Beer bellies, brawling and cigarettes: The joy of Sunday football caught in touching photos

Photographer Chris Baker has turned his camera lens on the pitch and towards the players 

Kashmira Gander
Saturday 28 January 2017 14:24 GMT
Team mates joke around on Hackney Marshes in East London
Team mates joke around on Hackney Marshes in East London

From a mini ambulance parked beside a knocked-out footballer, to another player poking his belly out with cigarettes dangling from his mouth on the pitch - photographer Chris Baker has captured Sunday football in all its messy glory.

In a visual love-letter to the gloriously unrefined matches that take place every weekend come rain or shine, Baker has honed in on players at the pitch on Hackney Marshes, East London. That is the same grass that David Beckham, John Terry and Sol Campbell were plucked into super-stardom from as children.

The two-year-long project has been compiled into the book: Sunday Football, which was released last year.

Baker, who has been living in East London since 2015, said the response from the players - depicted drenched in sweat and splattered with mud - has been overwhelmingly positive. And with a topic as close to people’s hearts as having a kick-about, he can see why.

“There is common ground for a lot of people," he told The Independent. "Be it oneself, a sibling, a friend or a parent, most people know someone who has played Sunday football at some stage, and with that, they remember the comical stories that seem to belong to amateur football more than most amateur sports. People turning up hungover, the big fights that happen, the moment of unexpected and under-appreciated skill, and the over-abused referee.”

While the action on the pitch is often the focus of football photography, Baker wanted to celebrate the moments that players share when the game has stopped.

“What was important to me with this book was to capture the spirit of Sunday football,” he said.

A regular on amateur football pitches since he was 11, Baker stopped playing to focus on the series. This gave him a new perspective on the game.

“The most memorable moment was the first time I walked onto the pitches and caught the smell of ‘football’ mud mixed with deep heat. I’d played amateur football from the age of 11 until my mid-twenties and I hadn’t for a second ever thought about the smell of a football pitch, but it has one, and it is that, mud mixed with deep heat. Strangely it was like an old friend, sense memory instantly put me back into the flow of playing Sunday football and that helped the process of the project.

“I was taking pictures, but there was also one or two times that I turned up late and hungover just like the players, which again helped in the process of getting what I wanted because it helped me see the shots in a different way, with a more ambivalent and laissez-faire attitude.”

His project confirmed that the games are less about winning than feeling part of something.

“I realised over the course of putting the book together that the reason for Sunday Football is one of community. Of spending time with friends, laughing at each other and feeling good, just like when you were a kid in school.”

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