A floating Steadicam tracking shot through the trees, along muddy paths, over logs and undergrowth, the sun dappling and strobing on trunk and leaf before the branches crowd in and crowd in until, suddenly, the camera breaks through, breaks free, to reveal a field of green. A football pitch, virgin, unused, unplayed on, waiting for the first studmark, the first white line, the first Iniesta-like surge from the midfield.
The reality isn't that much different, except it's raining, the forest floor is sodden and slippy, raindrops gather, swell and plop on heads before trickling down exposed necks. But the field is the same, a pristine green wash of colour, not quite ready for playing on but perfectly prepared to inflict the first football injury. That would be mine when I step on the surrounding clay bank. My leg goes one way and the rest of me goes the other, and the muscle I'd strained playing five-a-sides a couple of days before tears. I double over in pain and then, eyes watering, leg shaking, I turn to my companion and try to talk about art.
Craig Coulthard is an artist. He is a Scot who grew up in Germany. He loves football, he used to be a goalkeeper and a couple of years ago he was given one of the largest commissions ever (£460,000) by the Arts Council of England. That money has been spent on creating this green space in the middle of a forest near Selkirk (where his dad came from).
Forest Pitch – its official title – is part of the Cultural Olympiad. Later this month, four teams of Scottish immigrants (two male teams, two female teams) will christen this pitch. Christen it and finish it too. Some 180 minutes (plus injury time) of football, and that will be that.
Once the final whistle blows on the second game, the field will lie dormant and then, a few months down the line, trees will be planted along the white lines, around the penalty boxes and across the centre line. Twenty years from now a three-dimensional wooden sculpture of a football pitch will be found in this patch of green. It will stand for another 40 years, all being well.
Some people have said to Coulthard it should be kept as a football pitch for local use. But that's not what it is, he points out. "It's a work of art," he says simply. "I wanted the legacy of this sporting arena to be more poetic." It is that. But it's more than that too. It's art about beauty, about athleticism, about belonging and identity. It's art about memory too. And for that we have to go back to the artist's childhood in Germany.
Craig Coulthard grew up an air force brat in West Germany, in a small village near RAF Wildenrath. He played football with the local kids and the pitch they played on was in the middle of the forest, near a chapel. His memories of it are a Steadicam glide into the past. "I used to have to cycle down through the village into the forest – very dense woodland – to the pitch, which was a really dramatic place to play football and an exciting place to go because it felt like more of an event."
Four years ago, during a residency in Dusseldorf, he and his sister visited the village and went looking for the pitch. All he found was long grass and an abandoned changing room. That prompted another memory, of his teenage years playing in goal for St Andrews Colts in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup for under-15s against Rangers at Cathkin Park, Third Lanark's old stadium, a decaying concrete ampitheatre. His team lost but the day stayed with him. "I was really taken by this space that was grandiose yet crumbling. It had trees growing through it."
One more strand. Flying back and forth from his home in Edinburgh to London, where his girlfriend lived, he noticed the Borders forests. "I like to look for football pitches when I'm flying over towns and cities to try to work out who plays there. But when flying over the Borders, I was also interested in these woodlands and how geometric they were and looking at the paths that ran between them. While I was flying I thought it would be great if, while walking through these paths, someone just came across a football pitch in the same way I did as a kid and there was a game on. I would love to do that. Build a football pitch in the middle of the forest."
A month later he saw a call for proposals for large-scale artworks in conjunction with the Cultural Olympiad and the idea of Forest Pitch was born. Three years on, some 600 spruce have been cleared in the middle of the Buccleuch estate at Clarilawmuir, a shelter has been built from the harvested wood and the field is almost ready. Schoolchildren have designed the strips and the teams are in training. It's nearly time for kick off.
Football and art have always gone hand in hand for Coulthard. "I think the first really independent creative drawing I did was drawing footballers out of Shoot and Match. I started to design my own strips and make up pretend matchday programmes and pretend teams and do profiles on pretend players. So I think football always felt quite comfortable alongside my art practice."
In his teens he began to be interested in things other than the beautiful game, he says. Such as? "Girls and art and going out. Just normal things." But football – its aesthetics, the soap opera of its narratives, its sense of ritual – still fascinates him. "What I like about football is the variety of things that happen on a football pitch and the things that are associated with it. And that includes singing, rivalries, football strips, the way a goalkeeper can dive."
He's also fascinated by the idea of football as identity. Growing up, he imagined himself playing for both Scotland and Germany. And the two games to be played on July 21 will be, in their own way, an exploration of this notion. He knew the players had to be amateurs because of the original Olympic ethos of amateurism, but given the ongoing debate about the merits of a British Olympic football team, he reckoned here was a chance to bring people together in the way that, as a child, he and other British military children had played alongside German locals.
"I think it was partly in response to the fact that football in Scotland is often a negative and divisive thing, and I know it can be a positive." As a result the players will all be incomers. A mixture of Canadians, Americans, Afghanis, Iraqis, Japanese, Malaysians, Nigerians and Somalians, who are also 21st-century Scots.
"The trees that were on this site were spruce," Coulthard says, "non-native trees that have been brought to this country because they perform well, because they're suited to this country. We'll be planting native trees. It's a multi-culture in itself. Spruce on its own is quite restrictive. I felt there was a relationship between that and society in general. A monoculture is quite boring and quite dangerous."
Craig Coulthard is an artist who knows that football – like life – is a team game.
The matches will take place on July 21. For further information and tickets for Forest Pitch, priced £5.50/£4 (concessions), visit www.forestpitch.org.