During the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa, Jessica Hilltout set out to photograph the game away from the bright lights and big stadiums…

"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..

The story of soccer in Africa is a long one, says Peter Alegi, author and history professor at Michigan State University. In 1862, a year before the game’s international rules were codified in London, matches were played in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The game vined its way across the continent via European colonialism, spread by soldiers and traders, railway lines and missionary schools. Locals quickly adopted it, then imprinted it with their own regional playing styles. It has flourished here ever since. “If anything can be salvaged from the harsh and unequal encounter between Western and African cultures,” writes soccer historian David Goldblatt, “then the list must include the arrival of football..”

Source: National Geographic

Photography: Jessica Hilltout