Those who have never played Sunday league football won’t understand, and that’s fine because trying to justify its brilliance can be a hard sell. For those who have, however, this is an exquisite example of everything that it entails.
Sunday Football is part of the East London Photo Stories, a series of books by Hoxton Mini Press. East London Swimmers and Columbia Road already make up part of the collection, with this homage to Hackney Marshes and the people who frequent it as Book 10 in the series.
In his introduction, Chris Baker describes Sunday Football as: ‘An ode to those players that turn up late, hungover and discussing last night’s conquest. Those who light a cigarette at halftime whilst sucking an orange quarter for the supposed energy it gives you. Those that repeatedly call the referee, their teammates and the opposing team a “c*nt.” Those that get lost in the emotion of the game and start the occasional brawl on the pitch, and those that round off the weekend with a quick pint.’
East London’s iconic Hackney Marshes provide the backdrop to Baker’s book. Built over rubble from the Blitz, it’s home to 88 football pitches and each week plays host to thousands of amateur footballers, most with questionable fitness, ability and attitude, but all who keep returning because it may provide the occasional moment of relative glory.
Most will spend their time getting frustrated with the awful refereeing, with their teammates or simply with their own horrific skill set. The performance that played out in their head the night before is laughably beyond what their stiff and creaking body can muster up.
Baker captures all of this beautifully. The photos are as genuine as you would want them to be, with zero gloss added to the mud-caked, unwashed Prostar kits, and boots that split two months go, still held together with stolen sock tape.
The quotes are as if they’ve been picked out of the Whatsapp group you were going through last week. They cover the entirety of the caricatures who make up this level of the game. There are the divas who want all the glory but can’t hit a barn door, those weighed down with the responsibility of actually trying to put an XI out, and the liabilities still in bed 20 minutes before kickoff.
“He’s our flashy striker. You should have seen what he had for breakfast: Eggs Benedict.”
While this football shares the same rules as the game played by the professionals, the book covers all the unwritten ones that play no part in the English Premier League. The tallest player puts up the nets, if you buy Lucozade make sure you get a few for those who won’t bring any, the opposing team’s linesman is a cheat and proper goalkeepers are gold dust.
Only someone who has spent a decade of waking up early on Sunday mornings to get changed in the rain, studded on the ankle and consistently threatened with ‘Watch what happens after the game!’ could have put this book together. It is everything it should be and as enjoyable as the game itself.
by Chris Baker
Hoxton Mini Press (UK)