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The Pied Piper of Kashgar

A little tale of how Phil became The Pied Piper of Kashgar for a day

The Pied Piper of Kashgar
Phil leads the children, or are they following him?

In which we get lost, and Phil finds a chance to practice his goalkeeping skills.

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On a particularly windy day in the desert, we decided to go for a walk to find an internet cafe which was rumoured to have a copy of Photoshop. I thought it would mean I could upload and edit some photos without the customary difficulties we’ve experienced here in China. It turned out to be another wild goose chase, but resulted in a charming incident in the backstreets of old Kashgar…

As the wind picked up and the dust and sand began to blow, shopkeepers scrambled to save their awnings from being torn down and fruit-sellers tried (sometimes in vain) to save their wares from making their own way down the street, we decided to duck into a narrow alleyway to escape the mayhem and save our eyes from any more punishment.

What we found, when we rounded the first corner, was football rolling towards us. We followed the side alley which the ball had come from, and discovered a windstill spot where a bunch of Uyghur children were playing keep-up. Phil, naturally, could not resist joining in.

Phil organises the kids
Phil trys to organise the kids

His attempts to get the children to play by some form of rules amused me no end as I stood at the sidelines with my camera, filming the proceedings. One of the older children, dressed in his new Brazil shirt seemed the most appreciative of Phil’s attempts, but the younger ones were far too excited by the ‘long noses’ to listen to his instructions.

Eventually, and after much fussing, a penalty shoot-out began to take shape. Phil took the lead by going in goal, but the barrage of balls that came his way was too much for him to withstand, and he eventually ceded to Brazil-clad lad.

Phil in goal
Phil in “goal”

After much screaming and shouting and general merriment, we decided to see how things were progressing out in the street, and began to make our way there. At this point, Phil realised that we had not got any signatures on the ball, as we always did when we played with people, and he asked the kids to sign the ball. It turned out that it was only Brazil-lad who could write, so it was he who left his mark.

Brazilian Uyghur signs The Ball
Brazilian Uyghur signs The Ball

When we finally tried to leave, the children held on to us, trying to prevent us from doing so, but we struggled free of their clutches and began to make our way back down the alley from where we had arrived. Or so we thought. After a couple of wrong turnings, we found ourselves in a dead-end, much to the amusement of the posse of kids who were now persistently following us.

We backtracked, hoping to find our way out of the disorientating warren, simultaneously realising that the children were only too happy to let us wander around looking for the exit. I became convinced that Phil, now that he had impressed the children with is footballing prowess, would be trailed by them for the rest of the day – a situation he actually seemed quite at ease with.

There’s no real ending to this story – we did find our way out of the maze, the children didn’t seem to want to stray too far from home, and the wind had abated when we emerged into the street. But for a moment there, I was captivated by the image of the musical footballing guru and his following of children in the ancient alleyways of Kashgar.

Perhaps football, despite its undoubted attractions, does not have quite the same entrancing magic as music. But then, if that’s the case, why am I crossing the greatest landmass on Earth to see a few games at the World Cup? What kind of spell am I under?

Written by on Sunday, May 5th, 2002

2 comments on this post

  1. The Dalai Lama May 17, 2002 at 11:19 am

    Find the windstill spot in your mind, Chris, and meditate on this magic of which you speak.

  2. I hear you, but not the wind… am I there yet?

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The Ball 2018 left England on 25th March 2018 and travelled to the World Cup in Russia.

The Ball 2014 kicked off from England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in 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.