Photoshoot: Park life pleasures on the fields of dreams

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The Independent Online
On Saturdays and Sundays throughout the winter the dreams, fantasies, aspirations and frustrations of men and women of all shapes, sizes, creeds and religions are played out on the parks football pitches of Britain. There are over 42,000 clubs affiliated to the Football Association in England alone and only 89 of them are professional, so for the vast majority it is a pitch like this that is home for the day. It was on a pitch like this that John Barnes was spotted by Watford, playing for Sunbury Court and no doubt dreaming of the day he would run through the entire Brazilian defence to score at the Maracana Stadium. And of course it was a pitch like this at Hackney Marshes, famous the world over as a parks venue, that Kenny Dalglish had in mind when he issued his FA Cup challenge to Stevenage Borough.

In its heyday Hackney Marshes housed 120 pitches side by side - today there are 88. As two teams come off two more go on, with well over 100 club matches taking place on a typical Sunday. It was there that Terry Venables played his schools football, more recently David Beckham and just about any footballer from London will have played at Hackney Marshes at some time in their youth. The St John Ambulance is always on hand and at many of the other parks venues up and down the country, while scouts from the professional clubs patrol the touchlines looking for the next John Barnes. But with 5,000 sports grounds sold for development to the private sector since 1981, the now 34-year-old Barnes may not be the only endangered species in British football.