Photo book 'Sunday Football' captures the spirit of Hackney Marshes

Photographer Chris Baker documents the essence of amateur Sunday football on Hackney's largest pitches

"HACKNEY Marshes is legendary. Just as David Beckham and Ian Wright.” So says Dan Walker, presenter of BBC’s Match of the Day, in the introduction to a new book of photographs capturing the essence of amateur football on the area’s 82 pitches.

Its author, photographer Chris Baker, says ‘Sunday Football’ is: “My love letter to… British Sunday League football at its best, every week of the season come rain or shine, at Hackney Marshes, the spiritual home of amateur football.”

Formed in 1947, the Hackney and Leyton Sunday League pitches were built, effectively, on Blitz rubble. Ten years later, they had proved so popular that Sunday mornings would herald the arrival of up to 2,000 players.

Today, with thousands of amateur footballers turning up each week, the Marshes’ popularity is still very much alive. From September to April, more than 50 games are played each week and Baker spent two years documenting the variety of its characters and dramas.

These include, in his own words: “Those players who turn up late, hungover… Those who light a cigarette at half time whilst sucking an orange quarter… Those who get lost in the emotion of the game… And those that round off the weekend with a quick pint of beer with their teammates post-game, before heading back to the missus and kids for a roast dinner.”

In the book, the photos are accompanied by quotes that Chris has gathered along the way. One player states: “Football is a family, tied together in knowledge and passion, where everything comes together for 90 minutes, where everything else is second to playing football.”

Another remembers a time when: “Our goalkeeper wore glasses but couldn’t wear contacts. This was a bit of a problem as he could only really see a player or the ball when they reached the end of his area. We conceded a lot of long-range shots that year.”

While a referee reflects: “I’ve refereed 400 games and only had to abandon four: one for being headbutted, one for being pushed over, one after having sent a player off and him stating he was going to stay on after the game and knock me out, and the final one because a team kept fighting amongst themselves.”

As Dan Walker says: “Chris has done something very special with ‘Sunday Football’. He’s managed to capture the essence of football, reminding us of all the reasons we have so much affection for the beautiful game.” And, of course, for Hackney Marshes.

'Sunday Football' is published by Hoxton Mini Press.