Football’s 'Olympic torch' sets off for Africa

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Every four years, one legendary football – The Ball – makes an epic journey from London's Battersea Park, where the very first game of football with FA rules was played, to the World Cup opening ceremony.

Its latest odyssey starts this Sunday with an old-school kickaround - and everyone's invited.

Three lads are about to set off with The Ball on its epic journey; 10,000 miles overland through Europe and 17 African countries over five months, visiting 14 events organised by Special Olympics Africa and visiting up to 25 schools, ending in Johannesburg in time for the World Cup.

It's a long, mazy run...

In 2002, Christian Wach and Phil Wake embarked on their inaugural pilgrimage with The Ball from London to the World Cup in Korea/Japan – an 8,000-mile trip across Europe, Central Asia and China.

On the way they met and played football with as many people as they could: from Tibetan Monks high in the mountains to street urchins in Kyrgyzstan.

In 2006, The Ball travelled to Germany. The Ball was a special guest at a “football against racism” festival named in its honour in Erfurt, Germany, where it teamed up with former New Zealand international Andrew Aris.

Last time out in Berlin

And now Wach, Wake and Aris are at it again.

They're kicking off the 2010 journey at 10am on Sunday at Battersea Park in honour of the first ever game under FA rules, which took place there on January 9 1864.

It’s a game of three halves and everyone and anyone can play. Including you.

The game starts with an olde-worlde first half – no restrictions on numbers, funny moustaches, 19th-century dress, improvised rules etc – which lightheartedly looks back at the way football was played before FA rules.

The second half will be played with 1864 rules, followed by a third half under current FIFA rules.

Then, as is traditional, it's off to the pub – The Ball and its supporters will retire to a private room at The Prince Albert restaurant, which stands just outside the west gate of Battersea Park.

There will be an auction of replicas of The Ball signed by fans like a certain Franz Beckenbauer.

“Football is as old as the world… People have always played some form of football, from its very basic form of kicking a ball around to the game it is today” – FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

The Chinese were playing a kind of football two millennia ago.

In Britain there have been marauding games down high streets, between villages and indeed anywhere there was room for a mob and a ball.

The Football Association itself grew from a small group of players who, tired of the broken arms and endless arguments (not to mention endless pitches) drew up some rules to level the stakes.

On the evening of that first game in 1864, they made this toast: “Success to Football, irrespective of class and creed."

We are adding “gender” and “talent” to the list.

The kick-off game in Battersea Park honours the establishment of that common set of rules which have since made their way to the farthest corners of the world.... just like The Ball.

The Ball's journey to Johannesburg is organised by Spirit of Football CIC, an independent fan-led non-profit community interest company based in the United Kingdom. Follow The Ball’s journey interactively at Goethe or TheBall.TV

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