The lost foot­ball is the world’s sad­dest sight

A poignant Twit­ter ac­count cap­tures the bit­ter pang of los­ing a cher­ished ball, writes Jim White

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

Once it was at the heart of the game. Now it is ly­ing use­less and split in a pud­dle

In among the pres­i­den­tial rant­ings, the echocham­ber trum­pet­ing, the mi­nor celebrity look-at-me preen­ing, amid the swear­ing, the rav­ing and the end­less time-suck­ing inanity, oc­ca­sion­ally it is pos­si­ble to stum­ble over some­thing that makes so­cial me­dia worth­while.

So it was the other day, when some­one posted on my Twit­ter time­line a strik­ingly poignant pic­ture. It was of a foot­ball, ly­ing de­flated on the roof of a bus shel­ter.

It was im­pos­si­ble to look at the snap with­out won­der­ing how the ball ended up there, ma­rooned and ig­nored, out of sight ex­cept for those on the top deck of the pass­ing No30. Was it a game of street keepy-up that went awry? Was it the re­sult of an over­con­fi­dent prac­tice set-piece kick, us­ing the shel­ter as a goal? Or was it the work of a bully, grab­bing the ball off its proud owner and chuck­ing it be­yond reach? And if so, was the owner still cry­ing, bereft at his loss? The glory of the post was only en­hanced when it be­came clear that the pic­ture had been for­warded from a Twit­ter ac­count that spe­cialises in shar­ing pho­tos of for­got­ten foot­balls.

Us­ing the sim­ple han­dle @Lost­foot­balls, ev­ery day it dis­patches into the ether pic­tures of for­mer play­things now dis­carded, for­saken, dumped. Look­ing at their gallery of snaps – of balls aban­doned in drains, lost at sea, stuck up trees – it is hard not to agree with the site’s as­ser­tion that this is “the sad­dest sight in the world”.

Be­cause the fact is any­one who has ever kicked a foot­ball has also lost one. And with it felt the pe­cu­liar pang of sep­a­ra­tion. Ev­ery lost ball has a back story, al­beit rarely quite as em­broi­dered as Tom Hanks in the film Cast­away, bawl­ing in mis­ery when his one and only desert-is­land com­pan­ion, his bas­ket­ball chum Wil­son, is washed away. Ev­ery lost ball has a bi­og­ra­phy of bro­ken con­nec­tion.

Once it was at the cen­tre of a bustling so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. Once it was at the heart of the game. Once, it was the cat­a­lyst, un­leash­ing col­lec­tive de­light. Now it is ly­ing use­less and split in a pud­dle. Or stuck in the un­der­growth, the wrong side of a steel fence.

Or, in the case of one un­ex­pected pho­to­graphic con­tri­bu­tion, wedged into the ma­sonry of a civic mon­u­ment in Barcelona. @Lost­foot­balls is the work of two Birm­ing­ham City fans called Matt and Adam. They act as a re­pos­i­tory for pic­tures com­ing in from around the world, which they re-post, cap­tioned with pop lyrics.

Thus, a pic­ture from AFC Wal­coun­tians, an am­a­teur club in Croy­don, of three play­ers wrestling with dense bram­bles in a vain at­tempt to be re­united with their match ball, is posted with words from David Bowie’s Heroes. Or a snap of half a dozen balls bob­bling in the cur­rents of the River Taff in Cardiff is sent out ac­com­pa­nied by the open­ing cou­plet from the Un­der­tones’ Teenage Kicks.

Ev­ery pic­ture tells a story. Not least one of Matt’s favourites. It is a snap of the roof of one of the stands at Birm­ing­ham’s St An­drew’s sta­dium, where, in the gutter, can be seen the last rest­ing place of half a dozen balls – hoicked up there over the sea­sons, a de­cay­ing cri­tique of hit-and-hope hoof­ball.

The ap­petite for such poignancy is ap­par­ently in­sa­tiable. Ev­ery day, Matt and Adam are in­un­dated with new snaps, fresh ev­i­dence of for­got­ten hordes from around the world.

“Hon­our them,” Matt says of the lost le­gions of bat­tle-scarred foot­balls. “Send in pho­tos.”

Though his ser­vice of re­mem­brance comes with a sig­nif­i­cant caveat, spelt out at the top of the page. “No rugby balls al­lowed.”

Dumped: The col­lec­tion of pho­tos at @Lost­foot­ball tell for­lorn sto­ries of sep­a­ra­tion

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