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‘Grassroots’ by Michael Morgan

Documentary photographer Michael Morgan gives a glimpse of how the beautiful game binds communities together at Hackney Marshes, the historic “home” of Sunday league football through his new photo series, ‘Grassroots’. MM: “In its heyday in the 1950s, Hackney Marshes was home to more than 120 full-sized pitches hosting thousands of amateur players each weekend. Today, only 60 adult pitches and 14 junior pitches remain. Morgan’s photo series was captured before and between the Covid lockdowns, show the mud, the need for investment, and the commitment of players, coaches, referees, and supporters to the game and their clubs. The photographs also show the diversity of the community that makes use of the Marshes.”

Morgan said: “In recent years, a national funding crisis has seen community football struggle and, as a result, opportunities for young people to play locally are severely diminished. Since the Industrial Revolution, football has been finely woven into the very fabric of community life. People up and down the country give up their time to keep this tradition alive, providing a sense of purpose, passion, camaraderie and an outlet of expression away from everyday life.”

In the context of professional football’s ongoing challenge to face-down racism—most recently the social media abuse faced by Marcus Rashford and other players—Morgan added: “I’m not suggesting that Hackney Marshes is the answer to all questions, but you see players from across all of London’s communities come together to play football.” Morgan’s work also comes as former Welsh International player Robbie Savage announced a new scheme to bring grassroots football coaching to under privileged youngsters across the UK

Morgan’s work can be seen at https://www.nuamashowcase.com/students/michael-morgan/ as part of this year’s postgraduate showcase at Norwich University of the Arts, where he studied an MA in Photography.

Grassroots MM: “A once regular participant of amateur football, photographer Michael Morgan sets out to capture the zealous spirit and passion intrinsic to the UK’s grassroots football community (all football that is non-professional and non-elite). No longer able to play competitively, Morgan’s latest photo series – Grassroots – sees him document this world,  literally exploring the heritage and community of football, offering a behind the scenes insight into the culture of the game. 

In recent years, a national funding crisis has seen community football struggle in the face of limited finances and facilities and, as a result, opportunities for young people to play football locally are severely diminished. Despite these limitations, football has, since the Industrial Revolution been finely woven into the very fabric of community life and many up and down the country give up their time in order to keep this tradition alive, providing a sense of purpose, passion, camaraderie and an outlet of expression away from everyday life.

While Morgan started documenting grassroots football in his home county of Norfolk, recently the young photographer’s focus shifted towards the east end of London, primarily that of Hackney Marshes. This new chapter of the project opens up ideas of diversity and equality in light of several high-profile professional players – such as Raheem Sterling – speaking out about key societal issues such as mental health and racism.”

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