Livingstone’s African football work celebrated

The Play Soccer Malawi Blantyre team. Picture: Claire Foottit
The Play Soccer Malawi Blantyre team. Picture: Claire Foottit
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DAVID Livingstone’s little-known contribution to introducing football to Africa is being celebrated in a photography exhibition next week.

Claire Foottit, a photojournalist, and whose great-great-great uncle was a friend of the Scottish missionary, distributed disposable cameras to volunteer football coaches in Blantyre in Malawi to produce the ‘Livingstone’s Living Legacy: Football and the Three Cs’ photography project which starts 19 March at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

The three Cs refer to Christianity, commerce and civilisation advocated by Livingstone.

Ms Foottit said it was deeply embedded in African folklore that Livingstone took a football to Africa and that the game was used as a way of helping form team building teams with slaves. Zanzibar was one location which had a football team of freed slaves.

Inventories show that as well as supplies for expeditions he took magic lanterns and a “rubber ball”.

“Doran H Ross, former deputy director and curator of African collections at the University of California, Los Angeles, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, said ‘When Livingstone came to Zambia he brought three things with him in his bag. His medical kit, the Bible and a football’.

“This exhibition is a trailer exhibition for larger one planned for October at the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden.”

Ms Foottit whose great-great-great uncle William Cotton Oswell, an explorer, accompanied Livingstone on expeditions to the Zambezi river, added: “The history of Livingstone is very much about the three Cs so I thought it would be interesting to get a contemporary view. Also, rather than me give my view I thought it would be much more interesting to get those living there to give their interpretation.

“I took portraits and gave out cameras to volunteer football coaches for 24 hours. I then got the pictures developed back home.

“The results were interesting and what struck me was that most of the photos had people and children in them showing daily life. There were pictures of kids playing football as well as water being carried from a pump and food being prepared.

A spokesman for the National Trust for Scotland, which runs the David Livingston Centre in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, said whilst there was no absolute proof of Livingstone taking a football with him, there was documented evidence he packed a rubber ball.

“In his book The Ball is Round: A History of Global Football, David Goldblatt quotes veteran broadcaster Dennis Liewewe as suggesting that David Livingstone brought three things with him to Africa: a bible, a medical kit and a football. “Liewewe is the ‘voice of Zambian football’ and is reflecting a popular belief in his country and others in Africa.

“We would love to be able to confirm the basis of this belief but we can’t, so far, find any reference in the Livingstone archives to him taking a football along on one of his journeys.

“We do find a reference to him packing an ‘indian rubber handball’, so it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he also took a football along with him to use in helping to build friendship with the people he encountered, particularly the children. “

“It is certainly a lovely story and we hope it is true.”

* Livingstone’s Living Legacy: Football and the Three Cs - Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, 19 March-5 April. Free.