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Children with an Alive & Kicking ball

Category: Morocco

It’s a man’s world

Moroccan men love to play, watch and talk about football. Walking through the massive, spectacular Medina in Fez on an evening of European football you will see a multitude of TVs playing football, hear the blur of football commentary, the chatter of men, young and old, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes and the smells of a myriad of exotic foods wafting into the air. But where are the women? Where are the girls?

Playing football near one of the medina gatesPlaying football near one of the medina gates

Boys come up and want to kick The Ball or they want to have The Ball.
“Please sir, give me the ball.” Or they want to buy The Ball.
“How much for The Ball? I give you 25 Euros”
“It’s priceless, not for sale”, we reply. Strange to be offered money for The Ball. By this time, word has got around town that some crazy guys are in town with a ball. They don’t know that it is not just any ball and that this ball cannot be bought.

Andrew won't let go of The BallAndrew won’t let go of The Ball

We’re dribbling The Ball through the medina, meeting people left, right and center, when two young girls come along and, in a flash, The Ball has been booted off down a side alley. We all race after it, laughing, giggling, but also slightly fearful of losing sight and control of The Ball.

Medina keepie-uppieMedina keepie-uppie

We have an enormous responsibility. We must bring this one ball to the World Cup. And on time too.

Who has signed The Ball?

In Fez we are constantly asked the same question. “Who has signed The Ball?”

The Ball in FezThe Ball in Fez

“Julio Cesar”, Andrew says.
“Julio Cesar, from Inter Milan?”
“Yes, that’s right.” They know their football here. “Mbark Boussouffa,” he continues.
“What? Mbark Boussouffa? He’s Moroccan. He was player of the year in Belgium.”

We show the video clip of Mbark Boussouffa and The Ball at RSC Anderlecht. He’s a national hero in Morocco we’ve found out. The old football adage that a team is more than any individual player finds an exception with Mbark. When the Moroccan coach didn’t pick Boussouffa, he got fired.

Two lads in FezTwo lads in Fez

One person in a group learns more about The Ball. He then tells the others in Moroccan.
“Can you please show my friend the Mbark video?”
“Of course.”

Three lads in Fez want to know about The BallThree lads in Fez want to know about The Ball

Moroccans are very proud of their football exports. They’ll happily tell you that every team in the French first division contains a Moroccan player and all top European leagues contain Moroccan stars.

A shopkeeper in Fez

At home in Fez

Arriving in Fez… lost. Looking for the road to Azrou. Wrong turn here, wrong turn there.

Lost in MoroccoLost in Morocco

Two young lads on a moped flagging us down.
“Follow us”, they said.
We did.

So here we are driving across town through Fez rush hour, in the dark, following two lads on the slowest moped in town. Thankfully slow, as it just happened to have no lights on. But they got us to our destination: –‘s.

We were promptly invited into –‘s parents house where Christian and Andrew kicked off into an argument, followed quickly with a hug to make-up.
“Sorry,” we apologised for our public scrap.
“No problem at all,” came the answer. We were assured that this was the way things happened here too.

In any case we got a real insight into Moroccan culture; fantastic mint tea, home-made dinner eaten with hands for cutlery. And after dinner, –‘s father produced the quote of the night:
“The world is round. The Ball is round.”
Despite language problems we were able to make each other understood through the common language of football.

In case you’re wondering why there are no photos illustrating the story, it turns out that the Fez police take a very dim view of Moroccans associating with visitors. We were told that locals have to register their friendships with the police so as not to be mistaken for unofficial tour guides. Which means we have to protect the anonymity of the people in this story. So, instead, here’s a picture of a camel which we dedicate to all bureaucracy when it fails to distinguish between the sensible and the ridiculous:

A camel in FezA camel in Fez
The Olympian look

Via Volubilis

Onwards to Fez via some remarkable Roman ruins and the chance to take a photo of The Ball with an Olympian feel.

The Olympian lookThe Olympian look

As we wander about looking at the site, Andrew bumps into a fellow Liverpool and Rangers supporter. The chances of that happening? Perhaps only an Olympian god could calculate them.

