Man travels 96,000 miles across 80 countries all for the love of football

·4-min read
Steve during his epic journey in games in Nepal, Cuba and Thailand (Pictures: ww.atw80g.com)
Steve during his epic journey in games in Nepal, Cuba and Thailand (Pictures: ww.atw80g.com)

A Bacup man has completed an incredible journey across the world armed only with four jumpers and a football.

Six years ago, Steve McCluskie, 53, from Stacksteads wanted to celebrate the game of football and what it meant to ordinary people.

His journey has taken him from Australia to China through parts of Africa and central America and back through Europe.

From the backstreets of Zanzibar to some of the most recognisable places on the planet, Steve travelled 96,000 miles and it was all for the love of the game.

His only two games in England were in York and at a wedding in Clitheroe which was listed as game 79.

His amazing feat, which began in April 2016, ends at Stacksteads Recreation Ground on Saturday, where he is being joined by family and friends for game number 80.

He said: “My football adventure was a reaction to modern football.

"I'd been a fan all my life but had begun to feel alienated from the game I love, because of the daft money in the game and how fans were always being overlooked when big decisions were being made such as the cost of replica shirts and TV schedules.

“So, I decided to go and have a kick-about around the world - the game belongs to us all after all.

"It's been an incredible adventure that has taken me to play on rooftops in India, beaches in Vietnam, bandstands in Zurich and the streets of Medellin in Colombia.

“I had no plan - just turned up in places, plonk my jumpers down and saw what happened.”

Liverpool fan Steve, a teacher and support worker, documented his football matches on his own blog which sees him playing to the backdrop of some stunning scenery such as mountains and beaches.

His first game began in Adelaide, Australia. Later in Yuexiu Park, Guangzhou, China he wrote: “I’d been strolling round for an hour, watching as the older locals practiced their tai chi and ballroom dancing moves.

“After about an hour, I found myself near the amusement park. That was where I met the jianzi players.

"I'd seen the game being played in Vietnam too; it is really keepy-ups with a modified shuttlecock called a 'key'. The players were outstanding. The key rarely touched the ground as it was passed around in groups of four.”

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Lancashire Telegraph:

Players pose for pictures in In Yuexiu Park, Guangzhou​, China, Tonanoka Park, Mombasa Kenya and Bijao Beach Resort, Panama

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Lancashire Telegraph:
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He described playing game number 67 in Reykyavik, Iceland, as 'the coldest game I've played in since Bacup Rec 1979.'

He says: "Down went the jumpers but there was hardly anyone around to badger.

"The odd shivering couple walked past with scarves covering their faces.

"Things were looking bleak until Justas from Lithuania rocked up, swiftly followed by Markos (Greece) and his partner Blanka (Romania) and four great friends from Poland, Adrian, Rafal, Michal and Artur."

It wasn’t the only place Steve sometimes struggled to get a game going and describes South Carolina as a ‘real test’ but eventually a football match took place after two hours of trying.

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Participants in Salzburg, Austria and Cero Planno, Monteverde Costa Rica

Whilst he would have liked to use the same football and jumpers, Steve said he would normally give these out to anyone who wanted it.

“In some places they had not seen a real football before. In the refugee camp in Calais for instance the jumpers understandably were handed out or taken at the end of the game.

“Wherever I went I was welcomed with real love and kindness and I would find the places where people had less or there was economic hardship people were so kind even though they had little.”

He added: “It's been incredible to witness how the ball has the power to bring people together from all ages, genders and backgrounds.

“The back stories to each game have been wonderful - I have interviewed people along the way and have written a book that charts the journey.”

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The Savannah River, Georgia, (above) Emtebbe, Uganda and Ti Top Island, Vietnam

Steve says his journey was inspired by his childhood which mirrored those of many others who would rush to play football after school.

He said: “As a kid I was obsessed. Every free evening and weekend I’d take my ball to the local rec and see if I could get a game going - jumpers for goalposts and all that.

“We’d play on until the night swallowed the ball, returning home muddy, exhausted and exhilarated; replaying goals, missed chances, finger-tip saves, great passes and last gasp tackles over and over in our minds. Stories were written and heroes were made. The game was simple. The game was everything.”

You can find more about all the places Steve visited here.