We left that afternoon for Amsterdam with two passengers in The Golf Ball: Manuel (a VFB Stuttgart fan) and Antonio (an actor from Spain and a big fan of FC Sevilla) who found Sven’s offer of a ride on the German travel portal Mitfahrgelegenheit. The two lads were educated in the way of The Ball and both took pleasure in kicking and signing it en route to Amsterdam. Olé, Olé Olé Olé.
Amsterdam. Ohhhh Amsterdam. It was so good to see you again and such a shame to leave a few days later. I lived in The Dam for 8 months in 2000-2001. It was an orange time. Euro 2000. The Dutch were hosting and the town was in total football fever: orange hanging from every window. It is without question the city have most enjoyed living in. Many thanks to our wonderful partner, the Goethe-Institut for putting us up for a few nights in the German Seamen’s Mission in Keisersgracht in central Amsterdam.
On Friday, we travelled with our partner Rainer Manke, Language Director of the Goethe-Institut in Amsterdam, to Leiden. In Leiden, we led a workshop for motivated youths from the Leonardo Da Vinci Sports School. We presented Spirit of Football in one of their state-of-the-art classrooms. We talked about previous journeys, introduced the 2010 journey through video and music — and interacted with the pupils and found out what “the spirit of football” meant to them.
After the education session we headed to their indoor gymnasium to play football with The Ball. Similar to the kick-off in Battersea Park, we played football using the 1864 rules. It was not so easy to play with these rules in a small confined PE gym. Interestingly, the kids managed to figure out the new old rules much quicker than us adults did at Battersea Park a few days ago. The second half was a more traditional game of football.
That evening Rainer invited us to dinner at his home in Amsterdam. We were treated to bulgogi by his lovely Korean wife. Discussions that evening turned to the role football can play in the classroom. Henrietta, a German teacher in Leiden and Rainer, the language expert from the Goethe-Institut, gave us some positive feedback. They had both been astounded by how the kids had responded to the lesson. They saw that football offers a real opportunity to engage youths and then to explore other topics like geography and history. Sven talked about German history through football, referring back to 1954, 1974 and 1990 — the years Germany was world champion and the social and political situation in Germany at those times.
This lesson was a valuable first for us, as, on our long and bumpy road to South Africa, we have up to 25 school visits. These visits offer us the chance to engage with young people from diverse cultural backgrounds; to discuss football and the world with them; to teach them something and to learn many more things from them. As we were leaving the school in Leiden we were stopped by a group of teenagers who are learning dance, with very little prompting they agreed to an impromptu dance performance with The Ball. Football, music, culture, geography, history, dance, art… they all come together when one talks about The Ball.
In the early evening I hooked up with Holland’s most famous freestyler Abdellah. He’s an Algerian street football performer. He told me that he loves to play around with people. He is not purely a performer, his love of interaction is what drives him. His performances combine playing football in short sided games, juggling his football with others and including all kinds of passers by in the action. He hurt his hand recently and could not show off his famous lamp-post routine: Normally he juggles his ball with all parts of his body without dropping it… all while he free-climbs a lamp-post. From the top of the lamp-post, he dangles acrobatically, always in control of the ball. Abdullah: world famous in Holland.
The Golf Ball made quick work of the journey from Brugge to Brussels and before we knew it we were meeting with the Belgian FA’s press spokesperson and finding out about Belgium’s colonial football links to Africa, the importance of African footballers in Belgium football and the Belgium and Holland’s joint World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022.
Next stop was the working class suburb of Anderlecht and a visit to Royal Sports Club Anderlecht, Belgium’s most successful football club. We were fortunate enough to be granted an audience with the Anderlecht head coach, Ariel Jacobs, who gave us a wonderful insight into the Belgian football scene.
We found out about a 16-year-old local lad Romelu Lukaku, of Congolese descent, who is suddenly the biggest talent in Belgian football and wanted by top clubs across Europe (Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid for example). The club makes sure he stays in school — they drive him to school every morning, pick him up every afternoon and offer private lessons to cover for any classes missed due to training or away game travel. The lad has his feet on the ground, has his friends around him and is kept away from some of the dangers that top young players across Europe face.
The Ball, in an exclusive interview, told us that it would like to see other big clubs following this youth policy. The Ball hopes to speak to the EU about this upon its return from South Africa in July.
