Dov Weintraub, diamond cutter extraordinaire, simply has to sign The Ball and have his picture taken with it. He’s completely mad about football. He’s got tickets to the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup.
Here in Windhoek, Dov runs Almod Diamonds of Namibia and invites us over to look at a special diamond that they’ve been cutting. “Have you ever seen a diamond that looks like a football?” he asks us. “No, but we’d like to,” Christian replies.
Dov shows us a diamond weighing six carats that he reckons looks like a football. We pass him a football that we reckon is a peerless gem.
Every diamond has a value attached to it — and usually an eye-wateringly high one. We’ve been offered money for The Ball countless times en route. But even if we were offered an obscene amount of money for it we’d have to refuse. The Ball is not for sale. It is priceless.
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.
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.
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.
Shake The Ball about, pump it up, bounce it around. And hey, presto, it rolls again…
The Ball was dead. Long live The Ball.
We bump into New Zealand’s best ever footballer — 1982 World Cup legend Winton Rufer and ask him about the Spirit of Football. His response:
“Well, we saw a little bit of it today in Windhoek, Namibia with the game Global United against African Allstars. It’s a celebration of the world’s game. The people turn out. Lots of colour. Lots of action. Having a really good time. Lots of goals as well. It can’t be better.”
“How will New Zealand do at the World Cup?” asks fellow Kiwi Andrew.
“New Zealand will get through, and lose the semi-final to Brazil”, replies the now grey-haired and still thick-accented Winton, with a grin.
Wouldn’t that be fab, thinks Andrew as Winton generously provides him with ten autograph cards.
“Here we have my personal signed signature cards for my Kiwi mate Andrew. So that when he goes to South Africa, he can give a few more away to show that we were legitimately together in Windhoek, Namibia.”
Overcome by Winton’s foresight and generosity, Andrew is left speechless.
We stop by Independence Stadum in Windhoek for a game of football with a difference. Winton Rufer, from as far away as New Zealand, has travelled over 24 hours to arrive in time for kick-off. Other former stars, like 2002 World Cup Finalist Jens Novotny, have jetted in from Germany. Former Danish National Team player and regular at Bolton Wanderers, Stig Tofting, arrives from England. African legends have come in, thanks to Air Namibia, from all over Africa. Global FC have jetted in from all over the world to raise awareness for the very important global issue: climate change.
After the match, we have a chance to talk to German legend Mario Basler about the Spirit of Football.
“Football is a team game. Everybody can take part in this game. If you are rich if you are poor. It doesn’t matter, you can play football. On the beach. On the streets… everywhere. That is why football is sport number one in the world.”
“Yesterday, we went to a township with one ball. I asked the kids if they would like to play football with us. And there was no question for them to say yes and to play football with us. This is the spirit of football.”
Could anything else other than football have brought this motley crew together? Desert Wolves bikers with a Police escort lead the cavalcade with an Olympic Torch burning brightly. Followed closely by four bright yellow DHL vehicles. The Ball held aloft on an open-top double-decker bus surrounded by the Special Olympics family, athletes, coaches and supporters.
The sound system on the bus blares out K’naan’s official World Cup anthem — on repeat and at the highest possible volume. We dance. We sing. We wave to people in their front yards. Children rush out of their homes, wave back enthusiastically, dance in the streets.
A pause in the suburb of Katatura, the so-called “place where we don’t want to be” to where the black population was forcibly relocated from central Windhoek. A tough-looking Desert Wolves biker performs a doughnut on his bike — front wheel staying on the spot, rear wheel leaving a circle of rubber on the street and acrid smoke in the air. Leaflets advertising the Special Olympics event are scattered to the crowd.
Then onwards to the Sam Nujoma Stadium where the event is happening. A crowd has already gathered and football is already underway. The Ball is thrown into an inflatable football arena where children are battling it out in four-a-side competition. Football fever, World Cup fever, is here for the day.
Around 2 o’clock, everyone migrates into the stadium itself for the main event of the day — a match between parliamentarians and ambassadors, both of whom, it seems, have been training hard for today’s game. Fitness levels are sky-high and play is fast and furious, diplomatic skills on full display. That’s the offical story.
In truth, the game is footballing hilarity of the highest order. Diplomats fall like flies to injuries sustained in bizarre ways, while parliamentarians are making ultimate use of the tag-substitute system, more used to running the corridors of power than the length of the football field.
The game ends a 6-1 victory for the diplomats, with brave talk of a rematch from both sides. It is even proposed that future games should become regular fund-raising fixtures for Special Olympics.
We salute both teams for their courage in getting out there on the field for Special Olympics and for showing beyond any shadow of doubt that absolutely anyone can play the beautiful game.