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Children with an Alive & Kicking ball

Tag: Rescue

The Ball is Dead

We arrive at the school with The Ball and a giant replica. Alarmingly for us, the teachers are nowhere to be seen. Andrew talks to the kids about The Ball, but struggles to make himself heard above the cacophony of chatter.

Mayhem and cacophony greets The BallMayhem and cacophony greets The Ball

The children crowd around to sign both balls. And game on… The Ball is kicked around the school-yard in an unruly fashion harking back to the days of village football in England or even the Wall Game at Eton. A huge punt by one young lad and The Ball’s on a classroom roof.

Where's The Ball? Mob football in WindhoekWhere’s The Ball? Mob football in Windhoek

But what’s that? Oh no. The Ball meets a spike on the roof head-on and flops back to earth limp, lifeless and deflated. It needs urgent repairing. We’re a long way from an Alive & Kicking stitching centre and even further from The Ball doctor in Douala. What to do?

We’re recommended a cobbler and that seems like the sensible solution until we hear about a technique for fixing bike punctures. The answer is simple — pump a white sticky substance into The Ball with a syringe.

Injecting the white sticky stuffInjecting the white sticky stuff

Shake The Ball about, pump it up, bounce it around. And hey, presto, it rolls again…

The sticky stuff finds the hole and seals itThe sticky stuff finds the hole and seals it

The Ball was dead. Long live The Ball.

The Ball at the mud mosque in Djenne

Arrival in Djenné

We arrive in Djenné as the sun is going down, after a gruelling 14 hour bus ride from Bamako.

The ferry across to DjennéThe Ball arrives in Djenné… The ferry crossing.

Djenné is basically an island surrounded by the Bani river, a tributary of the Niger. To access Djenné, one needs to take a short ferrry ride across the Bani and then a meadering dirt-road into town. The town is a wonderfully close-knit collection of fantasy mud buildings. The central element in this deeply religious muslim community is the world’s largest mud building — the Grand Mosquée. As the sun rapidly and vertically descends, we enter town through a tiny windy road and the side streets look perfect for a pied-piper style kickabout. We are beaming. What potential! Tomorrow awaits.

Our Dutch bus pulls up in the main square, immediately in front of the Grand Mosquée. We have been dreaming about visiting this place for years. Yet just a few days ago it was looking like we wouldn’t have the opportunity after all. Special Olympics, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for The Ball’s arrival, had planned a schedule so full of events that we were going to have to skip it. Christian put his foot down: “You guys are going to Djenné. If you don’t go it’s like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Or going to London and not watching a Hammers game.” How dare we not visit Djenné!

Phil fixes a net for The Ball to Andrew's backpackPhil fixes a net for The Ball to Andrew’s backpack

We clamber out of the bus and are immediately surrounded by a swarm of people. Some want to sell us food, others are tour guides for Djenné and the Dogon Country trying to hook us, others are hungry children begging for money. The scene is a familiar one, but what follows is not. The Ball is in its net on Andrew’s back. It is the net that Phil carried The Ball in in 2002 and modified in Bamako to fit Andrew’s backpack. Andrew decides to take The Ball out and pass it to some of the kids. This has been the usual case in Mali.

But this time there is a misunderstanding. The kids assume that The Ball is a gift. In no time, about thirty of them are fighting tooth and nail for it. A dust cloud envelops us all. The locals are watching on with interest. It is getting nasty. There are pushes here and even punches there. Andrew, realising his error, goes in after The Ball. And eventually recovers it. But no without a fight…

The Ball is almost lost at the mosqueThe Ball held high in the air after a football riot in front of the mosque.

We soon discover that the children here are actually used to being gifted balls by foreigners. It seems that many of the tourist guidebooks recommend giving a football to a child. Mali, like the rest of Africa, is football mad, but these kids are too poor to buy their own footballs. We decide that, in future, before The Ball is unveiled, we must first attempt to explain what The Ball is all about.

The Ball gets a cleanCleaning The Ball

Long journeys, desert dust and open sewers have left The Ball feeling and smelling terrible. It is now dirty — very dirty — and it gets a thorough clean in Djenné. It scrubs up well after its recent ordeals.

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…

Friday the 12th

“Where is my bag? Where the — — is my bag?”
“What’s in the bag?”, I asked.
“Ohhhh, nothing important… just my filofax, my passport, my credit cards. Everything.”

Ironically, we’d just been listening to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, whose cover says “Don’t Panic” in big friendly letters — but I was panicking. Christian seemed to be panicking too…

The sun had been shining and we had been making good progress towards Valencia. The Ball seemed happy enough too: it was still on a high after rolling around on the grass pitch-side at the Nou Camp yesterday.

Vilanova pitchA random pitch in Vilanova

We had stopped earlier as we were leaving Vilanova, a random football moment had suddenly appeared. Out of the car, camera at the ready, Christian put his bag down to kick The Ball. Elaborately-dressed children enjoying carnival season marched by singing and chanting. 150 kilometres later, ready to feed our caffeine habit, he realised he’d left his bag back there in the park.

After back-tracking to Vilanova, a friend who speaks Catalan called the police. And you know what? Someone had turned in the bag… And, nothing was missing…

Christian savours the good newsChristian savours the good news

Bill Hicks liked to say that “life is a ride”… but our ride has taken us up and down this toll road two too many times today. As I write this we are speeding off along the coast towards Valencia — again. Adreneline is still rushing like the gusts of wind outside. What a ride it’s been today.

“It’s not Friday the 13th is it?”, asks Christian as I type away. He suggests paying a Homage to Catalunya for lettting him off so lightly for such a grave lapse of concentration… I tend to agree. The ride continues as we head south.

Friday the 12th — lucky for some.

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.