During a quiet moment, we were shown into the stadium itself by brand manager Bert Van Der Auwera, where we had a kickabout on Anderlecht’s hallowed turf with none other than Mbark Boussoufa, the Moroccan international star.
RSC Andelecht works on several innovative youth projects with the EU, including the Double Club initiative whereby youths from Belgium go to a school in London connected to Arsenal FC to learn a specifically designed football English language programme and vice-versa. The Ball thinks that football can be a hook for youngsters to learn other languages and about other cultures and people.
For this enlightened view of how to conduct the business of football — and also because of the unexpectedly warm welcome we received — both Sven and I became fans of Anderlecht.
Olé, Olé Olé Olé!
The Ball’s transport on the first leg of its journey to South Africa is Sven’s Lancia, affectionately called “The Golf Ball” on account of the deep pock-marks left in its bodywork by a particularly severe hailstorm in Leipzig during the last World Cup. With its aerodynamic dents, it should get us quickly and slickly on our way.
The Ball told us in Dover that it wanted to swim to France and we planned to meet it on the beaches of Dunkirk. We originally planned to stay in Dunkirk, but every bed in town was taken by a conference, so we were forced to rethink our plans. A storm was driving in from the Atlantic, rain pelting down, as we pulled up beachfront in The Golf Ball around 7pm with the hood up. We couldn’t see The Ball anywhere, but suddenly — out of nowhere — it bounced straight out of the water and right into the car, soaking wet… boy were we surprised… but we soon dried it off, warmed it up and set off for Brugge.
That evening I snuggled up with The Ball on the top bunk in our room in Charlie’s hostel in central Brugge. Sven had an uneasy night’s sleep on the bottom bunk, somewhat worried about a strange old man from Oostend. We missed our alarm and woke up knowing we had to get to Brussels in a hurry.
As we left Brugge this morning, I was reminded of a brilliant day I’d had in the same city 10 years earlier. That day I witnessed the master — Zinedine Zidane. His outstanding display took France through to the semi-finals of EURO 2000 and eventually to the championship. It was an honour to see him perform live. Olé, Olé Olé Olé! Zidane, Zidane! His amazing first touch and perfect balance make him one of the greatest to have ever played the beautiful game.
Here are a couple of the embeddable videos that we’ve found of Dan’s world record breaking keepie-uppie marathon, which he completed on Tuesday 26th January 2010. If you know of any more, please let us know and we’ll show them here.
“Nice one (mate), good on you son, watch out, be careful, wicked, brilliant, World Record, World Record, coming through, Dan Magness World Record attempt.”
In Erfurt, Germany, at a street football event in October 2009, Dan Magness and the Spirit of Football team hatched a cunning plan. The plan was that Dan Magness would try and break a world record by juggling The Ball 2010 to Dover from London at the start of our 10,000 mile journey to South Africa. That plan changed slightly. No Dover, but across London and stopping at every Premier League football stadium on the way. “No problem mate”, said Dan back then.
Unfortunately, a few days before the record attempt, we were informed that this would not be possible because The Ball 2010 (an Alive & Kicking ball) is not a FIFA-approved ball. If Dan used The Ball it could not be a world record. Not wanting to prevent Dan from getting a world record, we agreed that he use a FIFA-approved ball. We would accompany his world record with our ball, The Ball.
At every club, he would stop, take a rest, give interviews with and juggle The Ball 2010. His juggle would promote The Ball 2010 and its partners Alive & Kicking, Special Olympics as well as the Freestyle Football Federation, who planned and organized the journey. And so, Sven Soederberg and I made our way by tube and foot to Craven Cottage in West London, arriving at 7:40am. Our job, or so we had imagined, was to promote The Ball 2010. Instead we quickly became a part of Dan’s support team.
It must be said that I had little faith that he could actually achieve his goal of juggling a ball for 13.5 hours, 30 miles across London; in winter; starting in the dark; ending in the dark; not being allowed to drop it; keeping it up with his head, his feet, his thighs, his shoulders and his substantial neck, but not with his hands or arms. “No chance. He must be daft.”
Time: 8.00 — 21.30 Tuesday 26th, January 2010
Location: Craven Cottage, Fulham, London, UK
Distance to be covered: more than 30 miles…
Just before we left, I asked him, “Dan, can you do it?”
“No problem mate, eaaaasy.”
Before I knew it, he had begun. The first 200 meters were a sign of things to come: journalists galore, a live TV interview as he juggled along the middle of the road. Before we knew it, we were at Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea and he hadn’t dropped The Ball.
