Surprise Shirts - Shirt of the Week - Melaka United 2022 Third
Right, after last week’s stopover back in Britain, we’re on the road again.
And it’s been some journey, 10,000 or so miles away from home, we’ve travelled to Malaysia to pick out this week’s kit. It’s bold, it’s out there and it’s vibrant, it’s everything you want from a surprise shirt.
Oil spills are in. That’s the consensus in the world of football shirts anyway, we’ve already seen manufacturing giants Nike try their hand at this approach with Spurs’ away shirt last season, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue into the future.
Forget stripes, hoops, or sashes, this nebulous blending of colours that swirl around each other at random is as trippy as it is eye-catching. It’s tie-die on steroids. It’s the future of shirt design. And when you add in, as Melaka has done, a bold, neon trim and you end up with a Cyberpunk style, if not totally bonkers football shirt.
Contrast this with the club and city of Malacca itself and the result is certainly unique. The city, named after the Malacca tree - which in one school of Buddhist thought was said to be capable of bringing enlightenment - is bursting with so much history it's been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And that tree is the same one you’ll see on Melaka United’s crest. Sprouting out from the football beneath it, in its original green and white colours it looks like a badge straight from Middle Earth. So in this revamped, neon green style, the merger of the past and the future is so visible, and so exciting.
Approaching its 100-year anniversary, 98-year-old Melaka United is the prominent football club in the city. Their historic homeland sits on the Malacca straight, connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans, and is one of the world’s most important shipping routes.
Because of Malaysia’s relatively late development in the world of professional football, the club has spent most of its life competing in amateur and semi-professional competitions. Winning the second-ever season of national competition in the country during 1983, they built on that just a few years later, becoming just the second club from the country to perform on the continental stage in the 1986 Asian Club Championship.
And as football in the country crawled through its adolescent years, the top division shifted from amateur to semi-professional before reaching footballing maturity and became a fully-fledged, full-time league in 1994. United would yo-yo between the first and second tiers in the decade that followed, and when privatization of the first division came in 2004, they missed out on securing a place in the new Malaysian Super League.
Since the early days of the new top flight, Melaka has managed only lower league triumphs mixed in with some short stints at the top level, but we can’t help but wonder what they could’ve built had they not missed out on those formative years in the Super League.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, after their latest ascent to the top in 2017, United steadied the ship and achieved multiple mid-table finishes in the Super League. It’s a foundation to build on, but hardly fitting for a club representing one of the country’s most important coastal cities.
They deserve more, and the 2022 season was another chance to achieve that.
Risto Vidaković, a Bosnian with one cap for the Yugoslavian national team would be in the dugout at the start of the new campaign. A man who had won three consecutive Philippian league titles not so long ago, there were whispers of optimism around the 40,000 seater Hang Jebat Stadium.
But after just four games, with his team languishing in 11th place and struggling to find the back of the net, Vidaković was relieved of his duties. The mantle was now handed to Asri Ninggal, and with it, the unenviable task of keeping this club in the top division. But with a new manager bounce and some exciting, attacking football, Melaka hauled themselves out of the relegation zone.
And as they hovered above throughout the season, they picked up enough points to have one hand on survival, keeping themselves out of the red as the season’s climax approached. Until a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Selangor FA, - interestingly the first team from Malaysia to play continental football - hammered them down into the relegation zone.
Truthfully the die was cast in this defeat, only a drastic upturn in form would be enough to save them now. Glimpses of this would come in their remaining games, but never for long enough to achieve a result, and Melaka finished the season in 10th, 8 points from safety.
So now, with little choice, Melaka United must rebuild. Shifting deadwood and bringing in fresh blood, if this club is to ever achieve the on-pitch success that their city deserves, they’ll have to build from the ground up.
But hey, who doesn’t love an underdog story?
Written by @ZacWelshman1