For James Cronin, football is so much more than what happens on the pitch. His fascination is with the impact the beautiful game has on communities around the world.
James, who has just started the prestigious FIFA Masters course in management, law and the humanities at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), wants to spend time dedicated to uncovering the stories people rarely hear about.
James Cronin wants to promote the people behind football
The proud Brummie and West Brom fan shares his inspirational tales via his Hidden Football website, using his love of writing, shooting video and taking photographs to spread the word.
He said: “If the world connects better and understands the people behind football we can bring communities together and achieve lots of positive things.”
James’ passion is obviously shared by a lot of people. A series of articles about the game in India, published by BBC Online, have been read more than a million times.
They include the story of Bollywood film star John Abraham – ‘the Arnold Schwarzenegger of India’ – who is football nuts and owns his own club called North East United.
There’s an article about the women of Mumbai who are defying cultural traditions to play the sport professionally.
And there’s a report on the biggest football derby you have never heard of - East Bengal v Mohun Bagan. It attracts a crowd of 100,000, is watched by millions on TV and the teams have met more times in their history then Liverpool and Everton.
Mohun Bagan fans in a packed Salt Lake Stadium
James has also produced films and articles about trips to Egypt and South Africa, where he also wrote about a football-mad South Africa township that’s ‘too dangerous’ for club scouts to visit.
James said: “I have always been fascinated by football culture and the impact that it has on a community and people’s lifestyles. Football is so much more than what is happening on the pitch.
“I would say that, like food and music, football is a universal language no matter where you are in the world.
“I was always writing when I was younger. I worked away from journalism for a while but I always wanted to get back into the football thing. So last year I came up with an idea of writing something called ‘Around the World in 80 games’.
“I got to India first. Everyone thought it would be all cricket, but I saw more Barcelona and Man Utd jerseys there.
“Everyone loves La Liga and the Premier League and the Bundesliga and Serie A and people are passionate about football.
“I just felt it was a story that had to be told.
FIFA Master students at DMU
“There are hundreds of thousands of people playing football in India. There is so much untapped talent. It is only a matter of time before Indian football and its players go global.
“I would love to spend a lot more time in India documenting the journey that football is on. It is far more interesting and impactful, I think, than the coverage we see from the big leagues in Europe.
“We all hear about Messi and how he ties his shoelaces before a game but what about the Kolkata derby and John Abraham?”
“It was a dream come true living in India and documenting the story of football. Hopefully this is just the start.
“I think this course will take me out of my comfort zone.
“I want to learn more about how the capitalist world and its money links with the heart and soul of football. How do the Nikes and the Adidas’s of this world connect with grass roots organisations? Things like that.
“Then it will be back to the stories of the game around the world.”
Posted on Tuesday 8th October 2019