Pin It
Várzea
Várzea, 2016-17Courtesy of Simon Di Principe

These photos celebrate the global power and pride of football subcultures

Enter a vibrant world of punk football teams that herald themselves as proudly disorganised

In 2016, Simon Di Principe released the book Grass Roots: a collection of photographic portraits from east London's spiritual home of Sunday league football, Hackney Marshes. Later that year, the photographer began shooting urban football communities in Brazil for his upcoming book, Várzea. As in Grass Roots, the backdrops for these photos are goalposts, dugouts, the tribal colours and untamed fields of amateur football – so you'd be forgiven for thinking that the photographer's main muse is the sport known as “the beautiful game”. 

However, as Di Principe explains in an interview with Dazed: “I don't really like to think of (Grass Roots and Várzea) as football books – that would be doing them an injustice. They are about people, communities – a social documentary and a historical story.” This is evident throughout Várzea, a book in which footballers are rarely shown in action, but their collective joy off the field, shared with supporters of all ages, is a recurring theme.

“Football is just a catalyst to bring people together and unite people” – Simon Di Principe

“In many Brazilian cities”, Di Principe's book informs us, “the term ‘Várzea’ is used to describe anything made precariously, something which is improvised, disorganised.” Consequently, it is also the adopted name of a uniquely spontaneous brand of football, an amateur scene that began in the country's rural floodplains in the late 1800s, but today endures in a number of cities throughout Brazil. Futebol de Várzea is a DIY subculture of independent tournaments, leagues and festive matches – it is a proudly disorganised alternative to the sanitised practices of professional stadium football. As a culture on the fringes of the established order, Várzea football has historically served as a productive space for diversity and inclusion. It is on the Várzea fields, for instance, that many women played football while the practice, staggeringly, remained banned in Brazil between 1941 and 1979. 

Várzea is a book which takes us inside the hectic milieu of Brazil's football subculture; and yet Di Principe's portraits are often strikingly personal, stealing an intimate moment with an individual drawn out from the wider community. The photographer made many friends on his travels, and at one point he even got a chance to join in the games. “My good friend Piva – who wrote in the book – I played for his team in São Paulo,” Di Principe recalls. ”He plays for Autônomos, they are a punk football team. He helped a lot in introducing me to the várzea football in São Paulo.”

Autônomos began in 2006 with people who came from the punk and anarchy scenes in Santo André, a metropolitan area of São Paulo. In 2009 they even played against Bristol's Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls, a similarly anarchic football team that once had Banksy as its goalkeeper. The fact that these two teams found each other from opposite sides of the Atlantic is a testament to the community values of amateur football, a world away perhaps from the histrionics and dubious politics of this year's FIFA World Cup.

As Di Principe enthuses: “To the many people that play it and watch it, Várzea is a way of life. It's football, drinking, eating, dancing, socialising – it’s a way to escape their everyday lives and be happy amongst friends. It’s a sense of community and it brings happiness and joy. Football is just a catalyst to bring people together and unite people.” 

The UK launch of Várzea is on Friday June 29 6-9pm at Folk, 45 Redchurch St, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DJ. You can buy the book here