A traveller takes a £6.99 ball on a tour of Africa to discover the missionary's untold legacy.

Hugh MacDonald

THE ball was bought, at discount, for £6.99 on the Royal Mile. Its every bounce, though, brought joy, its every thud on hut or parched ground brought back the echoes of the past, its every roll testified to the unfolding story of how humans meet and interact.

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It is a humble offspring of a ball celebrated in legend but not yet placed on the centre spot of fact. Claire Foottit, photojournalist and travel writer, took the £6.99 sphere on an extraordinary journey to Africa that has been recorded in a series of marvellous images.

There is a compelling story that accompanies  the photographs. It stretches back 201 years to mark the birth of one of the greatest of Scots, Dr David Livingstone. It honours his life-enhancing achievements in Africa and asks an almost mischievous question: did the good doctor bring football to Africa?

''Livingstone is a hero still in Africa and is credited with bringing about social change, particularly on medicine and slavery. But the legend is that he brought a football to Africa  too,'' says Foottit whose record of a cultural exchange across continents will be exhibited, fittingly, in the Scottish Football Museum. She points out that historians in Africa have regularly referred to the holy trinity of accessories that Livingston brought to the continent: the Bible, the medicine bag and the football..

There is a personal element to Foottit's geographical and cultural journey. She is following in the footsteps of William Cotton Oswell, her great great great uncle, and a fellow explorer with Livingstone.

''I wanted to mark something the bicentennial of Livingstone's birth and it struck me that there was one obvious unifying object between Scotland and Africa and that is the football.''

She adds:  ''In Africa people are passionate about football. They have makeshift balls and rudimentary pitches and it is almost a second religion. Livingstone is known for being a missionary  but I was interested in what else he brought to Africa and how that has evolved.''

Famously, Livingstone travelled with the ethos of the three Cs: Christianity, commerce and civilisation. His great reputation in Africa survives on the legacy of his strong opposition to slavery and his promotion of medicine. ''He is known as the father of free trade and human rights,'' says Foottit, whose  Livingstone's Living Legacy: Football and the Three Cs Photography Exhibition  has received financial backing from lottery funding and the Malawi government among others.

Foottit has created Camera Voices,  a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, to record how people can use football for social change. Thus her brilliant, professional photographs of her trip are accompanied tellingly by images provided by those she met.

She gave away disposable cameras to people in Malawi and Mozambique and to Scotland's homeless football teams in Edinburgh. Their photographic reflections are part of the exhibition. Foottit's three Cs embrace using football for social change, sharing cultural perspectives and enhancing international partnerships.

These principles were thrillingly brought to life in her encounters with football teams in Malawi and Mozambique. ''There interest in football is obsessive,'' she says. ''In Blantyre, Malawi, I was asked what team I support. I replied that I did not know much about football but my brother and my nephew supported Celtic.  The next day one of the players came back with a Celtic strip on.'' 

The project grew as football teams in Africa and the homeless sides in Edinburgh and Glasgow embraced it, producing a series of images of life beyond football.

''The most glaring example of the gap in cultures was the amount of time it takes in some parts of Africa just to do the things we take for granted. Water has to be collected and brought to the home, fires have to be lit, food has to be prepared from the very basics. Football is a joyful escape from hard work,'' says Foottit.

There was also the sadness of watching women widowed by the HIV catastrophe struggling to make a life.

The project centred around five teams - Play Soccer Malawi, the Landirani Trust, the Manda Wilderness Trust and a Street Soccer Scotland team from Edinburgh and a Street Soccer Scotland team from Glasgow - but it tells a  distinct story and the ball is only part of it.

''It became clear to me that Africa wants a hand up, not a handout,'' says Foottit. ''It was also obvious that Livingstone was a hero in those countries and seen as a force for good that continues to this day. It was also obvious that he is better known in Africa than he is in Scotland. One of the benefits of the exhibition might be that people in Scotland learn to appreciate Livingstone and, importantly, what he stood for.

Foottit found her experiences both in Edinburgh and Africa as ''deeply humbling'', adding:  ''There is no doubt that there is a greater sense of community in Africa and that is worth reflecting on.''

Indeed, the photographs taken by footballers in Malawi and Mozambique are invigorated by the presence of people. The photographs taken by Scottish players regularly feature inanimate objects, mostly buildings.

But at the heart of it all is the football. Does Foottit believe it was one of Livingston's legacies?

''He definitely had a ball with him but most researchers believe it was an Indian rubber ball. But that is not what they say in Africa. Livingstone's life and legend is tied to football,'' she says.

The £6.99 ball is back in Edinburgh. Livingstone's rolls on in Africa.

Livingstone's Living Legacy: Football and the Three Cs Photography Exhibition runs from  November 25 to May 22, 2015 at the Scottish Football Museum,Glasgow