As the largest expanse of football fields in Europe, it has been the training ground for players from Terry Venables to David Beckham and was immortalised in the video for Blur's Parklife.
But a large part of Hackney Marshes, where 1,500 players compete each Sunday and which is among the few remaining inner London playing fields, is to become a coach park as part of the bid to stage the Olympic Games in the capital in 2012.
Detailed proposals submitted last month in the "candidate file" to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), show that the bid leaders have earmarked a 10-hectare plot to be used by 400 coaches bringing spectators in from park-and-ride schemes around the M25.
Bulldozers will move on to the section known as East Marsh, which holds 12 football and rugby pitches, displacing a football league, felling rare trees and disturbing wildlife in a nearby conservation area. Bid leaders, under pressure to convince the IOC that London can handle Olympic traffic, insist there is no alternative to East Marsh, a 15-minute walk from the proposed Olympic Park in the lower Lea Valley, near Stratford. They say the pitches will be restored within two yearss.
Opposition to the scheme from environmental groups, football teams and politicians has been increased by a sense of betrayal. At the start of the year, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had said the Olympics would not involve development of Hackney Marshes, temporary or permanent, but within nine months the plan had been granted detailed planning permission by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.
Kevin Doolin, secretary of the Hackney and Leyton Sunday League, said: "This could kill us off. We had meetings at the beginning of this year and were told emphatically that there were no plans to use the marshes." The 52-team league and Greater London Women's League use the East Marsh. The Sunday league faces an uncertain future because it has not been told in its negotiations with the London Development Agency (LDA), the mayor's property department, where it can play its games for the two seasons between 2012 and 2014.
Mr Doolin said: "There is not one person in the league who is not 100 per cent anti this. It has been sprung on us because the bid people have suddenly realised they have big problems with road access to the Olympic site and the marsh is a huge space for them to build on."
Environmental experts say the scheme would do lasting damage. Protection orders on trees have been rejected, and to make way for the coach park, developers will have to cut down 50 trees, including 120-year-old rare black poplars and ash trees.
The side of the East Marsh fringed by the river Lea has been designated an environmental Site of Metropolitan Importance and is home to a wide variety of birdlife. Darren Johnson of the Green Party said: "The river is used by wintering birds including kingfishers and if it is going to be used as a coach park it will cause devastation."
Research last year by the London Green Party showed that the equivalent of 1,500 pitches had been lost in the past 10 years in London. The report said that the decline in green spaces was especially acute in east London.
The Hackney Marsh Users' Group plans to protest to the IOC unless further consideration is given to alternative sites. These include a nearby retail park, the lorry park at the New Spitalfields Market next to East Marsh, or the creation of a coach park by closing surrounding roads, a strategy used by Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
An LDA spokeswoman said: "The whole masterplan process gives guarantees for the restoration of pitches. Whether we win or lose the bid there will be an improvement in the changing facilities and drainage. That we will be restoring the area to its original make-up is seen as hugely positive and it will be done with care and consideration."Reuse content