From the valleys to the mountains: community football in Quito
Our photographer from Ecuador is Andrés Illescas from Quito, a former player for the Ecuadorean second division team CD América de Quito and with the academy for first division L.D.U. Quito. Andrés is now coach of the U9 and U11 team of Colegio Menor private school, and trains children of all ages in underserved neighbourhoods at weekends. For his photos Andrés travelled extensively around Quite and its surrounding regions, documenting community leagues, football in the valleys around the city, and the differences between public and private school facilities.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
Community leagues in Ecuador are massive and a big part of our culture, with approximately 300,000 registered players in Quito, a city of nearly 3 million inhabitants. There are community leagues all over the country and even in places like Italy, Spain, and United States, where Ecuadorian immigrants live and collect money to send it back to their families.
Community leagues generate a lot of business and income. At one stadium the entrance costs 50 cents (USD) and there are matches all weekend long from Friday night. In a 2004 study all the community league organisations reported to generate nearly 10 million dollars per year. Most of these leagues are for the low-income population, but it’s also a place where people from different backgrounds meet.
I showed a community football league in Quito, Ecuador, near one of the largest bus station in the north area of the city called Rio Coca. There is an Indigenous street vendor, an amateur player, and a boy attending a league match with his family. I also wanted to show a fan carrying a traditional food made with pork and mashed potatoes called Hornado. There are also fans attending matches of the Bellavista Community League, at 3,000m above sea level. This area has a beautiful view (bella vista) of the city.
In other photos I was trying to show the mountains and how Quito is growing towards lower valleys, where you can see Quito in the background. You can see the beautiful green grass in contrast to the dusty fields of community leagues.
There are players of a team made from the parents of the private school Colegio Menor against a team of community players from a nearby town called Ibarra. Colegio Menor football field is outside of Quito in the Tumbaco Valley, a place where the weather is warmer and most people want to live. Quito is 500m higher so this valley has nicer weather.
The public schools don’t have nice grass fields, and also football is still mainly for boys while girls usually dance or play basketball at school. I showed a cement football/basketball court in a public school in Quito, with boys playing football and girls dancing.
Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
Football is a national sport, from the highlands to the beach, and the Amazon region. Fishermen all along the coast play football almost every day after their journey, and sometimes tourists join the matches. These games have high physical demands because fishermen of all ages are very strong. They go out to the sea around 3am in the morning and come back around noon, when the matches start. As the tide goes down it provides a lot of space, even for 11 v 11 games. They usually bet on the games, so the games are very competitive. Some of the best professional players start their careers playing these matches when they are young and live and work near the ocean.
You can see fishermen playing football at Jama Beach (province of Manabi) after work (around noon).The fisherman looking down had just broken his toe during the match. I was trying to show the toe broken in two places and hanging loose. The amazing thing was that the fisherman did not complain at all, like he didn’t feel the pain, he was even laughing and joking about it. He even kept playing as a goalkeeper.
One little boy was very excited to appear in a photo, he asked me where it would be published. He was proudly wearing the jersey of his team, called Independiente, which was recently the finalist in the Copa Libertadores de America, the Champions League of South America.
Why is football so important for Ecuador and Ecuadorean people?
Football is our main sport and Ecuadoreans take pride in the recent success of our club teams and national teams. After trying to qualify for the World Cup since 1930, we were only able to qualify in 2002. It was the only time the whole country celebrated together, since every city and region has festivities on different days of the year. We are also very different from one region to the other, so football is a reason to come together as a country. Our people love football and play it, watch it, talk about it, even though we have not had major accomplishments in the sport.
What role does football play in Ecuador and Ecuadorean society?
Football has become the national pastime, but also a great way to dream of a better future for poor children and their families. Our society sees football as the best political and business platform, from community leagues to powerful investment groups. Children have Antonio Valencia as their hero and love Manchester United as well. Our society was a little disappointed because we didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but nonetheless it is the most played and most funded sport.
What does football mean to you?
Football is my passion, a way to connect with my father and my closest friends. I love football for development as much as professional football. I see football as a way to understand life and teach children positive values.
What is the future for Ecuadorean football?
After the corruption scandals around the world including all South American federations, I think the future of football is to become more transparent, just, and inclusive. We are now trying to produce better players and some teams are doing a great job in grassroots football. I think we will have a stronger level and football will continue to grow as a pastime and as an industry in our country.
The next step is to professionalise the managers of club teams, there are now universities that provide careers in sport management and there is a slow switch from “volunteer” work to paid professionals and teams that are becoming companies looking for revenue. On the social aspect, many programs based on football for development are starting to operate in Ecuador, and also big companies are seeing opportunities in corporate social responsibility through football. I think we will also have more successful players at top leagues in Europe in the near future.