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French photographer snaps football's roots

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French photographer snaps football's roots
Photo: AFP
10:18 CEST+02:00
They'll never earn six figure salaries or be sporting heroes. They play in the rain and to empty stadiums. But amateur footballers -- and their loyal fans -- are every bit as passionate about the game as the professionals.

As the World Cup competition in Brazil gets into full swing and heads towards its final next month, non-professional players all over the world carry on turning out to play just for fun.

"They don't have a dream to be the best player in the world. It's not for money. But they play three nights a week because they love football," French photographer Amelie Debray told AFP.

The Paris-based photographer saw their devotion first-hand when she set out to document the amateur game in South Africa and the Palestinian Territories for two books in 2010 and 2012.

Now, to mark the 2014 World Cup, giant copies of some of her images are being exhibited on the walls along the banks of Paris's River Seine.

In one, a young Palestinian boy with an empty bowl perched on his head stands alone in a deserted football stadium in Hebron.

He appears engrossed as he watches a team going through their paces.

"He has been selling sunflower seed snacks. Now his work his over and he is enjoying himself," Debray said.

In another, teenage girls -- with hooded tops and jumpers pulled over their blue and white school uniforms -- brave pouring rain to cheer on their team in the South African city of Ladysmith.

With rain dripping from the metal stand and only one umbrella for the seven of them they appear oblivious to anything other than the game.

"It was raining cats and dogs but they were so happy to be watching the game, so demonstrative and so involved," she added.

Debray said her photographs were as much about what happened off the pitch as on it.

"It's not the game. I like football, but no so much! What interests me most is what happens off the field," she said.

With the thrills and spills of this year's World Cup competition gripping television audiences around the world, Debray said her own experiences had shown her the universal nature of the sport.

"It was the same everywhere, they all had the same kind of passion," she said.

"Some players might not have changing rooms, so they changed by the pitch.

"Some fans didn't have a stand so they found plastic chairs to sit on," she added.

Another photograph shows a painted image of a footballer reaching to catch a ball on the wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Above the graffiti, which appears at a point where the wall cuts the Al-Quds University campus in half, are the words "freedom through football".

Former French defender Lilian Thuram, who wrote the preface to Debray's book of South African photographs "The Spirit of Sport", told AFP the images were "touching" and "intense".

Thuram, a member of France's 1998 World Cup winning team and the nation's most capped player, said he had been taking a stroll along the Seine one morning recently when he  unexpectedly came across the outdoor exhibition "Lands of Soccer".

He said many of the photographs reminded him of the way he had started playing football "barefoot outside my house" in a  village in Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean.

The images, he added, showed football's enduring power "to unite people across religious, racial and political divides".

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