On a trip through South East Asia in early 2017, photographer Orlando Gili was astounded at the following of European and Premiership football teams in Myanmar. He was intimately familiar with the domestic game, due to his ongoing collaborative FA Cup reportage series with fellow documentary photographer Joseph Fox. Now he began to see familiar kits in even the most rural spots.
“I would be out in the middle of nowhere and there would be someone wearing a Real Madrid top,” says Gili, who has gathered his shots into a collection titled Manchester to Mandalay. “It wasn’t just one or two people; it was a big thing to support a European football team.”
The shots of these familiar shirts, in an unfamiliar context, simultaneously express closeness and distance. Football is a language that supporters can share, whether or not they have the same mother tongue.
“Football is so universal that you can support the same teams no matter where you are in the world,” says Gili. “When I arrived in Mandalay, my taxi driver was speaking in broken English, but when I said I could see Stamford Bridge from my old house he went nuts.”
“What started as local football teams have become global,” says Gili. “There were some kits that kept cropping up; Manchester United and Chelsea were probably the most popular.” However, the series shows a range of supporters, from a boy wearing an FC Barcelona shirt, to Gili’s favourite shot: a portrait of a young man wearing an Inter Milan shirt and gazing out to the sky.
Gili’s series encapsulates the astonishing impact of globalisation within the modern world. Things that we understood to be common to us may now be just as common in rural corners of Myanmar. Although perhaps not the half-time pie and pint.