Surprise Shirts - Shirt of the Week - Udon Thani 2021 Home
Staying in Asia this week, we’ve headed over to Thailand.
North-western Thailand to be specific, as we take a look at Udon Thani FC’s 2021 home shirt.
With one of the best nicknames in world football, The Orange Giants have left subtlety at the door with this bold, fluorescent-orange home strip. But it’s not for no reason that they’ve chosen this outlandish colour scheme, Udon embraced regional traditions and took inspiration from the orange flag of the Udon Thani province when deciding on their home colours.
Aside from the bright orange, one of the most noticeable things about this kit is the main sponsor. Because if you spent any time watching Premier League football between 2004 and 2017, the logo of Thai beer company Chang will be permanently etched into your mind. From Thomas Gravesen to Kevin Mirallas, Everton’s 13-year association with Chang is one of footballing nostalgia’s greatest hits.
But this shirt has more to it than just faint memories of when the Toffees were actually good, it’s a brilliant little number in its own right. The rippled design gives the different shades precedence across the front of the shirt and turns this from a kit that might’ve slipped under the radar into one of understated class.
And the colourway isn’t the only thing UDFC have imported from their regional flag. Their badge, which by the way is our favourite so far, is as terrifying as it is traditional. Clutching his sword and standing fiercely above a flaming banner that bares the club's initials is the Yaksha. A guardian warrior keeping evil spirits at bay, the Yaksha can be seen in temples throughout Thailand and features on the provincial seal of Udon Thani. Not many football crests are genuinely intimidating, but this one just might be.
A club on the move, Udon Thani FC has had three different homes in their 23-year existence. Constantly groundhopping, they’ve jumped between 7,000, 3,500, and 10,000 seater stadiums seemingly at random.
And this isn’t the only thing that gives this club an air of informality. Because in 2005, just six years after their formation, they didn’t even enter the league system. Only ending their self-enforced hiatus four years later in 2009 as they reentered the Thai footballing pyramid.
But returning to the fold meant rebuilding. And it was a rebuild that meant as they sought to carve out their own identity and build their history, they had to do so against clubs that had already done that, playing teams with established fanbases and infrastructures.
But one quirk that Udon can already point to as part of their identity is a love of foreign players. Unlike most lower-league clubs the world over, Udon sources much of its talent from beyond the shores of its homeland. From Serbian strike partners Miloš Stojanović and Milan Bubalo to an English winger in Tom Bolarinwa and a bunch of Brazilians, Udon has already built a name for itself as a hostel of football, a stopover for journeymen the world over.
And that eclectic mix of nationalities has seen the club start on the path toward success. After re-entering Thai football in the third division, they plugged away, slowly rising up the table season after season before ascending to the second tier in 2018. They’ve remained there ever since, again seeking to steadily build on their foundations each year in search of promotion.
So how have this latest group of ragtag free transfers fared in 2022?
Kicking off their campaign in the humid, muggy grip of Thailand’s monsoon season, mid-August is the time of year when you won’t see as many gap-year trippers or nomadic ex-pats prowling this idyllic country in search of a spiritual fix. But for the people of Thailand, life goes on, and when life goes on, so does football.
So with optimism aplenty, manager Akbar Nawas and his array of misfits began their season at home to Uthai Thani. But come full-time, the heavy clouds that hung over the stadium and bought the promise of rain would be the least of his concerns. The opening day had ended in a 4-2 defeat, a defeat that would be emblematic of their form to come.
That’s right, no redemption story this week, UDFC has been up against it this season. After their opening-day defeat, they would record another five consecutive losses before finally putting points on the board. Kasetsart FC would be the surprise losers in game week seven, falling victim to the solemn bright spark in Udon’s season so far, travelling French forward, 34-year-old Greg Houla. Making Udon his 14th club in July 2022, a communal sigh of relief would ring around the Udon Thani Campus Stadium after his game-winning hat-trick.
We meant it when we said no redemption story, though. Because that victory would only stem the flow. Six consecutive defeats followed after it, and as we approach the midway point of the season, Udon sits rock bottom of the table, eight points from safety.
They’ll have to start picking up points sooner rather than later if they’re to survive. Still, by the time this post goes out, they’ll have played against fellow relegation contenders Ranong United and depending on the result, might have just given themselves a smidge of hope.
So have a look, if they’ve won, your newest shirt might become a timeless symbol of one of football’s greatest ever escape stories. And if they haven’t, well it looks pretty brilliant, doesn’t it?