Football dreams and drama at Brighton Museum

Home made football made in Bamako, Mali from rags and charcoal on display at World Voices exhibition at Brighton Museum As England fans shake off our World Cup disappointments, maybe it’s time to have a look at this baggy ball of rags.

It’s an exhibit in the World Stories:Young Voices gallery at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. You may be wondering what it is as it looks nothing like the object we use for the same purpose.

For a start, it doesn’t have any branding, it’s not leather and shiny and it was free to make. But for 18 year old footballer Cheick from the village of Bamako in Mali in West Africa, it’s a football and allows him to play the game he loves with his friends.

Its part of the World Voices:Young Voices project which looks into the love of football shared by a group of young people in Bamako and another group in Brighton which took place in 2011.

The love of the game for both groups comes through in the small exhibition which is part of a bigger gallery looking at different cultures around the world.

Project co-ordinator Hazel Welch has written a great blog about her work in Bamako and how the exhibits were sourced.

Cheick is quoted in a short film clip saying; “When I was young I didn’t have a football so I’d looked for stuff like sponges or rubbish, bundle them together with old clothes, stitch it up and then I’d have a ball and I’d play with it.”

Alongside the ball is a pair of plastic shoes, the sort which are regularly worn by young people in the Mali village to play football.  Unlike football boots in our discount sport shops, with swooshes of pink or orange, with hi-spec details, leather upper and a range of soles for different surfaces, these are a soft ‘jellies’ with little to protect the foot.

Jellies or plastic shoes worn by footballers in Mali
Jellies or plastic shoes worn by footballers in Bamako, Mali

Everyone always talks about the Brazilian’s love of football and how kids play it in the street; the chance to shine at football provides an escape from the tough and poor lifestyle in many of the favelas.  For many African players, the route is the same.

I expect Wayne Rooney would have done the same if he’d been born in a favela.  He was clearly born to play football and would have found a way. And yet. It’s hard to imagine our young people feeling such a passion for the beautiful game to go to such lengths as making their own ball or not wearing proper sports shoes when playing.

For weeks now we’ve been bombarded with World Cup theme ads and promotions – whether for beer, crisps or clothing.  Maybe now it’s time to think a little about the game of football and what it does for people generally, rather than a tiny select few who make a fortune from living the dream.

The exciting new War Stories; Voices from the First World War show starts soon and football will be once again a focus in the dramatic tale of one former Seagull player.  Brighton Albion goalie Pom Pom Whiting signed up to represent his country in a different way – by fighting in the trenches in France. His tale takes an unexpected twist and the exhibit will feature lots of interesting detail about the Footballer’s Battalion which he joined.

Pom Pom’s story is fascinating and will be worth a visit whether you’re a footie fan or not. The show starts on July 12th.

Our Brighton young football players who took part in the World Voices project enjoyed playing football for the fun and camaraderie it brought to their lives. The dream of playing in the World Cup is little more than that.  For them, it’s about having fun, getting fit and hanging out with your friends.

One of them, Hannah Donovan wrote a poem which is still part of the exhibition, in a short and moving film. I thought I’d share it here as it represents all that is good about football, and probably worth celebrating more than our World Cup over-optimistic and unrealistic dreams.

Black plastic moulded football boots
Plastic football boots worn in Mali. These cost too much for most young people who play football there.



Worlds apart

We are the same

Some dream of fortune

Some of fame

Some dream of making their country proud

To hear the roar of a restless crown

To ignite the fire within the soul

To kick and hear the world scream goal

To find the passion within the ball

To seek the glory and take it all

To build upon their self-esteem

To make a wish and live the dream

To keep the faith and always believe

And some say what they will achieve

Worlds apart

We are the same

We are united in the game

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