SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Any kid remembers the thrill of receiving a new football but former Russian referee Mikhail Koshelev has taken that feeling to extremes - by amassing a collection of 800 soccer balls.
Koshelev, 57, has built a museum to the unheralded sphere, displaying everything from vintage 19th century sheepskin balls to modern balls used in World Cup tournaments and Champions League finals.
"There isn't a single soccer ball museum anywhere in the world," Koshelev said in Sochi, one of the host cities in Russia 2018 and the site of his museum.
"This is strange because the ball is the essence of the game. If there is no ball, there is no game. If there is no ball, there is no Pele, there is no (Cristiano) Ronaldo, there is no (Lionel) Messi."
Koshelev, who has been collecting the balls for 30 years, said many of the items in his collection are valuable because they are rare but the ones he cherishes most are those with a story behind them.
One of his prize exhibits is a ball from the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea held in Moscow, the only time Europe's club showpiece was staged in Russia.
He also has a unique item -- a ball specially produced for the 2003 women's World Cup, which had originally been scheduled to be held in China before being moved to the U.S. after the outbreak of the SARS epidemic.
His dream is to open an interactive museum where visitors can follow the changes in design that the soccer ball has undergone over the past decades.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ian Chadband)