Translate) to decent German. We almost met once, but he sadly missed his train to Cologne. He sent me a shirt years later, when he finally could get hold of one, but that is another story.

The highest profile player I spoke to at the time was called Mamisoa Razafindrakoto. By highest profile, I mean that he was the captain of the national team at the time we started chatting, but was virtually unknown to anyone outside of Madagascar and never made it to a league abroad.

In Madagascar, though, Mamisoa is a legend even now and goes by the nickname “Sacred Mam”. These days he helps young players to grow into semi-pros or full professionals. He has the most national caps for the Barea – 59.

While we chatted, he told me the story of how his career almost ended prematurely back in 2002, which I think deserves to be better known. He was the captain of SO l’Emyrne and led his team in the 2002 Championship play-offs in Madagascar. This was a four-team round-robin system in which his team tried to defend its league title. In the penultimate game, however, SO l’Emyrne felt robbed by the referee, who gave a late penalty to their opponents. As a protest, Razafindrakoto orchestrated it so that his team did the only logical thing in the last, now meaningless match – scoring 149 own goals in protest!

The fans were enraged and wanted their money back, while Razafindrakoto and three other players were banned from entering a stadium for the rest of the season. The Madagascan FA was dissolved by the Sports Minister, but later reformed. The match is, to date, the highest score in football history.

A few weeks after telling me this story, Razafindrakoto sent me one of his match-worn shirts, worn in one of the rare victories Madagascar had at the time – an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Gaborone, Botswana. He even signed it for me, making it one of the most special in my collection which always reminds me of the bizarre and yet remarkable history of a man with an infeasibly long name playing the beautiful game on an Indian Ocean island nation.

[Read more: Shirt stories: Why I collected 500 national football shirts]
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