This is Activism: Gundeep Anand on the liberating power of football

Former youth worker Gundeep Anand is using the UK's favourite sport to create a positive change in local communities. The Last Stand is a London-based football tournament that promotes inclusivity and diversity in safe spaces. Anand speaks to HUNGER about the integral value of community pride, and how these ethical pillars of football can be built from the ground up with a genuine passion for the game and the change that comes with it.

Few sports have the potential to inspire change quite like football. With a truly global audience (the last World Cup final was watched by more than three billion people), it’s a sport that has instilled a sense of community, pride and identity ever since its inception. However, in the modern era, football is losing its purity. Capitalistic intervention, questionable ethical decisions and a lack of grassroots investment has taken the game away from those who love it the most.

Southall-raised Gundeep Anand, 29, is doing everything he can to subvert that narrative. A former youth worker, he has an incredible passion for social change thanks to his time working with marginalised communities. Combining that with his love for football and filmmaking, he founded the London-based street tournament The Last Stand in 2016. “I wanted to create something that shows that anything thought up in your mind can become a reality,” Anand says now.

The tournament was born from a viral call-out video that was quickly followed by the first of the event’s four-a-side tournaments on the streets of the capital. It turned into much more than a grassroots tournament: it became a symbol and reflection of British culture – winners got Nando’s, losers Chicken Cottage.

While Anand admits he would have loved there to have been something similar to participate in when he was younger, he’s glad he can provide these moments of happiness for today’s youth. “Growing up I thought, ‘Why don’t we have any cool things we can do that also have a positive impact?’” he recalls. “I think it’s extremely underrated how having these positive activities can benefit people and communities.”

Gundeep wears all clothing and accessories Gundeep’s own.

Football can put a smile on the face of entire nations and also bring liberation and togetherness – something Anand wanted to promote. “When you step onto the pitch you feel like all your problems have gone away for those 90 minutes, or however long. You feel liberated and connected to everyone. You feel like you’re a part of something. That’s what football is. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are – on the pitch, we’re all the same.”

Although The Last Stand is inherently a football tournament, its impact off the pitch is what steals the headlines. Past participants have been scouted by professional clubs and landed modelling contracts, while by simply providing a beneficial outlet, the tournament can bring positive change for all those involved. “Not only do you get to perform, it’s an opportunity to get exposure, and for some people there can be opportunities to change your life,” Anand says.

Last year’s World Cup – which took place in the winter for the first time – is what prompted Anand’s latest idea. Amid the controversy surrounding the tournament being held in Qatar, Anand decided to start his own in London. More than 100 teams applied to take part in his Ethical World Cup in the first week, out of which 16 made it through the qualifiers, with each representing their country of choice on the day of the tournament. A men’s and women’s team of winners took home a prize of £2,000 plus each. “London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, so I feel like there should be something that’s the purest reflection of who we are and our backgrounds,” Anand says of the event.

Anand’s Ethical World Cup sought to right some of the wrongs that took place in Qatar by focusing on inclusivity for all involved. “One of the big things for us was making sure that both boys and girls get the chance to play,” Anand affirms. “We wanted to make sure that no matter where you’re from or what you look like, you can have your chance to play. The Ethical World Cup and The Last Stand are my contribution to making a difference.”

More than six years on from its debut, The Last Stand is at the height of its fame. Anand has built a concept from the ground up that’s been getting mainstream recognition: footballing stars including Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand have shown their support and it has received backing from the likes of Sky Sports. But Anand isn’t satisfied with the incredible difference he’s already made here in the UK: “Eventually, we want to grow street football globally and allow everyone to take part in these amazing events.”

Taken from HUNGER Issue 27: Call to Action. Available to buy here.

WriterChris Saunders
StylistLucy Parker
Beauty EditorMarco Antonio
Hair EditorNick Irwin using SCHWARZKOPF PROFESSIONAL Session Label and WAHL professional styling tools
Photography AssistantsOlly Dundas, Bethan Evans, Alex Heron, Marcus Lister, Chelsea Nawanga Fashion AssistantEmily Gleeson
Hair AssistantsMax Andreas, Tia Feels
ProducerSarah Stanbury
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