By way of addressing lower league football issues, the Grassroots project ultimately aims to explore the gap between the professional and the amateur. Amateur clubs that have no access professional status or have lost it, closely imitate their professional counterparts (in terms of hierarchy, infrastructure and architecture of the sports object, customized accessories such as digital scoreboards, team kits, match programmes and posters, fandom). This gap is a world of images, universal patterns, behavioural patterns, rituals, and replication of the acts performed in the big professional sport.
The attempts of non-professionals to gain a higher status prove unavailing, since this would require tackling issues that belong not to sports but rather to econimics or politics. This limited upward movement takes place in a space that is a closed circle of amateurs, which redefines the game to fit the image of a professional sport. The original overwhelming ludic element in the lower league football is inevitably transferred to the players, the regulations of amateur competitions are not unviolable and subject to interpretations. Amateur football links back to Bakhtin’s carnival, where the wall of difference between spectator and performer is dissolved and the carnival (of football) itself is directly opposed to officialdom. Sport and game are tightly integrated into social relations, they are important cultural practices of today, they are indicators of the changes that the structure, the tissue of society is going through. As essentially secular activities, they also affect social institutions by sportifying everyday life, leisure, and fashion. Focussing at the sports arena inserted in the landscape by means of photography helps to give point to the viewer’s perception of various modern-day settings, some as indistinct as urban areas, some as grand as nature landmarks.
Historically the stadium has been seen as one of the most powerful political, social and cultural “devices” in our urban environment. As the focus for events, sporting and entertainment extravaganzas, the stadium as a building typology arguably exerts an influence on the social and physical fabric of our cities to a greater extent than any other building type. In today’s conditions some of the new stadiums, e.g., those that are built specifically for big important international tournaments, can also be seen as a demonstration of political will on the part of the authorities, as an instrument to influence the electoral masses.
Amateur/mass sports are logically connected to the process of the country’s industialization. A study of football club nomenclature reveals that, even today, big names from the big sports world such as Dinamo or Spartak are far less popular than the likes of Metallurg (metal-maker) or Gornyak (miner), which refer us to the idea that leisure time of members of labour collectives must be dedicated to sports. It is no coincidence, therefore, that amateur teams play matches on the weekend when the players are off their regular work. Matches of professional teams occur in the same period, but with an opposite intention: to attract fans to the stadium during their free time. In contrast to professional clubs, filling up the stadium is not a primary task for amateur clubs: with an average attendance of 200 supporters it is difficult to argue that they give a boost to the team. Unlike a professional club, an amateur club is not intent on profit-making. There is no sale of entry tickets or club insignia. With no TV broadcasting it is impossible to sell broadcasting rights.
Of interest are the rare occasions of direct communication between amateurs and professionals, as in the cases of some of the best amateur teams participating in Cup games (e.g., the brilliant FC Shakhter Peshelan cup run of 2015), clubs (and, most importantly, players) losing or gaining their professional status (e.g., Torpedo Moscow). The romanticization of lower league football has recently been shaping up in connection with the advent of the groundhopping culture (attending lower league matches with no intent to support one of the teams) and the associated subcultural artefacts, e.g., zines and social network groups. However, the attention given to enormous stadiums, crazy contracts and personnel reshuffle in top clubs still overshadows the bodily practices of thousands of men of our time.
The goal of the Grassroots Project is to explore the lower league (non-professional) football culture, to determine the position of the stadium within the urban infrastructure, and its influence on the local community.