Football is one of the great levellers across the country: most people know some of the rules, the teams, the players, many more know about the wages; like the weather, conversation can always come back to football. There is a great disparity between the professional and the amateur game but regardless of their league placement or their sponsorship deals, all footballers started off kicking a ball around the garden.
Alan Powdrill in his series Reality Football wanted to capture the love that all footballers have for the game, it is a commentary on those you see in the park at the weekend, the ones in the pub in the afternoon, the ones who simply live for football. Powdrill set out the project as a “statement of contrast between the over-exposed and over-paid professional game and the very under-exposed, under-funded amateur game”. He wanted to capture the unsung heroes from the small teams across the UK. “The project portrays players who all have serious amateur passion for the beautiful game. In today’s economic climate it reminds us that, for ninety minutes, anyone can achieve their own personal moment of glory for love…not money.”
I live about half a mile from Hackney Marshes, one of the largest collections of public football pitches in Europe. I’ve always noticed the amazing characters down there so started taking some portraits of the players before and after the games. This developed and so I began visiting other well-known football cities around the UK like Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.
As you point out, professional footballers now get paid insane, obscene amounts of money and are as far from the characters of the local park, and regular football fans, as it’s possible to be. Reality Football began as an antidote to this, to highlight the contrast between those that play for the love of the game and those that play for a career and a ‘bling’ lifestyle.
All the players I approached were really happy to have their portraits taken, almost flattered, as though the ‘media’ had come to shine the spotlight on them. It was really interesting to see the different reactions and attitudes in each city. This project was shot and finished some years ago. It was exhibited in London where some people from the FA saw it and eventually exhibited it at Wembley Stadium for a season. I got a few free tickets as a result and took a few of the London players there (from Surreal Madrid who play on Hackney Marshes) The irony of going from Hackney Marshes to the walls of Wembley Stadium was brilliant.
I’ve always been a football fan and did play but no longer. As I get older my interest has waned a little as it becomes more and more like a corporate business and further from the fans the game was created for.
I would hope that people would see this project being more than just about football and equally a study of social interest and a comment on the way modern life becomes more and more about big business and less about the ordinary person on the street (or local park).