One ball's journey to the World Cup
Spirit of Football
Yet another new regular feature for FFT.com - and certainly the first to be written by an Africa-bound spheroid...
Some footballs are used to preparing for long trips. It normally means getting towelled down by Stoke City's Rory Delap before being missiled into the opponent's box.
I, on the other hand, am on a 10,000-mile journey that will see me kicked, dribbled and juggled by Spirit of Football all the way to the World Cup as football’s equivalent of the Olympic Torch.
On my way to the opening ceremony in South Africa I’ll be taking in 24 countries and will meet lots of interesting people, taking part in organised and impromptu kickabouts with locals.
I also hope to roll in and say hello to Bernard Ongera in Kenya – the man who made me. Bernard works for Alive & Kicking, a social enterprise employing adults there and in Zambia to make handsome sports balls like me that are given to African children in refugee camps, orphanages and schools who have nothing to play with.
I was chosen for this epic adventure because I was the 250,000th ball produced by Alive & Kicking. I can’t wait to see Bernard again and tell him about my adventures.
When we said goodbye he wished me luck and, ever the professional, bounced me on the floor several times for one last check to make sure I was definitely ready.
My journey to the World Cup officially began on a cold morning in Battersea Park. This is where football as we know it started in 1864 with the first game played to the FA's first set of rules.
FEATURE: Football's Olympic torch sets off for Africa
To celebrate this and the beginning of our incredible expedition I was used in a football game of three halves. Yes, three halves. The first had no rules and provided an entertaining free-for-all on the pitch, much to the delight of the spectators.
The second half was played under the first set of FA rules and at least resembled a game of football. The last half was played with today’s modern rules, although I’m not sure how many of those present understood and could explain the offside rule as it now exists and all that passive and active nonsense.
To paraphrase the late, great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, “If he’s not active and interfering with play what is he doing on the pitch?” Eh?
The two teams dressed as Victorians for the occasion, proving you don't need to put out your pipe to enjoy a game of football. The game went well, apart than the odd wag claiming the referee needed a monocle.
For the next leg of my journey Dan Magness from the Freestyle Football Federation took me on a world record attempt for the longest distance covered keeping a football off the ground.
I said I didn't know Graham Taylor was back managing England. Turns out he meant doing keepy-uppys through London, visiting all five Premier League grounds. And there I was thinking Arsene Wenger's hopes of staying in the title race were optimistic.
Once we were off I quickly realised that Dan's pretty handy with a football. Yes, we took a six-mile detour when we got lost on our way to White Hart Lane for the Spurs-Fulham game, but you try and make sense of a London A to Z when you’ve been juggling a ball since eight in the morning.
I was very proud when Dan broke the record covering 36 miles in 14 hours. I can't think of anyone else capable of keeping me air bound over 100,000 consecutive times whilst negotiating London’s streets, its traffic and tourists.
Dan's record - click to watch Sky News report
After helping Dan set his new world record it was off to Belgium – Brussels to be more precise, home city of 29-times Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht. Moroccan international midfielder Mbark Boussoufa practised his free-kicks with me out on the pitch of the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.
He's the first of many young Africans whose skills I will enjoy testing in the coming months. Mbark has a nice touch, much better than those cloggers in Battersea.
I'm not alone on this trip. Andrew and Sven from the Spirit of Football are with me. We're using Sven's Lancia for some of the journey.
I hope they're not expecting me to bring any mechanic skills to the table. They've made this kind of pilgrimage to the last two World Cups in Japan and Germany. They're clearly mad. Next stop Amsterdam.
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Typo, I think: the first game in Battersea Park was in 1864.
Thanks, haystack - corrected.
Good luck to them!
The Alive & Kicking link doesn't seem to work on this blog, but you can see how they make footballs for African children here www.aliveandkicking.org.uk
Get 'Battersea', 'Belgium' or 'Balls' embroidered on your 2010 England World Cup iHoody and support the lads down Africa way!
Striking design, quality in the box and sound in defence against cool summer evenings, THE top to be seen in supporting England through the World Cup.
Coming soon to..
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