Inspiring images capture the joy of amateur football around the world

From grassroots clubs to spontaneous kickabouts on the street, ice or battlefield – football has been bringing people together for centuries.

Haitian migrants play football at a camp in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

Photograph by Victoria Razo, National Geographic Image Collection
By Simon Ingram
Published 10 Nov 2022, 13:20 GMT

Over the decades and around the world, the presence of a ball and the space to kick it around has a history of breaking down barriers. Friendly competition and the sheer joy of teamwork transcends sometimes desperate surroundings and sparks a physical and mental lift – and occasionally the shoots of a future star.

It’s this spirit that’s behind the new Disney+ documentary David Beckham: Save our Squad in which the former footballer returns to his career’s beginnings in East London to rescue a down-on-its luck teenage team from relegation – soccer-speak for demotion from the premier league.

“I hope viewers get inspired. I hope they laugh, I hope they cry, I hope they smile,” says Beckham of the show. “Because when you watch this series, when you watch the parents, you watch the coaches, you watch the players... there is so much passion there and the importance of grassroots football really comes out.”

David Beckham with members of the Westward Boys, football club in East London the former player mentors in the show David Beckham: Save Our Squad.

Photograph by Craig Sugden/Disney+

Ethan (right) launches into a tackle during a match in a scene from Save our Squad. 

Photograph by Craig Sugden/Disney+

Zain, a young player from the Westward Boys, practices ‘keepie uppies’.

Photograph by Craig Sugden/Disney+

Beautiful moments, beautiful game

Nelson Mandela described sport as having “the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

True to this, football has a long history as a focus for community. A theme also explored in the series Welcome to Wrexham, the importance of sport in general as a force for social good, bringing people together and offering young people the opportunity to learn life skills, a space to grow their confidence and an incentive to stay healthy.  

While the professional sport has more than its share of conflict, so history has proven football as an empowering promotor of unity. The most famous instance of this, against the odds, was the Christmas Truce of 1914. There amongst the horror of the trenches of the First World War, between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, British and German forces unofficially paused hostilities along sectors of the French Western Front. Some exchanged gifts, took photographs – and played football.

There are more of these moments when football has cut through the noise of bigger situations. The role of the game in calming tensions – albeit briefly – between East and West Germany following their World Cup match in 1974 as the players swapped shirts in defiance; Robert Falcon Scott’s isolated Antarctic explorers keeping their spirits up with a match on the ice; the TV plea by Ivory Coast player Didier Drogba to end the country’s civil war following its qualification for the 2006 World Cup; The reports of children caught amidst the conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine in 2018, finding solace in games between shelling.

Then there's the less dramatic, more nuanced ability of football of all kinds to forge bonds across ethnicity, religion, social class and gender. And all due to a ball full of air and the thrill of watching it fly.

David Beckham: Save Our Squad is streaming on Disney+. 

The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic Partners. 

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