Headline: From stolen socks and condoms to professional players
Location: Accra, Ghana
Article Synopsis: African children play with homemade soccer balls made of condoms and socks in the hopes of one day playing in top European leagues.
Keywords: Africa, Accra, football, Ghana, Europe, league
Opening Paragraph: On the dust suffocated streets of Africa – the continent of possibilities – it is commonplace to spot children playing with homemade footballs. It all begins with the kicking of objects, sometimes things as hard as stones, milk tins, coldrink cans, or as soft as rotten tomatoes, socks packed with polythene and these … condoms.
Text: It sounds fictitious. But African children go to great lengths to improvise, just to quench their thirst for football. Most African stars showing their colours in top European leagues today started playing soccer this way. Michael Essien of Ghana and Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast – both top players of England’s Chelsea – began their soccer journey on the dusty streets and car parks of their home towns. When Drogba was a boy, the Ivorian top striker played football in a car park in the city of Abidjan, every day. Likewise, Essien – the midfield powerhouse – started playing on the streets of Accra before moving on to community parks in his community.
The zest that kept them going in spite of the numerous challenges, like not having a soccer ball, makes them the epitome of hope for most African children. They worship this game with passion. Football is a religion for both city dwellers and those living in rural areas of Africa; one they cannot do without. Within minutes rural children can produce a football out of socks and polythene; popularly known as a socks ball. Each player provides one pair of socks or more. In most cases these socks are stolen from daddy’s shoes rack. The leader loads the socks with the recycled polythene and tenderly moulds it into a round ball, the size of a standard football.
There are other ways of creating a soccer ball too. These enthusiasts have also discovered another use of the condom, and it’s not to have fun in bed. I chanced on a group of children between ages 10 – 14 with unused condoms in a rural area of West African nation of Ghana. “We are going to make a football,” Desmond Amartey, the leader of the team told me as I probed. His response to my questioning fascinated me and I wanted to know more. After developing a rapport with them, they allowed me to join them in the corner of a school block where a dusty park awaited its spectators.
Amartey blew air into the condom as if it were a balloon. While holding its nozzle tight, the others provided him with a nylon thread to tie the mouth of the condom. He gently wrapped the rubber in about 15 layers of polythene. The condom is now the inner tube while the polythene acts as an outer cover. As he maintained focus on his invention, we chatted and I discovered that he steals the condoms from his father’s trouser pockets.
Amartey reveals: “I first saw condoms on a television programme. The host was explaining that it can expand and contain a whole bucket of water. I was curious, and we tried it secretly behind our house one day, and it worked.”
“One day we needed a football desperately and this idea came to mind,” he narrated as he wound strands of thread over the polythene to hold it together. “The first two burst but we were fortunate to get it right the third time. Although, it didn’t last when a nail on the school goal post pierced it!”
“It’s ready. We have a ball. This is our fourth,” Amartey informed me and the rest of his colleagues as he bounced the “ball” on the cemented floor of the classroom. It was all smiles as he marshalled the guys to the field to play. From far off, one can hardly tell the difference between the “condom ball” and the normal football as these children play happily in the dust-packed park.
These children come from poor homes. Their parents cannot afford to buy them real football kits. The cheapest plastic football sells for GH¢1 (US$0.69) and lasts for about three days to a week while the FIFA leather balls go for GH¢50 (US$34.72) in Ghana – an amount that would swallow the monthly earnings of an average labourer, which is little over US$34. Their children play with bare feet and bare chests under the scorching sun. Passion, resilience and determination drive them as they dream of kicking a proper football on modern pitches as professional footballers in Europe one day.