We reached Buckingham Palace where Dan put on a freestyle show for the crowd of Japanese tourists gathered there. “Very good, very good” said one to me as he nodded his head almost in disbelief at Dan’s amazing ball control. Police on horse-back clapped their approval as he sped along side St James’s Park. We arrived at London Bridge at midday. 4 hours into the world record attempt and he hadn’t dropped it, not once.
The feeling amongst us privileged few in his entourage was that something special was happening. By this stage he was all over the news. Dan Wood from the Freestyle Football Federation, was constantly on the phone. His battery went dead. He had to use two other phones in the day. Media, media and more media the story was catching like wild fire.
And Dan’s speed was phenomenal. Every time we stopped (to buy a sandwich or a drink, to give an interview, to have someone sign The Ball or have their picture taken with it), albeit each time only for a matter of seconds, Dan Magness was long gone.
Where is he? Where did he go? There he is.
Then off again, running after him. As the day went on the entourage started to complain of aches and pains. Blisters were appearing, the chatter of the morning turned into long stretches of silence. Dan on the other hand was positive, bright and nearly always upbeat.
As we headed east, more and more people were on the streets. London’s ethnicities began to show themselves, it isn’t called the most diverse city in the world for nothing. The smells of all kinds of Asian foods wafted by, but stopping for a meal was out of the question. “Dan, what would you like to eat.” “Big steak mate, with lots of chips” came the reply.
Ethnicities passed by: English, German, French, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Afro-American, South African, Nigerian, Cameroonian, Egyptian..
In the late afternoon we reached Upton Park, the home of West Ham United. Kids had poured out of schools, the streets started to fill up with more and more people. People from passing cars and busses and waiting at bus stops urged support. Dan was feeling fine. He had nearly dropped The Ball on the way to West Ham. After a long stretch of juggling only with his feet he flicked the ball up to knee and a bit of fatigue set in. He just salvaged it. A close call. But now he was awake again and ready to continue.
The planned route was not possible to follow due to 2012 Olympics construction in East London. We met a dead-end and had to back track. Frustration set in. Doubt surfaced.
The new route was about 4 miles longer than the old. It was obvious that we were not going to make the Tottenham game, where the highlight of the cross-London journey awaited us: We (Dan Magness and I) were going to be introduced to the crowd at half-time. Disaster.
The question was, should Dan Magness stop at Arsenal, having already broken the record (27 miles had been covered) due to the detour? An option was that he could have driven the final 4 miles to Tottenham and been introduced to the crowd (a live international TV Audience of millions) as the man who had just broken a world record. Or should he continue, in the dark, and try to reach his goal of every Premier League club… alone, tired shattered, by now with aching muscles, coated in sweat?
I secretly and selfishly hoped that he would decide to go to Tottenham. To his immense credit, Dan made the bold decision not to give up. “I’ve come this far. There is no effing way I am giving up now. I said every club and I meant it.” In this moment, I could not have had more respect for Dan Magness. This was the sign of a true champion. Despite those around him suggesting he leg it to Tottenham, despite his tiredness, despite the cold and the dark he continued.
And he did it! He proved me wrong — he actually did it! I was right about one thing though: he’s absolutely barking mad.
We arrived over 1 hour later and as the final whistle blew at White Hart Lane his world record was complete… more than 30 miles juggling across London, through crowds, under subway walkways, over horse poo, through narrow walkways, lengthy construction sites, from the relative darkness of a London winters morning through to a cold, crisp dark evening. He did it. And we were there to help him and to bear witness to what he was doing.
Nice one Dan. You are a true legend. And your signature on The Ball, which came at the very end of your journey, is the most endearing story of the spirit of football thus far.
Richard posted some pictures to us from the refugee camp in northern Afghanistan that he’s working in, run by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
He’s been telling everyone there about the journey of The Ball and some of them offered to show their support with messages of good luck written on small banners.
Football is a popular pastime in the camp, where there can be long periods with little to do.
We are hoping to support them in return by sending replicas of The Ball to them, since the ball in the picture above looks a little worse for wear. The Alive & Kicking ball, made as it is for tough playing conditions, should last them a good while longer.
Many congratulations to Dan Magness for breaking the world record for the longest distance covered whilst continuously keeping the ball off the ground. 35 miles across London visiting every Premiership football ground in the process is a truly astonishing feat of endurance and concentration.
