Magazine article The Spectator

Poor Man's Game

Magazine article The Spectator

Poor Man's Game

Article excerpt

TO DO the job properly, you need 30 or 40 plastic bags, about ten yards of string, a fair amount of skill and not a little love. You have to pack the bags together quite tight, and then bind around the outside again and again.

It bounces a lot better than vou would think. The string is normally a coarse twine, which is hard on bare feet. But then so is the ground, and they are used to that. That is how you make an African football. I remember watching them play on a patch of open ground in Lusaka, as I drank a Mosi beer.

I was waiting, along with mv old friend the ornithologist Baron Robert Stjernstedt, for the Land-Rover from Livingstone Museum, who were backing our expedition to the North-west Province in pursuit of a small, brown bird that had not been seen in the wild since 1939 (and still hasn't, alas). In Africa, you wait for things. It is part of life, what old Africa hands call a TAB Situation: That's Africa Baby.

We marvelled, as we waited, at football, the game of the poor, as I believe I have said before, which makes it the game of the world, of course. The poor you always have with you. Therefore, you always have football. It is worth remembering, as football gets richer and more fashionable, that football's heartland is in places such as this.

Zip-pan to Borneo. This time, I was up a river in a boat, looking for proboscis monkeys. Stopping at a small village, behind the longhouse, I saw a football pitch, what else? The posts were stout pieces of bamboo. There were kids playing with a real football. …

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