IT WAS THE FEAR which bothered David Ginola most. France's most flamboyant footballer was dodging tackles and making passes just like any other day in training. But this match was different. His team-mates who exchanged smiles and joked amid the stifling heat had just one leg. Ginola had swapped the playing fields of England for the killing fields of Cambodia. And despite the happy kickaround in Kompong Speu, four hours' drive south of the capital Phnom Penh, he saw a darker picture. 'Close by, people were scouring the ground searching for landmines. And there, right in the middle, I could see villagers living and working. Mines lay all around their homes,' he recalls. 'They have no choice but to live there because it's their land. If they leave, others may move in, so they stay.' Danger surrounds them 24 hours a day and what stands out most, Ginola says, is the evident worry they live with. 'You notice it everywhere you go. Even in a peaceful atmosphere it's very scary. I was scared for them.' Ginola has just returned from a five-day trip to the ravaged country in his roving ambassadorial role as a spokesman for the International Red Cross Landmines Campaign, a post he accepted in 1998 following the death of his predecessor Diana, Princess of Wales. He has also launched a Web site, www.walk withoutfear.com to highlight the plight of the many millions of people who daily face the peril of buried bombs in more than 70 countries. Each year about 24,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines - and Cambodia is one of the worst hit nations. Playing football can, literally, be a matter of life and death. As for Ginola, he sounds weary. We are at Hong Kong's airport to discuss what he has seen. But there is a problem. He is on one side of immigration and I am on the other because he has lost his ticket to England, a mishap he is, to put it mildly, not happy about. After a two-hour wait his agent Chantal Stanley emerges to apologise. His tour of Temple Street night market with his would-be hosts is cancelled and instead we talk by telephone. His patience is close to breaking but he remains genial. 'It was fantastic to see these people smiling, enjoying themselves,' he says about his seven-a-side game with landmine victims. 'They were forgetting for a while about what had happened to them. Their enthusiasm stood out, some are paralympic athletes and are very healthy. It's amazing to see them smiling and having such a great time. We really had a great match. There is a lot of work to do, but I could see on their faces they were positive. When I started playing it was on a pitch like that.' Having Ginola, the footballing magician who owes his fame and fortune to his ability with his legs and feet, as the anti-landmine ambassador is poignant rather than ironic. For Ginola, watching people play with an artificial limb makes accidents of birth become prescient. He grew up in France where his talent was spotted at age 11. He went on to become the golden boy, France's George Best, before falling from favour in 1994 after a misplaced pass cost France a place in the finals. He now plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premiership and was named England's best player last season. Soon after assuming the post, he visited Angola in Africa, a country still ravaged by civil war. But in Cambodia he saw more reason for optimism. 'Angola and Cambodia are miles away from each other, not just geographically but in many aspects. Angola was very hard. In Cambodia you saw people living far from anything and enjoying themselves. All the people have a positive attitude. They want to make Cambodia a beautiful country and already you can see great improvements in the way people live. But they're not living in peace yet.' Along with Afghanistan and Angola, Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. An estimated 10 million booby traps still litter the countryside following decades of civil war. Ginola was feted everywhere. Did they know who he was? 'Yes,' he responds proudly. 'It was quite amazing. Some of them were wearing my shirt [No 14]. It is important to show we are close to the people, that we are concerned.' Ginola conceded after his Angola trip that some maimed victims simply looked at 'the white guy' in bewilderment. British Red Cross worker Neil Thorns, who was on the Cambodia visit, says Ginola's iconic status is not the only key to the mission. 'Obviously the majority of the Khmer people did not know who Ginola was,' he explains. 'But they saw what he was trying to do and could relate to that. He wants to take away their message and alert people the world over.' Like 'the people's princess', Diana, people are at ease with Ginola. He is affable, articulate, intelligent - he once addressed the Oxford Students' Union - and compassionate. With two children of his own, he relates especially well to young people. Ginola is not so much a crusader as a beacon. His role is to bring the plight of these communities into the living rooms of the West. In Cambodia, his every move was shadowed by a BBC documentary team and other journalists. 'It's important to make people aware of the problem,' he says. By this yardstick the trip counts as a success. But in itself, however, it does not herald victory. The huge international effort in Cambodia and other countries is costly. The average bill for clearing a mine using local labour runs at about US$1,000 (HK$7,779), compared with the less than US$10 it takes to manufacture the hidden explosive device. 'We need money to provide help in a proper way,' Ginola says. The International Red Cross says it will take 50 years to clear all existing mines, with 100 million Swiss francs (HK$451 million) needed for work over the next five years. Hence the Web site. Underwritten by SportsNetGlobal.com, which also designed and manages the domain, its aims are to educate people about efforts to ban landmines, and attract corporate sponsors. Donations have passed 50,000 French francs (HK$53,500) in a few days but organisers hope much more will be handed over to the Red Cross. This can only be a fillip for those battling to save lives on the front line. With overseas help and local commitment, Ginola sees a chance to remove the fear in people which so scared him. 'Cambodian people are very kind. They want to set the country free. That will be when they do not have any more landmines.' One can only hope the messenger captures his audience as quickly as his deftness of foot does on a wet Saturday afternoon in England. For in the 23 minutes it took me to catch the Airport Express back to Central someone, somewhere, had trod on a mine. For more information visit either www.walkwithoutfear.com or www.ginola14.com .