You'll never play for England!: Meet the weekend warriors who represent the true spirit of football

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The football is muddy, inelegant and occasionally bleak, but for the parishioners who flock there on Saturday and Sunday mornings, Hackney Marshes offers a game more beautiful than anything played out on high-definition television. In an age when a player can cost £80m and earn £200,000 a week, and when broadcasters pay billions for television rights, public pitches all over the country have become the spiritual home for a sport that has done its best to outgrow its roots.

Nowhere will football's growing rich/poor divide be more visible than at next month's World Cup. Teams will compete not just for glory and gold, but also for a purse worth a total of £280m. Sponsors, meanwhile, have showered South Africa with cash for the chance to capture the eyes and pockets of the biggest global TV audience in sport.

Like all football fans, Simon Reid will be glued to his television when the World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg ' on Friday 11 June. The 27-year-old Scot might also feel a twitch in his hamstrings the following morning; were the football season still running, Reid would be climbing out of bed and straight into his football boots. "Nothing else would make me miss out on a Friday night so I can get up at 7am and go out in the most miserable weather," he says.

The passion of people such as Reid has fascinated Alan Powdrill for the past five years. The photographer has spent countless weekends criss-crossing the country in a bid to capture the unsung heroes of Britain's weekend leagues – pub teams, church teams and uniformed groups of friends whose love for football knows no touchlines.

It was a journey that began close to home; Powdrill lives a toe-punt away from Hackney Marshes in east London, where, every weekend, about 1,600 players fill 73 full-size pitches. "My two loves are football and photography but, like a lot of football fans, I've become disillusioned with the professional game," he says. "But what really reassures me is how much these guys love the game. It's what many of them live for during the week, and they play for love not money."

Hackney Marshes has played host to football for more than a century, becoming synonymous with the spirit of the amateur game. Changes are afoot – shiny new goals have already sprouted and Hackney Council is investing millions in the site, mindful of its proximity to the 2012 Olympic Park. But attempts by sponsors to cash in have so far been resisted. In 2006, a decade after Nike shot its era-defining TV ad in which Eric Cantona, David Seaman, and Ian Wright mucked in with the lads to the soundtrack of Blur's "Park Life", the sportswear giant scored an own goal when it used imagery of the Marshes in a range of football gear. Nike agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement when Hackney sued for breach of copyright.

Powdrill concedes that the image of warts-and-all Sunday-league football is pretty familiar but says, "It's the faces and characters of these men that really interest me." The photographer is exhibiting a series of his most striking portraits at, a site that is as much a tribute to his subjects as it is a showcase for their passions.

Some men are rather more lithe than others, and the age range is vast. In Sunderland, Powdrill met Mitchell Thompson, a 64-year-old who still turns out for Houghton Mill, a pub team. "I'm getting on a bit but I've never missed a season since being 10 years old," Mitchell told Powdrill. "I still enjoy it but dread the day my legs give in and I won't be able to carry on any more."

It was the variety in his subjects' faces that most struck Powdrill. "It was especially true on Hackney Marshes, where there were players and teams representing every nationality, race and religion you can think of," he says. "It's like an atlas down there – you've got Turkish teams, Jewish teams, Asian teams. It's tribal but I've never seen evidence of clashes. They're all there for the same reason."

To see more from Powdrill's series, visit

REALITY FOOTBALL The Exhibition, 17 June - 13 July 2010, The Printspace Gallery, 74 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DL

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?