Today FSM welcomed its 10,000th visitor to the website, an important milestone for the four of us who have been working together on this project since July 2016. Having said that, a spiritual healer once told me that we all have our own path through life, and whilst some people accelerate out of the starting blocks the fastest, others take the more scenic trail before they get to where they want to be. The point being that the numbers are nice accolades to accept, but these are just part and parcel of the longer journey ahead.
Our thirst for shirt hunting which inspired us to start the company has not abated since, and even though the bulk of deals now take place with established suppliers, we still do love the odd rarity. I was in Cyprus with James (yes, he is the guy who writes those ‘hilarious’ fantasy football updates) in October 2017, on the shores of Paphos to be precise. The island is still divided along deeply rooted ethnic and cultural lines, with Greek Cypriots able to trace their origins back to the Byzantine era. Football is as much a daily staple of their lives as Moussaka, with the presence of a First Division which sees their sides regularly feature on the European stage.
The most popular team on the island is APOEL Nicosia* (fans of Athletic Bilbao will know all too well), who have a total of 26 domestic titles to their name. Despite Nicosia being a fair distance from Paphos, the unwavering support for the team known simply as Thrylos (“The Legend”) is evident everywhere in the town. You can find two shirts from the 2016/17 season on the website, featuring the names of two club legends themselves. Born in Nicosia, captain Nectarios Alexandrou has enjoyed a longstanding association with APOEL since 2000, while vice-captain Felipe Morais has made over 450 appearances for the side.
Next on our list was a trip to Prague a month later. Being the football hipsters that we are, a trip to the “City of a Hundred Spires” was inspired by a Prague derby no less, but not the one on everyone’s lips. Slavia were of course the home team, and the away team were… Dukla… you mean the club which featured seven players of the silver medal winning Czechoslovakia side of the 1962 World Cup? Yep, that’s the one. Unfortunately being the neutrals that we were, a resounding 5-0 victory for Slavia did little to vindicate our choice of fixture. Despite this, we were able to soak in the surroundings of the impressive Eden Arena, a 21,000 capacity stadium which is the largest in the Czech Republic. On the website you’ll be able to pick up a Miroslav Stoch jersey from the 2017/18 season; the Slovakian has already endeared himself to the Slavia ultras by joining in with terrace chants of "Smrt Spartě" ("Death to Sparta") following a fixture in September last year. Maybe we were vindicated in our choice of fixture after all.
Last but by no means least, our footballing ventures led us to Asturias, Spain earlier this year. The region is centred on two cities, Oviedo and Gijon, both of which basically lay claim to being better than the other. Oviedo is a cultural gem, containing a very rich architectural history with many buildings dating back to the early medieval period. Gijon on the other hand is the industrial powerhouse of the region, an important exporter of coal and iron from Asturian mines, whilst it also has a busy fishing industry.
The Asturian derby between Real Oviedo and Sporting Gijon is among one of the most heated in Spanish football. With the two sides having met for the first time in 14 years at Sporting’s El Molinon stadium earlier in the season, local bragging rights were very much on offer for the return fixture in February. Real Oviedo are a club which last played in the top tier of Spanish football in 2001, and you wonder why looking at their set-up. The 30,500 seater Carlos Tartiere stadium is stunning, and the only problem with it is that it isn’t being graced by Lionel Messi et al. in La Liga. From an hour before kick-off to well after full-time, this cathedral was a chorus of noise as Oviedo sealed a hard fought 2-1 victory against their bitter rivals. Despite rooting for the home team on the day, it must be recognised that both Asturian clubs deserve to be playing at the highest level. With Sporting Gijon leading the pack at the moment in the Segunda Division, it would take a fool to bet against that happening - let’s hope Oviedo can join them too. Check out the website to find Real Oviedo striker Toche’s jersey, along with that of Sporting fullback Roberto Canella.
Although the hiatus in our shirt hunting efforts is now here, I extend a warm welcome to the next 10,000 of you!
*That’s “Αθλητικός Ποδοσφαιρικός Όμιλος Ελλήνων Λευκωσίας”, “Athletikos Podosferikos Omilos Ellinon Lefkosias”, or just "Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia" for the anoraks out there.