Bobby Kasanga is the founder of Hackney Wick Football Club, whose members are encouraged to offer their services to the community.
There is a place on the east side of London which is like a Mecca, a church, a synagogue or a temple to many. The only thing it can be described as is a plain grass field with no major beautiful landscape. How can a plain green field, sat in between a motorway and a council estate, mean so much to thousands of people across generations?
It's because when you add the white markings, the corner flags, the countless goalposts, the goal nets and then the thousands of adults and children kicking their beloved 'pig's bladder' up and down, it becomes not just a plain field — it's the utopia of grass-roots football.
Of all perfumes, aftershaves and exotic fragrances that adorn our TV screens over the Christmas period, I ask if, among them, there is a greater scent than that of muddy boots, sweat and the great outdoors. This may sound extreme, but the Hackney Marshes are to the local community what insects are to humans. Are you asking what the hell is he talking about? Has he gone crazy? Humans? Insects? Look deeper and you will see my point.
What I am trying to say is that the Hackney Marshes are at the beginning of the food chain, which results in billions of people across the globe tuning in to their TV screens on a weekly basis to watch their idols running up and down other more evolved (yet still grass) fields, kicking a pig's bladder. The English, the Europeans, the Africans, the West Indians, the Asians, the North and South Americans and the Arabs all gather around every weekend, walking on their own, cycling in twos, five in a car, sixteen in a coach, with multicoloured kits, talking team tactics in multiple languages. There are bandages, tape, Deep Heat, shin pads, water bottles and faces of joy or thunder (depending on match results), but every week they will be back.
You can reach Stansted Airport by nipping down the nearby A12 to the M11 motorway, but why would you travel abroad when you can have a taste of the world every weekend at the Hackney Marshes? This place embodies multicultural London at its best. It is no coincidence that this seemingly plain field is located in London. Just another reason why this is the greatest city in the world.
This is an extract from For the Love of London by Conrad Gamble (Cassell £14.99).