Chefchaouen blues

So we’re out and about filming a sequence with The Ball in the blue backstreets of Chefchaouen, blues made even more vivid by the pelting rain…

A child kicks The Ball in a Chefchaouen streetA child kicks The Ball in a Chefchaouen street

Andrew engages some kids in a kickabout and somehow The Ball gets kicked into their granny’s flat…
She promptly decides that it now belongs to her grandson…

Andrew and the grandsonAndrew and the grandson

A dramatic and rather tense rescue mission follows…

The Ball recovered, but touch and go for a while there…

The pitch in Chefchaouen

The world’s best street football location?

High up on a hanging ledge overlooking the old ciy of Chefchauoen in the foothills of the Rif mountains, lies one of football’s greatest street football locations.

“You have got to see this pitch,” said Christian. “It is a fantastic location.”

The pitch in ChefchaouenThe pitch in Chefchaouen

He’s not wrong. We were desperate to organise a game of football there. The locals were keen too. Just one thing: the weather. From before we arrived until after we were gone it rained constantly. No game for us in Chefchauoen, but a fantastic time was had.

A view of Chefchaouen

Where your allegiances lie

Hotel Barcelona, one would assume, in a football-mad town like Chefchaouen, might have some football connection. It does.

Mohammed at the Hotel BarcelonaMohammed at the Hotel Barcelona

Mohammed, the hotel manager loves his football. His eyes lit up when he saw The Ball.
“You must be a Barcelona fan,” I suggested, looking at the poster of FC Barcelona on the wall.
“No. No. No,” came the reply. And promptly off came his djelleba to reveal a Real Madrid sweater. “I am Real Madrid.”
“How can you work at Hotel Barcelona?”
“My dream is to work at Hotel Madrid,” he smiled.

City of djellabas

At the Star Wars convention

Arriving with The Ball in Chefchaouen late on a damp and chilly Monday evening felt like we had stumbled upon a Star Wars convention. Hooded OB1-style djellabas everywhere on the street, coming out of every tiny poorly-lit alleyway, backstreet and in the cafés, restaurants and shops too. At first they look slightly intimidating; full of secrets and wizard-like magic.

City of djellabasCity of djellabas

Suddenly, a jedi knight sprung out of his carpet shop, flipped his hood from his head to reveal a huge grin. He has seen something that he liked.

“Le Ballon” he said in French.
“The Ball” came the reply.
“Give me The Ball. Come,” he directed.

Chefchaouen's Bob DylanChefchaouen’s Bob Dylan

We followed him into his shop out of the dark and the rain. The floor covered with sawdust. The walls displaying elaborate, colourful hand-made woollen carpets and clothing. It was time for keepie-uppie. Four guys, three djellabas and a ball.

Carpet shop teamCarpet shop team

We weren’t on the dark side anymore.

The first sign of Africa's World Cup

On the road to Chefchaouen

Just 45 minutes of intense bureaucracy and our first major border crossing is relatively painlessly behind us. Christian’s experience and expertise came in useful, as did a few small donations to border “helpers”. As this long day draws to an end, The Ball has begun the African leg of its journey.

The first sign of Africa's World CupThe first sign of Africa’s World Cup

Despite the rain that is still falling, it feels great to be in Africa. The prospect of an amazing football pitch in the Rif mountains awaits us, 45 kilometers away in Chefchaouen.

On the road. In Morocco. In Africa.

“Hurray!” exclaims Christian as we speed down a newly constructed motorway to Tetouan. “We’ll be there in no time.” The most important word in Moroccan is “shukran” (thank you), he tell us. He’s been here before. Its a case of first time for me. And for The Ball.

Andrew passes Gibraltar

Farewell Europe, hello Africa

The ferry from Algeciras led us to Ceuta. The swell was huge and the crossing much slower than usual. As we made our way from Europe to Africa we left Gibraltar trailing behind us and I couldn’t help but contemplate the time to come.

Sure, the worries were there: will I have enough dosh? Will I get sick? Will I lose The Ball? What will I do if my passport or bank cards get stolen?

Andrew passes GibraltarAndrew passes Gibraltar

But the positive visualisations of Africa outshone the negative thoughts. I was glad to be leaving Europe and entering Africa. Winter in Europe is not the ideal place for random football encounters. Nor for street football. People in Western Europe might just be more interested in the thousands of other leisure options they have. The real journey is about to begin. I am expecting that much more football waits us in Africa.

Let The Ball roll.

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.