The Ball 2002 is kicked over the Great Wall of China on its way to Korea & Japan

Archive for May, 2002

From the Heart of Football to the Seoul of Football

Seoul welcomes the World
Seoul welcomes the World, and we welcome Seoul

After 7000 miles of being kicked and kissed across Europe and Asia, our Olympic Torch of a ball has made it. With one day to spare…

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Our first stop in Seoul as we step off the bus and get our bearings.

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Weihai ahoy

After reassurances from the Korean Embassy in Beijing that we would have no trouble getting in to Korea, we decided to head for Weihai, ferry gateway to Incheon, Seoul’s port, and to the Opening Ceremony. Since the full story has already been told, I’ll just show the alternative that we contemplated.

A swim beckons
A dawn swim to the East beckons

Actually, more than just contemplated…

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Gotta get out of this prace

Chinese, er, eggs?
Some things just leave a bad taste in the mouth

With only 4 days to go ’til the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup 2002 Japan/Korea, the ball finally reaches the other side of this 7000 mile wide continent. Holy Smoke, the sea air is welcome since our last sniff of English Channel air, the recent soup of Beijing air, oh yeah, and the self inflicted tab smoking. I can hardly believe that Chris, the ball and I, have made it this far and with only a short ferry trip over the Yellow Sea to the start of a month of football heaven in Korea and Japan, to go. So flicking through the Weidong Ferry Co. brochure we decide to treat ourselves to a Royal Class cabin for the 17 hour ride. “Not so fast, oh World Cup travellers….

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Doing the Locomotion

Chinese Train

So how does the ball and the FLH team cover the huge distances they have travelled across mainland China? The answer is the excellent Chinese rail network and its fleet of sleeper carriages.

Buying a ticket at a Chinese train ticket office is initially a challenge. There is no Roman alphabet in sight and staff often speak little or no English. The first step is to find out the Chinese characters for your destination of choice…

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Mao Say Do

The Ball takes over the Square
The Ball takes over the Square

The Ball found a quick visit to Tianamen Square irresistable, though it seemed like a place in which it would not be made welcome, despite China’s qualification for the World Cup finals for the first time this year. It decided to head onwards very quickly…

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The Ball bounces from Xian through Tiananmen Square to the Chinese coast and onwards to Korea.

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However, before it could roll onwards, the intrepid travellers conceded a goal to time in Beijing… the Forbidden City was forbidden by time-constraints as we struggled to arrange the final leg of our journey by surface, photocopying, typing letters, visiting embassies and writing emails. We got our trip description translated into Korean, and wondered what on earth it now says – it’s been “Chinese whispered” from English through Russian and Chinese into Korean. Well, here it is…

Korean Trip Description

The Ball is stolen and retrieved

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Yes, we very nearly lost The Ball in Xian. Our worst nightmare narrowly avoided.

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Outside the Terracota Army near Xi’an (where I launched a beautiful free kick over a wall of imitation statues) there are many tourist-tat-traders / thieves. We were surrounded quickly, our pockets felt and as always the Ball received much attention. This warrior couldn’t resist a touch:

Click here to download the MPEG clip with warrior’s kick and celebration dance

Shortly afterwards, as our attentions were bombarded with diversions, I noticed the ball gone…

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Warrior on!

Terracotta Army! Make some noise!

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As we move onwards into China proper, we wonder what kind of defensive tactics the terracotta warriors will use to try and stop us getting through.

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Xi’an provided us with a day’s break between Xiahe and Beijing, and, of course, the classic photo-opportunity of playing football in and amongst the Terracotta Army.

Spot the player
Spot the player

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We’ve moved on…

…to Xi’an and deep into Han territory, heartland of the Chinese majority and the terracotta army.

The Ball rolls onwards
The Ball rolls onwards

To my surprise, we’ve found a hospitable, vibrant and cosmopolitan city full of life and colour. And, as always seems to be the case, the individual people are peace-loving and friendly, despite my preconceptions derived from my experiences with Uyghur and Tibetan folk. Perhaps it is only collectively that we discriminate so cruelly against one another.

Anyway, the mission for tomorrow is to secure boat tickets to Korea from the CITS, see the sculpted warriors, and catch our onward train to Beijing – for which we only have hard seat tickets. I pray that we can get upgrades to a sleeper carriage when we get on the train.

And (at 3.30am) so to bed…

Monky Business

Gonpo, our Xiahe manager
Gonpo our Tibetan manager

Meeting in the Labrang Monastery Restaurant with English speaking Gonpo, after a morning spent designing possible signs for their front door (with all the spelling mistakes of course, well, would we?)

Yes yes game with the monks will be good. Turn to three young monks, big smiles all round. Right, so tomorrow on the Tibetan middle school pitch 6 o’clock yeah, grin, yeah. Woah, hold it, not so fast, fourth monk say different, gonpo listens. What can he be saying? The mood has fallen. They cannot play here, they will be seen by concerned elder monks (see political comment here), the grasslands will be better. For the love of Jesus Dalai Lama Christ ‘n’ football ‘n’ life on this competitive road, let’s do it. Agree, agree. Our third game in as many days at 3000 metres. Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole, ole.

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After many attempts to play a game of football with the monks, we arrange to play at a secret location in the grasslands.

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Well, secret from the authorities it was, we and they then bigged it up in a beautiful exchange of rules, tackles and yet again, this beautiful game…

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Chanting in the rain

Rain in Xiahe threatens the game
Rain in Xiahe threatens to drown our plans

The second of our games in Xiahe was played against the Tibetan Middle School team. It seemed touch-and-go whether it would take place, as the first rain that we had seen since Kazakhstan came pouring out of the sky and on to the pitch. Undeterred, the school team turned out in force to face the tourists, now bolstered by Rob’s arrival from London and Tim’s reappearance from Jiayuguan.

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We had no idea what to expect from Gonpo’s advert.

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At first we thought that we would be playing a combined monks-and-others team as we had the previous day, but politics intervened…

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The Ball 2014 left England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.