I’m not going to lie about this — Dan’s record attempt was meant to be done with The Ball itself, but, at the last minute, the Guinness people informed Dan that the ball would have to be a FIFA-approved ball or the record wouldn’t count. So what happened was that Dan did the record with an adidas Jabulani, whilst promoting The Ball and Alive & Kicking in interviews.
Big respect to Dan for the way he stuck to the story — and stuck to the task. What a legend!
Andrew and Sven walked the entire route with Dan, joined later in the day by Phil. They brought The Ball with them and tried to engage onlookers and passers-by with it. I spoke briefly to Andrew today and both the and Sven are suffering… blisters and aching limbs will be a reminder of an amazing day.
One of the most important moments for The Ball is the one where it leaves Battersea Park. Kicking it off on its journey is a point of no return. So who was to take the kick? Christian and Phil were unable to decide.
Andrew, wisely, had other ideas. As Christian and Phil squabbled, he took action.
And so, fittingly, it was Andrew — who will do the entire journey this time round — who kicked The Ball 2010 off on its epic journey to South Africa.
Many thanks to Dominic Search for the photographs.
Andrew and Christian accompanied The Ball 2010 as it was invited to appear live on the Hawksbee and Jacobs show on talkSPORT yesterday. Listen to The Ball’s appearance below:
Appearing on live radio is nerve-wracking, so many thanks to Carly Warren, Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs for making us and The Ball so welcome and putting us at ease — as much as they could, at least.
If you don’t have Flash, or if the player is giving you trouble, you can download the MP3 file instead.
Dark shirts v. Light shirts
It’s 10 o’clock on Sunday morning in Battersea Park. People wearing a motley assortment of Victorian costumes can be seen making their way to a football pitch at its western end. Moustaches and pipes at the ready, the players and spectators have gathered to re-enact a game that lies at the very heart of football — a game that also lies largely forgotten.
This pitch is more than just any old pitch — it is the place where the modern game was born. Football itself (of course) predates the game that took place there on 9th January 1864, but the players who took part in that game were playing by the rules which, in an unbroken run lasting 146 years, have become those of the modern game.
The ball to be used in the game is also more than just any old ball — it is The Ball and this game marks the beginning of its epic journey to the ultimate spectacle of the modern game: the football World Cup in South Africa. It has been hand-made for the journey in Kenya (through which it will pass and quite literally “meet its maker”) by Alive & Kicking, whose director Will Prochaska brings it on to the pitch to be presented to the Spirit of Football team. The last stitch has been saved for this moment, and trustee James Flecker ceremonially snips the last thread that makes it ready for action.
And so, graced with the occasional appearance of a weak winter sun, the players — young and old — run purposefully and comically out onto the pitch. The 1863 rules are read out for their benefit, greeted by looks of puzzlement from the teams — and no reassuring show of authority from the referee. It looks like it’s only experience that will lead to an understanding of the game as it was played.
A coin is thrown in the air, the toss is won by the darks, and so the kick-off must be taken by the lights. It is a forward kick, towards a bewildered darks — wondering no doubt what on earth happens now. Initial reactions seem to be to try and play to the rules, but with tactics more suited to the modern game — the forward pass is the first rule that has to be unlearned. The fact that everyone in advance of the ball is offside is the first rule to be strictly observed.
Pipes are accidentally knocked flying and moustaches are a source of distraction, but the players respect the rules (so contentious at the time) that no tripping or hacking be allowed. A young lad, Alex “Fabregas” Cameron, becomes a source of considerable trouble for the darks defense and his link up play with captain Andrew Aris leads to the first goal for lights.
The Boy Noble, sensing a missed opportunity, is the first to catch the ball and call “mark” and the darks have to retreat as a “free” kick is granted. More goals follow for the lights as they adapt to the rules more quickly and darks captain Phil Wake tries to rally them by adopting a scrummage formation to gain ground in open play.
Sir Tom “Tommy” Thomas begins to realise that there is great advantage in chasing the ball even once it has left the field of play, since it is the first player to the ball that takes the throw in. Behind the goal line, it is even more important, the outcome being either a goal kick for the defenders or a free kick at goal for the attackers.
The unfamiliarity of the rules, which levelled the playing field for all the players, led to the sweetest outcome of the game: a cameraderie and a shared delight in rediscovering the roots of the game which they love.
“The referee needs a monocle!” one player cried, but in the end all players and spectators left with smiles.