When Thamesmead sprung out of the Erith Marshes in the mid 1960s, it was labelled by many as the ‘Town of Tomorrow’. 50 years on, this iconic residential area in south east London is going through major changes. I took photos of Daniel, who goes by the nickname DC, while he took me around where he grew up and showed us the cage he used to smoke the local kids in.
The 1960s was a decade of development and society changed massively. From youth culture to music, to the way we lived; everything as it was known changed. The years of post war Britain were defined by rebuilding on a scale that the country had never seen before and the 60s represented the pinnacle. Tower blocks rose up out of the ground almost everywhere across the UK, bringing with it for the first time affordable housing for the working classes. These new estates were to become the bedrock of society, a place where families could live comfortably in modern housing with schools and clubs all purpose built to serve the new communities.
In the media, Thamesmead has featured heavily; popping up in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ as well as being shown in E4’s ‘Misfits’. In urban culture the Thamesmead Estate has also contributed, being shown alongside shots of New York in ASAP Rocky’s and Skepta’s ‘Praise The Lord’. The claim to fame doesn’t stop here, the community is also somewhat of a production line for talent within the music industry with up and coming rappers J-Racks and Yxng Prodigy hailing from the area.
While taking shots of DC and being shown around, he gave us an insight into what it’s like to grow up in the area. “Thamesmead is an old school area. It’s easy to live negatively because there’s not many opportunities in the area.” A lot has changed in the years DC has been living in the estate. A major reconstruction project is under way that would see hundreds if not thousands of new homes being built, while older more symbolic buildings are being brought down. While the change has positive intentions many see it as an attempt to alter the character of a community that celebrated its 50th birthday last year.
Estates all across London are characterised by their football cages. The next generation of ballers cut their teeth against a backdrop of tall tower blocks that are a part of the London landscape as much as the Shard or the Gherkin. The New York Times referred to football cages as the ‘Premier League’s proving grounds’. The statement holds a lot of weight and is in homage to the many young British talents that started playing on the streets; think Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden, to name but a few. For DC and many kids, the cages kept him distracted from things that would’ve taken him astray. “When I was young, I used to play cage football a lot. Kicking around the streets, wherever; I always made sure I was doing something with a ball”.
It’s clear to see cages are, in many cases, shrines in which where the purest form of football is played. Here the competition is fierce and the standard is high. During summer evenings, scores in games can easily stretch out into the 20s- you play fast and long, none of this water breaks nonsense as we’re witnessing in the Premier League.
Everybody who has played football likes to compare themselves to a player. DC, who is now 23 and doesn’t pay as much anymore described himself as a: “quick and agile creative player known on the streets for ball control, attacking instinct and flair”. Having had a kick around towards the end of the day, it was obvious that DC loved a flip flap.
Estates like Thamesmead have often received bad press in the media. The Grenfell disaster was a consequence of systemic disregard and racism towards the people who lived there. The middle classes are often guilty of looking down on such areas and therefore these communities have often been forgotten. While spending time there and getting to know DC and his mates, we learned that places like Thamesmead are the foundations London is built on; the city wouldn’t be the same without them. So many of England’s current crop of players have grown up on estates and it’s time to give them the respect and attention they deserve.