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Portraits of English Soccer’s Impact in India and South Africa

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It has been two years since I approached the Premier League with an idea of photographing their fans around the world. I had gone out of the blue to pitch the idea to them, something I had never done before.

As a photographer there is often a separation between commissioned work and personal work, but occasionally the two come together and beautiful things occur. Thankfully the Premier League was interested, and better than that, they brought a whole new element to the project that I didn’t expect and made it far stronger.

A lady stops to watch a coach training session in Pretoria, South Africa. The local educator teaches men and women the best techniques and approaches so they can take them back to their communities.
Boys from the Kolkata Premier Skill program return to their homes after an evening of training. Some of these children live in families of 10 or more in tiny rooms.

That was why I was running down a Soweto street with ten kids and an old football trying to photograph then in the last of the evening light. These kids can go up the road after school to train with some of the best coaches in South Africa. As part of the Premier Skills program run by the British Council, Premier League coaches travel to some of the most impoverished communities in the world and train locals to be football educators. A domino effect begins as these educators spread the best coaching practices throughout their area.

In Soweto, South Africa, a man gazes out of the window whilst his friend watches a football match on the TV.
Children playing football on the streets in Soweto, South Africa.
The chairman of the Chelsea Supporters Club in Johannesburg, South Africa

The scheme has reached a staggering 1.2 million kids. It gives them dreams, teaches them the benefits of commitment, and keeps them out of drugs and crime. I knew nothing about this program, which the Premier League runs in partnership with the British Council, but it sounded interesting and I was eager to develop the project to include this.

Kids get up at up at the crack of dawn in Kolkata, India, to get on to the pitch before it gets too hot, it’s amazing seeing 200 children training furiously as the sun comes up over their chaotic city.
Pupils from The Orient Girls School train on an open area of grass which they share with the sacred cows wandering the streets of their city.

I love collaboration, particularly when both sides gain from it. Without collaborating with the British Council and the Premier League I would not have been able to tell these stories. Staff based in South Africa and India opened the doors for me, they introduced me to the people they had been working with for years and then gave me free reign to tell their stories as I saw best.

At no older than 14 she is already the head of a family with all the responsibilities this brings. Without the Premier Skills sessions she would never have a chance to play, and never have a chance to feel like a child.

I embraced the challenge with open arms just like I do my personal work. I spent months before my travels chatting to coaches on Skype, talking football with the local fan clubs and finding out about India and South Africa. I slowly developed the best way to make this project.

Kuntala is a coach who says she is “married to football”. She used to play for India’s women’s team but now trains kids and coaches in Kolkata.
Coaches are not only taught ball skills but often attend classroom sessions to learn about sport science and social issues.

On the ground this freedom continued, I could photograph the way I wanted to and embrace the situations I found myself in. the resulting exhibition is very different from how I first imagined the project two years ago, but that’s the thing about collaboration — you change your viewpoint and learn new thing when you working with others.

A Manchester United fan runs through fields in Soweto, South Africa.
A large crowd celebrates Manchester United’s win over Leicester City on the streets of Mumbai.

The photographs show the power football has to promote positive change in communities around the world. They tell the stories of the inspiring people I met. It’s been great collaborating in this way and I hope I can do more projects like this in the future.

A group of Chelsea supporters feels more like a family in Johannesburg; sharing childcare and memories of games gone by.
Barry is a Gastroenterologist in Johannesburg, he has lined every room in his practice with photographs of Manchester United and memorabilia from matches.
Mumbai’s Liverpool FC Supporters club.

About the author: Charlie Clift is a photographer based in London, England. He shoots for The Sunday Times Magazine, the BBC, and BAFTA. You can find more of his work and connect with him on his website and Twitter.


Image credits: Photographs by Charlie Clift and used with permission

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