Sam Davy was standing in a sports store with his son, who was looking to buy a football for a friend, when the idea for the Pass-A-Ball project began.
“I said ‘come on, let’s get a ball and go’, and he said: ‘You know what? None of these balls actually mean anything’.
“I thought, maybe there’s an opportunity to put a brand on the shelf that competes on price, design and quality but has a different message, one of inclusion and equality.”
That’s exactly what Sam and Tara Montoneri have created with Pass-A-Ball, a project which puts a football in the hands of a community that needs one every time one is sold.
“Just having a ball to play with is such a special thing still,” said Sam. “It’s the difference between having something to do and having nothing in a lot of cases.”
The ball itself is a work of art, which aims to “soften the edges of that football language” with a basic but playful design – but with 5,000 sold and 5,000 donated, it’s the philanthropic nature of this piece of kit that’s most impressive.
Park partners with a range of charities and projects to distribute footballs in countries all over the world such as Kenya, Australia, the UK and Uganda, working out where their efforts can create the most impact.
“There was a school in South Africa with 750 kids, the vast majority of them were orphans through Aids,” said Sam. “They had one soccer ball between them.
“There are so many different stories.”
Not all of those stories are as simple as providing the world with great footballs to play with.
Park supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with their impact directed at four of the 17 global goals set out by the UN to transform the world by 2032.
One of those goals is gender equality, something Park is challenging a bucket load of footballs at a time.
“A lot of the places where we do work, there’s a lot of stigma around girls partaking in sport, and the charities that we are working with are trying to break down those barriers,” said Sam.
“There’s one charity in Kampala where they had two soccer teams for the boys but no team for the girls, and traditionally the girls are not allowed to play.
“They started a soccer team for the girls and we were able to give them some footballs to start their team. It’s the first one in that region that’s a girls-only football team, which is awesome.
“It allows them to have their own cool gear and they can do their thing.”
This simple idea has travelled across the world then, but it’s an idea Park is starting to expand and elaborate on. A football is undoubtedly the most vital piece of equipment in the game, but other equipment has value too.
“A few of the charities that we’ve been working with in the more remote areas, one in Kenya, one in Uganda, there happened to be a few kids who were really passionate about playing in goal,” said Sam.
“If the kids do break a finger or get ligament damage then they kind of just have to deal with it, there aren’t many options for them and when it’s their hand, it really stops them engaging in schoolwork.”
The new goalkeeper gloves that Park is putting on sale for a trial period, under the same one-for-one policy as the footballs, provide protection for budding goalie hands, allowing them to embrace education as much as they embrace the beautiful game.
“That’s the main thing that these guys are trying to do, they’re trying to use football to engage the kids and keep them motivated to come back,” said Sam.
“When they’re there, they do well at their school work. If they get injured in that way they can fall behind.”
The gloves are just the start, too. Park is partnering with Football Beyond Borders (FBB), an education charity that uses the sport to inspire young people.
Park will be donating 75 footballs to FBB, but will also be working with the children on a project.
The project is called Pass-A-Ball: More Than Just A Ball, and according to Sam it’s about finding the true essence of the World Cup.
The kids will explore ideas around the power of sport and its ability to deal with social issues and inclusiveness, considering as well the backdrop of racism in football in Russia, where this summer’s World Cup takes place.
As for Park’s targets, Sam has big ideas.
“The big one is obviously a million balls,” he said. “I think it’s going to take us a while to get to that point, but I’d love to be sitting at the end of this year having done 20,000.”
To learn more about Park and the Pass-A-Ball project, click here.