Photos of Makeshift Soccer Balls Used by Children in Africa

Soccer, known as football around the world, is played by hundreds of millions of people in hundreds of countries, making it the world’s most popular sport. However, a large percentage of its enthusiasts are unable to afford actual soccer balls to play with. Instead, they fashion their own makeshift balls out of things they have on hand — things like socks, rubber bands, plastic bags, strips of cloth, and string. The DIY balls may be difficult to use and ugly in appearance, but each one is a treasured possession of its owner.

Belgian photographer Jessica Hilltout decided to turn her attention and her camera lens on these one-of-a-kind creations, documenting “football in its purest form” in Africa. The project is titled AMEN.

Hilltout writes that the project changed her life:

The aim of AMEN was to shine the light on all those in the shadow of the World Cup, far from the big stadiums and the corporate carnival-nature of the event. To embrace Africa and everything that makes it unique. To speak of the authenticity and sheer ingeniousness of a continent that manages to do so much with so little. To capture people with simple needs and huge hearts. To express football in its purest form.

I was never much of a football fan, but I’ve always loved Africa. Eight months were spent on the road in 10 African countries with my Hasselblad, 80mm lens, digital camera, printer, log book and a stock of deflated footballs.

I just followed my gut and felt my way through villages in search of all those little details that speak of Africa’s great football passion. For me all the big stories are in the small details. People were incredibly helpful and once I had gained their trust they gave me more than I could ever have imagined

Hilltout says that she values simplicity in photography:

I choose to work with as little equipment as possible. The less I have choice in lenses the more I am focused on the subject. I work with a 1977 Hasselblad 500cm, an 80mm lens and a light meter. I use Kodak Portra 400asa film, which I over expose by a stop. I don’t shoot a lot of film, a couple of frames for each picture.

In addition to documenting the makeshift balls, AMEN also features photos of makeshift cleats goals, portraits of players, and shots of games being played.

If you’d like to own a copy of these images, the project is available as a paperback book, which can be purchased through Amazon.

AMEN by Jessica Hilltout (via Junk Culture)

Image credits: Photographs by Jessica Hilltout and used with permission

  • Samcornwell

    I wonder if a big organisation like Coca-Cola, Nike, Manchester United, Adidas could be persuaded to send out a million footballs & football pumps for these children?

  • mrbeard

    Pele learned to play with stuffed socks and fruit..

  • Mansgame

    some of them are pretty good…seriously though, if a soccer ball can bring this much joy to kids, I wish something could done about that.

  • Sean Lucky

    When she says overexposing by a stop, do you think she’s also pulling it a stop in film processing, or compensating in the digital realm?

  • Alhaji Samura

    The place is so corrupt that even if they did, the kids will never get to see a single thread of that ball…

  • eraserhead12

    I love projects like these (granted the photographer is respectful and not acting out of cultural voyeurism)

  • Jaryd Waterhouse

    I once had a garage full of soccer balls because we learned this first hand. Wish some of them could have been sent with this photographer.

  • Filmer

    I think she configured the camera to ASA 800 and took the photos. During processing, the film will be developed a bit longer than normal, thus pushing it one stop. Portra actually looks beautiful pushed. I’ve pushed it to 1600 and it looked really really good.

  • Bua

    While balls are very important, I think food and drink is a priority in these parts.

  • ozbaz

    My Grandfather grew up in poverty in Northern England around the time of World War one and he used to use a pig or sheep’s bladder which the butcher gave them as a soccer ball with his friends. They were too poor to buy a proper ball.

  • Thanks

    Thanks for posting these powerful images.

  • SeosamhOTwit

    Learned to play what? My mind is racing with thoughts of what he did with the socks and fruit……

  • mareli

    What a great way to recycle plastic bags! No wonder those kids are such fantastic players when they get a proper ball – it’d be harder to kick and aim these balls, so they’d get really good at it.

  • Samcornwell

    There’s a famous story about the the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in which during the liberation by the British army a box of bright red lipsticks arrived. At first the lieutenant in charge was flabbergasted at the thought of someone in his ranks would order a box of red lipstick when the people so desperately needed medical supplies and so on. I’ll quote the rest from a blog which writes more eloquently than I can:

    “They were in dire need of medical supplies, food. So many more pressing things in order to save lives. Wouldn’t lipstick be incidental, even an offensive offering to those in dire need?

    Never underestimate the power of hope in saving a life. The lipsticks got out, and suddenly, the prisoners were reminded of a life beyond the walls of Bergen-Belsen, before there was a war. Suddenly, everyone was wearing lipstick. They didn’t have proper clothes, but they had lipstick. And that red lipstick, as Colonal Gonin put it so eloquently, started to give them back their humanity.”

  • Alhaji Samura

    I’m from Africa, that’s why I said so… I know first hand that corruption is whats putting us behind. A simple example… Do you know the Peanut Oil that the US AIDE donates every year? You can find any quantity of it for sale at the markets… With a Big Red Label saying not for sale. It’s so sad that i said that, but it’s the reality.

  • Wendy

    Do you allow pinning of any of these images on Pinterest with the link to this article?