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In rural Africa, soccer lovers craft joy

By Jessica Hilltout, National Geographic
February 11, 2013 -- Updated 2321 GMT (0721 HKT)
Bound with rope, plastic bags equal a ball in Bibiani, Ghana. Photographer Jessica Hilltout's<a href='http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/soccer-joy/hilltout-photography' target='_blank'> complete collection of soccer ball images</a> can be found in the February issue of National Geographic magazine. Bound with rope, plastic bags equal a ball in Bibiani, Ghana. Photographer Jessica Hilltout's complete collection of soccer ball images can be found in the February issue of National Geographic magazine.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In rural Africa, there is love for soccer but sometimes a lack of resources
  • Children often make their own soccer balls from rubbish and rope
  • DIY soccer can bring joy to an entire village, said photographer Jessica Hilltout

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the February issue of National Geographic magazine. You can read the full story here.

(National Geographic) -- Miles from the main roads, in rural Africa, soccer balls bounce unevenly. Playing fields are arid, lush, weedy, sandy—any flattish space will do. Goalposts might be made of gathered mahogany or driftwood. Some feet are bare, others shod in fraying sneakers, boots, rubber sandals. Yet children kick and chase handmade, lopsided balls with skill and abandon, competing for pride and joy—for the sheer pleasure of playing.

Has the "beautiful game" ever been lovelier?

Jessica Hilltout doesn't think so. In 2010, when the World Cup came to Africa for the first time, the Belgium-based photographer set out to see what soccer looked like far from the bright lights and big stadiums. What she found—over seven months, ten countries, and 12,500 miles—was a grassroots game where passion trumped poverty, a do-it-yourself ethic prospered, and one ball could "bring happiness to an entire village."

In the 30-odd soccer-loving localities she visited, in countries from South Africa to Ivory Coast, balls are spun into being with whatever's at hand: rag or sock, tire or bark, plastic bag or inflated condom. Each might last days or months on a field of gravel or hard earth. Wherever Hilltout went, she swapped the store-bought balls she kept in her car for these "ingenious little jewels," most of which were made by children.

Read the whole story at Nationalgeographic.com.

Are you a soccer lover who has improvised a game or its implements? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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