In honor of the opening week of the World Cup we bring you these images of grass roots soccer from photographer Jessica Hilltout. Over nine months, Jessica made two trips through Africa—one up the south coast—South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi—and one through a swath of West Africa—Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Togo and the Ivory Coast.
During her trip she took pictures of worn shoes, tattered jerseys and hand-made balls, capturing the spirit of the sport and its players through these small, homely objects.
In one of the first villages she visited, in Mozambique, she gave the local team a brand-new ball, one of 30 she had brought with her as replacements for the home-made samples she collected. When she came back the next day, it had already begun to come apart. “They had already stitched it,” she wrote. “I felt terrible. The white lady gives them a ball with a shorter life span than any of the ones they make.”
These pictures are a welcome antidote to the commercialism and hype that come along with the FIFA tournament. From the introduction of Jessica’s new book of photographs, by football historian David Goldblatt:
In South Africa, the world will see that the continent, at its leading economic edge, can build world-class infrastructures and run major global events. This is a good thing, but what the world may not see, and that would be everyone’s loss, are the World Cups that are played every day by teams, friends, communities all over the continent; the leading informal economic edge of Africa where they are making balls, marking pitches, scoring goals, and above all, pleasing themselves. If somehow, the corporate carnival should make all this invisible, we are lucky that Jessica Hilltout’s photographs can take us some of the way there.
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